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Mikhail on the Communism Conference; Don’t talk about the car!

Mikhail over at Perverse Egalitarianism posts on Toscano’s presentation at the Birkbeck Communism Conference, a text provided for us by Infinite Thought. He remarks that the illustrations that I.T. provide actually illuminate something of the meaning of it, and makes the interesting mistake of including the striking image of a Rolls in Soviet colors:

 

In an anecdotal bit of ideological truth, among the commentators a light-hearted joy about the car rose up including a question of what kind of car it was, allowing Infinite Thought to chime in and exasperatedly advise, “Aaargh! Discuss the piece! Not the car!”.

Oddly this seems to crystallize exactly the kinds of things at stake in such a conference. There is a kind of implicit demand upon the importance of the words being spoken by largely white, middle aged men, the respective stars of academia. It is these men who are dreaming the dream for those who cannot dream for themselves, it seems. Infinite Thought’s turning of our eyes from the car (not that dream!), towards the real dream (yes!, that  dream) allows us to see the normative pre- and pro-scritions of such a discourse. In my mind, the ironic contrasts of the car are actually quite revealing of many forms of communist intellectual conflicts.

Mikhail responded to my thought of the contradictions implied when an elevated group thinks/dreams on the behalf of another,

Is this not almost always the case when it comes to philosophical and political ideas? Others are dreaming their dreams for us – I can’t think of any really significant idea that I consider to be true and useful that I personally came up with, unless, of course, you count fundamental principles like “Don’t drink too much the night before an important meeting or a presentation” and “If it doesn’t smell, it’s fresh enough to wear again”…

Which lead me to ruminate on the role of philosophers in the historical path of the world, in particular in regards to the freedoms of others who cannot speak for themselves. Something perhaps worth repeating here:

It is also the case with artists that they are “dreaming for us” and thank goodness so. But with this specific brand of philosophical revival, the attempt to make good on a Political Idea that has been done so very wrong (okay now, so the end of the world did not occur at midnight, the year 2000, what did he REALLY mean? In what way did WE fail him?) that troubles me.

I think that art is very “useful” in the sense that it dreams for us, and philosophy as well, but when description becomes prescription, when artists stop showing us what they see, and telling us how we should see, (then act and do) there is an inherent contradiction which somehow leads to brutal historical absurdity. It is a monastic priesthood all over again.

Now yes, it may be very interesting to ASK an artist what he thinks of the situation. There will be a certain feel to her/his words if you have respect for their work. But there is no necessary connection between their process and ours.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE reading the political philosophers. They are the dreamers of new possibilities of thought as it relates to the concrete world. But they confuse sometimes their role as dreamers with an imagined position of being the ONLY dreamers, or the only dreamer (the one with the correct argument), perhaps the “meta-dreamer”.

It is back to that odd realization, philosophers are curious TYPE, and those that have thrived in the academic environments (survival of the fittest), carry with themselves quite a number of, what would be considered genetic defects, out there in the real world of persons and lives lived. When the university arose in the middle ages there was a time when your two best vocations were those of a theologian or a lawyer. A nice, complimentary pair these two. Those that make the real world, and those that critique the makers in the name of something “higher”.

What does it mean to not talk about the car?

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19 responses to “Mikhail on the Communism Conference; Don’t talk about the car!

  1. anodynelite March 23, 2009 at 12:40 am

    Humanists are funny, even when they don’t mean to be.

    They are the types who readily admit that women are objectified, but can’t for the life of them see that men are too, and that, in fact, according to the same psychoanalysis that they hold as holy writ, there is no desiring subject that desires anything but other objects. Not even women can desire men-subjects, but only men-objects.

    So, in reality, even according to their Theory Scriptures, men are equally as crapped on and subjugated by gender binaries as women are. But this is glossed over because it gets in the way of perpetual (and pure) female victimhood.

    Humanists like victims. Especially pure ones. Purer victims make more sympathetic victims.

    One day, when the revolution comes, after the Rich Educated White Men figure out exactly how this should happen through Conferences sponsored by Universities (run on charitable contributions from corporations and philanthropists/aka venture capitalists with tax sheltered funds that need donating– or better yet, the State), nobody will be a victim anymore.

    Humanists are sure of this, because they know that people are essentially good, see, and it’s just that our power structures are all imbalanced. Take away the imbalance by doling out all the funds equally and– voila–goodness and light are the order of the day.

  2. kvond March 23, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Anodyne Lite, agreed.

    I think you hit right on a fundamental picture here, “Humanists like victims. Especially pure ones. Purer victims make more sympathetic victims.” This does not mean that there are no victims in the world, and humanists make them up, but rather, victimhood plays a role in the humanist economy (at least some versions of it). And many times it is a victimization that presses towards a certain purity. Perhaps this comes from Marx’s need to find a leverage point in the existing condition upon which to launch his radical break in history, someone, or something that was entirely not invested in the process…the imagined, constructed and idealized Proletariot. Always the question must turn, WHO is doing the constructing of the theory, and for WHOM.

    There must be innoncence for there to be violence.

    Again, Sloterdijk’s thoughts on the anger of the Left are interesting.

    I think though that there are strains of humanism, particular those that came out of, or return to Renaissance humanism (a fairly innovative and tubulent time not completely unlike our own), that have very little need for the victim, pure or otherwise. Those that see the breakdowns of customary relations as potentialities for greater wholes in communication. Now I read this strain as actually post-human, or more accomodated by post-human thinking, wherein the subject and the object are much less interesting categories, so to this aspect of Renaissance humanism I have some affinity, for whatever that affinity is worth.

  3. infinite thought March 23, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Hmmm.

    Incidentally, ‘middle aged’ hardly applies to AT.

  4. kvond March 23, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Which may be why I wrote “largely”, as in “the words being spoken by largely white, middle aged men, the respective stars of academia”. Perhaps though, aside from the question of generation those of race, gender, economic standing, and most siginificantly, the Institutional/Textual status of these persons is what matters.

  5. infinite thought March 23, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    Well, you kind of have it both ways – you’re both not talking about the car, and not not talking about the car! Incidentally, what is ‘Textual status’ (especially with a capital ‘T’)?

  6. Mikhail Emelianov March 23, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    I’ll admit to being quite “old aged” – not sure what it has to do with anything – my comment about the car was rather accidental, I thought Toscano’s talk was very interesting, if I had time, I would certainly take a closer look at it and engage it. In addition, I think the very idea of this conference was quite interesting, if I was in the vicinity, I would certainly attend, even if only to hear Zizek has the same things over and over again about the need to theorize… He’s coming to Syracuse in April, I wonder if he will have changed the tune by then?

  7. Mikhail Emelianov March 23, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    “say the same things” instead of “has the same things” – pardon…

  8. anodynelite March 23, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    “I think though that there are strains of humanism, particular those that came out of, or return to Renaissance humanism (a fairly innovative and tubulent time not completely unlike our own), that have very little need for the victim, pure or otherwise. Those that see the breakdowns of customary relations as potentialities for greater wholes in communication. Now I read this strain as actually post-human, or more accomodated by post-human thinking, wherein the subject and the object are much less interesting categories, so to this aspect of Renaissance humanism I have some affinity, for whatever that affinity is worth.”

    I don’t entirely condemn the best efforts of humanists, but I only wish I could believe like they do…I think you’re right about there being a certain Renaissance humanism that might be salvaged, but we’ll need to first get at this post-human entity, maybe a post-subject(?), before we’ll get anywhere, theoretically or politically. This cyborg stuff is just a little too easy.

    We also need to get past this “pure” victimhood nonsense, in every theoretical sector. It gets us nowhere. Here we are 150 years and a technological-digital revolution later arguing about industrial utopias.

    We need to think the post-industrial utopia, and quickly.

  9. kvond March 24, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Thanks for your comments,

    Infinite Thought: “Well, you kind of have it both ways – you’re both not talking about the car, and not not talking about the car! Incidentally, what is ‘Textual status’ (especially with a capital ‘T’)?”

    Kvond: Actually, I was talking about the prohibition telling us not to talk about the car. But yes, I see that the car in several ways embodies the inherent contradiction of the “Party” those the accumulate the wealth and power talking about how bad wealth and power are.

    As for “Textual status” my use of capitalization is somewhat like Blake’s. It comes and goes for emphasis. But my point is, these are primarily persons who are text producers. That is, their raison d’être is to produce texts, and to do so primarily for university system participants who are significantly skewed by class and race. If they were telvision show producers their “message” would be critiqued in view of their industry which they work to support, and the audience whom they seek to entertain. Their “revolution” is in many ways “the revolution show”.

  10. kvond March 24, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Mikhail: “I would certainly take a closer look at it and engage it. In addition, I think the very idea of this conference was quite interesting, if I was in the vicinity, I would certainly attend, even if only to hear Zizek has the same things over and over again about the need to theorize…”

    Kvond: With all this I agree. I could listent to Zizek endlessly, perhaps just as I can listen to the endless remmixes of phat new beats. The man is amazingly engaging. I would certainly attend. But if someone drove up in a rolls with a soviet flag I would hope that fidelity to the revolution, or even the hieght of my investment would not be measured by whether my eyes turned to the fetish of the car, the delusionary commodity of the poor labor of the poor. This is precisely the problem with the entire conception of a “radical break” in history. Contrary to Badiou and with sympathy to Leibniz, History, just like Nature, makes no leaps. It already is happening. The breaks we want from history are the breaks we want to make between human beings, placing THESE people on the wrong moral side of the historical wave. We talk about the right things, THEY talk about the wrong things (either we can cure them and help them talk about the right things, or we make them our enemies).

  11. kvond March 24, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Anodynelite: “I don’t entirely condemn the best efforts of humanists, but I only wish I could believe like they do…I think you’re right about there being a certain Renaissance humanism that might be salvaged, but we’ll need to first get at this post-human entity, maybe a post-subject(?), before we’ll get anywhere, theoretically or politically. This cyborg stuff is just a little too easy.”

    Kvond: For me this area if found theoretically in panpsychism (perhaps without coincidence a thread in Renaissance philosophical humanism), and in a cybernetic notion of the human as a technology.

    Anodynelite: We also need to get past this “pure” victimhood nonsense, in every theoretical sector. It gets us nowhere. Here we are 150 years and a technological-digital revolution later arguing about industrial utopias.

    Kvond: Agreed. The “victim” (pure or otherwise) becomes nothing more than the matter for our personal role in redemption. And speaking on behalf of the victim is often something to be critiqued for those that become victim-oriented often are invested in perpetuating the victimization reality if only to maintain their position in the discourse (hence, the need for the continous view of “ever-the-victim”: the poor worker, the poor woman, the poor black, the poor jew). This is not to say that these categories do not reflect concrete conditions that we want to change, but touching the category of victimization is a particular jouissance/pleasure.

    Anodynelight: We need to think the post-industrial utopia, and quickly.

    Kvond: The utopia is the here and now. Now is the “no-place” in which we are already operating. The change is immediate. The primary problem with “radical break” thinking is that it refuses to see by definition that the unimaginable future is already under occurance. We are already interacting in ways that even 10 years ago no one would have vividly pictured. We don’t need to become post-human, we already are.

  12. anodynelite March 24, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    But acknowledging that “now” is all we ever have takes away the ability to feel the moral indignation about what *others* aren’t doing, and forces a person to take a good long look at what they themselves need to do, the difficult choices they might have to make, the comforts they will have to give up immediately.

    I was talking to a psychotherapist earlier about the revolutionary mindset, and certain extremist points-of-view, and why some people cling to “pure victimhood” in their politics… the words that kept coming up were what you might expect: displacement, projection, fantasy, investment. There does seem to be a sense in which the “pure victim” is really just a site of projected investments, where (in this case) the left has found a locus for all of its latent ideals, whether they’re explicit or implicit. Such victims end up not being able to live up to these ideals in reality– in the “now”–so the revolutionary act or moment always has to be deferred to some indeterminate point in the utopian future (a nowhere), when everybody is finally going to magically wake up and spring into action, and all of those ideals are going to be validated.

    This creates a buffer zone between the zealot and their ideals, so that they themselves don’t have to, for instance, stop working (taking money from capitalists), or deny themselves an inheritance, or a cushy salary, or a vacation home. It’s ok, because they’re working for the revolution! They have their anger ducks all lined up in the right row.

  13. kvond March 25, 2009 at 10:16 am

    Anodynelite,

    I do wish I could have access to more detail of Sloterdijk’s Zorn und Zeit crticism of the Left, the way supposedly the Left has “banked” anger to an incredible degree. He would not agree with any psychoanalytic description, finding in psychoanalysis much of the problem of the promotion of Eros over Thymos.

    The thought that victims need to be able to live up to their victimhood as an interesting one. I do see the “logic” of having perpetually failed victims.

  14. Carl March 25, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    I’m not thinking very well right now, but this is very interesting, so I’ll just point at an old post of mine related to some of this discussion here.

  15. Carl March 25, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Boiling some of this down to the disappointing mismatch between the ideal and the real, and how we might use various strategies to embrace or distance ourselves from this, a possibly related (but long) post here. Sorry to be all self-referential, but as I said my brain’s a little mushy right now so I’m leveraging my earlier self to fill in.

    Victims needing to live up to their victimhood; self-defeating self-creation, perversity squared when victims host their defenders as parasites. But that’s not fair if victimhood is real, is it?

  16. kvond March 25, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    Carl: “perversity squared when victims host their defenders as parasites.”

    Kvond: I somehow like this very much. I don’t see why the idealized victim should not take advantage of their idealized position. Every pan handler on the street does this.

    The begging poor have had to take advantage of the fact that in presenting themselves as pathetic (pathos), they are given the power to award a “blessing” to the rich that bow to them and toss a dollar into the hat.

    As to who and what are parasites, generally the term applies to those that cannot live without their host. Can the revolution (of what ever kind) live without the host-bodies of the innocent and down trodden? It would seem not.

    Thanks for the post reference. I’ll definitely take a look at it.

  17. kvond March 25, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    Carl,

    I’m not entirely sure of the connection you are making between your thoughtful past post, and the subject of the thread (or the discussion that followed). Are you suggesting that Nina at Infinite Thought has idealized her audience like LS does in your post, and thus is headed towards sure disappointment?

    I don’t know. First of all, Idealizing goes two ways. The first is the one you mention wherein the “best” in us is projected out there,

    “as LS puts it, “we project our highest aspirations and desires onto another being, but then experience these qualities not as existing in and from us, but in something else. God is thus an alienated and distorted image of our own essence or nature.” Right, and not just God.”

    This indeed is the kind of expectation that LS seems to engage in (that is, at least to my ear, he wants to hear other agree with him, he wants to encounter himself), but thisi projection drags with it the opposite. We see in others who then fail us in the world really what is the worst in us. We project our failings outward.

    For example: Graham Harman, another theorizer who had radical difficulty with the democracy of the internet, finally shutting down his blog and implicitly declaring that the new one would be based on the idea that intellectual activity is not a democratic process, writing:

    “What I’ve learned in the past few weeks is that I believe in democratizing access to intellectual life, not in democratizing intellectual life itself. The blogosphere, like the billiard halls and race tracks of old, has become a hangout for a pretty unbearable, unproductive cross section of the populace.” here.

    once mused about the post he wanted to write in which he would list all the a**hole actions anyone had ever done to him. I thought to myself, what an interesting list it would make. There would be only one common factor that drew all these events together, Graham himself. While correlation is not causation, perhaps it would deserve a moment of reflection. He did not as far as I know post his a**hole list.

    I think when one is horrified at the democracy of responses which shatter the positive Feuerbach projections outward, generally these are reverse projections of what is worse in oneself. When someone is a crazy in response, and that crazy is not a part of you, you largely shrug it off.

    I still am unclear though of the connection you find here. If Infinite Thought indeed is disillusioned by the shallowness (or worse, fetishistic commodity orientation) of the internet readership, are we really only to chalk this up to her looking for a perfect reader instead of being symptomatic of the expectations that political discourse have, including the tendency to proscribe and prescribe thought behaviour?

  18. Carl March 25, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Re: Graham, it quickly became clear that he was either a puppy or an open wound. Either way, given his philosophy his decision to withdraw and seal off seems, in retrospect, inevitable and existentially authentic. I’m kind of glad he took his eggshells somewhere I won’t be tempted to tread on them, because that’s the kind of a**hole I try hard not to be, with only moderate success.

    To be honest the specific connection to that particular post may not exist. I was sort of wandering around in a daze and by the time I got to it, my thinking had become pretty impressionistic. But the link got triggered by this part at the end:

    “The other reason to blog is to have (more of) these difficult conversations in which our selves are literally destroyed and recreated in dynamic interactions with really other others. Here self is not stabilized by being closed off from further (exhausting, painful) interaction but metastabilized by embedding in networks and assemblages of relationships. I realize this is a bit of a salto mortale, especially for selves whose interactive history is confusing or oppressive.”

    The contrast with Graham is clear enough here, and I think what triggered my association with this post was the contrast between a victim-oriented relation to the world, which is a sealed, defensive and static one by both the victims and their protectors, and the model of growth by creative destruction Mead offers.

    It strikes me here that Graham’s interest in Latour, the ‘prince of networks’, is downright perverse.

  19. kvond March 25, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    Carl: “Graham, it quickly became clear that he was either a puppy or an open wound. Either way, given his philosophy his decision to withdraw and seal off seems, in retrospect, inevitable and existentially authentic.”

    Kvond: I agree, it certainly was authentic. Significantly I found myself ruminating to myself the other day when discussing Graham’s thought with another on the very interesting point you made that you found yourself investigating Object-Oriented Philosophy and perhasp SR in general, because the persons that forwarded these ideas were compelling. I liked that very much because this is how I felt as well, and I do think that being drawn to someone’s ideas through their person is a valid intellectual path. But then the irony of how it ended with some very rough, less than compelling edges being exposed.

    Carl: ” I think what triggered my association with this post was the contrast between a victim-oriented relation to the world, which is a sealed, defensive and static one by both the victims and their protectors, and the model of growth by creative destruction Mead offers.”

    Kvond: I like this very much. There is always a question of modulation and threshold, but one’s thresholds do also speak loudly for what one is, and what one is becoming.

    As to the Prince of Networks and perversity. Hilarious. One need only be reminded that the title was not the King of Networks…

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