Friday, September 18, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Restorative Tinctures

This week's Thinking Allowed program (podcast here) has an all-too-brief but worthwhile discussion on restorative justice in Northern Ireland with Dr. Anna Eriksson, author of Justice in Transition: Community Restorative Justice in Northern Ireland, and Dr. Heather Strang, author of Repair or Revenge?: Victims and Restorative Justice.

It also includes an interview with Fred Inglis on the philosopher and historian R. G. Collingwood. Inglis has just written a biography of Collingwood, The History Man.

Give it a listen.

The Future Beckons

Andy "Falco" Falkous of the band Future of the Left presents his blog of tour notes here. Three nice vids to begin.

You can play Spot the Mekon on the second one.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Don't Let the Empire of the Sun Go Down on Me

Jonathan Lethem on J. G. Ballard in the September 8 New York Times.

Homo von Economocus

Smithsonian magazine carries an article by Ingfei Chen on neuroscientist John Allman's research into von Economo neurons, which he believes hold the key to social intelligence in humans.

Given that the neurons live in the brain's social hot spots, Allman theorizes that the von Economo cell system allows a rapid, intuitive read on emotionally charged, volatile situations. The neurons "would enable one to quickly adjust to changing social contexts," he speculates. In the ancient past, this neural wiring might have conferred a survival edge to our ancestors by enabling them to make accurate, split-second judgments, especially about whom they could trust or not.

Allman, Hof and their colleagues have looked for von Economo neurons in more than 100 animal species, from sloths to platypuses. Only a few of them, other than primates and elephants, are known to have the cells: humpback whales, sperm whales, fin whales, orcas and bottle-nosed dolphins. The cells presumably evolved in now extinct species that gave rise to those marine mammals some 35 million years ago.

The rest is here.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bettystown: Where the Help Go for Their Holidays

Quentin Fottrell in today's Irish Times:

There was a bit of an argy-bargy on Tuesday’s Mooney (RTÉ Radio One, weekdays). Paddy O’Gorman, who made his name talking to social welfare recipients on his series Queuing for a Living, will happily interview the working classes – he just wouldn’t like to go on holidays with them.

“Would I go to Bettystown myself on holidays?” he said when a texter asked him to apologise for his “low-class” comments. “Sure I’m much too middle class for that.” But when prodded by presenter Derek Mooney, perhaps with one eye on his own demographic, O’Gorman apologised . . . sort of. “I am sorry if I offended anybody,” he said, before adding of Bettystown Del Sol, “It’s a big traditional Dublin working class, extended-family holiday.”

. . .

O’Gorman said, “It is a strong working-class Dublin accent that you find in the caravan parks.” He added, “Apartheid South Africa was black and white. In a Western country such as Ireland, class distinction is based on a thousand subtle distinctions.” O’Gorman’s attitude provided an accidental insight into how the middle classes long to differentiate themselves from the working classes.

Actually, if he wants to use apartheid South Africa as an analogy, he'd have been better off talking about Mosney Refugee Centre up the road.

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's Friday. Let's Boogie!

Pere Ubu - Love Love Love

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Castoriadis Podcast

A podcast of a talk given at the University of Sydney by Vrasidas Karalis, chair of Modern Greek Studies, on Castoriadis (Powerpoint pics not included).

The Dreams of Guy Debord

Stephen Hastings-King has an interesting piece over at Class Against Class on Guy Debord's patricidal efforts to replace Socialisme ou Barbarie as the vanguard (sic) of the working class with the Situationniste International.

This relationship changed again in 1964. During 1963, SB had been consumed by an internal conflict triggered mostly by Castoriadis's attempt to push to their logical conclusion the implications of his 1959-1961 text. If the working class really had been destructured as a class for itself, and if one plotted this development onto the extended critique of Marxism (politics, economics, theory of history) that SB had pursued since 1946, then there really was not much reason to continue to hold onto Marxism as a frame of reference for thinking about revolution. Revolutionary theory would have to be rethought from the most basic assumptions outward. One would have to work out a core normative theory that was sufficiently abstract to be applicable to social conflicts emerging from various directions. One would also need to multiply the analyses of social conflicts: the working class could no longer provide militants with a template that they could use as a sort of overlay to break a new social movement into its component stages. And one would have to rethink the whole notion of the militant as a function of the definitions of the political arrived at through the reconstruction of revolutionary theory. The debate about these issues split SB down the middle. It revealed the affect with which many SB members invested the idea of being-Marxist, and their reliance on proletarian struggles as a kind of magic key for understanding all social conflict. It also revealed the material limitations for a small group like SB, which found itself confronted with what must have seemed like the call for a 1:1 map of the social world.(39)

For Debord, this was heresy. With the lead article in IS no. 9, "Maintenant L'I.S." Debord announced that the Situationist International had assumed SB's mantle as the revolutionary vanguard (despite SB's sustained critique of the notion of a "Vanguard Party"). He coupled this with a campaign to throw SB out of the Left. From the outset, Debord had surveyed and resurveyed the Parisian scene, drawing lines that separated what he thought acceptable from what was not. The journal Arguments had long been Debord's preferred example of empty revisionism: special ridicule was reserved for Edgar Morin and Kostas Axelos. "Argumentiste" was a epithet hurled at former Marxists who gave in to the lure of incoherence once they passed beyond the borders of the Imaginary; patrolled by Guy Debord. In posing the alternative-one can either "be Marxist or be revolutionary"- SB slid from leader of the revolutionary movement into" Argumentiste" revisionism. Despite this banishment, Debord continued his close observation of the group. The IS reproduced (with near-audible glee) an editorial disclaimer that accompanied a review of Christianismeet revolution by Maximillienne Gautrat, as proof of SB's slide into dilettantism: (40)

Editorial note: It is perhaps useful to note that, for the vast majority of Socialisme ou Barbarie members, the Kingdom of God is essentially meaningless, and also that they do not see any reason why someone who thinks otherwise should be prevented from self-expression.

Debord's fiercer sarcasms were directed specifically at Castoriadis:

The revolutionary critique of all existing conditions certainly does not have a monopoly on intelligence, but does on its use. In the present crisis of culture and of society, those who do not have this usage do not, in fact, have any discernible intelligence. Stop talking to us about intelligence without [correct] usage, it would make us happy. Poor Heidegger! Poor Lukacs! Poor Sartre! Poor Barthes! Poor Lefebvre! Poor Cardan [Castoriadis]! Tic, tic and tic. Without the proper use of intelligence, one has only the caricatural fragments of innovative ideas, those that could understand the totality of our time and the movement that contests it as well. It is not even clear how to plagiarize these ideas in a harmonious way when one encounters them where they already are. ( ... )The former specialist of ultra-left politics is dazzled to discover, along with structuralism and psychosociology, an ethnological ideology [that is] entirely new to him: the fact that the Zuni Indians do not have a history seems to him a luminous explanation for his own incapacity to act on our history (go laugh at the first 25 pages of no. 36 of Socialisme ou Barbarie). The specialists of thought can only be thinkers of specialization. We do not pretend to have a monopoly on the dialectic that everyone is talking about; we only claim to have a provisional monopoly on its usage.

The change in the intellectual scene that Debord outlines has a complex conjectural explanation: the end of the Algerian War and the collapse of the radical scene that had developed within the oppositional movement, the return to "normal" everyday life combined with Althusser's intertwining of structuralism and the dialectical to give the impression that there was a "refreeze" in the Cold War. Debord's polemical response to this situation, and SB's role in it, is in part a power play: he was trying to supplant Sartre as the cultural arbiter of the Left.

This culture-broker role was secondary to his desire to personally salvage revolutionary politics. This intention was signaled by direct pronouncement. The stra egy amounted to a wholesale incorporation of older SB positions into those of the IS. At the graphics level, IS took the format of SB's "Le Monde en Question," which surveyed the press for indications of conflict and/ or incoherence within the dominant order ("echoes" as the group called them). From the contents of SB Debord took the call for the formation of councils. If this was the goal-Debord's politics were, as I have argued, rooted in a subjectivist position-then to salvage revolutionary politics would be to fully externalize the textual collage through which he (Debord) imagined revolution. In trying to become Castoriadis and the revolutionary vanguard, and in his effort to exclude SB from the Left as if the group had been part of the IS, Debord blurred the organizational distinction between inside and outside and the individual distinction between psyche and social world. Debord himself was the oppositional movement: he was what the bourgeois order feared. He was the specter haunting Europe. This sets up a reading of his 1967 book, Society of the Spectacle, as Debord's attempt to stage, through collage, his subjective organization of the textual material that circulated within the Marxist Imaginary. The book is Debord's refusal of the crisis of the Imaginary through a retreat into narcissism and a positing of traditional revolutionary Marxism as transcendental. The recourse to the authorized sources of theory was a traditional heretical move within this instituted Imaginary, which presupposed it still operational and capable of renewal. By fashioning this text-collage, Debord tries to map his voice onto that of the Revolutionary Prophet, and in so doing, to mime that role. With this, Debord began his period of "megalomaniac" ambition to be the revolutionary vanguard, which he would later attribute to the Situationists as a group, and which was the basis, in 1972, for his dissolving the organization.(41)

Friday, September 04, 2009

It's Friday. Let's Boogie!

PJ Harvey & John Parish - Black Hearted Love

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Dublin Psychogeographical Society Report 2009: Part Three

The River Liffey

A menagerie lion running through the middle of Dublin, the Liffey is an arbitrarily imposed U.N.-blue demarcation intended to promulgate artificial dichotomies among the urban proletariat to imbue them with a consciousness not just false but pantomimic in its theatricality. Have a good look at imperial practices in the construction of nation-states, the malicious separation of Rwandans into Tutsi and Hutu, and you will recognize once again the pernicious influence of the hand of Empire. The struggle between Northsider and Southsider is presented as eternal, immutable, a fight between two irreconcilable essences, forced together like mutually repelling poles of a magnet: the verb "to cleave" means both to divide in two and also to unite. The Liffey is a cleaver through the heart of Dublin, wielded by a bourgeoisie determined to pit Dub against Dub in a perpetual war of "Dubbier Than Thou" meant to guarantee their continued and mutual subservience to their regional oppressors. Is it any wonder there are so many corpses floating on the river's scummy surface? Who would not want to drown themselves when faced with such a depressing mise-en-seine?

Davey Byrne's Pub

Queue up to be moral at Davey Byrne's along with all the other sheep. You can arrange yourself in a group outside on the pavement and recline nonchalantly while sipping your Burgundy and Gorgonzola, or you can feign sophistication by quaffing lager by the bucket until the world tilts on its axis. Either way, you end up looking at things askew, imagining that this qualifies as civilized behaviour in a consumer paradise quickly turning as limp and rubbery as the Gorgonzola on your tongue, or maybe turning aimlessly like the rubber tyres of a rental cycle not even the French would want to steal. On long summer evenings, wannabe senior executives hang around on the streets outside this place, talking loudly and comparing Blackberries and cocks. They would even make Joyce into a revolutionary, if he isn't already spinning in his grave.

Leinster House

A kerfuffle. A scene. A lot of shouting and arguing. And then nothing at all. That's Leinster House, home to poseurs and statues, a place where fainéance has become an art, and statecraft synonymous with handicraft, most notably fiddling the books while Rome burns or knitting at the foot of an underused guillotine. It would be facile to draw attention to this crumbling edifice's foundational flaws and make a comparison with the nation's finances and the fiasco of a parliamentary system that sees the bourgeois parties engage in playground spats in the absence of a revolutionary force that could lay waste the entire landscape, but facile metaphors sometimes need venting as a form of social catharsis, a way of saying the unsaid, giving shape to an entire people's dreamwork. Off with his head!

Shelbourne Dogs

And in the absence of revolution we sleep the eternal sleep of the damned, making do with fantasies of wealth. Who knows, It Could Be You who wins the joblottery, but in the meantime use your good money to chase after bad. The spent bookies' slips seen here littering the concrete after a night at the dogs are testimony to the persistent optimism of the Irish working class, the survival of hope in the face of overwhelming odds stacked against them. All men are mortal, they say to one another, and so we must die no matter how much we will it otherwise. But if that be so, let us at least try to beat the system, if not collectively, then at least en masse, as a crowd of spectators on life, each of us hoping that he might be plucked from the crowd and rewarded arbitrarily. It's a thoroughly absurd and desperate hope, given that together they could be dancing on the graves of their exploiters. It's a dog-eat-dog world, but some of those handlers are looking mighty tasty right now.

Further reports to follow, imagination permitting.