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Posts Tagged ‘discourse’

leatherfaceThis is the abstract for the paper I’m giving on Monday. If you find yourself in Spokane, let me know.

Every word is a death sentence; or so argue Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus. While previous work in public address has drawn on their work to remark on how communication constitutes a people or a territory (Roberts 2008; Brighenti 2010), I consider a darker Deleuze: his theory of how rhetoric inaudibly cuts, maims, and kills.

In the paper, I analyze financial reports, labor statistics, and corporate press conferences as a form of public address. I find that capital is itself a rhetorical agent that produces discursive events, but it communicates in a silent language. Theoretically, I use the concepts of ‘sign-operators’ and ‘incorporeal transformation’ from Deleuze (Deleuze 1990; Deleuze and Guattari 1984). The first extends recent work on how capitalist signs intervene directly in material flows (Lazzarato 2014). The second builds from other rhetorical work on ‘incorporeal transformation,’ especially as it describes the ability of the State to enact violence (Cooper 1988; Buchanan 2007). (more…)

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distorted

To say that desire is part of the infrastructure comes down to saying that subjectivity produces reality. Subjectivity is not an ideological superstructure.

At the time of Leninism, the government had to be overturned – the trade unions were economists, traitors – power had to go to the Soviets: in short, there was an idea, there was something. But here, really, there is no idea. There’s nothing at all. There’s the idea of macroeconomics, of a certain number of factors: unemployment, the market, money, all abstractions that have nothing at all to do with social reality.

-Félix Guattari, “Crise de production de subjectivité,”

Seminar of April 3, 1984

In a seminar in 1984, Félix Guattari argued that the crisis affecting the West since the early 1970s as, more than an economic or political crisis, a crisis of subjectivity. How are we to understand Guattari’s claim?

Germany and Japan came out of the Second World War completely destroyed, under long-term occupation, both socially and (8) psychologically decimated, with “no material assets-no raw materials, no reserve capital.” What explains the economic miracle? “They rebuilt a prodigious ‘capital of subjectivity’ (capital in the form of knowledge, collective intelligence, the will to survive, etc.). Indeed,they invented a new type of subjectivity out of the devastation itself. The Japanese, in particular, recovered aspects of their archaic subjectivity, converting them into the most ‘advanced’ forms of social and material production. [. . .] The latter represents a kind of industrial complex for the production of subjectivity, one enabling a multiplicity of creative processes to emerge, certain of which are, however, highly alienating.”2

Capitalism “launches (subjective) models the way the automobile industry launches a new line of cars.”3 Indeed, the central project of capitalist politics consists in the articulation of economic, technological, and social flows with the production of subjectivity in such a way that political economy is identical with “subjective economy.” Guattari’s working hypothesis must be revived and applied to current circumstances; and we must start by acknowledging that neoliberalism has failed to articulate the relation between these two economies.

Guattari further observes capitalism’s capacity to foresee and resolve systemic crises through apparatuses and safeguards that it came to master following the Great Depression. Today, the weakness of capitalism lies in the production of subjectivity. As a consequence, systemic crisis and the crisis in the production of subjectivity are strictly interlinked. It is impossible to separate economic, political, and social processes from the processes of subjectivation occurring within them. (more…)

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incoherent-discourses

President Bush’s ex post facto justification for the war was quite vague: “that the Iraqi people are much better off without Saddam.”8 Daalder and Lindsey argue, however, that the wide berth of this justification relies on the “basic but highly salient fact that there would not have been a war without his argument that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction posed an unacceptable threat that was both immediate and serious.”9 Restoring clarity to the Bush Administration’s initial claims about WMDs seems hardly possible, given the incoherence of the discourse through which the justifications for war were presented. As James P. Pfiffner points out, administration officials made WMDs a moving target, with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz claiming that the verifiable presence of WMDs was not the paramount issue for policymakers while Secretary of Defense Colin Powell was asserting its centrality.10 Pfiffner concludes that even while President Bush made “few untrue statements” and accepted some widely shared claims, his statements were also systematically misleading, gave false impressions, and defied the better judgment of others.11

Sentimentality aided the Bush Administration’s incoherent war on public opinion. The Bush Administration pitched the war as the perfect plan to fill the emotional void left by the September Eleventh attacks. President Bush associated Iraq with 9/11, expanding the targets of the War on Terror to an “axis of evil” – Iraq, Iran, and North Korea – during his State of the Union Address in 2002. And during the one-year commemoration of the attacks at Ground Zero, he formally announced his intentions to attack Iraq. Rhetorically ‘sticking’ the attack in New York to Iraq, he made a promise: “What our enemies have begun, we will finish.”12 With this full-scale media blitz, the Bush Administration amplified the emotional resonance between 9/11 and his campaign against Iraq, leading supporters to offer over-the-top acclamations, such as “turn Baghdad into a parking lot. You know, blow up the bridges, blow up the factories. Just level it,” or “I’m kind of excited to be here now. Someday we’ll tell our children that we were in Washington when the war started.”13

The union of multiple contradictory discourses and the politicization of loss is a combination is familiar to queer activists. Challenging what losses count as grievable was essential to turning collective mourning to militancy during the AIDS crisis.14 Describing the transformation, Ann Cvetkovich writes, “the AIDS crisis, like other traumatic encounters with death, has challenged our strategies for remembering the dead, forcing the intervention of new forms of mourning and commemoration.”15 These forms of mourning and commemoration should not be isolated to queer activism during 1980s and ‘90s, for as Sara Ahmed contends, public responses to events such as 9/11 pose similar challenges to queer politics; or as Bush’s post facto justification for the Iraq War demonstrates, violence can be cast as an act of compassion, such as offering war as a gift of hope to the Iraqi people, which allowed Administration officials to “be full of love in the midst of the violence.”16 In addition to the use of compassion to conceal state violence, other conservative forms of mourning tap into the basic structure of paranoid fantasies that, in Elaine Scarry’s words, attempts to connect “disembodied beliefs with the force and power of the material world” through the “massive opening of human bodies.”17 Foreign policy hawks have repeated a phrase that reveals how this “structure of feeling” motivates the conservative desire for war.18 The narrative goes like this: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”19 The consequence of this violent sentiment is clear: war hawks construct fantasies that bring together pleasure and violence to stoke the population. Queer alternatives to the state rhetoric of public loss, whether clothed in compassion or bathed in blood, thus provide helpful historical and theoretical tools for reorienting activism toward less violent ends.

Sara Ahmed theorizes how incoherent discourses, such as those that justified the Iraq War, can be unified through emotion.20 Following Derrida, Ahmed explains that emotion fills the disjunction between signification and context. Through repetition, words detach from the context in which they emerge, leaving emotions as symbolic traces of their lost context. Appearing as personal, ahistorical, or natural fact, these emotions accumulate cultural value through associations with words that generate material histories that remain concealed. In the case of Bush Administration’s defense of the Iraq War, grief and aggression stood in for coherent discourse, demonstrating how state violence can use affective force to make politics with contradictory statements. (more…)

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dead-bodies-are-buried-under-the-cherry-trees
Abstract: In “Dispute or Disrupt? Desire and Violence in Protests Against the Iraq War,” xxxx suggests ‘queering’ direct action in order to overcome the limits of rhetorical politics. xxxx shows how the Bush Administration’s justifications for the Iraq War were incoherent discourses that drew rhetorical opposition into a politics of identification that made them easy to dismiss. An alternative, xxxx claims, are “bodies that mutter” – subjects of desire whose bodily force continues where discourses fail, which he locates in the Code Pink disruption of John McCain’s speech at 2008 Republican National Convention, AIDS crisis-era queer activism, and radical clowning. 

The movement against the Iraq War was an exercise in failure. (more…)

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discourse

This is the beginning to an academic article I’ll be submitting later this weekend.

Queer theorist David Halperin argues that disputing the lies of homophobia is pointless. His argument is not that homophobic discourses are irrefutable, but on the contrary, that they are endlessly disputable because they are based on series’ of mutually contradictory double binds. Halperin uses the legal debate over homosexuality as an “immutable characteristic” to illustrate such a double bind whereby if homosexuality is inborn, it justifies medical and legal discrimination on the basis of biological difference, or alternately, if homosexuality is a choice, then medical practitioners and politicians can restrict and punish homosexual behavior as a matter of volition.[1] Theoretically describing this discursive problematic, Halperin draws on the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s “Epistemology of the Closet” to argue that since “homophobic discourses contain no fixed propositional content,” they “operate strategically by means of logical contradictions” whose infinite substitutability empowers those discourses while simultaneously incapacitating queers through incoherence.[2] For Halperin, following Sedgwick, the consequence is that homophobic lies are easily falsifiable when taken one at a time, but refuting them one by one “does nothing the strategic function of discourses that operate precisely by deploying a series of mutually contradictory premises in such a way that anyone of them can be substituted for any other as different circumstances may require, without changing the final outcome of the argument.”[3]

The Bush Administration’s case for the Iraq War, with its many divergent justifications, expresses a discursive incoherence similar to homophobia. President Bush’s ex post facto justification for the war was quite vague, “that the Iraqi people are much better off without Saddam,” yet as policy analysts Daalder and Lindsey argue, the wide berth of this justification relies on the “basic but highly salient fact that there would not have been a war without his argument that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction posed an unacceptable threat that was both immediate and serious.”[4] Restoring clarity to the Bush Administration’s initial claims about WMDs seems hardly probable, however, given the incoherence of the discourse through which the justifications for war were presented. As public policy professor James P Pfiffner points out, administration officials made WMDs a moving target, with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz claiming that the verifiable presence of WMDs was not the paramount issue for policymakers while Secretary of Defense Collin Powell was asserting its centrality.[5] Pfiffner concludes that even while President Bush made “few untrue statements” and accepted some widely shared claims, his statements were also systematically misleading, gave false impressions, and defied the better judgment of others.[6] (more…)

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Transcript of a talk I gave December 10th, 2011, as part of an Occupy event entitled “Economics Justice, Economic Resistance.”

I. OCCUPY

I want to begin with two stories from the first weeks of the Occupy protests in New York City.

Think first of CNN’s Erin Burnett, who, in her segment “Seriously?!”, which covered Occupy Wall Street at Zuccotti Park downtown, asked the question, “What are they protesting?” What did she decide? That “nobody seems to know.”

Or, to use our favorite whipping boy, Fox News, look to the outtakes from their show “On the Record.” The Occupy interviewee, dogged with the question of how he wants the protests to “end,” artfully finds ways to refuse the question. His response? “As far as seeing it end, I wouldn’t like to see it end. I would like to see the conversation to continue.”

By now, I’m sure we have each come up with our own way to respond to this feigned ignorance. Some try to add to the seemingly endless list of demands. Others gesture to the Trotskyite desire for a permanent revolution. Even others try to simplify things down to a few key points.

II. GHOST STORIES

Today, I would like to propose something much more profound:

We need to learn how to tell ghost stories.

(more…)

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When I spoke of the coupling carried out in the eighteenth century between a regime of truth and a new governmental reason, and the connection of this with political economy, in no way did I mean that there was the formation of a scientific and theoretical discourse of political economy on one side, and then, on the other, those who governed who were either seduced by this political economy, or forced to take it into account by the pressure of this or that social group. What I meant was that the market-which had been the privileged object of governmental practice for a very long time and continued to be in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries under the regime of raison d’etat and a mercantilism which precisely made commerce one of the major instruments of the state’s power-was now constituted as a site of veridiction. And this is not simply or so much because we have entered the age of a market economy-this is at once true, and. says nothing exactly-and it is not because people wanted to produce the rational theory of the marlcet-which is what they did, but it was not sufficient. In fact, in order to reach an understanding of how the market, in its reality, became a site of veridiction for governmental practice, we would have to establish what I would call a polygonal or polyhedral relationship between: the particular monetary situation ofthe eighteenth century, with a new influx of gold on the one hand, and a relative consistency of currencies on the other; a continuous economic and demographic growth in the same period; intensification of agricultural production;the access to governmental practice of a number of technicians who brought with them both methods and instruments of reflection; and finally a number of economic problems being given a theoretical form.

(more…)

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