Two Articles

At M/C Journal I have a piece titled The Getaway in the Affect issue (edited by Mel Gregg) and it is on ‘speed’ and the transmission of affects in the Getaway in Stockholm series of films.

At Philament I have a piece titled The XXX Test in the XXX theme issue and it is on the failure of the Pontiac GTO (aka Holden Monaro) in the US. I compare the new GTO to the old GTO through some of Rob Cohen’s films and motorsport.

Some of the thinking in The Getaway article will bein my second chapter in the “Doing Nothing” section where I talk about the potentialisation of the street. While most of The XXX Test will appear in my fifth chapter “The Rise of the Imports”. Both articles in different ways raise my idea of an automotive cultural economy.

I need to check out the rest of the issues. Mel Gregg’s comments on Donnie Darko are good.

On Mateship

Clif makes some excellent comments in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about the young blokes who were rioting on Sunday.

Dr Evers thought that what perhaps the riot displayed most was the power of mateship.
“Most of those guys wouldn’t have had a clue. They could be wound up by all the fascist groups in the world and wouldn’t know. But they could have been there because one of their mates reckons the outsiders [needed] to be taught a lesson,” he said. “And, you know, all those young blokes driving to the beach suburbs in their cars from the western suburbs to fight are being driven by the same thing – mateship.
“You hate who your mates hate. In Australia, mateship is stronger than racism.”

So, in other words, Clif is saying the mateship with one’s mates is stronger than one’s personal views on racism. He also has an excellent article here which I read as directed to his surfing mates and not for the middle-class intelligensia.

The violence over the weekend is rooted in a recent history of tension and resentment. It’s the result of a wider sentiment of fear in the community, brought about by our failure to satisfactorily tackle the misunderstandings and myths we have about each other.
Rather than engage in the blame game, perhaps these events are a wake-up call to begin questioning ourselves about whether we have made people feel welcome, and who we have and have not bothered getting to know.

The specific problem is that “reactionary nationalism and the heteronormative homo-social bonds between young males here figured as “mateship” are both refrains. I have discussed the refrain of reactionary nationalism here. In a discussion with Az in my comments to this post, I write about racism and mateship in a different way to Clif above. It is necessary to isolate the pure positivity of mateship before it combines with the destructive refrain of reactionary nationalism.

I mean positivity in two senses. Its ontological positivity, i.e. asking the question “what does it do?” Plus its social positivity and here it is a question of function before there is anything but the minimum form or content. (I won’t bother indenting the extract cause it is too big.)

Reactionary Nationlism: Cronulla Riots

“It began as a street party, as if Australia Day had arrived early.”

‘Cronulla’ is now a name forever associated with popularist racial violence. See graphic video here (where the above quote comes from). Warning: that video is not for the easily shaken. Hmm, the big political blogs in Australian are surprisingly quiet on this, although Mark has put on some links on Larvatus Prodeo. Gary Sauer-Thompson draws similar connections to the reactionary nationalism of Hanson and Howard. This may be obvious to some readers and not so obvious to others.

Firstly, on the emergence of the event. From my comments over at antipopper. Beyond the racist/alterity/po-co angle, which I don’t feel like I can say much about, the media must pay the price for the unethical part they played. This occured on two levels.

On the level of the street/beach/body, right there, on the day. How many audio mikes or tv cameras do you need in someone’s face for them to really scream that they hate wogs/lebs/whatever?

Secondly, it is a classic case of what the old moral panic theory concept of ‘deviancy amplification’. Here it is still ‘of the body’ but the affects of racist hatred (or ‘nationalism’) are distributed through ‘social body’ by the media transmission of various other (non)events. I have discussed this here with regards to sporting contexts (the recent Socceroos game) and Massumi discusses the “media’s serial transmission of fear” here.

A short section on the post-9/11 media efficacy from the “Unlawful Combatant” paper co-written with Mel Gregg (online, subscription needed):

As Paul Virilio notes, while the Clinton administration downplayed its reaction to the Oklahoma bombing and depotentialised the social efficacy of the terrorist threat, the Bush administration instead chose to promote the event, to tend a paranoid desire:

Hence the tragedy is not over, […] hence the war on terror must continue, hence the need to gloss over everything that relates to internal politics, including the prodigious scandals that are part and parcel of the miasma, and that are part of all the hocus-pocus we have to put up with in the media. All this, instead of taking a lesson from Clinton. Instead of jumping on his plane after the first attack in 1993 on one of the towers, Clinton let the thing go, he smothered it. In this instance, he followed McLuhan’s advice: if you don’t want a catastrophe, pull the plug. In other words, prevent the media from dwelling on the event too much.

Virilio argues that the Bush administration always had a choice in its response to 9/11. The event offered a chance ‘to care about the world the way it needs to be cared for’. Instead, in a simplistic and brutal reaction, war was waged: ‘the most out-dated way to handle an event of this magnitude’.

There is no difference on an abstract, but realist perspective between the media’s distribution of sporting interest-excitement affect that effects a ‘becoming-together’ on a networked local scale between various spectator and fan bodies (think about punters watching a game in a pub, if you never actually watch sport;) and the racist/nationalist interest-excitement affect distributed by the media leading up to Sunday’s riots. Anna Gibb’s has discussed part of this in terms of being an affective contagion in a discussion of the ‘affects’ of a ‘mediated’ Pauline Hanson. However, the concept of affective contagion does not capture the consistency of affective transmission. Part of this is what Massumi recently called ‘affective attunement’ (here, subscription needed). Although, also see Jon’s post on Massumi’s paper. I think Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the refrain is very useful in thinking about the territorializing effect of an affective contagion after it has ‘attuned’ affected bodies.

The refrain being captured by the media, and which organises the territory of the ‘attuned’ bodies, is exactly the same in the case of Australian sporting fans at the Socceroos game and the nationalist chants at Cronulla. Buchanan gives the simplest and most straightforward definition of a refrain I have come across:

The refrain by contrast is essentially territorial, territorializing, or reterritorializing, and it quickly reclaims music for itself should it ever become self-indulgent, which is to say repetitive merely for the sake of hearing an enchanting little phrase over again. To the ear, this distinction is actually quite sharp: music decodes, which means it tends toward the eradication of all codes, and the refrain recodes, or overcodes, which does not mean it restores order, as though music were chaos, but rather means it attempts to constrain variation by regulating it. A tune that sticks in your head and can be easily whistled or hummed is a refrain; a tune that requires more than one set of lips to whistle or hum is, by virtue of this inherent polyvocality, becoming-musical. 

For example, sporting chants such as “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!” become the territorializing refrain of reactionary nationalism. In our Unlawful Combatant paper, in the context of US post-9/11 ‘patriotism’ in the War on Terror, Mel Gregg and I called this the Refrain of the Right-eous.

The concept of the refrain pertains to a sonorous territorialization, yet the effects of the media also include images. The catalyzing effect of certain icons, symbolically emblematic of nationhood, but on an affective register as effectively territorializing as any chant, is obvious. Think of any national flag or in the case of Australia, the refrain of the iconic ‘boxing kangaroo’. Others include the Southern Cross, which used by unions as much as it is used by right-wing nationalist groups and so on…

In Meaghan Morris’s “On the Beach” essay, she argues the beach is not a useful site for discussing Australian national identity because it is relatively ethnically exclusive, however it is useful for discussing Australian nationalism. Commentators often confuse Australian national identity with Australian nationalism. They are not the same thing.

The refrain of the reactionary nationalism that originally catalysed around Pauline Hanson and One Nation, was then captured and cultivated by Howard over the last decade. Everytime Howard used the refrain of nationalism in the gestural politics of migrants and refugees he consolidated his sovereign position as the populist Pied Piper playing a simple tune that can be hummed by anyone. For someone like me, who grew up as the ‘mad skip’ in a ‘mad wog’ suburb, this sort of reactionary nationalism is sickening. I hope that this decade of popularist inflamation is recognised as his political legacy and nothing else.

EDIT: This cannot become a witch hunt for a few ‘bad apples’. The reactionary nationalism that produced this violence is not confined to a few ‘neo-nazis’ or what right-wing blogger Tim Blair has called the ‘beach trash’, but circulates within popular political culture. They may not have the capacity to repress their reactionary desires, but the masses are the ones all humming Howard’s tune.

It is telling that the role of the media is absent from the timeline that Blair has cut ‘n’ pasted in his post with the focus on the txting that circulated. More important are the media reports of the txting that circulated. Are the newspaper editors and media personalities who circulate these stories that stupid they don’t realise that publishing txt messages calling for racial violence is going to have the exact same effect as receiving them on your phone?!?!?


EDIT: Just realised there is a spelling error in the title. lol… me write good…

EDIT: So I am getting some traffic from various places that have linked to me. What is interesting is the way my argument has been interpreted!

At Pajamas Media apparently I am arguing that “the riots are ultimately rooted in the failure of the Bush administration to ‘depotentialise’ the terrorist threat the way the Clinton administration did.” I can see how what I wrote may be understood as arguing that, but this is wrong.

At RWDB — J.F. Beck I am “Lefty Glen Fuller” who “blames Howard’s ‘reactionary nationalism.'” This one is a bit better, but the title of the post is still ‘root causes’.

At Tim Blair doesn’t really engage with what I am saying, which is fair enough, but he locates me in the “It’s Howard’s Fault” pile.

All of the above three links think that I am arguing like a right winger would argue. Let’s get one thing straight: I will never argue that anything is the ‘root cause’ of anything else because I realise life is far too complex to ethically argue such reductions that seek out direct linear causalities. Ok? I simply do not make such arguments.

Let me put it this way: If a band is playing, then that doesn’t mean you need to go dance; clearly most left wingers do not dance to Howard’s tune. However, just because the band has stopped playing doesn’t mean you can’t go dance on your own… or with 5,000 others all humming the same tune. Why all these people want to go dancing is far too complex a question to be reduced to “oh, it is so-and-so’s fault.” What I have argued is that the tune they were humming is very easy to deduce.



Confronting Stupidity

I made the observation at a recent USyd/UWS postgrad event that the experience for contemporary postgrads of being a postgrad is not the same as it was for the current crop of Profs. when they were postgrads. The problem of neo-liberal mechanisms of subjectivation is a problem for us (the postgrads) not so much them (the Profs) because they actually constitute the field that most postgrads are trying to enter (if they want to pursue an academic career). Or, rather, there is a different problem for them, in the sense they must both manage themselves and perform ‘academia’ in different way to us (see Mel Gregg’s blog post and comments from various people on this).

An example is in Elspeth Probyn’s book _Blush_:

“An example close to home is the habitus of the academic. In order for one to become an academic, it helps to have had a family background where education was valued. If early on, reading and being interested in ideas is inculcated, you will be more disposed to the (strange) idea of spending your life with abstractions. In more grounded ways, as you jump various hoops – good grades, undergraduate and postgraduate – your body learns to focus in certain ways. It becomes used to navigating the spaces of thinking: finding its way around libraries, putting up with hours of concentrating on some arcane passage of text. The habitus tells the body how to speak and move at conferences, while lecturing classes, when talking to other academics. As the years go by, the habitus incorporates all the rules, and the body moves easily in the spaces of academic life, what Bourdieu calls “the field.” The habitus is the body’s second nature; it often wears arbitrary rules like a glove.” (49)

Elspeth is certainly writing for a broader audience than simply academics and she is providing an example of habitus, not an example of contemporary academic life. This image of the academic habitus revolves around the traditional conception of the academic as someone whose primary activity is thinking involving concentrated practices of reading and education and performative displays of belonging to the field such as mixing at conferences, talking to students and with other academics. On thinking, from Foucault (“Theatrum Philosophicum”):

Intelligence does not respond to stupidity, since it is stupidity al­ready vanquished, the categorical art of avoiding error. The scholar is intelligent. It is thought, though, that confronts stupidity, and it is the philosopher who observes it. Their private conversation is a lengthy one, as the philosopher’s sight plunges into this candleless skull. It is his death mask, his temptation, perhaps his desire, his catatonic the­ater. At the limit, thought would be the intense contemplation from close up-to the point of losing oneself in it — of stupidity; and its other side is formed by lassitude, immobility, excessive fatigue, obstinate muteness, and inertia — or, rather, they form its accompaniment, the daily and thankless exercise which prepares it and which it suddenly dissipates. The philosopher must have sufficiently ill will to play the game of truth and error badly: this perversity, which operates in paradoxes, allows him to escape the grasp of categories. But aside from this, he must be sufficiently “ill humored” to persist in the confronta­tion with stupidity, to remain motionless to the point of stupefaction in order to approach it successfully and mime it, to let it slowly grow within himself (this is probably what we politely refer to as being absorbed in one’s thoughts), and to await, in the always-unpredictable conclusion to this elaborate preparation, the shock of difference. Once paradoxes have upset the table of representation, catatonia operates within the theater of thought. (190)

One way to read this is that Foucault is separating ‘thinking labour’ into processes of intelligence and procesess of thought. For a rather abstract parallel, Foucault’s ‘stupidity’ resonates (from the perspective of _force_), with Deleuze’s ‘nonsense’ of The Logic of Sense. That is, stupidity has a positivity of being, like nonsense, and is not an absence of force. On the other hand, Elspeth’s academic personae is very intelligent, and I know this is a misrepresentation of what she actually would argue, because I have discussed it briefly with her, but the image of the academic she presents is basically organised according to the intelligent/error model – be intelligent and avoid making errors while intelligently engaging with the errors in the world around you. My practice has always been to welcome errors (well, almost, at least to not be unhappy when they are made and certainly not to be disappointed when they are pointed out), especially if they have been unintentional. Why? Because it might help me to confront my own stupidity, which I am very aware of in my everyday practice. Stupidity isn’t the absence of intelligence, there are some very intelligent people in the world who are also very stupid; it is the force of thought that battles with thought so as to quell it, but, [edit] I should add, the ‘battle’ actually enables thought. Thought needs stupidity. I am acutely aware of this problem and I would suspect so are most others who are attempting to critically engage with the world.

So what to do when you feel compelled to combat the stupidities of the world and the structures that seek to capture thought, and admittedly encourage the cultivation of just a little thought, but which actually urge you to become ‘intelligent’ and focus on ‘error’ (ie the contemporary academic environment)? I know I am certainly of sufficient ill-humour, lol! That is not a problem. Seriously, though, is it a question of being perverse in the sense Foucault suggests? How to be academically perverse?


Crossposted comment on an article by Jonathan Gray over at the online television journal ‘Flow‘.

Some of Jonathan’s points cross over with some of my research interests. I am interested in what happens in fan or enthusiast communities in the period between ‘fan-events’. My original thinking was focused on film, but now I have shift gears to focus on car enthusiasts. I thought about the rituals of expectations and anticipation that fan/enthusiasts participate in. Both expectation and anticipation involve relations of futurity. The two terms I used were defined as follows: Anticipation is a modulation of an affective tension with a future event, and thus relates to a (temporally present) affective intensity. Expectation is a calculus of futurity, an extrapolation of narrativised past events into the future.

“Spoiling is all about knowing.”

Well, at the minimum, I would insist on a caveat. The knowledge in itself does not necessarily mean a thing. I could have knowledge of Johnathan’s favourite TV show and it wouldn’t necessarily matter to me. The knowledge has to matter and has to relate to an ‘interest’ (in the Silvan Tompkins sense of the ‘interest-excitement’ affect). I would know that the knowledge probably means something to someone else, but only because I am familiar with the social conventions of ‘spoiling’.

I would rather suggest that, firstly, ‘spoiling’ is an action that disrupts the normative distribution of the screening-event (for want of a better term!) and produces an illicit convergence in the affective tension experienced by fans. It is a particular qualitative intervention that displaces ‘author-produced’ (ie PR company produced) expectations and anticipations. Production companies and the like are very well aware of this capacity of fan communities to intervene in the passage and circulation of the screening-events. Examples include The Lord of the Rings where information was ‘leaked’ to fans and various limited-participation ‘beta’ testing of computer games.

The ‘spoiler’ also has a secondary function, which I would argue is actually its primary function, in the sense of a spoiler being a piece of affectively charged knowledge. That is, spoiling is about belonging. Here I am drawing on the work of Brian Massumi (_Parables of the Virtual_ “Political Economy of Belonging” chapter). The screening-event is not just a screening, but a fan-event, too. Fan-events do not nominally involve only fans, but anyone who has an ‘interest’ (again in the Tompkins sense of ‘affect’). There is a ‘becoming-together’ of fans that occurs over the season of a TV series (or between sequels in a film series, or between cruises or racing events for car enthusiasts).

It does not surprise me that in the case of Old Scooter Dude was expelled for his ‘false’ spoilers (were they not, then, ‘spoilers’ in a real sense?!), he wasn’t merely expelled from the boards, but from participation in the togetherness of belonging. His ‘false’ spoilers produced a convergence of a corrupt set of expectations and a traitorous feeling of anticipation. Ironically, however, his actions may have actually served as another singularity in the fan community and produced a stronger becoming-together of other fans who all felt (in different ways) resentful and cheated.