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Posts Tagged ‘liberalism’

Room of the Ninja Turtles, 2003 shadow chamber series

This post contained an draft version of a dissertation section. A more recent version is now available on theĀ works page.

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This post contained an draft version of a dissertation section. A more recent version is now available on theĀ works page.

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FILL IN THE blank. X is to contemporary AIDS activists as Norman O. Brown or Herbert Marcuse was to student radicals of the New Left. Alternatively, if American labor organizers of the 1930s might all be imagined to have carried about with them in their back pockets a copy of The Communist Manifesto, and if antiwar demonstrators and campus protesters of the late 1960smight all be imagined to have carried about with them in their jeans a copy of Life Against Death or Love’s Body, Eros and Civilization or One-Dimensional Man, what book do we imagine the more reflective members of ACT UP to carry about with them in their leather jackets? What is the single most important intellectual source of political inspiration for contemporary AIDS activists-at least for the more theoretically- [16] minded or better-outfitted among them? When I conducted an admittedly unsystematic survey in 1990 of various people I happened to know who had been active in ACT UP/New York during its explosive early phase in the late 1980s, and when I put those questions to them, I received, without the slightest hesitation or a single exception, the following answer: Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume I.

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A lot of the paleo-leftist criticisms of post-structuralism is that it pulls the rug out from tried and true models of politics. Some people blame it on New Left undermining of the strong base of Old Left labor politics. One of the contemporary standard-bearers is Todd Gitlin, a former student leader in the Students for a Democratic Society. SDS was one of the ‘transitional’ organizations that bridged both the old and new divide – a fusion of labor politics, civil rights concerns, and the ‘new’ youth movement of the 60s. There are many examples of these figures, usually orthodox marxists or movement types who lament the loss of late 19C/early 20C style mass mobilizations. Nostalgic mis-remembering of a time where there were clear battlelines and straightforward politics.

I’ve been doing a little work tracking down Foucault’s use of the term “pleb.” It has come up in conversations with friends over the preferred ‘subjects’ of Foucault. Spivak’s criticism of Foucault in “Can the Subaltern Speak?” is a condemnation of Foucault’s fetish for the mad, insane, criminalized Others. What generally follows is a critique of Foucault, arguing that he merely trying to reintroduce the Other into an economy of power that’s stacked against his preferred subjects and the tools he provides are relatively useless. (more…)

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