Thursday, October 13, 2011

“They’re all broken when you get them.”

- My Grandma, to my aunt, about husbands

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tikkun Olam, an old untranslatable Hebrew phrase.

It could be translated as:

To establish a world.
To fix what is broken.


To tend to eternity.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Paul Gilroy speaks on the riots, August 2011, Tottenham, North London

[Winston Silcott in his introduction, remarked that if London had a better welfare state like Sweden, the riots may not have occurred]

Gilroy: I don't want us to get too romantic about Scandinavia...[applause]. The last time I was in Malmö there was a laser sniper shooting at people of colour in the streets.

I want to say a few things in solidarity with the people who have suffered, the families including the family of Mark Duggan who have lost so much. I was sitting in Highbury magistrate's court this morning, watching the magistrate giving people who had no criminal record months and months before their case would even be heard. And those young people, some of whom were not with their families but were on their own, could not have been defended successfully even by someone like Michael Mansfield. It's a sham what's going on down there. For people who've been charged with violent disorder, 2 out of 3 of them have been remanded in custody, and that is a scandal, not justice.

We've heard a lot of surprise from our political leaders who say that they didn't know this was coming. I use Twitter, and I hope you do too, because it's a useful form of news now that we don't watch TV so much. One person I follow on Twitter is the leader of the police federation. The leader of the police federation has been saying consistently that he went to see [Home Secretary] Theresa May in the spring of this year, but before the student protests started. He went to see her after the election and he told her there would be problems, and she dismissed him and said he was a scaremonger. So I think we should explore this question of what does it mean to pretend you didn't know something was going to happen when you did know.

The question is supposed to be was there politics in this rioting, or was it just a cry for help or a cry for things. And I think the question shouldn't be was there politics in this rioting and looting, but is there politics in this country? Because when you have three parties who are saying the same thing...[applause] there's no politics in Britain. There's a kind of entertainment, there's a bit of theatre, which is delivered to people, in the face of what is a desperate situation, which can only get worse, and can't just be understood from a local perspective. It can't just be understood from what's going on here--we need to think about what's going on in other parts of the world which the crisis has touched.

Stafford Scott wrote a very lucid and a very brilliant analysis of what was going on in the paper, and he looked a variety of indicators to try to understand what's going on around us here: unemployment numbers, school exclusion numbers, stop and search numbers...In terms of these things, the numbers are as bad as or worse than they were thirty years ago.

So the temptation is to say it's the same game as it was thirty years ago, or twenty-five years ago, and it isn't the same game. For instance, the police admitted that they've done a hundred thousand searches under the new terrorism legislation, and of those hundred thousand searches not one, not one, led to an arrest under the terrorism legislation! So I think we need to remember that the game has changed.

And in 1981 there was a sense that they knew there were particular areas of London that were places which could blow up at any time, and the solution was a very complex thing, which involved soft policing, and schools, etcetera. And what we've seen since 1981 is the militarization of that structure. The criminal justice system and places of incarceration have become blacker and browner places--the groups of people incarcerated in this country is a disproportionate phenomenon.

To me that data doesn't show, doesn't suggest, that the people, our people, are any more criminal than anyone else. What it suggests to me is that they've been subjected to processes of criminalization.

Now, in 1981, you could talk about racism. A judge was given the job of seeing how the events of 1981 [riots in Brixton, Handsworth, Leeds and Liverpool] developed. He said he had to discuss the question of racism in his report. Of course, he said "what institutional racism?"--I'm not a fan of his; I'm just saying, he had to address that question. And now we're in a situation where everyone says, "oh, racism? That's done with. That was before." And I don't think that that's the case.

When you look at the layer of political leaders from our communities, the generation who came of age during that time thirty years ago, many of those people have accepted the logic of privatization. They've privatized that movement, and they've sold their services as consultants and managers and diversity trainers. They've sold their services to the police, they've sold them to the army, they've sold them to the corporate world...go to some of their websites and you'll see how proud they are of their clients. And that means that, in many areas, the loss of experience, the loss of the imagination is a massive phenomenon. So that the young people in the courts today don't have a defence campaign. They don't have one yet, but I hope that one will develop.

So a lot of that leadership has been channeled into the local government, and has formed a kind of "consultariat." And if you want to understand what that means, you have to look at places like South Africa, where, in the process after the end of apartheid, a whole layer of militants, a whole layer of people went over, and they got their pensions, and they sold this, and they sold that, because the government, in changing that society, thought that having a Black middle class was going to be the way to do it. Well, that's not the way it's going to work here. [applause]

That privatization is also a privatization of the mind. Because in 1981 there were no computers, there were no mobile phones, so people didn't have all of that digital distraction. There was no porn saturating the world that young people move through, there was no place to upload your videos to. These are big changes. They point us to something that's important in understanding the difference between then and now.

The difference between 1981 and now is that the relationship between information and power has been changed, and our tactics for understanding our defence of our communities have to take those changes into account. And that means that we have to think very carefully about how we engage with the media. I'm very happy that there are people here who are independent distributors of information and news, who are circulating what goes on here and circulating interpretations of what's happened in this country. We have to get it to people outside of our country--we have to internationalize it. We have to think about how technology can work for us. And media is not something transparent.

Because what happens in the digitalization of media and privatization is the contraction and the impoverishment of our media. People talk about "dumbing down"--it's not just about dumbing down--it's something different than that. And that means that there's a much tighter control over what can be said.

And that technology which is so different from in 1981 is also part of what I'd like to call, tonight, a securitocracy, ruling us through security. And that means the DNA in your bodies, in your mouths, in DNA swabs, the CCTV cameras that are all around us here...And, and this is another interesting feature of last week, the way the spin operation works. The media, owned by people like Murdoch, have a 'golden hour' after the story breaks, in which they can fix the story, and then that fixed story grows, like a snowball rolling downhill.

What we need to understand is that this doesn't happen by accident. These things are techniques for making information meaningful, and we need to learn from them.

One of the other differences between now and 30 years ago, now and 25 years ago, is that the riots are no longer just a black-and-white story. It's a story that's complicated by all kinds of changes in our cities and our communities. It's a story that's been complicated by the development of political Islam in our communities--I mean, had it not been Ramadan, who knows what different kinds of events would have unfolded.

And it's no longer a story which can be explained only by reference to a Caribbean history, because the majority of the Black population now in our country are people of African descent, with a range of different experiences, a range of different stories and reasons for being here. We have a number of small business owners, shopkeepers, many of whom are immigrants who have arrived from somewhere else, and they're taking the position that people who own shops have always taken, and it's no surprise for them to be calling for vigilantism and other things to protect their property.

Our situation is made complex in a different sense by the presence of people from Eastern Europe. I mean, the woman who jumped out of the window in Croydon--she'd come from Poland to work in Poundland, because that was a better life for her. Imagine what that means, to come from Poland to work in Poundland, for minimum wage, searching for a better life.

So we have to find some way to recognize those differences too.

The government wants to introduce new laws to criminalize the wearing of masks. The only people who really get away with wearing masks in our society right now is the territorial support group [of the Met police]. [applause] I don't hear Jack Straw saying, "I can't see their faces." [laughter] So that suggests to me that there's a double standard at work here, and we need to pressure that.

And sure, there are gangs around in London, but this is not about gangs. And I think Gary's made a good point about the United States. We've been talking about poverty, and one of the worst forms of poverty that's shaped our situation is poverty of the imagination. And what happens in this country, and this is something that many of us in our communities share with [Conservative Prime Minister] David Cameron, whether we like it or not. When we feel the impact of our poverty of the imagination, we reach for what we think is the future, and that's always the United States of America.

I never thought that in a public forum I would agree with Sir Hugh Orde, the police chief of Northern Ireland, but he would say clearly that is not a situation that is going to be eliminated by the infiltration of American techniques. And I think he's right. I think we should remember that before we think that the Coach Carter scenario is part of our future and the solution to the problems faced by our young people. [applause]

If we go down that road, we're headed toward a society that's run on the basis of mass imprisonment. And that's not just about making the prisons bigger and fuller, making them engines for making money for private corporations, but it's also about turning your schools into prisons, and turning your streets into prisons, and turning your community into something that's much more like a prison. And we do not want that society based on mass imprisonment. That's not our future. We are not Americans, we are not Americans.

Lastly, I'd suggest that I think we need to put David Lammy under some pressure. [applause] In the same way, we should put the media under some pressure for controlling our information, and not just go running to Sky News and BBC. We need to put our political representatives under some pressure. I live in Finsbury Park, not too far from Tottenham, so I know where David Lammy lives. He's something of an outside agitator in your community. [laughter]

The last thing I want to say is that in 1981 and 1985 we knew we were dealing with a system. We understood the interconnecting parts. When I talk about the poverty of the imagination, I mean that we are thinking like people who approach these things through the lens of a privatized world. We only think of these things as individuals, and we don't see them as connected. The last week has been an amazing class, a primer, to give us the opportunity to understand how these things function today. You remember that party they all had, in the Cotswolds...and they were all there, the Milibands were there, the Labour people were there, the TV people were there (not the ones from David Starkey-land but the ones from Channel Four News), and they were all there together, and they're telling you something when they all congregate like that.

They're telling you that they're a class. And they think and act and conduct themselves like a class. They chat to each other, they marry each other, they go to the same places...And if we want to act as a body, if we want to act in concert, we have to learn something from the way they conduct themselves, even as we challenge what they do.

So the pieces I can see in this system, the role of information, of policing, of deprivation, of inequality...And we need to clarify that we have the resources we need in our community--we just need to use them in a different way. Thank you.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Not authenticity in the sense of a total act, or a meditative, natural state...not authenticity in any sense that could be called authenticity. Because as soon as it becomes an effort toward authenticity it sheds any sense of its own truthfulness.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

As the UK burns

"The reason the police are so hated in the ghetto is...because you don't have to be more than fifteen years old at the very most to realize that the cop is not there to protect you but to protect Mr. Charlie's property. And that makes his presence absolutely intolerable."

"When I was growing up it was...yes, it's true, there was a kind of resignation. The whole style came out of a certain kind of resignation which is gone forever...Even people who got educated realized that they were still in a trap. I knew too many people who had been to college who were shuffling around with garbage cans to be fooled about what education would do. And now it is very different. It is very different because the image that black people have of themselves has changed. It is utterly changed, and it has changed because of objective reasons. It has changed because the world has changed. It has changed because of what we have seen on television: black leaders, black riots, white liars. It has changed because the power of white people to control my mind--black minds--has been broken, and that is a very important shift. It is perfectly true: no one growing up now has before them the vista that I had when I was growing up. Though that, paradoxically, increases the poverty and rage, doesn't it?"

"If I were young I would find myself with no morals."

All quotations taken from A Rap on Race (1970).

It's strange to live in a place with ongoing political instability when that place is a place, like London, which is reputed worldwide for its safety and predictability. The importance of word of mouth grows by leaps and bounds as the media struggles along with the police. Watching a given few minutes of the live news updates gives you a palpable sense that the media is confused and vague, stammering, playing videos they found on Twitter or Facebook that are a couple of days old, interviewing a myriad of people, who, with the exception of a few voices, Darcus Howe, Nina Power, and Ken Livingstone among them, condemn the general situation in a vanishingly narrow variety of ways.

Some people are angry and rude during this time, some are far more relaxed than usual. There are all kinds of emotional responses. The overwhelming sensation is one of dislocation, a rumbling tremor or a sociopolitical earthquake, something beneath the surface which is being released. That surface is the image of a society of propriety, a society too proper to suffer from any illegal relocations of private property on a massive scale, what David Cameron famously called a "Big Society," the most civil in the world. What lies beneath is not easy to name, but it has something to do with what has always been the subterranean, occluded engine of capitalism: the ignored, who by virtue of their condition both make possible and mark the impossibility of a society which profits from its capacity to beat them down, to attempt to convince them that their oppression is as natural and as just as the stars in the sky. The commentators have been using the word "monsters" to describe the youths, along with other epithets like "idiots" and "morons" (yet the term "anarchist" seems to be sidelined, seemingly reserved for the student [mostly middle class, mostly white] protestors earlier this year).

Certainly there are condemnable things that have been done by rioters, as in any situation when law is not enforced, such as the deaths in Birmingham and the people who lost their homes, as well as locally-owned business which were raided. But one must also inquire as to the long-term effect of chain stores like Curry's (The UK equivalent of Best Buy), Foot Locker, and Tesco (which owns Fresh & Easy and has a horrific labor relations record) on the poorest neighborhoods, the places where the riots first "kicked off." Poor neighborhoods like Hackney, Tottenham, and Peckham, Livingstone said on BBC, are both the same ones that have suffered the greatest public services cuts as well as the ones which are most occupied by massive, impersonal flourescent chain stores which regularly squash labor rights and pay minimum wage, maintaining high employee turnover as a way to keep afloat. As Dr Sofia Himmelblau wrote just now, "
It is no coincidence that the primary target of rioters, despite a media-narrative keen to play up the social impact of these events on small retailers, was large retail warehouse stores that cling parasitically to neighbourhoods at the periphery of inner cities."

In the media, the "critical" attention is focused on a false debate, between condemning and condoning the actions of the youths.
My flatmates disagree with me that this debate is false--they tell me that my refusal to engage with it is a kind of indifference or extremism, but I call it a false debate because there is really one side to it. That is to say, not a single public figure has come out in explicit support of the participants in the riots: even Darcus Howe, who was treated like a rioter himself by the BBC presenter because he tried to place it in the context of racial profiling and police brutality, condemned the riots from the beginning. One rapper from Peckham tweeted to his followers on Saturday that they should loot, perhaps sarcastically, and then deleted his twitter account because he was worried that the police, who already try to shut down each of his concerts, would punish him for it. The only public viewpoint lies within the boundaries of unequivocal condemnation, and the monopoly of opinion is such that those who try to explain the riots by placing them in context, just like figures who tried to place the 9/11 attacks in context, are either shouted down or ignored.

A major difference that may be hard to imagine for an American is the racial complexity of the situation. The UK is not segregated in the same way as the United States. While many social spaces are clearly white, there are a considerable number of so-called white people who live in city slums, which is quite different from a city like San Francisco or Oakland. The truth is that these youth are not all black but are to varying degrees responding to the way in which the police department treats both blacks and the poor, with several hundred suicides in their custody in the last decade. I say "blacks and the poor" because in a surreptitious way blackness stands in for poverty in the logics of neoliberalism, in the sense that people like Smiley Culture who were not or were no longer poor were still killed by the police with no government consequences. We cannot say that whites have not suffered from the climate of police terror, but we can safely say that wealthy whites (i.e. those millionaires who populate the cabinet and who run the country) have not found themselves in the conditions of pressure that these youth deal with every day, of which police terror is the most bare and hypocritical but not necessarily the worst. The conditions of pressure which led hordes of people, not merely youth and not merely black, to take what was not legally theirs were many and varied but have to do, broadly, with growing austerity measures designed to line the pockets of people like Boris Johnson and David Cameron and, in a bizarre "libertarian" paternalistic logic, to "motivate" them to be entrepreneurs by denying them any opportunities.

An American friend of mine just told me that her Dad didn't believe there were riots in London. This says quite a bit about the American perception of London but equally it might say something about London itself. On the one hand, why is it that Americans tend to imagine London as the relatively small space north of the Thames and south of Kilburn, west of Hackney, which is the most white and expensive part of the city? On the other hand, how does this completely false perception influence the climate of exasperation which led to the revolts?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Norwegian Terrorist

- Disguised himself as a policeman to kill 96 people
- Justified it in terms of an anti-immigration Christian white supremacism, which he documented in a 1,500 page manifesto:
- Up-voted reaction to a top google video about the killings:
"I in no way condone this act, it is the wrong way to do things,these people were innocent, but had warped political views, just as the perp had,however this needs to be awake up call to all the governments around the world that are soft on Muslim immigration, it it you that are guilty of creating this crime,you created this idiot,people are fed up with Muslims moving into and taking over their countries, I fear this is just the beginning, war has started, and it is left wing ideology's fault."
- The "anti-bin Laden" whose views are a mirror image of bin Laden's (except that unlike bin Laden he wanted to carry out the murders himself, by his own hand). Easily fits into Samuel P. Huntington's Clash of Civilizations thesis as well as the zero-sum game
- Just a month earlier, a news story reported that Norway's sovereign wealth fund, approx. $500 billion, is the second-largest in the world (after Saudi Arabia?)

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Musée du Louvre-- centered by I.M. Pei's massive, defiant ornament of skeletal geometry, dropped right in the middle of a classical plaza with statues of French conquerors, instead of gargoyles, staring down at you. Their robes are the baroque conceit of a much older architect, billowing yet contained in the exacting hands of the colonizers. A Mercedes construction vehicle, adorned with industrial hoses, emits a laborious noise under status of Richeliu, Montaigne, Houdon, Duperac. The vehicle appears to be removing sewage from a trap door beneath their feet. Bare-breasted, anonymous female statues are perched two tiers above the Great Men. They look like the statue of liberty model, an African woman, according to Lewis D. Gordon. A drab, once-white Ferris Wheel circulates at the edge of the plaza.

The Louvre leaves no doubt as to the relationship between aesthetic waste and grandeur and political dominion. White Americans despise the French for the simple reason that, even today, the French empire is, in a couple of ways, the most powerful in the world, even as its colonies have been independent for years. With a much more vast and "high" style than the American empire, it fascinates, transfixes, and bewitches the entire world with its opulent ecstasy; its sinister brutality is inseparable from its ability to create a feeling of ambient awe which hegemonizes and fixes the concept of greatness. What are the thoughts of those who are very nearly the only Black people in the Louvre, the Afr0-French who work as security guards, as they stare, week after week, at the marble semblances of the potentate?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Achille Mbembe's Lecture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Figures and Fictions Conference

- A critical reassessment of South African photographic culture is long overdue. We must open the discourse on photography to discourses on other art forms. This opening must take into account processes changing the photograph, such as the ethics of mass reproduction.

- It must attend to the paradox that our world is ever more globalized, and, at the same time, ever more Balkanized.

- Not so long ago, people like Simmel read the world as a huge mathematical problem—in terms of calculation, reification, and abstraction. This would have been a world governed by “electronic reason”—the conversion of the human body into data, as with neural imaging and DNA analysis.

- Such conversion changes not only processes of subjectivation, but the meaning of matter and the human.

- One issue in the practice of photography is inquiring as to the criteria which constitute the human. Digital technology accelerates this inquiry.

- Through the 20th century we witnessed the emergence of image capitalism. In image capitalism the image does not simply replace the number but becomes a technical issue in itself. This problem is mentioned in the work of Benjamin, Kracauer, and others.

- The calculative, affective, and the sensorial collapse into the image form.

- A circuit which runs from emotions to passions to convictions is newly reconnected to the image. These are the new pathways of capital itself.

- Images have become a constitutive dimension of the capitalist forces reshaping our affective world. They are, therefore, no longer merely an automatic, replicative reflection of the real world.

- Faith, sincerity, and conviction become increasingly important in image practices.

- Photography is fraught with problems today because of the nature of colonial rule.

- Colonial regimes had to produce a colonial ontology which purported to create unchanging social essences, fixed in time.

- Photography became a crucial dispositif in the production of these rules, in order to convince people that all was in order.

- The production of taxonomies, however, was a very unruly venture. The knowledge upon which they were founded was always uncertain.

- The photographic act and the act of ruling are both based on an epistemic uncertainty.

- Colonial governments sought to provide a cast of people’s intimate emotional ecology.

- Photography was produced as a complement to writings on the colony. Early photographs are a tapestry of forms, an interlocking topography of figures, sounds, and senses.

- These processes coincided with the political and rhetorical separation of South Africa from the rest of the continent, as if the nation were a European nation transplanted to the tip of Africa. The most important fictional aspect was that whites needed not form genuine ties with Africans.

- The early 20th century was a culture of expeditions and adventures of three kinds: military, trade, and missionary.

- Photography was informed by the belief that the “pure races” of Africa were dying. It became absorbed in profile portraiture—the arrangement of forces, the comportment of native bodies, surfaces and cleavages, bodies deprived of any interiority whatsoever, a pure portrayal of abjection.

- Then came the restlessness of travel photography–repetition and compilation function like hunting—to photograph is like throwing a die.

- Much photography theory in the West has been about photography’s troubling psychic presence to the Real—its doubling and anarchic unruliness, its power to excise time—a deep anxiety as to the constitutive elements of the Real. Such an anxiety is not found in Western or Central African anthropologies of the Real. Baudelaire, Barthes and others were preoccupied with the question of stabilizing, restoring, and recentering the Real.

- The photograph, in essence, was a fixed image created by light. The process by which a substance is mediated by light.

- This was the case until digital photography.

- Western theory reads photography as the substitution of a living image by a physical object. This substitution has brought back some old animistic beliefs, setting in motion a dialectics of animism, mechanism, and reproduction.

- The animistic sign of the primitive, then, is summoned in the very act of precise documentation that supposedly inaugurates rationality. The anxiety that the Real will be eaten up by the spectre of the primitive returns in the image.

- Photography keeps the human person in circulation, in a kind of Promethean act. It traces the shadow of the subject by permanently capturing something fleeting. Death alone can no longer remove the human from circulation. The image, not the body, marks duration in the moment of photography. Photography liberates the human from the slavery of the body with its power of luminous ephemerality. The subject now has access to a purely spectral future.

- The commonality of contemporary South African Black photographers is that they aim at retrieving the human from a history of waste. Peter Magubane, Mofokeng, and many others.

- Black photography shares a certain understanding of risk. To photograph meant to take personal risks, to end up in exile...Magubane went to prison many times.

- I don’t want to make it appear that there was a time when photography was powerful, and a time when it was no longer. That is not what I would like to convey.

- However, there was a time when, in photographs, life was not only narrated, but photos were, in and of themselves, events of life. These were powerful images, because in those photographs (Magubane, Mofokeng, etc.), the Real was in search of its concept, and the image provided that concept. This had nothing to do with high theorizing. Such photographs simply became the places for an encounter with the present.

- The question one should ask is therefore whether we can discern similar tensions which mark contemporary South African art and photography. Contemporary South African art seems content to use the techniques of quoting, re-appropriation, and recombination.

- After apartheid, we have not witnessed the explosion of aesthetic boundaries one would expect.

- We have to wonder whether art in general, and photography in particular, has lost its historical power to give form to life, and has, instead, become subservient to repetition.

- This malaise tends from the fact that, as a country, South Africa itself is a museum without walls. A total museum. This museum is installed everywhere and nowhere in particular. It seems unable to create an archive.

- There seems to be no nexus, no grid to locate or organize what has been dispersed and fractured. History has been replaced by an endless procession of bodies, a permanent compiling of weak images and objects devoid of any concept. That’s what I believe.

- This inability to create an archive is probably the most potent dilemma affecting cultural life in South Africa today.

- Because of this inability to create an archive, we no longer know how to distinguish between objects and images. We are unable to give distinct meanings to distinct things. This gives us the overwhelming feeling of a radical fragmentation and dispersion of the Real. Yet there is still life and movement, life that comes and goes with ebbs and flows. But there has been a delay with absorbing the new Real in art, a duplication of delays, including the suspension of the revolution by the settlement called democracy. For the real purpose of democracy is to put off the revolution.

- The main tension within South African culture and society today is the realization that there is something unresolved in the settlement that brought an end to apartheid. There has neither been a big defeat, nor a big victory, so there is a stalemate, including in the field of culture.

- Meanwhile, new inspirations are underway. New inspirations of how people desire things and desire each other produce images of their own creation. This question of self-creation and self-ownership will become the post-apartheid question par excellence.

- New photography depicts subjects who are struggling to construct themselves fully and consciously in terms of desire, fantasy, and memory. It refers to forms of life that are inseparable from new bodily forms, it renders visible new hetero and homoeroticisms.

- It is in search of a way to love after racism has inflicted so much damage to the psyche, and in the midst of so much continuing suffering.

- The photographer is a witness to life, life understood as a regenerative force.

- I would like to end with a reference to Rotimi Fani-Kayode, a Black British artist. I would like to end with his gesture to the mask, in a piece called “Traces of Ecstasy.” I end with his work and thought in order to gesture toward what we may call the masks of the Real and the limits of photography. Kayode did not develop a full-blown theory of the African mask. But he was onto a very significant path when he argued that, in precolonial Africa, the Real always appears under the sign of the mask, or is usually read through the lens of the mask. A mask is both a sign of human presence and of his or her absence. It is made of images suggested by human or animal forms. It is fundamentally an imaginative interpretation of life. Its function is to produce ambiguity so that interpretation becomes possible, because without ambiguity there is no possibility of interpretation. In order to interpret, we need to undermine conventional perceptions by bringing incoherence to the surface of life. Otherwise, the mask is equivocal as the Real itself. Photography excludes as much as it contains. It can only transcribe human experience in terms which preclude the fragmented and ambivalent equivocal nature of life and history as symbolized by the mask. The incoherence of human experience can never be reconstituted within the limits of the photographic frame, so maybe it’s time we stop asking photography to do what it cannot do.

Question and Answer Session:

- I’m not South African, so I feel somewhat irresponsible commenting on it at such length, even though I’ve lived there for several years. Nobody has called me to account for my irresponsibility, which should tell you something about the place. I come from West Africa, and a few things come to me when one thinks of South Africa as an idea, not just as a geographical location. And I think that’s the task of art: to think of a place, a region, as an idea or a concept.

- The end of apartheid is one of the defining events of the 20th century. It is the first time in recent history that a racial state has been dismantled. That has not happened elsewhere. But the event has not happened in the way we’d hoped it would happen. It has happened in a totally different manner, in an unexpected way. So from a cultural point of view, what South Africa is facing is the difficulty of dealing with the unexpected, which takes the form of the unresolved, and the whole new set of dilemmas for which there doesn’t seem to be a name.

Picture c/o

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In 1964, after having been introduced to cannabis by Bob Dylan in New York, Paul McCartney remembered Brian Epstein standing in front of a mirror, pointing at himself and repeatedly saying "Jew!", and laughing loudly, which McCartney found hilarious and "very liberating".

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Don't just do something. Sit there!"
- Buddhism

After a 25-year career on Wall Street and an “enjoyable” transition to publishing novels, Lender said he would encourage other bankers to pursue similar personal activities they enjoy.

“It may take a decade to really make it happen, but they can do it,” he said.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

this is a banner ad. i'm supposed to want to meet these women?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Haley Barbour, current governor of Mississippi

In December 2010, Barbour was interviewed by The Weekly Standard magazine. Asked about coming of age in Yazoo City during the civil rights era, Barbour told the interviewer regarding growing up there, "I just don't remember it as being that bad."[56] Barbour then credited the White Citizens' Council for keeping the KKK out of Yazoo City and ensuring the peaceful integration of its schools. Barbour dismissed comparisons between the White Citizens' Councils and the KKK, and referred to the Councils as "an organization of town leaders". Barbour continued in his defense of the Councils, saying, "In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you'd lose it. If you had a store, they'd see nobody shopped there. We didn't have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City." Barbour's statement did not address the role of the white supremacist group in publicly naming and blacklisting individuals who petitioned for educational integration[57] and how it used political pressure and violence to force African-American residents to move.[58] This led to a considerable outcry in which critics such as Rachel Maddow accused Barbour of whitewashing history.[59] In response to criticism, Barbour issued a statement declaring Citizens' Councils to be "indefensible."[60]
In what some[who?] have speculated was an attempt at damage control just days after the interview, Barbour suspended the prison sentences of Jamie and Gladys Scott, two African American women who received life sentences resulting from a 1993 mugging in which the two women stole $11.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

"Web it was we were" - Nathaniel Mackey

They say art cannot be taught, but technique can be taught, and that is what they teach. So what is art, besides technique? What goes into a drawing besides the mechanics of my pen and the chemistry of the paper and ink, besides the angle and pressure of my hand and the series of strokes?

The reduction of art to technique is like the reduction of education to training, or justice to compensation or revenge. It removes something of admiration, something worth admiring. The technique of the building of a concept.

Or the placement of a ritual, art as a ritual. Reducing art to technique removes the question of the source of the inspiration, or maybe it removes the inspiration itself. What is the difference in inspiration between the first blues musicians and the graduating class at a prestigious music school? One would hope there are some similarities, but one also thinks of Nina Simone, who never forgot that they rejected her from music school because of who she was, or even Screamin' Jay Hawkins, who originally wanted to be an opera singer like Robeson, but ended up having his #1 hit, which he recorded while blacked out drunk, remembered now for its sampling in a Notorious B.I.G. song...

The inspiration of finding oneself in a world that finds your existence to be criminal, that tells you to be otherwise or disappear, and you find you cannot disappear. This is a bridge to the conversation I've had so many times, that always re-presents its truth in my own experiences, of the poor who are generous, the poor whose eyes are full of a kind of vital experiential striving which is either drowned or drowning in the wealthy. Privation and exclusion make it no longer optional to imagine and practice what Nahum Chandler calls "the general possibility of the otherwise."

The otherwise to selfishness, to greed, even to the elevation of greed into a supposedly affirmative principle of life, is no newer than the gospels--in fact, it is this elevation that the teachings of Jesus rail against, and Ayn Rand is only the most recent in a long series of demagogues to try to reverse the ideals of Christian love which, of course, were not invented by Christ and which find an expression in Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and any "paganism." And one finds that those who are most marginalized are those in whom the striving for an otherwise is most inherited, for whom the expression of a curve, a swing, the curve which is another name for love, Lucretius' swerve of atoms, finds its deepest source.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pleonasm Humor

Sometimes on Wikipedia when a "citation is needed," it doesn't really matter whether something is true or's great either way.

From the article about pleonasm:
Some pleonastic phrases, when used in professional or scholarly writing, may reflect a standardized usage that has evolved over time; or a precise meaning familiar to specialists, but not necessarily to those outside that discipline. Such examples as "null and void", "terms and conditions", "each and all" are legal doublets that are part of legally operative language that is often drafted into legal documents. A classic example of such usage was that by the Lord Chancellor at the time (1864), Lord Westbury, in the English case of ex parte Gorely,[1] when he described a phrase in an Act as "redundant and pleonastic". The fact that this phrase in itself was a pleonasm is something which probably had not escaped the learned judge, and could be suspected to be evidence of a particularly Victorian legal sense of humour.[citation needed]

Friday, May 20, 2011

"Black Women Less Attractive." - A Scientist

This is not a new idea. It's not a news story. It's not notable that a highly-paid scientist at an elite university would use statistics to pretend to prove it, apart from any social or political context.

The author, in true keeping with the thinking of the Bell Curve, finally says that black women are probably less attractive because they naturally have more testosterone than other women.

His job requires, he seems to think, that he leave out any social or political aspects of the aesthetics of race and beauty, that he look at race as a purely scientific phenomenon, even after generation after generation of legal segregation, police and state violence, and social divisions which substitute race for class.

But race is not a scientific category. Or it is scientific to the extent and in the sense that the Eiffel tower is scientific: it's a real construction of human society.

So we have to look at race, particularly the binary imaginary of black and white, as we might look at the Eiffel tower: as an aesthetic monument which was built in a particular political context for certain reasons. Because we don't have black people or white people--we have various shades of brown and beige. And black Americans have far more, genetically, in common with white Americans than with most Africans, which is linked to a history of nonconsent.

Ultimately we can't put this task in the hands of scientists alone, especially not people like this author who seem to want to ignore both politics and aesthetics completely. We should listen to philosophers, artists, and literary critics, not merely because these are three areas where black women are far better represented in numbers than in the so-called "hard sciences," for some answers about the entanglements of race and beauty. Hortense Spillers can redirect us from this madness:

The black body "brings into focus a gathering of social realities as well as a metaphor for value so thoroughly interwoven in their literal and figurative emphases that distinctions between them are virtually is as if neither time nor history shows movement...I would call it the Great Long National Shame...We might concede, at the very least, that sticks and bricks might break our bones, but words will most certainly kill us. ("Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe," Diacritics, 1987, 68)."

In other words, blackness as a real category, as a reflection of something we see with our own eyes in the world, as with skin color or body language, is so thoroughly interwoven with various metaphors of value (economic value, the value of beauty, moral value, etc.), that we cannot make any useful distinctions between them.

In order to see black women as beautiful, it's not enough to throw around the slogan "Black is beautiful," although this is a nice start. We need to revalue all our values, in politics, science, art and history, as Nietzsche and Achille Mbembe have called for, in order to begin to poke our heads out of the garbage heap of guilty racist eroticism.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The hipoisie: a blase attitude

Frank Chu, a San Francisco eccentric who is venerated for his dedicated campaign against the 12 Galaxies, quadrogonic hyponetikalism, Clintons and Bushes, Thomas Jeffersons, and any number of other crimes against himself and his character. His worldview is as complex and ornate as the interior of a Gaudi cathedral, and no less dramatic:

Like many bay area residents, he commutes to the city every day by train, arriving at Montgomery Street around 8am and going home on the last train at midnight. He suffers from autism and other psychological disorders--when he was 24 he took a few members of his family hostage, firing a bullet at the police which, luckily for him, missed. He has had a bar named after him, which has since closed.

Like Portland and Brooklyn, the bay area has in the last ten years been hit with an influx of young people, mostly middle-class and "alternative" in style, who might be well described with a term from Kodwo Eshun: the hipoisie, the hip new bourgeoisie, who worship Bob Dylan just as much as Fela Kuti. There's no point in raging against them, since anyone who does so is probably part of them, trying to mark a line in the sand which does not exist (at the same time, the spatial and political effects of gentrification which they leave in their wake are very serious and need to be looked at more closely). But there are some awful qualities:

The worst thing about the hipoisie is its blase cynicism. The definition of the word blase explains it: "uninterested because of frequent exposure or indulgence." This is the attitude of the people who have seen it all, who hide their fascinations under a thick layer of irony. As soon as a band comes out, it's no longer the coolest thing around, as soon as more than a small group of people has heard of them they're not worth talking about anymore. This blase cynicism betrays an enormous fear of the outside, of the world, of people who think and act differently from oneself. This fear is felt to be necessary for a group of white kids who are "slumming," placing themselves on the borders of working or workless class communities in order to prove themselves, to extract some style from a region and a people and turn it into a product.

This hip comedian is "interviewing" Frank Chu, in a style that reminds me of nothing more than Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity: interrupting the interviewee, repeating certain phrases with a sneering tone. He's afraid that if he does a good interview, which requires a real sympathy for one's interviewee, that it might not be funny enough to show to his friends. He wants to put Frank Chu "in his place," by proving him wrong. When he starts calling him a nutcase, Frank Chu makes a really salient point: Bush and Clinton are nutcases too, "crazier than any bacteria or nutcase in Africa." Chu has argued for years that Bush and Clinton are war criminals, and despite the complexity and bizarreness of his other convictions, he might be the only person speaking that kind of truth, on a daily basis, on the streets of San Francisco, especially in this era of ignoring the ongoing wars so as to avoid criticizing Saint Obama.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

"On This Earth" by Mahmoud Darwish

We have on this earth what makes life worth living: April's hesitation, the aroma of bread
at dawn, a woman's point of view about men, the works of Aeschylus, the beginning
of love, grass on a stone, mothers living on a flute's sigh and the invaders' fears of memories.

We have on this earth what makes life worth living: the final days of September, a woman
keeping her apricots ripe after forty, the hour of sunlight in prison, a cloud reflecting a swarm
of creatures, the peoples' applause for those who face death with a smile, a tyrant's fear of songs.

We have on this earth what makes life worth living: on this earth, the Lady of Earth,
mother of all beginnings and ends. She was called Palestine. Her name later became
Palestine. My Lady, because you are my Lady, I deserve life.

Isaac Cohen - Jtree!

The True Prison by Ken Saro-Wiwa

It is not the leaking roof
Nor the singing mosquitoes
In the damp, wretched cell
It is not the clank of the key
As the warden locks you in
It is not the measly rations
Unfit for beast or man
Nor yet the emptiness of day
Dipping into the blankness of night
It is not
It is not
It is not

It is the lies that have been drummed
Into your ears for a generation
It is the security agent running amok
Executing callous calamitous orders
In exchange for a wretched meal a day
The magistrate writing into her book
A punishment she knows is undeserved
The moral decrepitude
The mental ineptitude
The meat of dictators
Cowardice masking as obedience
Lurking in our denigrated souls
It is fear damping trousers
That we dare not wash
It is this
It is this
It is this
Dear friend, turns our free world
Into a dreary prison


Tuesday, May 10, 2011


another research team that administered questionnaires about emotions four times a day for a week reported that Japanese people feel emotion — any emotion — less often than Americans. And the Japanese respondents tended to rate their emotional events as more neutral than Americans rated theirs.

Maybe the Japanese just get more easily fed up with questionnaires...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Slip N Slide: A short introduction

Warning: this might offend you. For a couple of reasons. There's some connection between the lyrics, which are brilliant in an amoral way, and the technique of the production, the way the bass is layered with the samples, which is just undeniable. If this were representative of hip hop in general, and if the music were taken just for its lyrics, it would be easy to argue that hip hop has no political meaning whatsoever. But the bass is deep, and Trick Daddy's voice is deep, as deep as Florida is South. His interjections placed over his own verses press down on the entire song...

It all began here, after Trick Daddy caught the attention of the infamous Luke, the man almost solely responsible for those little black and white stickers on CDs. Trick and Trina establish themselves as the king and queen of Miami here, and there's even a hairspray-wearing court jester running around. The production is strengthened by the bouncing echo of Trick's voice (ah-ah!)

I do think in this video Trina became the first woman to name her price on MTV ("twenty G's for the nut, what"...). She is much more believable than Lil' Kim or Nicki Minaj--even if she did get plastic surgery, which is unlikely, her style of presentation is more honest than either of theirs.

Trina - by Warner-Music

A classic pan-Southern collaboration:

Trick Daddy - In Da Wind by freship

With one of the coldest verses since the Geto Boys, Trick Daddy raps "fuck the judge and C.O.'s, fuck the family of the victim, witnesses, snitchin' ass ho's, cuz I'm a thug." Love that shot of the white kid getting pulled away from Trick Daddy by his mom as he waves at his hero. Trick Daddy taunts bougie black folks just as mercilessly: if I'm your worst nightmare, get ready for some sleepless nights, cuz I'm a thug.

He puts words in the mouth of his rival, whose girl he may or may not be interested in: "'Bitch, I been watchin you watchin him/ you must wanna fuck this nigga,'" and adds, "My name alone/ been known to break up happy homes." Rest In Peace Family Values.

TRICK DADDY - I'M A THUG by hushhush112

Probably the best song ever made for and about basketball. Again the vocal echo is used in the intro

Trick Daddy - Take It To Da House by freship

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The significant overlap between babysitting and standup comedy

A friend of mine wrote a fascinating blog post about the overlap between computer repair specialists and therapists. More and more, he said, the person who fixes your computer is prepared to, basically, counsel you, because the trauma of losing access to your workstation is increasingly enormous.

I notice a similar kind of occupational drift with regard to standup comedy. Today the way comedians practice their art has everything to do with the way they deal with "hecklers." A drunk man, in 2003, kept yelling "yeee-haw!" from the back of The Fillmore at Dave Chappelle. Eventually Chappelle found a way to incorporate this guy into his act, asking the crowd, "who here likes to give head?" and, after a beat, "thought I was gonna hear you, yee-haw guy." This is the traditional formula: a heckler is hostile and disruptive, the comedian makes fun of him, the crowd returns its focus to the comedian.

But in the two clips above, something different might be going on. There are basically three hecklers in these videos. During Hannibal Burress' set, a man, who's probably tripping on something psychedelic or maybe just a nutcase, is publicly displaying his enthusiastic affection for a woman who seems to enjoy the attention too. During Galifianakis', it's a woman who gets on his stage and starts acting like an oblivious, rambunctious kindergartener. In both cases, the crowd members don't seem to want to attack the comedian directly, but just to get attention themselves, to be performers themselves. They are literally regressing, ignoring the standard procedures of adult events like standup comedy by acting like very young children. Maybe there's something to this idea that the generation of people born in the 80's are now big, adult-sized children, unprepared for life as adults.

Monday, May 2, 2011

White voodoo

Apparently the word 'voodoo' catches the eye of corporate executives looking for marketing research--or whatever it is these seemingly infinite urban 'consultancies' do. There are not one, but two such vague institutions within the city of London who have taken their name from the religion whose roots are in West Africa. They do things like "design, programming, e-commerce, search engine marketing and optimisation, usability, copywriting, fulfilment operations, store management and statistical analysis," as well as "rigorous analysis" and "candid explanation." Those last two quotes were from the trendier, hipper-looking firm, so hip that they don't have a picture of themselves on their website and it looks like it could be a site for an Urban Outfitters. They provide solutions, analysis, new ways of looking at things, and even ways to make a difference. I should be working for them, right?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

APOCALYPSE comes from the Greek apokalyptein, which means the unconcealing, the bringing to light, the revealing. The Western canon, insofar as there ever was such a thing, has believed in the occlusion of the pre-apocalyptic present from itself. In this tightly-guarded monument to paranoia that is European Ideals, the present can only exist insofar as it is not apocalyptic, insofar as it hides its true nature, which is the apex of the highest beauty and the lowest degradation, all at once in the figure of the banal, the heart-disease-ridden bag lady at the bus stop, the shivering heroin addict on the corner, oversexed chattering people, men who love gambling, pub quizzes, immigrants and "natives." The incessant, libidinal invasion of the present by dark spectres, formless forms, by the chromatism of hiding, eruption and fugitivity. The Black death, the hiddenness of truth, the final uncovering of truth in the Holy Revelation and Resurrection. The light is only at the beginning and at the end, in the cratio ex nihilo and the apocalyptic revealing of the bifurcation of being into those who are saved and those who are damned, the civilized and the sinners.

How to think the apocalypse otherwise is our hope and our wager. What could the apocalypse be if not a revealing, or could it be a revealing that reveals what was already there? The collapse of everyday things into other forms, the life that lives on death? The apocalypse which is real for the grass dying outside, for the plants and animals dissembling in our intestines, just as much as for the new lives which emerge to multiply from the fresh corpses. There is no drama here, at least not in the sense of a final Reckoning or Revelation, aside, perhaps, from the plant's understanding that it will be returned to the multiplicity which already traversed it. To feed on sunlight, on the creator which will ultimately destroy our world with its overzealous, exuberant abundance.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Angry-dad-ification of Marshall Mathers

Having been twelve and amidst a large cohort of urban white kids, I remember vividly Eminem's dramatic entrance onto the national scene in 1999. For the first time, it seemed, the familial, oedipal, self-harming psychoses of a white youth were placed alongside the gangstafied funk and soul revivals of a black producer-icon, Dr. Dre. It was as if Kurt Cobain had been reborn, in a black neighborhood, with a sense of humor. A perverse kind of musical cotton candy, it became the quintessential youth "headmusic," to borrow Kodwo Eshun's phrase. For the entirety of my 13-year-old life I could remember men in the neighborhood blasting hip hop from huge, lumbering American cars as they passed my house. Eminem seemed to be the first massive rap artist who was immune to this type of broadcasting. Yet every private-school boy, mostly white and asian, had a copy, bootleg or genuine, of the Slim Shady LP and its darker followup, the Marshall Mathers LP.

Hey, kids! Do you like violence?

Eminem's appeal seemed solely male, a sort of musical accompaniment to the first-person-shooter game, each track repeating, in explicit and gory detail, a series of assaults and overdoses (See, for instance, "Brain Damage"). It was their outlandishness, their absurdity, that made them OK to us, and this appetite for the fantastic may have been Eminem's way of refusing the compulsion to prove his "street cred"--the stories, like those of Slick Rick, were often so entertaining that nobody cared to ask if they were true or not. At the same time, though, there were stories about his relationship with Kim that made people hope they weren't true. One of the moments in Eminem that I loved the most was his hook on the track "Role Model":

I came to the club drunk with a fake ID
Don't you wanna grow up to be just like me!
I've been with 10 women who got HIV
Now don't you wanna grow up to be just like me!
I got genital warts and it burns when I pee
Don't you wanna grow up to be just like me!
I tie a rope around my penis and jump from a tree
You probably wanna grow up to be just like me!!!

His joy at the prospect of his own imaginary castration set him far apart from other hip hop artists, even Dre himself, for whom the mention of one's own penis could only be a metaphoric reference to size and power. Eminem's antics were all in the service of the overarching philosophical journey towards "just not giving a fuck".

I would not, then, have guessed that Eminem's career would proceed the way it has, although, looking back, I really can't imagine how else it could have gone. Nowadays, his tracks are inevitably put together by superstar producers and played almost as a kind of "urban easy listening," that is to say, everywhere that plays hip hop music--malls, convenience stores, salons. His new ("post-addiction-metamorphosis") tracks lack the utter Dionysian destructiveness of his early ones, but are no less angry or violent. Nowadays, he yells like a middle-aged alcoholic, his voice devoid of the mischief and humor of the bleached-blonde days. His tracks have always, since "My Name Is," been mainstream, but now they occupy a different mainstream, one which includes middle-aged people, black people, and women. That's not to say that black people never listened to Eminem at the beginning, but I remember the moment when D12 came out as a turning point, at which a black kid I knew told me he thought the early stuff wasn't very good, but this new stuff was better. At the beginning he really was Elvis to many people, the white guy stealing the art form and making a lot of money off of it. Now he's just another abusive dad, his anger completely uncontroversial, the pitched rage of his voice used to "balance out" the soulful harmonies of the female singer he accompanies. I don't mean to suggest that his anger was more controversial when he directed his vitriol toward Christina Aguilera, Fred Durst, Insane Clown Posse, and Mariah Carey. But in those days it fooled people for whom the entire world consisted of MTV into thinking that he really was rocking the boat. Nowadays he's another jealous, over-the-hill lover, yelling at Rihanna: "I'ma tie you to the bed and set this house on fire!!"

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Something Spiritual Stops Terrorism

2008's Deja Vu, a satisfying romp in the impossible, directed in name by Tony Scott but in reality by Bruckheimer.

It's hard to isolate what it is about the film that makes it pre-recession, but it couldn't have been made after 2008. Not enough cynicism, too much techno-optimism and naive terrorist paranoia. Denzel sends a note back in time to an ATF agent, his former partner, which says, in few words, that there will be a terrorist attack at a particular time and place. The agent rushes, alone, to the location, and is shot dead by the terrorist. In light of the recent scholarship showing that the authorities passed up the opportunity, on a number of occasions, to prevent 9/11, this is a nice, comforting fiction that does not belong. The entire idea that any federal agent is willing to put his/her life on the line for the lives of everyday people is dubious, unfortunately. Since their creation, the various secret polices have not served to protect the people, but to protect the people from being dissuaded from following certain legitimized centers of power, and "neutralizing" others such as Fred Hampton, Patrice Lumumba, and so on.

A more amusing comfort is the creation of an attractive collaboration of races in the execution of cutting-edge scientific projects... when last I checked the faculty at CalTech was about 95% white. Val Kilmer, a Jewish guy (the Hebrew Hammer AKA Adam Goldberg, an actor who, in not changing his Jewish name, and in playing stereotypically Jewish characters, has become a "character actor"), and a Black woman (Erika Alexander, from "Living Single") are the three top time-travel scientists in the world who create a wormhole in spacetime. Denzel is the House M.D. to them, the subject-supposed-to-know, a kind of brash father figure who tells them what they're wrong and cowardly about, and he's always right, because he can see beyond their narrow, bureaucratic perspective.

Jewish guy: It's physically impossible.

Denzel: What if it's more than physics?

Jewish guy: Something spiritual?

Denzel: Yeah. Something spiritual.

Denzel is the Ed Harris character in The Truman Show, in love with his subject, who he monitors without her knowing, on massive projection screens with a team of lackeys administering reality for him on a billion dollars' worth of technical equipment. Yet, unlike Harris' Manichean manipulator, Denzel is squarely on the side of good in his voyeurism, doing it all for the good of humanity and a beautiful woman who stands for the lives of hundreds of innocents.

The most ignorant option for the terrorist antagonist would have also been the easiest: the mindless Arab bomber from The Hurt Locker (thanks to Hisham Awad for pointing this out). But the filmmakers are not that simpleminded--they opt, instead, for the white nationalist patriot, the Timothy McVeigh type, equally-feared, in urban bourgeois circles. Jim Caviezel, best known for his portrayal of Jesus, is a more perverted messenger now, spreading an incoherent message which is unimportant to the plot, having something to do with patriotism. At the end they try to make it into a Se7en moment, with the terrorist confessing his motivations, but it turns out just to be a ploy to stall for time while Paula Patton prepares to crush him between two cars, which she does, sending him flailing, shooting semiautomatic rounds everywhere. Caviezel's character is a cross between McVeigh and the Columbine Shooters, yet the narrative explains as much about them as Hurt Locker does about Islamic terrorists.

But nobody expected it to explain anything. It does mention an interesting idea about folding spacetime in on itself.

Friday, April 22, 2011

There are some Black people who think that O.J. Simpson is an asshole, like I do. And some Black people wished Black people would stop cheering and that white people would stop weeping and that we would all say, "well, it's not a big deal." But those days right around in there, I really did feel that, perhaps, white people were going to riot.
- Hortense Spillers

Monday, April 18, 2011

the mainstream coverage of kingsley burrell's death tries to completely rid the event of any emotion. passive voice, technical terminology, short sentences: . Compare it to this story, which reaches far fewer readers:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Troubled Politics: Kanye and Bush

We all remember Kanye West, wearing a striped T-shirt, staring at the camera with the same look of disbelief as Mike Myers standing next to him, maybe not sure if he actually just said what he just said. Mike Myers wished he could suddenly be back in Canada where things are calmer. We all knew West was right, even those who claimed to disagree with him, feeling sorry for themselves and their guilty consciences.

Out of all the things that happened to him in office, the worst thing, Bush said, the single hardest thing for him to cope with, was Kanye West calling him a racist on television.

The interviewer corrected him: "well, Mr President, he said you didn't care about black people, not that--"

Bush interrupted, "yeah! He called me a racist! I am not a racist and I have never been one..."

The interviewer pushed him: "are you sure that this was even worse than all the lives lost and livelihoods destroyed in Hurricane Katrina...?"

Bush waffled..."of course that affected me deeply..."

So far this is a typical Bush strategy. Act like a deer in the headlights. In the War on Terror, he's Dirty Harry, ready to smoke the enemy out of his cave, but right now, he's a doe in a pasture, good mood crushed by the thought of someone calling him the supposed "worst epithet in a multicultural society"--a racist.

It looked like his feelings might actually have been hurt. His face trembled with the anxiety that came with any of his talking about issues not related to bombing the shit out of Arab countries. He said that he was hurt by West's comment and did not appreciate it one bit. It's not difficult to call his bluff: there were so many other scandals, with stakes so much higher than this minor incident, and Bush was so good at selling a man-of-steel, shoot-first-ask-questions-later image to his white constituents with a careful, thorough pride.

Sincerity aside, Bush supplemented his vulnerable admission with a phrase lifted from Ebonics (via a hard-working PR intern?)--"I'm not a hater though." He didn't seem to be using the phrase right (being a hater usually implies jealousy), but it's the idea that counts: he's extending the olive branch to West, in his very own native tongue, no less! He's a hep cat! Maybe he actually came across this phrase all by himself (his daughter reported that he listens to Lauryn Hill).

So here's where the Twilight Zone begins: Kanye West apologized to Bush. "I would tell George Bush, in my moment of frustration, I didn't have the grounds to call him a racist," he said to Matt Lauer. "But I believe that, in a situation of high emotion like that, we as human beings don't always choose the right words."

West could have chosen a better platform than the middle of the pledge drive, so that he might have been able to elaborate, to point to some tell tale signs. Under Bush, a drastic expansion of the size of the federal government and the national debt through military and incarceration spending, combined with thorough destruction of many social services and other public programs creates a situation where the rate of poverty for black children is actually higher today than it was in 1968, and there are fewer black senators now than there were in the late 1800s. If one were to take social conditions as one's evidence, and not famous names and faces, it would not be difficult to conclude that George Bush doesn't care about black people.

This statement does not mean, Cornel West said, that Bush believes that every black individual is inferior to every white individual, or that he cares any more about poor people of any other color. Bush has no problem accepting that there are exceptional black individuals, because this is America, where anyone can succeed. But this has nothing to do with justice for a people. And all of the non-black, mostly poor folks who were paralyzed in Iraq or lost their homes to shady unregulated mortgage deals were just as short-changed as poor black folks.

What's most thought-provoking about this apology is that it raises the possibility that Kanye West might care a little bit less about black people than he thought he did. Or that he would rather feel safer by retracting a statement that he felt like he couldn't afford to have made. Or, perhaps most likely, that the increasing division between wealthy and poor Americans, the splitting of society under the dogma of finance profiteerism, is wrenching a small elite of blacks from even the symbolic possibility to make political statements, because they feel that too much is at stake. See, for instance, the interesting, but quite unexpected, shouting match between Cornel West and Al Sharpton on MSNBC regarding Obama's political commitments, or lack thereof.

We are going to see more Clarence Thomases, and perhaps more John Browns. The real possibilities lie in setting aside our common cowardice about saying "love" in a political way, saying that we can love one another in a revolutionary sense.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Thursday, April 7, 2011

This is a description of the most wanted man in America, according to the FBI's most wanted list:

"Brown speaks fluent French and has a Masters Degree in International Business. He is an avid golfer, snowboarder, skier, and dirt biker. Brown enjoys being the center of attention and has been known to frequent nightclubs where he enjoys showing off his high-priced vehicles, boats, and other toys. He has been described as possibly having bisexual tendencies."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

women's styles and lifestyles

She's got style. At least, that's how it seemed for the few moments I saw her on the train and afterwards. She wasn't cheerful, per se, and she had that peculiarly British way of turning inward, which can seem like a lack of confidence but is another way of having a British reserve. But when I asked if I could take her picture, she said, "sure," and, for a moment, seemed satisfied. It struck me as very un-American the way she didn't smile when I took her picture. This not-smiling gaze was a kind of style that I noticed the moment I saw her.

One day, when I was maybe fourteen or fifteen, I encountered a man on the bus, either the 40, the 40L, the 51, or the 51A, going between Oakland and Berkeley. I'm not even sure if these bus lines exist anymore, but I used to take them regularly. I might have been with friends this time, because when I was with friends on the bus and people said things that were memorable, often homeless or nomadic people, we would repeat these things to each other for the rest of the day.

I don't remember much about the man or what he looked like, but, like many nomadic people, he had a philosophy that he was ready and willing to share with us, a philosophy of women. On the one hand, he was developing it as he went, and on the other hand, he was kind of trying to instruct us, as if he knew that we didn't have much experience with women, as if he knew that he could tell us something about them. He was both developing a philosophy and acutely exasperated with the lack of a certain trait among women. He kept saying to us, "gameless bitches, man! Gameless bitches! Don't mess with them gameless bitches!" He was describing to us how "gameless bitches" are something to be avoided, a kind of horrible affliction. We didn't discuss it much, probably because we were still very unsure what it might mean to have any kind of "game" ourselves, or what having "game" might mean, and for what, but for the rest of the day we repeated it with a kind of intoxicated glee. We couldn't tell if we were ridiculing him or spreading his insight.

It's really astonishing how many times I've returned to that day in my mind, how many times I've found it utterly treacherous to deal with a woman who has no notion that it might be a good thing to have game. This is something that I have to put into writing to get a hearing for it, because people find it so difficult to believe when I say it to them in speech. The computer screen can't disagree with me and tell me I'm full of shit. The truth is that it's not just a woman's looks that matter. Or, when we say a woman is good-looking, we aren't talking, simply, about her physiognomy or her "natural" features. As Oscar Wilde said, acting natural is a difficult act to keep up. The idea that a woman is beautiful simply because she was born that way is, on a certain level, a complex ploy, a conspiracy perpetrated by an alliance of that woman and a community of style. This is how a woman becomes beautiful, by mobilizing a kind of propaganda machine, a subterranean logic of capture and withdrawal, in order to display a kind of game whose rules are both incomplete and full of traps.

Style is inseparable from looks, in the same way that race and gender are inseparable from behavior. It's not possible to silence the hordes of blank starers who never get tired of insisting on the naturalness and biological predeterminedness of separable and isolated race, gender, and culture. But they protest so much because they know, on a liminal, subliminal layer, that there is something about identity which is not at all predetermined or genetically written. Women have known this for far longer than men. There is very little about Humphrey Bogart's physical body, his facial structure, the shape of his torso, that makes him a sex icon to women--it's all about the way he turns words around, the flick of his cigarette, the positioning of his shoulders, the pursing of his lips, the gaze beyond time which he gives when he looks at a woman, as if to say, I could have you but that might be irrelevant, because there's only one way of all flesh. Game is something like this, a social physics of entanglement which is at peace, what Achille Mbembe has called "serenity in the face of tragedy" in his "Variations of the Beautiful in Congolese Worlds of Sound."

I don't want to disparage "gameless bitches" as much as the guy on the bus, because I know that so many of them are kind and well-meaning and intelligent people. It's not simple enough to say that it's the woman who believes herself not to be beautiful. Game is not the same thing as beauty, because the concept of beauty is older, and has more to do with the object of desire. Game is something like the object that desires, or the object that breaks out of its objecthood through a deployment of desire.

Increasingly, to be a beautiful woman is to have style which is to have game. One impact of feminism and of changing conditions in gender relations is that women are implicated in strategies previously thought to be the domain of men alone, like having game. Her "natural" capacities, then, the things which she possessed when she emerged from the womb, are backgrounded and couched in a rhetorical assemblage of enunciation which is her "game" and her style. The way she allows her body to inhabit her clothing, the way she styles her hair, her makeup, her technologies of the self.

P.S. the woman with no game watches a LOT of television.