Friday, February 25, 2011

Remember the Irvine 17 (+2)

      There has been a great deal of solidarity work in support of the Irvine 11, the eleven students who are currently being charged by the Orange County District Attorney's office simply for briefly disrupting the speech of the Israeli Ambassador to protest the illegal occupation of Palestine.  I've written a couple postings on the topic, which you can look up if you feel like it.  I think this is important work, and I hope that folks continue to put pressure on the District Attorney to drop the charges, but there is another group of students who are being charged by the same office, the Irvine 17, along with two outside supporters.  These individuals represent a broad coalition within the University activist community, ranging from union activists, Black Student Union members, to members of the Worker Student Alliance.  The group engaged in a non-violent sit in in the administration building, making a set of demands on the administration of our campus to the university system as a whole.  The most immediate concerns were the refusal on the part of the administration to in-source the janitorial workers (who are the last outsourced employees in the UC (University of California) system) and to protest the anti-Black racism that was most evident on the UC San Diego campus through enrollment figures and the so-called 'Compton Cookout', but must be understood as a structural issue throughout the UC system.  The students were immediately detained, and all the students involved in the sit in were disciplined by the University months ago.  Recently, those students along with two students involved in a solidarity protest outside the building have been charged with criminal charges by the Orange County District Attorney's office.  This occurred slightly before the charges of the Irvine 11, setting a precedent for the criminalization of political activism.  The folks involved are some of the best activists on our campus, and they deserve our support.  Please sign this petition to support them.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A fragment on Freud's self-analysis in The Interpretation of Dreams

In a continuation of some of my more esoteric notes, here is a brief analysis of Freud produced at the beginning of my Psychoanalysis class, taken with Liz Kotz.  Most critics agree that the dream is in response to a particular traumatic incident, involving one of Freud's patients, Emma Eckstein.  Look here for the details.
That material sheds light on the dream, which is not taken into account in my analysis, and puts Freud in a very bad light.

       In looking at Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, I’m interested primarily in discussing his methodology of self-analysis.  Throughout the text Freud returns again to his own dreams to prove his theories.  What’s more, he feels the need to point this out to the reader, and justify this choice.[1]  No doubt, there is an element of performativity to Freud’s anxiousness, but at the same time, it seems that he felt that he came up with a new way of understanding the self.  I will look at the issue of self-analysis from two angles. The first is the way that self-analysis falls into Foucault’s notion of the confessional.  The second deals with the way that Freud uses his own dreams as a way to decode the dreams of others. When Freud enters into his own methodology of interpreting dreams, an analysis that emphasizes self-analysis, he quotes Delbeouf, “Every psychologist is under an obligation to confess even his own weaknesses, if he thinks that it may throw light upon some obscure problem.” (Freud 138 footnote)  Thus as Freud enters into the concept of self-analysis, the notion of confession is also introduced.  It is difficult to overemphasize the role that this concept plays into the various descriptions of Freud’s own dreams.
            The initial description of the dream of Irma can act as an excellent example of this “confessional” mode within the book.  Freud goes through his dream and breaks it down detail by detail.  Freud makes a point of emphasizing particularly embarrassing assertions within the dream.  He acknowledges within the description that the description of the dream is neither flattering to Irma, nor to his wife.  But Freud pushes himself to continue analysis.  The dream builds up to a series of reproaches of the logic of his dream. “I was not to blame for Irma’s pains, since she herself was to blame for them by refusing to accept my solution.  I was not concerned with Irma’s pains, since they were of an organic nature and quite incurable by psychological treatment…” (Freud 152)  The text continues on within this vein.  What interests me most is the emphasis on the word ‘I’.  It once again emphasizes the nature of the subject as individuated one.  It is a subject that will go to extraordinary efforts to avoid any sort of culpability.  
            At the end of the analysis there is a cathartic moment.  The text moves from a vicious parody of his own dream logic, to a wry recognition of its ridiculousness, into a calmer examination of some of the other details of the dream.  Also at this point, Freud emphasizes the fact that the accusations that he makes of his colleague.  “It was a noteworthy fact that this material also included some disagreeable memories, which supported my friend Otto’s accusation rather than my own vindication.” (Freud 153)  Freud ends with an admission of non-full-disclosure, and in a manner that seems to suggest the need for further therapy, he suggests, “If anyone should feel tempted to express a hasty condemnation of my reticence, I would advise him to make the experiment of being franker than I am.” (Freud 154)
            But this emphasis on self-analysis has another side to it.  After all, Freud makes the point of stating that he has an endless amount of dream material to work from with his patients.  Although the act of self-analysis plays into, and expands, a certain form of the confessional, it also has other meanings.  After all, Freud by in large dismisses the empirical efforts on the part of his colleagues.  In looking at popular methodologies of analyzing dreams, Freud spends a significant period of time discussing the idea of the decoding method of dreaming.  “It might be called a form of described as the “decoding” method, since it treats dreams as a kind of cryptography in which each sign can be translated into another sign having a known meaning, in accordance with a fixed key.” (Freud 130)  This method can be made even more specific, a book of interpretation by Artemidorus, “takes into account not only the content of the dream, but also the character and circumstances of the dreamer.”  This system, in effect, sees a particular stable tie of the symbolic to the subject.
            Freud is arguing something quite different.  Although he doesn’t say it explicitly, symbolic material can represent quite different things for different dreamers in different circumstances.  In later descriptions of dreams, he shows how dreams are built out of a complex series of experiences, opinions, and illusions from day to day life.  The dream of the failed dinner party is the best example of that.  He even himself recognizes that, “one might be tempted to agree with the philosophers and the psychiatrists and like them, rule out the problem of dream interpretation as a purely fanciful task.” (Freud 132)
            Freud, however, anchors his concept of interpreting dreams built upon a new place of stability, the desiring subject.  The dream becomes, as Freud puts it, a way of fulfilling a wish.  It becomes the way that the desiring subject expresses their desires that are suppressed, a way of circumscribing the laws that are contained within the society and/or the subject.  Freud uses self-analysis in order to accomplish this.  After all, if all desiring subjects use a number of different images that are tied to a complex series event in their lives, why not move to the material that is best understood in the analyst’s life.  What’s more in doing these experiments, Freud uses his own dream material as a test subject for his work for his patients.  He links his own self-analysis with the attempts of his patients to express ideas without using their critical facilities.
            Both of these elements move into a certain way of how the subject is formed, and how to form the subject.  It gives the beginnings of recognizing how certain desires are expressed in dreams, and how that repression finds its way even into this realm. Although, it is not as strong as it is in waking life, so it allows for the understanding of the patient in a way that conscious, self-aware side will not allow.  In making the doctor recognize these same elements in themselves, it allows for them to better understand a patient.    

[1] “No doubt I shall be met by doubt of the trustworthiness of “self-analyses” of this kind; and I shall be told that they leave the door open to arbitrary conclusions.  In my judgement the situation is in the fact more favorable in the case of self-observation than in that of other people; at all events we may make the experiment and see how far self-analysis takes us with the interpretation of dreams.” Freud, 137.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Addendum to my thoughts on Betty Friedan

        It's been a while since I have posted.  This is largely caused by the fact that I had to send my computer in for repair.  I have been spending the past week, attempting to get the data on my hard drive backed up before I sent it in for repair.  I finally took care of that with some unexpected help from an extremely generous colleague.  Things should be back to normal soon enough. 
      I wanted to add a brief addendum to the largely positive comments I made in regards to Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, which can be found here.  I wanted to add a set of cautionary notes that draw on the analysis of sentimental conventions produced by Lauren Berlant.  (For my notes, look here.)  The power of Friedan’s text largely arises through her rhetorical identification with the feminine mystique. That is to say, the power of her narrative is derived through her claim to be a housewife negotiating her way through this new form of domesticity. However, it is precisely this rhetorical claim to the conventional role of the housewife that causes a set of limitations to the text. To begin, Friedan’s censorship of her radical past leads to an erasure of the history of working class. Unlike many later radical feminists, Friedan’s claims about the mystique are limited to the post-war period, but her history of women’s activism is limited to the activities of the middle classes. Women’s union and radical activism is placed under erasure, which limits the forms of activism analyzed in the text, and perhaps more significantly, the types of activism that are imaginable from the framework of the text.  Additionally, Friedan’s critique is dependent on her engagement with the psychological conventions of her time. That engagement is often quite critical of the discipline’s complicity with the feminine mystique, but it also embraces the heteronormative impulse of psychology, arguing that homosexuality is a possible pathological response to the mystique. Friedan's critique of the rigidifying conventions of psychoanalysis, simultaneously accepts the homophobic framework introduced by the analytical work of Anna Freud and others. If Friedan strategically engages with these conventions to be heard, these conventions profoundly shape and limit the epistemological possibilities of the text.
      It's also notable that it is precisely these problematic conventions that allow for the text to move from the margins of societal discourse to its center.  There is an interesting new book on the reception history of The Feminine Mystique, written by Stephanie Coontz.  It doesn't really replace the important biographical work on Friedan produced by Daniel Horowitz, but its worth a glance.  Perhaps I will comment on it sometime in the future. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Advertisements for myself: Talk at the Eaton Conference on Saturday

   I thought I would put a brief announcement about a talk that I will be giving this Saturday, February 12th, during the 8:15-9:30 session of the 2011 Eaton Science Fiction Conference.  (With out a doubt, the most highly attended session of any conference.)  I suspect that most folks reading this blog will be asleep during this talk, but I would encourage attendance for my talk, so that I'm not sitting alone with my fellow presenters and the moderator.  (Check the link for more details on the conference.)  On the other hand, there is something very exciting to be able to make the statement that China Mieville are both presenting at the same conference, albeit with very different roles in the conference.  (hint: the 8:15am slot is not the time when keynote speakers talk.)  Here is my initial proposal for the talk....

   Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s utopian novel Herland was immediately heralded as a lost feminist classic upon its rediscovery and first publication as a novel in 1979.  The novel offered a trenchant critique of the systems of inequality and the exploitation and isolation of women through the presenting a fictional alternative society that both re-imagined motherhood as a socialized institution and escaped the modes of domination and exploitation found in the capitalism of her time.  Later scholars began to recognize that Gilman’s utopian vision was inextricably linked to a white supremacist project of eugenics.  The investment in eugenics was not unique to Gilman amongst progressive reformers, and links to a common interest in the belief that new techno-scientific discoveries could resolve the contradictions produced by capitalist modernity.  I want to look at Gilman’s interest in domesticity, technological innovation, and the biopolitics of eugenics in relationship to the post-war formation of domesticity critiqued by Betty Friedan amongst others.  My argument will be that, aside from the emphasis on collective motherhood, Gilman’s utopian conception has an uncanny resonance with the discursive formation of cold war domesticity, with its emphasis on expertise, reified notions of femininity, and whiteness.  As Elaine Tyler May notes, the domestic sphere was seen a space to neutralize the class struggle of the previous era. Gilman similarly gestures towards the utopia of Herland as an escape from the logic of class struggle.  If one were to look at the novel through the lens of Jameson’s critique of the utopian form, Herland can be read as a reduction of the world to the reproductive labor of the household.  It is a world of breeding animals, raising children, and education.  However these functions are never seen as separate institutions.  This gestures towards the increasing importance that the post World War II household would be expected to play in terms of emotional support and entertainment according Stephanie Coontz.  The contrasts that the novel sets up between the utopian space of Herland and the exploitation and violence of the outside world help establish the space as a sort of refuge from the world, one that bears an uncanny resemblance to the fantasies of the household that Coontz describes.  The novel culminates in the experimental marriage of the three men who discovered and named Herland to three women of the society.  This experiment fails with the attempted rape by one of the men involved in the experiment, which leads to their eventual to the expulsion of the men.  But the two successful relationships gesture towards the future culmination of the project of Herland ending in blissful, domestic heterosexuality.  This narrative dovetails with Gilman’s fascination with the ability of technology and expertise to end the drudgery of housework, and I intend to link the narrative to the non-fiction work that Gilman produced on economics, the household economy, and eugenics.

Monday, February 7, 2011

In Defense of (a slightly more modest) Marxism

      Continuing my process of reprinting older material, this is the first piece of writing that I had published in the Arise! Journal.  It was  a letter critiquing a Marxist-Leninist polemic published in the journal.  Looking back on it, Ellen Messer-Davidow's classes on Foucault and Marxism played a strong influence on my thinking at the time, along with my strong left communist inclinations.  I thought it would be worth putting up to complete the full set of Arise! writings.

          I read Michael Wood's commentary on Marxism-Leninism with a great deal of distress.  Once again we were presented with a totalizing, almost religious rendering, of Marxism with the tripartite image of the Marx/Engels/Lenin godhead (father, son, Holy Ghost anyone?)  This vision of Marxism has already died (and good riddance to it) as a meaningful political force with the fall of the eastern bloc in 1989.  Whatever benefits they gave their subjects in the form of welfare cannot make up for the totalitarian and undemocratic nature of the regimes.  Instead of trying to liberate the masses from the yoke of capital, they merely tried to perfect its practices under one state and party.  Utterances such as Wood's are similar to the digestive systems of a corpse that continues its process even after death for a period of time.
            This does not mean the philosophy of praxis or the process of thought beginning with Marx should be abandoned.  But the ideas discussed above must be jettisoned.  The first thing that must be rejected is the claim that Marxism is a science valorized above other modes of thinking simply due to such a claim.  Marxism is a set of incredibly valuable critical tools, but it would be arrogant to say that it doesn't have valuable things to learn from other forms of thinking such as feminism or Foucauldian notions of discourse.
            Along with that the very notion of an authoritative or orthodox Marxism must be rejected.  There are many different marxisms traveling on many different trajectories.  It's significantly different for Louis Althusser, Rosa Luxemburg, Frederic Jameson, etc.  Each of these individuals was or is responding to distinctly different formations of capitalist domination within different time periods.  Andreu Nin of POUM stated that the map of Russia could not be laid upon Spain.  Similarly, no particular approach of Marxism can be meaningful to everyplace at the same time uniformly.  There must be translation of ideas across cultural borders.  Good examples of this can be seen in the POUM of republican Spain, the FSLN in Nicaragua, and the IRA in Ireland.  One should go even further by saying that no form of Marxian thinking should be privileged over others within a single location.
            The third and last thing that must be rejected is the notion of the vanguardist party.  I think it's interesting that Michael Wood left out this important part of the beginning of the manifesto. "The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working class parties.  They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.  They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mold the proletarian movement."  I think that Marx's more radical and democratic vision contained within these statements should be embraced over the stifling and undemocratic vision of Lenin's dictatorship over the proletariat in the form of an avant-garde intellectual leadership.  We should be in solidarity with the multitude, and work with them towards our mutual liberation.
            Rather than building our visions of radicalism on unreconstructed, nostalgic visions of cold war dichotomies, we should instead reach into the future and build anew. No matter how tentative the process is and how many mistakes we make on the way there,  those acts will be incalculably more valuable than the wise practices dictated to us by the cleverest central committee.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Reality Television and its relation to the vulgus and multitude in the work of Spinoza

     Etienne Balibar, Antonio Negri, amongst others, have noted a significant linguistic shift from his work in the Theological-Political Treatise to the Ethics, a shift from the derogatory vulgus to the more neutral multitude to describe the masses.  That shift is linked to a transformation in Spinoza's views of the poor and uneducated masses that made up the majority of the Dutch state.  The transformation in Spinoza's argument surprisingly occurred after murder of his friends the de Witt brothers by an mob arranged by a Orangist conspiracy.  This action also contributed to the collapse of the Dutch republic and the restoration of the monarchy.  For Spinoza, as a committed republican, this series of events constituted not only a personal tragedy, but the collapse of a political project that he was intimately involved in as an intellectual and as an adviser.  Rather than collapsing into a series of understandable diatribes against the uneducated 'mob', Spinoza intensified his commitment to a radical and democratic politic, arguing that all political potential is dependent on engaging with the sort of forces that murdered his friends.  That process ended with a critique of the earlier republic contained his unfinished Political Treatise
     He argued, "But if anyone retorts, that the dominion of the Dutch has not long endured without a count or one to fill his place, let him have this reply, that the Dutch thought, that to maintain their liberty it was enough to abandon their count, and to behead this body of their dominion, but never thought of remoulding it, and left its limbs, just as they had been first constituted, so that the county of Holland has remained without a count, like a headless body, and the actual dominion has lasted on without the name.  And so it is no wonder that most of its subjects have not known, with whom the authority of the dominion lay.  And even had this been otherwise, yet those who actually held dominion were to far to few to govern the multitude and suppress their powerful adversaries.  Whence it came to pass, that the latter has often been able to plot against them with impunity, and at last overthrow them.  And so the sudden overthrow of the said republic has not arisen from a useless waste in time in debates, but from the misinformed state of the said dominion and the fewness of its rulers." (Spinoza, 376)
       Obviously, it would be a lengthy operation to unpack this dense paragraph, but the main thread that I want to draw from Spinoza's critique is his recognition that the republic failed because of its inability to reshape the day to day structures of everyday life of the republic and its governance.  The liberal forces of Holland were able to remove the head of the count, but they did not think to create republican institutions to replace the structural and libidinal functions tied to that figure and that mode of governance.  Spinoza recognized that the republic would fail without a substantial political and pedagogical engagement with the broad masses that formed the body of the nation.  That shift must be read in relationship to the shift in Spinoza's imagined audience.  In the Theological- Political Treatise, Spinoza referred to the broad masses as the vulgus, requesting that they refrain from reading his text, given their propensity to ignorance and superstition.  By the time of the Ethics, he framed his argument differently, arguing that the forms of reason in his text were accessible to all.  That shift was additionally marked by the shift to the neutral term, multitude.
       The question one might have at this point is what does this large philosophical prologue have to do with the nature of reality television.  My argument is that reality television at its heart is a return to an unconscious conceptualization of the broad masses of our society as the vulgus.  Within that framework, their is an additional rejection of the possibility of a genuinely democratic politics, and perhaps a rejection of forms of collective political engagement altogether.  The pleasure of reality television is derived from the forms of bickering and conflicts that occur between the various actors on the screen, whether they take the form of contestants, housemates, or some other naive form of engagement, although these issues are more notable in the non-competitive forms of the genre.  The closely shaped and choreographed narratives of the reality television show are meant to reflect the inability for people to create long-lasting and sustained forms of solidarity.  This is supposed to be reflected in the 'spontaneous' conflicts and struggles that form the narrative arc of the show.  Just as significantly, the conflict of the shows are stupid and petty, marking its participants within that terrain of stupidity, ignorance, and vulgarity. 
        I am notably not calling for a new form of media that is dedicated to social uplift, a fairly dubious notion in itself.  Art shouldn't ignore the forms of stupidity, ignorance, and vulgarity that exist in the world.  Films such as Come and See or the television work of The Wire are valuable precisely through their confrontation with the ugliness of the world, whether in the form of the violence of war or the small violences of everyday life.  But those genres don't mystify their subject by implicitly placing its cause on some form of trans-historical form of degraded human nature.  Instead, they offer a critical engagement with the social and institutional structures that produce those effects.  To return to the material on Spinoza, they operate within the economy of the multitude, rather than the vulgus.  This form of aesthetic work may not be terribly optimistic, and neither of my examples are, but their often aporitic structures engage with the tangled web of forms of domination and legitimization that produce the tapestry of the historical system of late capitalism, with its roots in the conquest of colonialism, racialization, and exploitation.  Furthermore, I don't have a problem with light entertainment, nor vulgarity, but one can be entertained without engaging in the forms of legitimization of the privatization of everyday life contained in reality television.
      As a last note, it's worth mentioning that one of the earliest forms of the current crop of reality television was the show, Cops.  Without getting into the fairly extensive scholarship on the show, Cops ostensibly existed to show the day to day reality of police work in the United States.  It was meant to offer a 'spontaneous' portrayal of this without the mediation of fiction.  But, in reality, it produced a pathological discourse of urban life, feeding off and reproducing the racism of the society as well as the strongly interrelated fears of the urban poor and homeless.  The show reproduced the colonialist logic of the 'urban jungle,' a space that could only operate in a logic of a  dominance without hegemony.  This work drew from the cinema of the backlash produced in the 1970's, taking the form of Eastwood's Dirty Harry and related forms of cinema.  These narratives rejected the anti-racist framework of the civil rights and black power movements and returned to the narrative of the pathological criminal.  The irredeemable city could only be responded to with authoritarian violence, rejecting the forms of mutual aid arising out of the New Left.  (We should never forget that those forms were always tentative and contradictory, never escaping the modes of domination and exploitation existing in the dominant society.) 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

On the convening a grand jury for the Irvine 11

     I'm going to get back to the cultural and literary criticism that I usually produce, but the current events of my town have intervened again.  The large and vibrant protest movement of last year has produced criminal charges this year.  The first charges were placed against the participants in the sit-in in the administration building last year.  That group, along with a pair of outside supporters, has been put up on a variety of  misdemeanor charges on the part of the Orange County District Attorney's office.  For more information, look here.  These charges were seen as a fairly substantial attack on the right to protest and freedom of speech at the University.  However, the same office has just has subpoenaed six UCI Muslim students and compelled them to testify before a grand jury with the possibility of felony charges coming out of the process.  These students will be potentially charged with felony conspiracy charges for a demonstration that briefly interrupted a speaker at a public event, a common and perhaps even banal protest tactic at the university.   In addition, these criminal charges are on top of a set of administrative punishments on the part of the University of California-Irvine.  Here are my thoughts on the university's action against the MSU (who was uninvolved as a group in the protest.)
     To give a sense of the mildness of the protest, I was involved in a protest of UN Ambassador Bill Richardson in the late 1990's.  Richardson was speaking at the university to drum up support for a new attack on Iraq on behalf of the Clinton administration (for those who feel nostalgic for Clinton, his sanctions campaign led to the death of at least 600,000 Iraqi civilians.)  For some reason, the organizers of the talk in the Humphrey building thought that 75-100 angry anti-sanctions protesters were going to sit back quietly and listen to Richardson advocate for the mass death of more Iraqis.  Within a minute of the speech, the ambassador was drowned out by the protesters, and the speech was entirely shut down.  I'm still proud of that event.  Our disruption of the event along with the Ohio State protest cut through the pro-war propaganda of the administration and the news networks.  Like the milder five minute protest of Israeli Ambassador by the Eleven, we effectively transformed a monologue into a real political dialogue with our actions.  At the same time, we faced no school or criminal charges for these much more militant and disruptive tactics, and our protest was an official action on the part of our organization, the Progressive Student Organization.  I don't think that it's a coincidence that our group of protesters, unlike the Irvine protesters, was almost exclusively white.
     There are calls to support the Irvine 11.  One can find a petition here.  In addition, there are calls to send emails to the district attorney, Tony Rackauckas to drop the charges.  Here is the email.  In addition, you can call the office to get the charges dropped.  Here is the telephone number for the Orange County District Attorney's office. (714) 834-3600  Keep your comments respectful.  You're not helping anyone by being a jerk on the phone or over email.