Hegemonic Mobility on a Highway to Hell

Just read John Tierney’s New York Times Magazine article “The Way We Drive Now” (Sep 26, 2004, pg 57-65). The same issue of NYTM has an article on bloggers. Tierney’s article is distressing. He argues for more cars, more roads and more tolls. He speaks from the hegemonic heart of neo-liberal ideology forwarding an ironically titled “Autonomist Manifesto.”

The basic argument is that cars are good because they allow individuals to be autonomous, more car ownership and use is good because running a car is cheaper than using public transport, automated road tolls are good because they cut down traffic congestion, and besides all the social and environmental costs the main thing wrong with car use is traffic and congestion. His argument against cities and sub-urban areas designed for easier access to public transport is that, like philosopher-kings, urban designers determine the fate of the masses, rather than letting individuals – ala Kant’s moral autonomy – determine their own respective fates.

Where is the possibility for collective ‘mobilisation’ in all this? The car is possibly the most ruthless ideological weapon in the armoury of those that primarily benefit from the current state of affairs. People are going to look back at us in the 20th and 21st centuries and think how fantastically stupid we were.

Tierney’s argument is flawed because he makes the tragic assumption that the contemporary era of hyper-mobility does not enter in for questioning. Sure the subordinate classes of Empire may want to escape from where they are in the social-spatial center-periphery distinction, but is this because they want to be literally mobile or is it because the extravagant physical mobility of personal automobility allows them to dream – to have the ideological illusion – that they are free from their exploited subordinate socio-economic position. Witness the hoons who cruise down to Millers Point (near The Rocks in Sydney) and piss off the local property owners.

Tierney invokes the notion of the ‘self-mover.’ I wonder how much he realises how much of our personal mobility does not derive from ‘self’ movement, but comes from the fact that various polarities organise the social-spatial urban field and movement across this field for us. There is little self-movement, we are moved. From home-work, home-school, home-socialising, and so on. His argument becomes catastrophic, not only is he arguing for greater individualisation and therefore an exacerbation of the anxious desires that invoke and promote personal automobility, but he wants us to be further exploited – through road tolls – when we are moved by extraneous forces.

Besides the economic and environmental costs, personal automobility appears to be a key site in the struggle for Empire. The organic emergence of collective action appears to be absolutely impossible if our cities and our lives are mobilised near completely for us. We need to mobilise ourselves, in a collective manner, that does not rely on the individualising social technologies of personal automobility. I can only imagine what will happen when the social costs of personal automobility becomes too great…

Negri visit sparks paranoid rantings, yay!

Conservative columnists are a good barometer for when something happens that may disrupt the status quo. They slip their collective propaganda machine into ‘paranoid rantings’ top gear when the words ‘revolutionary’ or ‘Marxist’ are mentioned, let alone ‘terrorist’. It is good to see the return of the same in one of Miranda Devine’s recent columns. Fuck, it is a classic!

I am not sure if Devine is responsible for certain blogs as author or something else or what? Or maybe she is just a very poor journalist masquerading as an opinionist who finds ‘inspiration’ from certain blogs? I don’t know? (See what you people think.) But the contents of her column on Negri visiting USyd for a conference has an uncanny resemblance to some blogs (here and here, which can be traced back to this article). Finally, she attributes some information to this article and this article. Maybe she has decided her column should replicate a blog post that synthesises a number of sources (but without the referential hyperlinks)? I mean, my blog is full of rantings, but Devine’s slice of the mass media is the becoming-blog of the reactionary column. Evidence, perhaps, of the conservative refrain (what Mel Gregg and I called the “refrain of the right-eous” in our unpublished ‘Guantanamo Bay’ article;) running through popular culture synthesising heterogeneous affective elements into hegemonic stratifications. But Devine probably wouldn’t understand that, she doesn’t have to, she lives it through her writing.

One a semi-related note, a passage from McKenzie Wark’s Celebrities, Culture and Cyberspace reminds me of one of my past rants about the status of ‘early career’ and the role of being a ‘public intellectual’:

There is no shortage of Australian talking heads, but rarely do they encase thinking minds. A more stringent test is required to distinguish thinking capacity from mere talking capacity. For a talking head to become a thinking mind — an intellectual — requires a practice of making concepts that are shared, via the media, with a public, where the concepts attempt to articulate the experiences of that public, at the moment. Just as there can be talking without thinking, there can be thinking without talking, or at least without the kind of public speech acts that I think define an intellectual’s habit of thinking out loud. (35)

On that note, I wonder if Miranda Devine can conceptualise of the difference between a ‘talking head’ and a thinking mind? She certainly has an excellent talking capacity. However, as Grossberg has argued (my post here), conservative politics literally does not want thinking minds.

Update – March 26: I seem to be getting a lot of traffic through this post, so I thought I’d update it.

An online Situationist resource includes this letter from Guy Debord that linked to this article on terrorism. In one of the footnotes, the translator had added a chunk of interesting info on Negri.

Keith Windschuttle has also written a column on the Negri visit. Here is an excellent refutation of Windschuttle’s incorrect historical claims. Windschuttle may be a (obviously, very bad!) historian, but is he a philosopher? What does he know about Negri’s value to philosophy? Sweet fuck all, from what I can gather. Going by his logic, we should never help anyone who has been implicated in ‘terrorist groups’, such as supporting the old regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, let alone let them come to Australia. That unfortunately scratches Donald Rumsfield off the list. What a terrible shame that is…

The real tragedy is that it seems as if the academics at USyd have been swayed by Windschuttle’s idiocy and have postponed the conference. Can’t these people just tell Windschuttle to fuck off?

I still haven’t really figured out what Negri is talking about in Time For Revolution when he argues that the proletariat is defined by its mobility. I have settled on the idea that it relates to the notion of the social factory, but that doesn’t fit with any mobility paradigm with which I am familiar. I was hoping to ask him exactly what he meant. Now I won’t have the bloody chance.

Vote or Die, You Stupid Spoiled Whore!

Australia Day…

“[N]o issue is intrinsically a gut issue; it is produced as such only by reducing the complexity of the debates, the various interpretations and contradictions that surround it, to a matter of affective investment. The conservative strategy depends upon a logic in which the fact of the ‘gut commitment’ becomes more important that the content of the commitment itself. It is a strategy which seeks political power by tactically dissociating itself from politics. In the end, political realities seem to matter less than political commitments. […]
“The new conservative alliance does not need to deploy specific commitments or beliefs, but it had to foreground the need to believe in belief, to make a commitment to commitment. This strategy bears a striking resemblance to so-called sleeze TV which has become so popular, especially in talk and ‘real-life’ shows [reality TV?]. Despite their often conservative appearance, a careful look suggests that they have no consistent political position: rather, they seem to consistently take the position, on whatever topic, which enabled and even called forth maximum passion. The new conservatism makes politics into a marketing problem, but it is passion or sentimentality itself that is marketed.” (p. 270-271)
– Larry Grossberg, We Gotta Get Out of This Place

Grossberg’s book is out of date, but his lament on the state of politics in the US circa early-1990s is certainly a useful way to think about the performances of various celebrities and ‘personalities’ in the current era of popular culture.

I was reminded of this the other night when I caught South Park on the boob tube. It was an episode where the boys demolish an infamous ‘personality’:

Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset
All the fourth grade girls idolize a rich, famous and spoiled socialite. They even have her brand new toy set that comes complete with video camera, night vision filter, play money and losable cell phone. In an effort to impress their idol, the girls pursue the boys to make their own videos

It was a great episode! The grand finale was a “whore off” and will forever be one of my fondest memories. The vacuous ‘stupid spoiled whore’ subject position is perfectly complemented by another performance: the “perfect gentleman” deploying the pimp aesthetic. If you think back to the VMA‘s the position of maximum passion was occupied by P. Diddy and his problematic “Vote or Die!” campaign. As well as reminding me of the classic Skate or DIE! video game, Citizen Coombs’ performance at the Miami-hosted VMAs forced him to somehow politicise his normal pimp persona.

The “Vote or Die!” campaign did work apparently, but getting people to vote is not enough. I know that young people (under-30) allegedly are more likely to vote for the Democrat party, but I wonder if Citizen Coombs really understands how much he played into the hands of Bush-Cheney’s conservative politics of sentiment. The disparate relation to the politics of sentiment between Kerry and Bush was really made apparent during the final debate over the question of abortion (question 7). Kerry was caught trying to explain a complex issue to some fuckin retarded right-wing ninja gimp and super-hero Bush came along with the smack-down I-tell-you-what-you-want-to-hear comments.

Diddy really needs to get political sophistication back into his approach and not merely rely on a politics of sentiment while deploying a “commitment to commitment” for maximum effect. (It sickens me that I am arguing that a media personality needs to get a more sophisticated politics, fuck…) Hillary Clinton does make a weak attempt to complexify the issues later in this interview from MTV (ital. added):

P. Diddy: We are here with the legendary Hillary Clinton, from my home state of New York. Thank you for talking to us.

Hillary Clinton: I am delighted and I am delighted by what you’re doing.

Diddy: Thank you. We’re not going to get into sophisticated politics, we’re gonna get into a problem that we have in young America, and that is young Americans being disenfranchised. Only 36 percent of us have voted. You are one of the few politicians that young people relate to. And we want to get a message on why you think it’s important for young people to vote this year. And please talk to the people who are disenfranchised and don’t believe in the power of their vote.

The radical potential of ‘dead wood’?

A number of the issues raised in various papers that I heard at the 2004 CSAA conference hit home in a very real way; that is, at my familial home. I am writing this the night I am back in Sydney. I am exhausted, but not tired, and have this I want to write before I forget.

My mum is nearing the end of her 31 year career as a teacher. For 21 of those years she has worked at one public high school. Now she is being forced to face up up to the neo-liberalist workplace policies of ‘perform – or else’ (See Jon Mckenzie’s work).

Without going into the specifics of her plight my mum has been stiffed at work for the last time. For longer than I have been alive she has been a Liberal voter. Come next election, I hope very much this will no longer be the case.

Like the worker in the Living End’s song “Roll On” my mum found out the hard way about the biopolitical production of living labour in the meld of the performatively docile worker in this hyper-conformative era (where you conform even when you don’t):

You see you’re all expendable,
And when all is said and done,
You’ll go back to work tomorrow,
Or meet your new replacement son.
Roll on!
Roll on!
We’ll roll on with our heads held high…

The typical 60+ year old baby boomer my fellow members of generation-? (? for ‘whatever’, but generation-W sounds kind of second-wave-feminism-ish) and I dismissively refer to as ‘dead wood’ (or maybe it is just me?). With future security tied up in fat retirement funds and the collective conscience of their once-was-radicality perhaps we will see a return to political engagment mobilised by a shared sense of resentiment triggered from social underappreciation.

Or perhaps the dead wood will remain so and end up being the motor-cause of the grey-dollar consumer society. Then it is a question of the biopolitical potential of whatever enthusiasms the Rich Dead Wood desires. Rather like generation-?, who think raves offer some sort of radical potential by offering alternate images of economic exchange or some bullshit like that. Which leads me to one of my childhood faves – Ren and Stimpy.

The biopolitical potential of dead wood as consumer and of the rave is a bit like Ren and Stimpy’s ficticious child’s toy (and maybe ‘adult’ toy for the kinky folks) “Log”:

What rolls down stairs,
Alone or in pairs…
Rolls over your neighbor’s dog?
What’s great for a snack,
And fits on your back?

It’s Log! Log! Log!

It’s Lo-og, it’s Lo-og
It’s big, it’s heavy, it’s wood!

It’s Lo-og, Lo-og.
It’s better than bad, it’s good!!!

Either way what is left but an ethical commitment? The collective resentiment of boomers is a moment that will flash and then never reappear with the same force again. There is only one boomer generation and, likewise, there is a singular period of becoming-‘dead wood’. Hopefully such a wave can be tapped in a more ethical manner than the collective resentiment ‘captured’ by, for example, Pauline Hanson.

Such dead-wood resentiment will happen and it must be mobilised in ethical ways. Negative affects must be filtered and fed into each other so they become positive affects.

This is the opposite of what happens at Sydney International Airport. As Melissa Gregg and I mention in the hopefully to-be-published paper on the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, there is an announcement broadcast continually over the PA at Sydney Airport that begins with: “Due to increased security measures…” This message has been played over the PA for a long time, I noticed it about 7 months ago. It captures the affective of the ‘to-be’ journey in pretension with itself. That is, the futurity of the present is in an affective tension with the eventuality of the future. The word ‘increased’ increases the polarity of the tension across scales of temporality – of coming and going bodies with various anticipations of the future. The anticipating body is in tension.

The future-event is reconciled with the incredibly strong affects (sometimes) of, for example, ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’. The momentum of the present is given a certain weight – the heaviness and slowness of goodbye or the incredible lightness and speed of hello. However, the mobilisation of the lightness or heaviness of the present is always in a particular direction. The direction is bound to be congruent with the announcement about ‘increased security’. The continual repetition of this phrase in the space of the airport is a complex event that has a number of intersecting possibilities. I argue that one such event is the production of particular kinds of departing and arriving travellers.

Anyway, long blog entry, and it has done its job – now I am ready for bed. Last point. I wonder if there is a radical potential in this Blog form of communication? Or is this just another form of ‘log’?

Leaving Sweden…

The thought of going through US customs terrifies me. A quick calculation comes up with the rough figure of one polemic per week posted somewhere on the Net denouncing the current Refrain of the Right-eous… Am I going to get totally reamed in customs? Has my name appeared on some terror squad hitlist? And I don’t mean the wannabe hard-core rappers either.

It would be totally cool to be able to do a (formally known as) Cat Stevens (I can’t type his current name as this keyboard was made in the US and they have removed the keys that enable you to type Islamic names). Like, I would have to change my PhD topic over night, and imagine the stories I could tell at the next Cultural Studies conference!?!?! But would Australia even let me back in? Surely if Big Brother doesn’t want me to visit, then the US-Simulacra Number 2 (formally known as Australia) certainly won’t want me back. Where am I going to buy my prepackaged, preseasoned roo meat from? I might have to come back to Sweden, at least here they were spun out by my Getaway in Stockholm presentation and Stockholm is known as the street racing capital of the world (oh, sidenote, the big secret from a while ago was that I had organised and have now carried out an interview with one of the producers and makers of the Getaway in Stockholm series of films!).

Hopefully the next time I post, I am typing from a keyboard in Sam’s place.

Very excited!