Saturday, 15 December 2007

ground rules

It is noticeable how often adversaries actually share the same underlying assumptions. Perhaps this is what makes them true adversaries. So it is that certain anti-Semites and certain supporters of Israel both make the equation Israel = The Jews. For one, criticisms of Israel become examples of anti-Semitism; for the other, the aggression of the Israeli state is somehow ‘Jewish’. In both cases, we are dealing with mythical thinking. A modern nation state, whose nationalism is not unlike other modern nationalisms, is understood in mythical terms. Similarly, the Islamophobes and the Islamists are alike in making no distinction between contemporary Islamism and Islam itself. Ideology critique must always go beyond the superficial antagonisms to expose the assumptions which the stock antagonism works to reinforce. Not to take sides in the spectacular appearance of opposition but to oppose its very ground.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Samuel Beckett: An Unpublished Fragment

I can no more travel to Sligo than I can walk.

Beckett's words, yes. From where, I'll tell you later. But suppose it was typed out on a piece of paper. We didn't yet know whether a fiction or a fragment of autobiography, or a text in itself. It would be enough to permit speculation. Someone might say: Sligo, is of course Yeats country. The Beckettian creature can no more accept all that mythic Celtic landscape than he can leave the mute suffering body. Remember, this someone says, that when Beckett was asked about Yeats's influence he replied 'You mean Jack?'. 'Sligo' - a certain version of Ireland - is no longer available. The landscape may be resonant with certain dry ghosts, but it is, in Beckett, stripped of its mythic inscriptions.

In fact, then: in 1988 I attended a literary summer school in Sligo. Several of Beckett's plays were performed, and we listened to the entire radio plays, saw Film and Quad. The organizers, out of courtesy, and trying their luck, sent a letter to Beckett inviting him to attend. He replied with a postcard: 'I can no more travel to Sligo than I can walk'.

Remove this explanation, and we have an enigmatic fragment, attractively delphic, extravagant with connotation. But let this 'removal' stand as a kind of parable as to the birth of 'literary' language.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Academic attachments

The attachment to Zizek, the fond and indulgent ways people have of referring to him, are in no way new or worthy of individual analysis. They are to be understood as part of the behaviour of a fraktion of homo academicus. I remember from my undergraduate days a similar stance around Derrida. Now it’s by no means obvious (to say the least) that Derrida comes off best from his exchange with John Searle. But of course, no, Jacques was just playing with Searle, it was so amusing, Searle didn’t even realise it etc. I remember another acolyte, visible excited after hearing Derrida speak, ‘Jacques was so funny’ he opined, ‘pretending he couldn’t speak English very well..’Of course, he and 'Jacques'[he’d never met Derrida] knew this, the Others didn't. The thing was Derrida was always ‘in the know,’ archly clever and ludic. There were no errors or flaws, only masks, ruses, tricks, and other pretexts for complicit laughter. But always this presumption of intimacy on the part of the acolyte, this curious identification with the Master. And in fact it’s not that far removed from how some Shakespeareans treat Shakespeare – he’s unbelievably clever, there’s nothing in the text that he hasn’t anticipated, he’s already stood in the place towards which you’re myopically stumbling. Same kind of thing. The need for the master, the complicity and identification with this genius-Imago… To put it in more demotic terms, they all want a piece of him

Spectacular Thinking

re Zizek's remarks about China & George Bush, as cited in the previous post:

Marxism was never a theory of how largely agrarian or pre-industrial societies could pull themselves up by their own bootstraps to become post-capitalist classless societies. This statement, pace Zizek et al, does not involve some antique concept of Iron Historical Necessity. It’s simply about material preconditions.

It would hardly be a measure of the utter tenacity of capitalism, then, that it wasn’t eradicated ‘even’ in China, with or without the ‘Cultural Revolution’. But does Zizek really think the ‘Cultural Revolution’ was primarily about eradicating traces of capitalism? And if, in error, he does think this, why from a Marxist perspective would capitalism’s ability to survive cultural assault really be so surprising.

There is no point in asking these questions. For the actual Cultural Revolution is here replaced by the mere signature or idea of the thing, as copied and profaned in the spectacular imagination.


Theorists of Hegemony have long been aware that – putting it in basic terms – the ruling class will try and appropriate, recuperate, use for their own ends, resistance and opposition. They will cite it as evidence in prosecuting their own case, rename and reinterpret it. Acts of legitimate resistance will become acts of criminal madness by agents of foreign powers. There will be attempts to ‘scramble’ or denigrate the language of opposition, to make ‘liberal’ or ‘socialist’ merely pejorative items. And these attempts will in turn be contested, will fail adequately to describe or summarise the reality of the situation.

But simply to take one of these attempts at recuperation on its own terms, to accept it, admit defeat….Bush said it: it’s true. Astonishing. And of course, what Bush said has in fact long been the staple, utterly banal and predictable, response to dissent in the liberal democracies, going back to the Cold War: you should think yourself lucky that you can protest like this. We’ve heard it all before, and for most of us it washes over us. It’s the background noise we live with. It takes a ‘brilliant dialectical philosopher’ to take it seriously.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

A stubborn attachment

From a comment I left elsewhere:

Zizek is now little more than a jaded professional contrarian. It’s clear from his article that he knows next to nothing about Chavez, or rather, nothing that you couldn’t glean from Fox news; that he’s made no effort to actually investigate and ponder the details, because be has no interest in the labour of detail, no interest in accuracy or the merely empirical. Chavez, Bill Gates, Shakespeare et al are used only illustratively in the service of by now endlessly reiterated Theoretical points. This is the salient feature, surely, of Zizek’s writing - a willfully instumental and careless use of ‘examples’, made to perform the same ersatz-dialectical tricks for a stubbornly admiring audience.

Moreover, it is striking how many of Zizek's political points repose on assumptions that reveal another politics entirely:

Is it necessary to explain, for example, the political stupidity of the following two remarks:

"Even Mao’s attempt, in the Cultural Revolution, to wipe out the traces of capitalism, ended up in its triumphant return.

"Those in power calmly accepted it, even profited from it: not only did the protests in no way prevent the already-made decision to attack Iraq; they also served to legitimise it. Thus George Bush’s reaction to mass demonstrations protesting his visit to London, in effect: ‘You see, this is what we are fighting for, so that what people are doing here – protesting against their government policy – will be possible also in Iraq!’"

If it is, I'll do so at the weekend.

But anyway, Zizek's citation of Bush's remark has led, among the Zizek shareholders, suddenly to all kinds of discussion about the political efficacy of protest. The striking thing of course is that this sudden animation comes about only in defending Zizek. What's at stake is not the nature of political protest - a subject which otherwise never arises among these people - but only the continued viablity of Zizek. This attachment to Zizek is so radically stubborn that it requires analasis in its own right.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

What Matter Who's Speaking

As so often in Beckett’s prose, you’ve no sooner read a sentence one way than you hear it another way. The second reading washes over the first like a wave over sand. Beckett facilitates this kind of thing often by subtraction – syntactic elisions, removal of verbs or conjunctives, which free up otherwise hemmed in voices. In Not I, the very absence of grammatical and orthographic markers forces the reader to make immediate decisions. This is experienced almost as a constraint, a strange transformation of freedom (to interpret, to arrange) into tyranny (the necessity of imposing these so as to suppress dispersal). Or the ambivalence of one sentence will be opened or closed by the sentence following it, endlessly..

I have always being a little intrigued by this:

What matter who's speaking, someone said what matter who's speaking

For it seems to me that this can be inflected numerous ways. For example:

What does it matter who spoke – someone did. What does it matter who.

“what matter who’s speaking” someone said, “what matter who’s speaking”

What does it matter who’s speaking, someone said ‘what matter who’s speaking?’

No sooner is one of these seen that another appears in the corner of vision.

But what's interesting in the sentence is the minmal difference between what matter who's speaking and its reiteration.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Pure Theory

A previous post reports on Israeli military personnel quoting Deleuze and Guattari as useful to their strategy. "Furthermore, they used none of the city’s streets, roads, alleys or courtyards, or any of the external doors, internal stairwells and windows, but moved horizontally through walls and vertically through holes blasted in ceilings and floors". This is bollocks. Tunnelling through walls has long been a tactic of military organisations fighting urban warfare. It needs no Deleuze or Guattari to come up with any of this this stuff. But the gratuity needs interpreting. The invocation of D&G is an obscene supplement. A display of supposed theoretical elan flaunted in the face of homes and human beings detroyed. Talking about this process as if was some kind of spatial puzzle - ‘the reorganization of the urban syntax by means of a series of micro-tactical actions’. The actual horrific violence is both denied and doubled by the the symbolic violence of talking about it in these terms.

But it struck me that this isn't too removed from how a a lot of Theory is used i today's academia. It redescribes a reality that is already in fact perfectly visible, leaving that reality completely untouched while somehow making it seem more 'interesting'. There's a surplus of enjoyment that comes from this redescription, and this mistakes itself for some kind of radical analysis. More later,..

Monday, 29 October 2007

An interview with Badiou.


Tonight, the supermarket was full of students buying ironic pumpkins for halloween. Not 'tonight the supermarket was full of students ironically buying pumpkins for halloween'.

nb is there a Nick Cave song that mentions someone with a 'pumpkin sized head'?

Friday, 26 October 2007

The hegemonic efficacy of being completely knackered.

Students and theorists of hegemony, those who seek to discover why the proletariat has not overthrown capitalism, to lay bare the mechanisms keeping the general population acquiescent and politically inactive, perhaps overplay the effect of various ideological apparatuses, of the commodification of the world - although these things are not to be dismissed. What shouldn't be underestimated is the sheer fact that vast numbers of people, including the present author at the exact present time, find that work leaves them totally knackered. If your lucky, you spend 9 hours a day on some highly specific task that nonetheless requires ingenuity - like flogging advertising space. If you're unlucky, you spend 9 hours a day of total monotony and mechanical repetition. In both cases, come 5.30 you're knackered, mentally and physically. The weekend is just recuperation; the evenings a mere unravelling. Your mental and physical energies already syphoned off by powers inimical to your interests, confiscated from you 7 turned into capital. You return home an empty integument, wanting nothing more than to sit down with a beer and replay the day as anecdote to a sympathetic companion. The contagion of work's slow stain...

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Titus, Law, Violence

One of the things Revenge deals with is the individual’s relation to the law, the possibilities available inside and outside the law- the possible opposition between earthly, state law and some notion of divine/ natural law.

Titus begins with horrific act of tortue, mutilation, burning and execution of Alarbus – all of course within, sanctioned by, the law.

Thus, the first kind of violence we encounter in the play is that of the state. The state stages a spectacle whereby the body of the condemned is tortured and executed. What perhaps happens in this play is that the kind of theatrical ‘Sadism’ we encounter here ceases to be the exclusive property of the state. Characters arrogate to themselves the violence which in the first instance is the prerogative of the state. They (Tamora & sons) repeat it parodically, emptied of symbolic resonance. And the play itself participates in this process. Or, the surplus of sadism which sticks to the law (simultaneously concealed and strenghtened by it) here walks naked.
In Titus, violence typically fails to achieve symbolic meaning. But the play shows this failure. See, for example, in Greek tragedy – e.g. Oedipus tearing out his eyes or in Lear, Gloucester - “I stumbled when I saw”. In both cases, the loss of sight has meaning-ful resonance. In Titus, the very semblance of symbolic meaning is mocked. See, for instance, 3.1 Aaron asks for the hand of Titus. This is to be a symbolic act of reparation, a kind of gift to the sovereign (cf. earlier, the ‘gift’ of Alarbus to the dead). This symbolic meaning is precisely a semblance. It turns out of course to be a ‘joke’. It involves, to begin with a kind of crude pun on the idea of giving someone your hand ('Give me your hands of we be friends')

The closest we come to symbolic violence is act 1.1. 96:

LUCIUS: “Give us the proudest prisoner of the Goths,
That we may hew his limbs, and on a pile
Ad manes frartum [‘to the shades of our brothers] sacrifice his flesh
Before this earthly prison of their bones,
That so the shadows be not appeased,
Nor we disturbed with prodigies on earth.


“Religiously they ask a sacrifice.
To this your son is marked, and die he must,
T’appease the groaning shadows that are gone

LUCIUS: we have performed our Roman rites.. [

Alarbus exists here only symbolically, as a token. Here violence is an explicitly symbolic act – i.e. a sacrifice, even though it is as horrific as acts perpetrated later on in the play. It has this symbolic envelope. Its still part of a world where are these ritual and symbolic meanings.

Now in the subsequent violence you get the same kind of bloody horrors, violence visited on the body, but it is as if it has slipped any kind of symbolic envelope, meaning or correlative, so leaving behind the sheer naked violation of the action.
But again, the play is aware of this very subtraction. As if we are moving from a world of symbolic meanings and metaphysical guarantees, to grand guignol senselessness, with Titus representing the older Roman nobility, bound by ties and by symbolic rites.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

A Poem (Akhmatova)

"And, as always happens in the days of final rupture,
The ghost of the first days knocked at the door,
And in burst the silver willow
And all its grey, branching splendour.
To us, frenzied, disdainful and bitter
Not daring to raise our eyes from the ground,
A bird began to sing in a voice of rapture
About how much we cherished each other"

Film - By Samuel Beckett (Part 3)

Film - By Samuel Beckett (Part 2)

Film - By Samuel Beckett (Part 1)

Saturday, 20 October 2007

The opposite of waiting

He has never satisfactorily explained, Gla., what he was doing stood outside the French Institute that time at ten o'clock in the evening. I thought that, like me, he must have just come out of Andrei Rublev, but he had no idea it was on. He seemed shifty. He was waiting, evidently. It could not have been drugs. He has never taken or been interested in stimulants of that sort. I had an idea it was something altogether more criminal. But I have avoided asking him about it for perhaps 10 years. I reminded him the other night but he just laughed and chnaged the subject - 'how can you watch Tarkovsky anyway?'. 'You have to forget time. It is not at all like waiting, for instance. Not at all like that. Perhaps the opposite.'

Sunday, 14 October 2007


"The experience of a linear organic flow of events is an illusion.. that masks tha fact that it is the ending that retroactively confers the consistency of an organic whole on the preceding events"

"One must insist on the opposition between the appropriation of the past from the standpoint of those who rule [..] and the appropriation of that which, in the past, retained its utopian and failed ('repressed') potentiality.

"In order to break through, the New must first express itself in the old form"

What postmodern Theory most lacks is any historical sense - not only for the radical difference of the past, and the rebuke, the tacit questioning gaze with which the past regards us. But the trick of seeing in the present the enigmatic eddy of past and future. This eddy powered the engine of Walter Benjamin's thinking.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Always historicise!

The enjoinder ‘always historicise’ is the one most conspicuously missed by so much contemporary Theory. This means, for sure, asking things like ‘does the ‘Symbolic Order’ really mean the same thing in pre-literate largely oral cultures (there is always this language of the Symbolic fixing, mortifying etc, which may be in some ways print-culture specific). But the imperative is also about the very emergence of the concepts – what has happened such that the Symbolic can become visible? What allows it to be an object of reflection for us? The birth of the concept as symptom, as indexical of a shift on another level. This level, visible through its symptoms = history.

To be serious about theoretical reflection is to be ready to engage in a tremendous labour of detail, the sifting through all kinds of cultural and historical minutiae. With a microscope and telescope at once, maintain perpetual vigilance against the self-evidence of the contemporary moment. Dig into its contingency. What is unserious is to wonder around wide-eyed in the bazaar of the present pointing to endless examples of one’s pet concepts – ooh look, another instance of the Big Other! These New Concepts that can never drink their fill of examples!!

mutation not decline

It's no longer disciplinary institutional power that defines everything, it's capitalism's power to produce variety - because markets get saturated. Produce variety and you produce a niche market. The oddest of affective tendencies are okay - as long as they pay. Capitalism starts intensifying or diversifying affect, but only in order to extract surplus-value. It hijacks affect in order to intensify profit potential. It literally valorises affect.

Friday, 12 October 2007


Via Infinite Thought: "'Frieze is so capitalist it's Marxist' - Jonathan Jones. So capitalist it's Marxist Indeed, opines magog. We must insist: the ruling class knows what it is doing. The insights of cultural critique come as no surprise to the advertising exec. The intricacies of Deleuze are congenial to the Israeli war machine. Marx is read profitably by stockbrokers.

But this proposition, that the Ruling Class already has the knowledge 'we' have, that they are not ideological dupes sleepwalking through their acts of corporate vandalism etc but soberly and even cynically ensconced behind ideological spin, this is almost universally resisted by the intellectual classes. They think it unsophisticated, vulgar, conceptually uninteresting. For some reason, they want to think that the ruling class is stupid. As if their own knowledge was - politically speaking - enough. Not at all. Their own knowledge implies no political position. ONly active commitment will do.

How to Get Ahead in Teaching

Selling advertising is like teaching, declares magog: you want them in place X, but they have to think they arrived there by themselves. Both teaching and selling involve producing in your subject a false experience of their own agency.

Advertising Copy

Gog: How, magog, do you square your communist leanings with your job in an advertising company.

Magog: it is important of course to understand the production of symbolic goods immanently and in terms of its pragmatics. But all along with the intent of stabbing it in the back. One must only maintain one's critical distance.

Gog: but pro-capitalist advertisers themselves have 'critical distance'. They too understand it 'critically', only in order to DO it better!

Magog: Yes of course. The difference between the pro and anti capitalist advertising executuve is not that one has critical knowledge while the other is immersed in the 'how-to' of his employment. The difference is only an act of ethical commitment. A different in final project.

Gog: but to what effect?

Magog: One day I will leave the business and write a book.. it will blow the whole thing wide open.

Gog: or serve as more fuel to the fire?

Monday, 8 October 2007


"Flabby, pale Narcissus", he said, "Though you left it years ago, the pool has kept your face. A ghostly sliver, a print-out of light. But you are not unique. Scattered through those landscapes, there are pools and tarns and spinnies with faces trapped inside them." "It wasn't a pool. It was Blea tarn" I said "I caught my first fish. If there's a face there still its a child's face".

Then, we started dancing round the room. We sang 'gog and magog have got a blog' to the tune of 'control' by Gossip.


To be honest, he told the newbe, we don't know exactly what makes a great phone salesman. You can say the right things in interview but then .. nothing. It seems to be something to do with the voice. Of course, you have to be saying something that makes sense, but that's just the alibi. It's the voice they respond to. It's all they have. They answer to something in your voice and if that's not there, it's no deal. If they buy your voice they'll buy the product.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

gog, magog, job

Gog and Magog have a job as well as a blog, so we plan to write all our posts at the weekend but then feed them into the blogstream on a day by day basis. Hopefully a rhythm of exchange between the dispeptic gog and the eupeptic magog will develop in the coming times. Our resources are finite. The working week drains our enthusiasms and confiscates our speech. Gog in particular is a cyborg in so far as the speech he must use at work is an oiled machine which functions to persuade others to part with money. At the weekends, he must detach this apparatus from his tongue and larynx. The resulting stammers, clacks, and eventual articulation (hopefully) will be made available here.

Beauty has no other origin

"Beauty has no other origin than the singular wound, different in every case, hidden or visible, which each man bears within himself, which he preserves, and into which he withdraws when he would quit the world for a temporary but authentic solitude"

This short statement is from Genet's essay 'The Studio of Alberto Giacometti'. Its enigmatic immobility is certainly related to the essay, but also interrupts it. It neither follows from the preceding paragraph nor opens into the next. Genet does not repeat the familiar notion that beauty is a salve, a respite from incommunicable suffering. After thinking about Giacometti's figures, which are like relics or like emissaries, an idea of beauty stands revealed to him. Thus the general idea is distilled from the particularity of Giacometti's sculptures. These sculptures, too, withdraw from the the world, attain solitude. This is the attained solitude of Beauty. The artist's 'singular wound' and the object created are analogues of one another. And both are equidistant from the world.