Monday, March 30, 2009

Today in class, Walter Mignolo made a very interesting critique of Agamben's "bare life." He said, and I paraphrase, "Slavery is not bare life, in the sense that Jews were bare life; slaves are expendable life." The concept of bare life and homo sacer, drawn from Agamben's studies of Auschwitz, refers to a kind of magic circle, a necessary out-casting of individuals in society, the construction of the scapegoat, etc. It is about the phenomenon of internal exclusion. Slavery, on the other hand, was, first and foremost, about labor, about the appropriation of laboring bodies. Slaves are not bare life, they are chattel, completely expendable, not because the slaveholding west desires to annihilate them, but because it needs them to build up the foundations of mercantile capital and it cannot simultaneously admit their humanity. It is a mistake to conflate racial extermination policies and enslavement policies; they have completely opposite ends. The former is a means of mobilizing the "national" population against an internal/external enemy. The latter is more on a continuum with the wage slavery of the industrial revolution era, but with more brutality. Expendable life is not immoral, but amoral; it is life that serves not for sacrifice but for bodies, and it is really impossible to locate it outside the historical specificities of capitalism (perhaps this is why Agamben, with his intellectual history stemming from the Greeks, misses the point here). "Expendable life" is the kind of nullified life-forms that the institution of slavery produced, wholly constrained by plantation-based merchant capital.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Recipe for Disaster: The Formula That Killed Wall Street. This is an interesting article, not actually about how the formula itself killed Wall Street but how the eagerness of traders to grab onto a magic bullet led them to tweak a formula for calculating correlation so that it fit their needs. Of course, one thing this article doesn't mention is that, had it not been this formula, it would have been something else. One thing that the financialization of capital has done is to make the international markets incredibly vulnerable to things like this. This fallout of capitalization is the kind of thing that only Marxists and very skeptical chaos-theory liberals like Nassim Nicholas Taleb actually propose in times of economic prosperity, but that people start taking seriously during an economic collapse. The basic principle is that when everyone starts doing the same thing - misusing a specific correlation formula, for example - this creates a bubble that will eventually burst. Anyway, check out the article. Worth reading.

Friday, March 13, 2009

I'm very excited about Sleep Dealer, which is, according to the trailer, coming out next month. It's already playing in LA and New York. It is a science fiction film (with some not so fictional elements: military drone planes, robotic labor replacing human labor, sealed borders) that takes place in a future Mexico, in which the borders to the U.S. have been completely closed off, and immigrant labor is done through computerized factories (machinery is controlled by Mexican laborers in Mexico, but it operates in the U.S.: "All the Work without the Workers"). It has gotten some acclaim at Sundance and other festivals. This will probably be my favorite film of the year.

Also, check out the blog at the website, which has some interesting links.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I've been thinking about the question of circularity, and I wanted to post something, even if I don't have time right now for a full articulation of my thoughts:

I grew up as a Buddhist in a white Buddhist community (and am now a complete atheist). One thing I would often hear is that, unlike Western notions of history, Eastern religions conceive history in terms of circular processes, be it the process of karma and rebirth in Buddhism, or the cycle of three ages - each represented by a different god, The Creator god, the Sustainer god, and the Destroyer god - in some forms of so-called Hinduism. This complaint strikes me now as utterly blind to how the dominant trope of Western historiography actually functions: not only is there circularity, everything is circular. Western historiography refers back to the past repeatedly, in order to clarify the present: Obama=Lincoln or Obama=FDR, the current crash=Great Depression, 21st Century=20th century=19th century (but the 19th century≠the 18th century, at least not for us any more), Hitler=Napoleon=Ghengis Khan. Our conception of history is utterly circular; we cannot do without the circle. The claim that Western history doesn't recognize the circle simply fails to recognize the circle in Western history. What else is redemption than a restoration of an original state of peace?

A linear conception of time would be quite different. For one thing, it would recognize circles/cycles, but only in certain circumstances. The seasons, for example, are cyclical, but also linear. No two springs are the same, as any farmer can tell you, but we can expect the regularity of the cycle spring/summer/fall/winter (to varying degrees, of course, depending on our global location). Historically valid solutions may work a second time, but under varied conditions. Also, a linear notion of time has to recognize entropy. The movement of energy in the universe does not recapitulate the movement of the seasons. Up to this point, the dominant trope of historiography has been circular; although there have been figures that have argued for a more linear history, Marx among them (periodization is a theory that implies no reversal), the dominant trope is a circular one.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I haven't put up any new posts in a few days. I'm getting tired of using the link-blog format, even if I appreciate other people's link blogs quite a bit. At some point, not yet, of course, I would like this blog to become something entirely different, more of an outlet for my research. I think this probably won't be until after I've taken my preliminary exams. Or I might split it up, so that I have a second blog devoted entirely to research run-off. I'll leave you with a couple of links. I'm working on a review of the autonomous Marxist Christian Marazzi's first book to be translated into English, Capital and Language (Semiotext(e), 2008), and I've found a couple other reviews of the book here and here. I will say this about William Dixon's review (the second one): I think that his claim that Marazzi ignores history is rather unjust, for two reasons. First, it's not really true; Marazzi continually situates the development of the New Economy (his term for the finance-based, tech-based economy that began to exist in the 1980s and that came into maturity in the 90s) in a historical trajectory based on global legal, political, and social changes. Second, this book is not attempting to fully theorize the totality of the New Economy along with its numerous particulars after the manner of Marx in Capital or Keynes in The General Theory. The series in which it has been released in North America, Semiotext(e)'s "Post-Political Politics" series, consists of a number of short interventions into various theoretical currents rather than massive theoretical treatises on techno-capital. But some of the complaints that Dixon makes are just. See what you think.