Tuesday, June 5, 2012

works in progress

     As I mentioned yesterday, I'm writing a brief post before I go to bed today.  I got caught up in grading over the weekend, so I couldn't put up anything at that point.  Not that I'm complaining.  After all, it pays the bills, and some of the work that my students managed to put together in their interpretation of a series of clips I picked out was frankly pretty impressive.  (You can find the selections I chose here.)  There were a few responses that I would have been pretty happy with if I had produced them as blog posts.  At the same time, that probably took about twelve to thirteen hours to complete.  It didn't give me a lot of time to write for the blog or to deal with my own dissertation work, which is getting pushed increasingly to the summer.  I'm not all that thrilled about that.

      I had suggested that I might take up the series of blog postings on reinterpretations of the Babel story that I had left by the wayside a while ago, but my copy of James Baldwin's essays has seemed to have disappeared.  I either need to find that object again, or I need to find another interpretation of the story to go on with that.  I'm hoping I find the Baldwin essays at some point because his take on the story is considerably different than the narratives about transgression and loss that have been at the center of the previous stories.  Instead, Baldwin goes back to a more literal biblical interpretation of the story, but in such a way as to challenge the foundational structures of white supremacy that constitute the United States.  Not that any of that should be remarkably surprising for anyone who has made any attempt to engage with Baldwin's work.  (If you haven't read any of Baldwin's essays, I'd recommend dropping what you're doing, and going to the local library to check out a collection of his work.... right now.)

      On the other hand, I feel like I have a better sense of what my overall project is in regards to the dissertation.  I realized that I'm in some sense trying to challenge some of the stories around the laboring practices set up by some of the recent work by post-autonomist writers.  Largely drawing on the argument written by Toni Negri in the early 1980's on the transition from the 'mass worker' to the 'social worker', these writers have tried to argue that current regime of production is increasingly dominated by forms of affective labor.  This shifts the workplace considerably, moving towards a more flexible approach to production, dependent on the worker's creativity and ability to adapt to a multiplicity of situations, and to act as a sort of jack of all trades.  It is also tied to the worker's focus on producing affect, rather than a physical product.  I don't disagree with this at all, but these qualities become a lot less novel if you focus on the household, rather than the formal workplace.  As Ruth Schwarz Cowan notes, these very qualities were introduced into the household at the turn of the twentieth century, as the household increasingly industrialized.  In addition, Stuart Ewen notes the linkage between advertising and the production of affect in his work on public relations, advertising, and other forms of expertise.  It's significant that both workers' struggles for the social wage, and the attempt on the part of employers to stabilize mass production was centered on the space of the household.  In effect, the household was a significant space of overlapping contestation within the class struggle.  Borrowing from Cowan's structure of argument, I want to ask what happens if we center our focus on these struggles, rather than on the workplace.

       I have an answer for why science fiction, which links into Edelman's concept of 'reproductive futurism' and complicates it, but I don't have the energy to take Edelman's Lacanian framework right now, and translate it into the materialist framework that I am working from.  Needless to say, Edelman's focus on the concept of the symbolic is both very provocative, but also extraordinarily reductive.  Edelman manages to reduce the complexities of mass social life to the individualized structures of the psyche, something that Freud managed to avoid in his analysis of the social in Mass Psychology and Jokes and their Relationship to the Unconscious, but I've always preferred Freud's actual work to the Lacanian framework.  I ultimately think by reducing all forms of social order to the symbolic as such, one loses out on the capacity of those social orders to operate in very different ways.  I suppose this shouldn't be terribly surprising out of a man who mistakes the Democratic Party for the left.  It's obvious that Edelman is working in some of the same terrain as thinkers such as Laurent Berlant, but I like that work.  Edelman just irritates me.  At the same time, I think there's something in Edelman's critique that is significant for science fiction studies, an argument that might make us focus on the conservative and preservative elements of the modes of estrangement in science fiction, as well as its radical qualities.  In any case, I suspect that this isn't the last time that I will write on the subject.

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