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If there are good memories of The Party, we are far too young to have them. The Party has always appeared to us as a collection of dim-wits jockeying for power within wooden organizations that shout to the wind in dead languages. Those still fascinated by The Party seem to be geriatrics whose struggles we never really understood, red diaper babies still suckling from their parents, history fanatics obsessed with long-dead rituals, and gray-faced control freaks obsessed with rules or efficiency. So now that The Party’s only arrives at its twilight, we cheer on its zombie existence: The Party is dead! Long live The Party!
The end of The Party comes at another time: the Decline of The Left. Perhaps The Left has never been more than a convenient fiction. Now, more than ever, it is time to question that the loose grouping of “The Left” has anything in common. As radicals, we share nothing with the state bureaucrats, corporate fanatics, and technocratic managers. The Left at its very best is stuck in the Whiggist fantasy of incremental improvement at the hands of a constitutional republicanism that prides itself in personal freedom and scientific skepticism. If there is anything still living in The American Left, it is limited to their plans to recycle projects from the early-20th Century Welfare State or the loose collection of social issues that born out of the 1960’s counter-cultural New Left. Perhaps those two sets of issues are worth fighting for, but in doing so, one cannot help but feel that they are sorely inadequate half-measures.
Without The Party, without The Left, and without The State. We are more than happy to cheer on their demise. But what is lost along the way? Alliance. Continue reading “Open Call: With Friends Like These?”
Cynical ideology is a powerful explanatory tool. It is important to be clear about ideology, its function, and the effects of ideology and ideology critique. There is a common sense definition of ideology: the warping of reality. Marx’s definition of ideology in Capital follows a similar path but with a twist of obliviousness: “they do not know it, but they are doing it,” he writes about humans who do not understand abstract labor and thus to unknowingly accept a wage for less than the value of their labor (“The Commodity,” Capital). Ideology in this formulation is the naiveté that emerges when consciousness drifts from reality to delusion. The greater the miscrecognition, the most warped the representations of the social world, and the wider the separation of a subject from effective causes. This problem stated as such implies its own solution: a critical-ideology procedure can “lead the naïve ideological consciousness to a point at which it can recognize its own effective conditions, the social reality that it is distorting, and through this very act dissolve (ideology) itself” (Sublime Object, 28).
Certainly there are some critics of naiveté that promise ways to peer behind illusion to see how things “actually are,” as if there were truer, more accurate ways to see social reality. Frederic Jameson calls this approach to ideology critique ‘conspiracy theory,’ as its focus on ‘unmasking’ or ‘unveiling’ social realities presupposes that action will follow such denuding (“Cognitive Mapping,” 356). Conspiracy theory further approaches ideology through an elitist approach to knowledge whereby a select few hold enough privileged knowledge while the rest are kept in a state of naiveté. Continue reading “Cynical Ideology”
The role of critique in contemporary cinema has been displaced. Consider the story of Chicago gang member Danny Toro, who would watch Scarface almost every day for 10 years despite the film’s heavy-handed critique of its gangster protagonist Tony Montana. Perhaps as equally perplexing, the film American Psycho is popular among many yuppies even though its point is to critique the masculinity and violence of a financial culture much similar to their own. Or even more striking: fraternities across the country hold “Fight Club” events inspired by David Fincher’s adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s book although the film is an in-your-face condemnation of preppy social climbing.
Diagnosing this problem, Slovenian philosopher and critic Slajov Zizek writes that we no longer live in an age where “they know not what they do,” but rather: “they know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing it.” To make his argument, Zizek echoes the theory of German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, who argues that we have entered the age of “cynical ideology” whereby the demystifying correction of ideological camera obscuras no longer motivates social action – or in the words of French sociologist of science Bruno Latour, the critique has “run out of steam.”
The alternatives suggested by all three are disappointing, however: Zizek proposes empty political doctrines (“signifiers without a signified”), Sloterdijk recommends a return to the irony and sarcasm of the Greeks (“kynicism”), and Latour calls for a “stubborn realist attitude” (“empiricism”).
In contrast to these three alternatives, I propose contemporary theories of affect as replacement for the diagnostic and effective functions of ideology critique. Continue reading “Affective Critique: Mediation as a Response to Cynical Ideology (Paper Proposal)”