[A service announcement…]

Posting has been a little sporadic here of late. And it is likely to be even more so over the next month, as I am away for most of June.

Thanks to an invitation from Craig, I’ll be presenting on (yes) “Pirate Studies” at the so-called “Learneds” in Toronto next week.

War of the Triple Alliance, ParaguayThen almost immediately I’ll be off to Buenos Aires and Asunción.

And though I hope to write something about Schmitt in that time, and perhaps some reports on the state of things in Argentina and Paraguay, these bulletins may well be brief at best.

Normal service will be resumed around the end of the month.

[Here ends the service announcement.]


Bruce CockburnIt turns out (wood s lot tells me) that yesterday was Bruce Cockburn‘s birthday.

I don’t have much to say about Bruce, and don’t even listen to his music much if at all any more; at a certain stage, it somewhat lost its appeal. But, back in the day, songs such as “Nicaragua” and “Dust and Diesel” were a large part of the motivation for me to go to Central America in the 1980s, and so to start the process that has led to my teaching Latin American studies for a living.

And one of the highlights of being in Nicaragua in 1988 was to find out that he was in town, cycle to his hotel, grab him and chat for an hour or so. Later, he played a small concert at an Arts Centre in Managua, of which I no doubt have the only bootleg recording in existence.

Meanwhile, he also was one of the first Canadians I had heard much about. And I know that next week, in Toronto, songs such as “The Coldest Night of the Year” will come to mind, as I too try to take in “Yonge Street at a glance.”

We saw him play Vancouver three years ago (on my birthday). At some point, while Bruce was tuning up (as he endlessly does between songs), a woman shouted out “Sexy Beast!” It was so un-Canadian, and so unlike Bruce’s followers, so unlike Bruce, that it took the whole theatre aback for a moment. Bewildered, he shook his head, thanked her politely, and went on with the next song.

So here’s to Bruce (belatedly).


My friend Jeremy, frequent commenter and sometime guest poster on this very blog, is shortly to release to the world his new book, Bourdieu’s Politics. (Let us pass over in silence the typo in the subtitle on Routledge’s website…) Here’s the blurb:

In the last decade of his career, the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu became involved in a series of high-profile political interventions, defending the cause of striking students and workers, speaking out in the name of illegal immigrants, the homeless, and the unemployed, challenging the incursion of the market into the field of artistic and intellectual production.

The first sustained analysis of Bourdieu’s politics, this study will seek to assess the validity of his claims as to the distinctiveness and superiority of his own field theory as a tool of political analysis.

He has kindly sent me the proofs, and it looks good.

Bourdieu book coverJezzer has already written the single best book on Bourdieu, Pierre Bourdieu: A Critical Introduction (available in North America via The University of Michigan Press).

He has for some time been promising that he will progress from his love/hate relationship with the man Pierre, and move on to thinking and writing about such things as French intellectuals’ passion for jazz. (Cf. the Derrida movie, which we watched last night.) But in the meantime…

Order Bourdieu’s Politics now. (For a mere £65!)


Bob DylanBob Dylan is 65 today.

I’ve seen Dylan live a few times: in London, Earl’s Court, about fifteen years ago; in Manchester, the MEN Arena, about four years ago; and most recently in Vancouver, the Orpheum, just last year.

Each time there’s been something unimpressive about these shows. Dylan refuses the spectacle more than any other musician I’ve seen. No doubt others refuse it more: The Jesus and Mary Chain, for instance, used to be notorious for playing sets sometimes only ten minutes long with their backs to the audience. At the same time, in both cases, this refusal is part of these performers’ mystique: the fact that they refuse to perform is what makes their performances stand out. Put another way, they perform refusal.

In Dylan’s Vancouver show, he and his band were arranged in a rough semi-circle around the stage. At the center of this semi-circle, and so front and center of the stage, was a microphone on a stand. One expected and hoped that at any moment Dylan would break formation from his backing singers, and come to the microphone. But though he did enter the semi-circle a couple of times, this was mainly for his harmonica solos, and the stand at the front remained an empty site of non-performance.

No doubt part of the point is also the notion that there is no distinction between Dylan and his band. Indeed, he seems to want us to believe that we are simply eavesdropping onto some kind of jam in which a few friends are laying back and playing some riffs. Not that there’s much all that laid back about (what I’ll continue to call) the show: everything was up tempo, with scarcely a break between songs, each of which came to sound increasingly similar. It was as though we were witnessing one long medley of Dylan cover versions.

“Witnessing” is probably the best description of the subject position that Dylan appears to want for his audience. Neither spectator nor participant, we seem to be there but strangely not quite there in his mind. Only the most minimal gestures (a slight wave of the harmonica after a solo) are overt signs that he even notices our presence.

There’s something attractive, almost seductive about such reticence. But it is of course all in immensely bad faith. There’s no doubt that Dylan is the star, however much he may wish to deny it. And we are indeed spectators: spectators of a performance of a very particular type.

It’s been some thirty five years since David Bowie articulated Dylan’s relationship with his public (the public?) as one of abandonment or betrayal:

Now hear this Robert Zimmerman
Though I don’t suppose we’ll meet
Ask your good friend Dylan
If he’d gaze a while down the old street
Tell him we’ve lost his poems
So they’re writing on the walls
Give us back our unity
Give us back our family
You’re every nation’s refugee
Don’t leave us with their sanity
(“Song for Bob Dylan”)

This was after Dylan’s famous withdrawal, following his 1966 motorcycle accident. It’s no great coincidence that the recent fuss around Dylan (the Scorcese documentary with its accompanying CD and book, “Bob Dylan’s American Journey” at Seattle’s EMP, even Bob’s own Chronicles, however coy) has centered around this pre-1966 period. It’s as though we were seeking to reconnect, to bring Dylan back. And so ironically to bring back a presumed “unity” even from the social divisiveness of the 1960s protest movements with which the early Dylan was so associated.

But the real truth of Dylan is in this betrayal, this reticence, a sort of mutiny from above which may even have begun before 1966, but is now ensconced and strangely celebrated in the “never-ending tour”.

Dylan on tour

tears revisited

My friend Susana notes that it would be better to describe The Take as emotional, rather than affective. And it’s certainly true that what we see is affect captured: affect given a subject and object. In Brian Massumi’s terms, this is emotion.

So these Argentine men define their subjectivity through the emotions that they express: their pain at failing to fulfil their duties as a husband or father in fact underlines the sense that their proper role is as pater familias; their pleasure in labour confirms and justifies their identity as workers.

Likewise, their emotions have very specific objects: sentiment ties them to other people (wives, fathers) and things (machines, commodities).

In short, the emotions that the film projects upon its human subjects define it as melodrama, a hackneyed tale of the desire for work and social integration, rather than the social disintegration that a more (self-)critical approach would demand.

And yet, because emotion is affect captured, we can still read back affect through emotion. There is always something that goes beyond or escapes.

Indeed, the very fact that the film’s attention to male affect is so excessive already troubles its attempts at a neat liberal resolution. The film takes too much pleasure in the men’s tears on which its cameras linger. There’s something improper about its attention, so often willing the men to cry, that we might wonder about the limits of propriety itself.

And so it is perhaps that this somewhat disturbing excess offers a line of flight along which we could imagine other forms of community, other forms of solidarity.


An interesting post from Steve Shaviro over at The Pinocchio Theory, on “Pluralism and Antagonism”. The nub of his argument is that a Deleuzian anti-dialecticism might re-invigorate Marxist categories.

In this situation, contradiction and negativity have become rather sterile resources for change, I think. Deleuze’s notion of the virtual allows for a wider range of resources. Instead of a dialectic, Deleuze (and Guattari) propose a vision of how capitalism simultaneously unleashes and regulates fluxes of energy and matter, of desires and subjects and objects.

But my question concerns the opening phrase, “in this situation.” Shaviro refers to the post-1960s stagnation of the Left and radical theory itself. This is the period that I’d describe in terms of posthegemony.

My question is whether we should assume that the dialectic ever functioned as it claimed to do. For Deleuze, surely not.

Or to put it another way. At Brock, Negri repeatedly insisted that the dialectic of labour and capital was at an end. But a more thorough-going Deleuzianism would insist that there never was such a dialectic.

We have moved, in other words, from a period in which the concept of the dialectic was at best well-rooted only in appearances (and so thoroughly ideological), to a period in which its prior bankruptcy is clearer now than ever.

I’m interested in thinking through the nature of that transition, which is not (cannot be) as far as I can see an transition in the functioning of politics and economics themselves. Rather, what has changed is only a certain regime of visibility or of epistemology. Which is not to say that an epistomological change has no effects. But collapsing one transition into the other too quickly is rather problematic.

Meanwhile, I know I’ve featured this image before, but even so…

Girl Refuting Hegel's Dialectic Model of History“Girl Refuting Hegel’s Dialectic Model of History,” by Michael Laster


The Take posterIn Southern California for a conference, I finally got around to seeing Avi Lewis’s and Naomi Klein’s film The Take (official website here), which champions the Argentine movement to take over and recuperate abandoned factories.

Before the screening, I joked with some friends that the movie would most likely say more about Canada than about Argentina. But so indeed it turned out.

The Take gives us the Canadian dream: young, idealistic do gooders, who tell us they have for years lived with “tear gas by day, theory by night,” spreading the word that an alternative is possible. Nothing revolutionary, mind you: merely the small difference of a slightly kinder, slightly more gentle capitalism.

Lewis and KIein are blithely unconcerned by the fact that the justification for the factory takeovers is presented very much in line with neoliberal rationality itself. We are told that worker-run businesses are more “efficient,” because their workings are more transparent and because they have been cleansed of the corruption of their former owners. The state is warned not to intervene against the enterprising former workers, who show magnificent entrepreneurship as they lovingly care for and reactivate their sadly abandoned machines.

Obviously, no viewer can resist the banal liberal point that we’d rather see the workers Freddy and Lalo in charge of the plant than the Montgomery Burns style caricature of a former owner. But precisely the irresistability of this point is problematic.

And what’s most striking is how much this is a film about affect, motivated by affect. You’d struggle hard to find a movie with more shots of men crying. The camera lingers on the tears rolling down their tough porteño cheeks. The men cry with nostalgia when they tour the ruined factory. They cry with joy when the provincial legislature gives them the legal right to return. They cry with frustration that their sense of self and masculine dignity has been humilliated, now they can no longer provide for their family (the wife’s make up, the children’s happy meals).

But finally, the film’s closing sequence is a long montage of workers smiling, beaming, laughing in their pride and satisfaction as they joyfully invest their labour power into the production of value.

Simone Weil would have been pleased.

For they all worked happily ever after.

Forja workes celebrate
Update: tears revisited.


The discussion over at the Valve about whether or not literary critics are or should be fans of the authors they study reminds me of what I hereby propose to call “the Allende conundrum.”

Isabel AllendeAnyone who works on Latin American literature will be familiar with the scenario. You’re at a party, or bar, or whatever. Someone asks you what you do. Teach. What? Latin American Studies. Oh, what? Y’know, literature, culture, politics. “Oh,” comes the reply. “That’s great. I so loved that Chilean author. What’s her name? The one who wrote House of the Spirits.”

Here’s the conundrum. Should one encourage such interest in one’s field? Or should one reveal that, well, in fact just about every Latin Americanist critic with a shred of self-respect hates Isabel Allende.

And the worst thing about the second option is that readers of Allende think that, by reading her, they are proving themselves not only cultured (Third World literature! Magic realism!) but also politically sound (Women’s writing! Exiled niece of overthrown Socialist president!).

In other words, by pouring cold water on their enthusiasm for Allende, one risks undoing what is in fact the great motivation and for many the rationale of the field itself: that seductive blend of aesthetics and political commitment encapsulated in the opening lines of my friend Jean Franco’s pathbreaking The Modern Culture of Latin America: Society and the Artist (1967):

An intense social concern has been the characteristic of Latin-American art for the last hundred and fifty years. Literature–and even painting and music–have played a social role, with the artist acting as guide, teacher and conscience of his country. (11)

Readers seek vicarious satisfaction from this heady mix. On the whole, people who read Latin American fiction think that they are better people for so doing. They expect to be rewarded with some kind of new respect for revealing how much they love Isabel Allende (or García Márquez, or Borges, or… well, generally the list stops there).

But the truth is, Allende is rubbish.

And she’s not alone, of course. There’s plenty of Latin American literature that’s mediocre, reactionary, boring, unimaginative… And even the good stuff surely doesn’t make you a better person for reading it.

I’ll admit that there’s more than a dose of elitism in this reaction against Allende. But that’s far from the end of the story. In any case, surely we should find ways to work with these rather strange affective investments, rather than simply debunking them. In the meantime, though, I remain reluctant at parties to be drawn into discussions about what I do.

I’m sure that there are other fields in which something like the same conundrum prevails. South Asianists probably hate hearing how much people love Rushdie, or are fascinated by Hinduism. Physicists don’t want to answer questions about A Brief History of Time. And so on and so forth. At stake in part is the difference between the popular conception of a field of study, and how that field is sensed or understood by those within it.

But the Allende conundrum in this, its original, form seems to hold an especially concentrated series of contradictions and ambivalences.


Susan’s been wanting me to blog about what I’ll call “the curious incident of the towel in the morning.”

But I told her this was “not that kind of blog.” Sorry.


buddiesAfter so much enmity in the blogosphere (if sometimes of a semi-affectionate nature), and given that this form seems particularly prone to dispute, occasionally ironized or celebrated as “snark,” it’s refreshing to see some reflections on friendship.

Angela is perhaps shy to mention it, but she’s put up some interesting thoughts on mateship, in the wake of the mining melodrama in Beaconsfield. Glen responds.

I wonder how nationally circumscribed that discussion is, the “mate” as Australian icon of a rather particular type. Indeed, that’s partly what’s at issue in the disagreement between Angela and Glen.

Meanwhile, over on Charlotte Street, Mark Kaplan continues an ongoing series of meditations on friendship, most recently with reference to Blanchot, Benjamin and Brecht, and Nietzsche.

Now, however much my friends are important, I’ve mentioned before I’m also keen on the limits to friendship, the indifference of what Alberto Moreiras terms the “non-friend,” who can in some ways be equated with the subaltern. At issue here is the challenge of living together beyond like or dislike.

It’s the question of community and exclusiveness. And then there’s love.

Perhaps all of this will return when we start reading Schmitt.

Cross-posted from Long Sunday.