Open Call: With Friends Like These?

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I’m looking for co-authors on a text rethinking alliance. Please contact me here or over email, if interested.

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?”

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Wolf of Wall Street and Cynical Ideology

Wolf_of_Wall_Street_40486THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

An excellent contemporary example of cynical ideology can be seen in the reception of Martin Scorsese’s 2013 film, The Wolf of Wall Street. In terms of content and narrative arc, Wolf fits the template of Scorsese’s biggest films, which have always been character studies, promised by name – Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas – and delivered by chronicling the character’s idealistic rise to the top that is ultimately dragged down by the weight of the outside world. Film critics were immediately polarized about The Wolf of Wall Street. The film’s protagonist, Jordan Belfort, was not Scorsese’s standard anti-hero fair – it does not explore the contingencies of history by probing who “could have been a contender” nor does it reveal the ugly hand of justice through “a man who stood up … to the filth.” This is a film about the predatory wolf behind the raging bull of Wall Street.

Predation is depicted in Wolf as a narrative of excess. The film begins with a plucky Belfort showing up to work hard. His first big lesson in exploitation comes at lunch with a coked-up lecture sealed with a chest-thumping ritual – a practice Belfort incorporates into the pep talks he later gives to his own rabid pack of brokers. Within the first few minutes, Black Monday puts a quick end to Belfort’s good faith; in what follows, he learns to promise others the moon, only to steal a small sliver of it for himself and a select throng of followers. Continue reading “Wolf of Wall Street and Cynical Ideology”

Part 1 – Culture

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More State history is lived in the single day of a culture than what is entombed in a whole decade of its laws. By extension, studying the State should begin with an examination of its rituals and not its ledgers. Perhaps the best place to start is with George Dumézil’s work Mitra-Varuna. Part philology and part folklore, Dumézil compares Indo-European myths of authority in order to synthesize them into a single general theory of sovereignty. Mythical sovereignty, he claims, is constituted by two heads: one a mighty conqueror and  the other a righteous priest. And while these two “saviors of the State” are embodied in literal heads of State, they are realized more regularly in many cultural practices disseminated throughout a nation of people (Dumézil, Mitra-Varuna, 143). Yet those cultural expressions of sovereignty are often omitted in studies of the State, which causes them to miss the essentially cultural character of power. This is why legal or economic descriptions of the State are not only deficient, as they lack the essential element of culture, but also why they assume the State to be the ultimate agent of politics. Cultural descriptions of the State, in contrast, not only identify what escapes cultural codes but how to escape the State itself. Continue reading “Part 1 – Culture”