Words are snowflakes. They fall.

I am not a regular dreamer. I don’t mean in terms of not being a garden variety utopianist. Nor do I mean my dreams are so crazy that surrealist Dali would’ve been shocked into a soberiety of normativity. I mean I don’t regularly remember dreaming. Well!! I was rudely awoken far too early this morning by a dream I was having. I am sure many of those who were slaughtered in the classic 80s schlock A Nightmare on Elm St film series would’ve loved the ability. It is an ability I didn’t know I had. I don’t think it is actually an ability, but it is a very bizarre experience.

It must have something to do with a book I am reading, which I heartily recommend to EVERYONE (well anyone interested enough to read my blog!). It is called 101 Reykjavik, by Hallgrimur Helgason. And, no, I have not been smoking crack and playing word games with the graffiti in the public toilets. It is a novel, thus:

Hlynur is a true product of our postmodern global culture. Well beyond slackerdom, he lives at home with his mother and depends on social welfare. He’s a quick-witted and articulate young man, and there’s nothing wrong with him — other than a total lack of ambition, an off-kilter sense of morality, and a nagging set of existential woes.

An Icelandic novel. It reminds me of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. Every sentence is an idea that explodes. The text is an expressive incendiary. It is like each of my thoughts had become a pyromaniac in the fireworks factory of my imagination.

I was hooked from the first page; in fact, hooked from the very first word: “Anyway.” Ha! Those who have spoken to me in person, or online via MSN or something, will probably have figured out I deploy ‘anyway’ as a discursive segway enabling device. Change the topic. Anyway…

Hlynur’s utter lack of ambition and ambivalence to the conditions of his “existential woes” resonates with me. One of the recurring problems I have with living in this world is the massive gap between being ‘successful’ and doing what is possibly the right thing to do. They are not the same thing. The tension between a fear of sliding up/down the social mobility snakes and ladders game and the horrific violence wrought upon the world through our very ‘success’ is literally unthinkable (in the sense that no matter how much we would like to be able to subtract the externalities of a situation away from the situation itself to decide on the ‘truth’ the event evelopes (as Badiou would have us do), the global complexities always elide a ‘universally’ sufficient or even competent understanding).

There is no better example than the current state of global politics in western democracies. In most countries half of the population realises that the current state of affairs just cannot continue while the other half are locked in a mindset that privileges the most successful and efficient facilitators of the current global quagmire.

This book is one expression of being in-between and not really knowing what to do about it (a bit like having both Blogger and Haloscan comments on a blog:). I think there are many people of my generation who feel like this. It is the near-pathological social lethargy experienced at a time when ‘urgency’ has become a fashionable academic buzzword for those who flirt with an ethical radicalism, or it is the compulsion to do something — that something needs to be done — in the face of the horrific stupidity of the world around us. I often feel both tendencies at the same anxiety producing time.

Anyway, I am going back to bed ;). And, thank you, Helene, for giving me this book.

The dogmatist-machine

K-Punk’s latest post is a manifesto for stupidity rendered radical. He completely ignores the situatedness of what Badiou conceptualises as an ‘event’ while embracing the universality of what Badiou calls a ‘truth.’ He expresses the paranoid desire of a free floating dogmatist-machine that populates the assemblage of K-Punk. He is subtracting the world from itself before he has encountered the event, and such a closing down and closing off is silly. From an interview with Badiou:

“For complex reasons, I give the Good the name “Truths” (in the plural). A Truth is a concrete process that starts by an upheaval (an encounter, a general revolt, a surprising new invention), and develops as fidelity to the novelty thus experimented. A Truth is the subjective development of that which is at once both new and universal. New: that which is unforeseen by the order of creation. Universal: that which can interest, rightly, every human individual, according to his pure humanity (which I call his generic humanity). To become a subject (and not remain a simple human animal), is to participate in the coming into being of a universal novelty. That requires effort, endurance, sometimes self-denial. I often say it’s necessary to be the “activist” of a Truth. There is Evil each time egoism leads to the renunciation of a Truth. Then, one is de-subjectivized. Egoistic self-interest carries one away, risking the interruption of the whole progress of a truth (and thus of the Good).”

The subject of truth to an event is immanent to the event itself. A fidelity to a truth stems from the descision to bare witness to its inherent ‘infinite’ and ‘universal’ singularity of the event. Anything else is an Evil. If K-Punk lives and thinks by the non-evental axiom of ‘dogmatism’ he ceases to be open to the constant, complex flows in which he is bound. The possibility of an event — determined by the fidelity to a singular truth it envelopes — is continually displaced by a rabid and subtractive ‘egoistic self-interest’ overcoding of the world.

Or there is another possibility. K-Punk is already the subject of a truth-event. What are the conditions of this event? No idea; he doesn’t say. However, he does proffer an axiom:

“Briefly, it involves commitment to the view that there are Truths. One can add to this, the view that there is a Good.”

Which, if you subtract all the ‘radical’ hubris of K-Punk’s writing, leads me to believe that his ‘event’ is reading Badiou. So what we have then is K-Punk’s fidelity to the Truth of ‘Truths’ and the Good of a ‘Good.’ Let’s call this the Badiouist fallacy, the adherents of which I can only imagine will increase in number as ‘Badiou’ inevitably garners more fan-boys. The fallacy involves subtracting the opinion from the event of ‘Badiou’ until all we are left with is ‘Badiou’ itself. In other words, the world is subtracted and what is left is a mere caricature. Although there is nothing specifically Evil about the axiomatisation of this fidelity…

The problem remains of the specific construction of K-Punk’s dogmatism, he writes:

No, I am not tolerant.
No, I do not want to ‘debate’ or ‘enter into
dialogue with’ liberal democrats, PoMoSophists, opnionists, carnalists, hedonists, mensheviks, individualists….
No, I don’t respect you, nor do I solicit such respect for myself from you.
The defenders of tolerance, debate, dialogue and respect advertise their bourgeois credentials with such advocacy. I’m sorry, apolologists for exploitation of labour, but, no, I don’t see it as my duty to provide the enemy with a space to express itself. You already have the global videodrome, the judiciary, the police, the psychiatric establishment and the most powerful armies of the world on your side. If that isn’t enough, you could always make the effort to build your own profile and audience so you can add to the chorus of approval for the Satanic-worldly. (Too much like hard work? Thought so.)
Be under no illusions: differends, incommensurability, language games, forms of life, very far from disrupting the Dominant Operating System are that operating system in person. Zizek is right about Rorty being right: for all their apparent philosophical wrangles, the political upshot of the theories of Derrida and Habermas (and one can presumably add in Lyotard here) is exactly the same: defence of the liberal values of respect for Otherness etc etc.
Yes, I want to leave all that behind. One of the scandals of Badiou’s thought is to announce the blindingly obvious: difference is not suppressed by the established order, it is its banal currency. Fragmentation, deconstruction, cut-up are the very stuff of which mediocracy is made.

The key point K-Punk makes is that “difference is not suppressd by the established order, it is its banal currency.” I whole heartedly agree with him here. Capital’s banal currency of ‘difference’ is actually one of Deleuze and Guattari’s points: “capitalism forms with a general axiomatic of decoded flows. […] The axiomatic itself, of which States are models of realization, restores or reinvents, in new and now technical forms, an entire system of machinic enslavement. […] Capital is indeed an axiomatic, because it has no laws but immanent ones.” (ATP, pg 453, 458, 463, orig. ital.).

The voice of resistance is an expression that counter-actualises the ‘realization’ of these flows — so it is, first, coded with a meaning, and then, secondly, creates a plane of transcendence through the overcoding function of the ditribution of difference in horizontal and hierarchical relations of power. However, Badiou’s ‘militant’ progresses from specific, material situations that locks on to a novelty — a multiple marked, i.e. coded, by a differential relation — introduced into the world by way of the event. The error of K-Punk’s thought is to think ‘difference’ in such a naive, molar way, as if he has no choice in the matter. His master, Badiou, already separates different truth-events into those belonging to science, art, love and politics. Further, Badiou takes it to the molecular level:

“Indeed, the function that assigns to every mutlitple the degree of intensity of its appearing is fundamental a differential function. It identifies a given multiple through the systematic comparison of the intensity of its appearing-in-the-world (its being there) with the intensity of all the other multiples that are co-present in the world. That this comparison is ultimately quantitative (an order of degress) conforms to everything that science (precisely) tells us: the correlation of worldly phenomena with the purity of their being is marked by the necessity of measurements.”
Alain Badiou (2004) “Afterword” Think Again, pg 234, orig. ital.

K-Punk appears to confuse his simulacrum of fidelity — the ‘dogmatism’ refrain — with the a-nihlation and refusal of difference — the welcoming of an entropic equilibrium. On the contrary, difference must be systematically measured and selected. A choice has to be made; choosing the radicalism of ‘Badiou’ does not necessarily lead to the absurd relief of not having to make anymore choices. The belief in a single choice allowing for the dismissal of difference itself is utter nonsense. A refusal to be complicit in the machinery by which ‘capital’ deterritorialises and conjugates decoded flows is understandable, but this machinery is quite separate from difference itself. Difference itself is in-different to itself.

You get my drift?

Work has become mobility

“In Marx, time begins to come into view as the measure of labour (a Hegelian step forward with respect to the deficiencies of modern science), but, step by step, as the course of class struggle and the abstraction of labour asserts itself, time increasingly becomes interior to class composition, the the point of being the motor of its very existence and of its specific configuration. The process develops so that the maximal temporalization of the labour process (and of the production process) leads to the maximal re-appropriation of all the spatial conditions of existence. When work has become mobility, pure and simple mobility — when, that is, it is time pure and simple — then it is the possibility and actuality of the constitution of the world. O’Connor and Hossfeld, Paul Virilio, Jean-Paul de Gaudemar have all recently come to this awareness in writings of various degress of importance — an awareness which is alone adequate to the development of mature capitalism: mobility comes to be the very definition of the proletarian class today.”
— Antonio Negri, Time for Revolution, pg 35-36.

“Work has become mobility.” I wonder what Negri means by this? I have a good idea, but it is not clear in his text. What he is trying to do in this text (the first part of Time for Revolution originally published in 1981) is anticipate and counter the tendencies highlighted here by McKenzie Wark:

“If there is a reason why the left appears to be struggling to keep up with the pace of change, it may be that the forces traditionally identified as ‘left’ no longer represent the frontline in the class conflict that, in Marxist thinking, determines the forward movement of history. Much of the agenda of the left seems either to be about resisting change completely or accommodating to it in ways that preserve the interests of certain constituencies, particularly those skilled workers in manufacturing and in the white collar public sector that belong to left wing unions.”
Celebrities, Culture and Cyperspace, pg 277-278.

What I don’t understand is Negri’s use of the term ‘mobility.’ It is certainly related to the rise to dominance of the ‘service industry’ over the manufacturing sector. The translator to Time for Revolution, Matteo Mandarini, makes the point in an enlightening footnote to his introduction:

“The dominance of the service sector over manufacturing in many pf the most advanced capitalist economies is evidence of how the difference in the cycles of production and reproduction increasingly fall away, ot how their priority is inverted, so that ‘so-called reproductive sectors now take on a central role’ (Negri, Macchina tempo, p. 211). The claim is not that manufacturing disappears in postmodern, post-Fordist production practices: ‘Quantitative indicators cannot grasp either the qualitative transformation in the progression from one paradigm to another or the hierarchy among the economic sectors in the context of each paradigm.’ What is meant is simply that: ‘Today all economic activity tends to come under the dominance of informational economy and to be qualitatively transformed by it’ (Hardt and Negri, Empire, pg 281, pg 287-288).” — Matteo Mandarini, pg 267, fn 22.

So what I am thinking about is the link between ‘mobility’ and the ‘informational sector’ in the context of the shifting sands (or not) of ‘left’ theory, or maybe just ‘left’ appreciations of the contemporary.

Strong and weak techno-utopiasts have really focused in on the ‘informational sector’ side of these tendencies (e.g. Wark’s book). My interests — the car stuff and mobility — are a lot more ‘material.’ It is not as if materiality itself has ‘vanished into air’ just because the ‘immaterial’ modes of reproduction have become dominant. Part of the argument I develop in my thesis is that there is a gap between Negri and Hardt’s argument to do with the relation between biopolitical reproduction and the dominance of the informational sector, or, rather, there is a gap in the prevailing approaches to the problems they isolate. My argument is that the material circulation of labour — that is, the mobility of labour — also needs attention. For it is here that car culture and panics over road safety become sites of contestation over the biopolitical reproduction of mobile subjects, and panics over ‘p-platers’ are specifically panics over the successful incorporation of ‘youth’ into these regimes of mobility. The road safety and licensing industries are perceived to have failed in their specific task to reproduce docile mobilised subjects and is where my thesis is ‘political’ in the traditional cultural studies sense.

It is very weird, because little attention has been paid to these (at first glance, very narrow) issues within cultural studies, but at the same time my argument is somewhat obvious and, beyond the near-fetish for techno-utopian understandings, the issues themselves — automobility, incorporation into regimes of flexible labour, spatial governmentality, etc. — are the basis of contemporary everyday life.

Edit: I started writing a response in the comments section to Christian‘s question (posted in the comments), when I realised my question was far too long and better served in the main-post field.

Christian asks, “I thought the question of mobility was old news?”

Watchew talkin’ bout Christian?

Let me open with a quote from Virilio:

“The first important revolution on the technical plane is that of transportation, which favors an equipping of the territory with railroads, airports, highways, electric lines, cables, etc. It has a geopolitical element. The second revolution which is almost concomitant, is the transmissions revolution, including Marconi, Edison, radio, television. From this point on, technology is set loose. It becomes immaterial and electromagnetic.”

He then goes on to say there is another revolution, of miniaturisation. This third revolution produces a ‘hyper-active man.’ My interest, for this post, are the first two revolutions. Virilio is wrong to suggest that technology becomes immaterial and electromagnetic without qualifying the fact that such transmission technologies were added to the technologies of transportation, but did not completely replace them. We still have technologies of transportation, and I will take this as being obvious. What we are left with is a hybrid form. ‘Mobility’ now, in the most general sense, is both material and immaterial.

Part of your question, Christian, relates to the usefulness of my questions. Hasn’t mobility been done before? Short answer: not really. The question of ‘material’ mobility has not been sufficiently answered, and I would even go as far as to suggest the right sort of questions have not even been asked properly yet. There has been far too much focus, ironically, on the static elements of mobility — the ‘to’ and the ‘from’ and even the ‘passing through’ — but not much on mobility itself — the ‘passing.’ Only very recently come in for serious attention. John Urry has written a book on mobilities and Vincent Kaufman has published a much needed, but rather disappointing, book on the concept of ‘motility‘ (mobility potential) and there are others.

What is also very interesting about your question, Christian, is that you imply there is a ‘new.’ The funny thing about the ‘new’ is that it is pretty subjective. If you invert Virilio’s revolutions, every ‘new’ person who comes in to the world by being born into an advanced capitalist country undergoes these revolutions all over again. They need to be conditioned, like the rest of the urban biomass (including us), to accept the conditions of automobility and whatever. Damn near every person in every western country has to undergo this process. The transport and media transmission revolutions for every human being are almost concomitant and they are continually ‘new.’ That is the starting point of my argument regarding the p-platers, etc.

There is another thread to your question: that ‘mobility’ is not contemporary, i.e. it is ‘old.’ (Now I know how repressed old men feel going through a middle-age crisis, haha;) Cultural Studies’ relentless fascination with the contemporary is carry-over from its anthropological influences. However, the problem then emerges, how do you define the contemporary? What is the limit of contemporanaiety? The first, obvious answer is the ‘now,’ what is currently happening. Although, if you want to get a grasp of the emergence of the contemporary — what I have been doing with the Van Wheels and archival Street Machine research — then it is necessary to trace the contemporary back to when it was ‘new.’ That is, how long has the ‘contemporary’ existed? Virilio locates the emergence of the first revolution in transportation more than 150 years ago and just because it emerged 150 years ago does not mean it is not part of the ‘contemporary.’

What I still don’t understand is what Negri means by ‘mobility,’ as he seems to equate mobility with time; maybe he means some sort of Bergsonian proletariat? Dunno?

Oooh, House of Flying Daggers beckons!

Where I is?

Today I went through every single thing I have written for my PhD over the last two years or so, synthesising everything that is at least half-useful, which is about 63,500 words and 180 pages. Now I’m scared, because that means I must have written about twice that on stuff that is entirely useless and not related to my thesis, including other writerly activities like non-related papers and blogs…

I imagine that the figure of 63,500 odd words should be chopped in about half (maybe a bit more than half) considering its half-usefulness, meaning I have only 45-50,000 words to use. Hmmm, shithouse. The problem is that the 63,500 word sum of writing does not include any interview or ethnographic work. The word count is going to explode when I include this stuff.

To any PhD’ers out in the blogoshpere reading this, how long do you imagine your thesis will be?