Voyou Désœuvré

Of course, I could just print out the pages of my blog, and bind them between hard covers, W. says. That would be enough. But how could my blog be contained between hard covers? My blog is infinite, W. says. It’s an example of the bad infinite, as Hegel would call it. The spurious infinite… It just goes on and on…

In Exodus, the final part of Lars Iyer’s trilogy, the constant interlocuter W. raises a question that occurred to me when I first heard that Iyer was writing a book based on his blog. Endlessness was such a significant feature of the experience of reading Spurious: if you didn’t read it even for a couple of days, you would find a great backlog of posts had piled up, of unpredictable length and genre. This isn’t an experience that can be replicated in a book, and even less in a trilogy, which seems to materialize the beginning/middle/end structure. As I was reading Exodus, though, I started to think that Iyer’s books do, in fact, have a three part structure, although, in keeping with Lars and W.’s preoccupation with the apocalypse, this structure is more like end/end/end. In Spurious, for all their talk of the messianism, it’s not clear if Lars or W. actually believe in the apocalypse; it’s a redemption they hope for in a vague and distant way. In Dogma, on the other hand, the apocalypse seems uncomfortably close: everything really might be about to fall apart. Read more↴

I really enjoyed Adam Kotsko’s Why We Love Sociopaths, in part because of the additional perspective it gives on his previous book, Awkwardness. The “fantasy sociopath” the book studies is introduced as the opposite of  awkwardness: where awkwardness is an anxiety in relation to social norms, sociopaths, at least in TV fantasy, never experience social norms as something that makes them anxious, only as tools they can use to manipulate others. But what unites awkwardness and sociopathy is that these anti-social experiences reveal something fundamental which underlies the possibility of sociality. That is to say, Adam’s project is a kind of dialectical redemption of the anti-social, in which anti-sociality, by revealing the conditions of our sociality denaturalize it and provide ways of thinking about an alternative sociality which we might choose. Awkwardness and Why We Love Sociopaths thus I think have something in common with what Judith Halberstam calls “anti-social” queer theory; the connection is perhaps clearest in the anti-familial theme that surfaces periodically through Why We Love Sociopaths (which Adam has also discussed at An und für Sich). Read more↴

 China Miéville has written frequently, critically about Tolkien’s reactionary politics, but one of the things that Miéville’s books do is demonstrate, by contrast, that Tolkien is reactionary at an ontological level. It’s not, that is, that Tolkien simply describes or praises a world with a feudal political organization; rather, Tolkien’s world is feudal at its most basic level of organization. Tolkien’s world has a fundamental, hierarchical and static organization. This manifests itself geographically (with civilization in the north west and savagery in the east and south), and biologically (in the fixity of the different species) before it appears politically. Exceptions to these orderings are presented as aberrations: the marriage of an elf and a human caused such a crisis that godlike beings had to step in and force the children of this pairing to chose to be one species or the other, and the evil of Sauron and, later, Saruman consists of a disruption of nature which involves, among other things, the construction of a class of workers and soldiers with no family lineage or ties of place: the orcs.

This is all such a cliché of fantasy that it is easy not to notice it, but Miéville’s Bas-Lag books (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council) bring it into focus because their own ontology is, in contrast, strikingly modern. Read more↴

I’ve never read any of David Foster Wallace’s fiction, but I’ve read some of his essays and I dislike them rather a lot. I was reminded of this by reading an article about Wallace in The Exile which, unsurprisingly for an article from The Exile, was harshly critical. The article’s analysis of the hipster-protestantism of McSweeney’s is astute (and the description of Eggers as “a sneering, leathery vampire utterly dependent on the plasma of African children to survive” is the kind of vitriol that makes reading The Exile worthwhile), but the criticism of Wallace specifically really focuses on Infinite Jest, so I don’t know how accurate it is, and it doesn’t really help me in understanding what I dislike about Wallace’s non-fiction.

So I reread “Consider the Lobster,” and got as far as: Read more↴

DeLillo in White Noise is both funny and astute about the physical embodiment of academic specialization:

The chancellor had advised me, back in 1968, to do something about my name and appearance if I wanted to be taken seriously as a Hitler innovator…. We finally agreed that I should invent an extra initial and call myself J. A. K. Gladney, a tag I wore like a borrowed suit.

The chancellor warned against what he called my tendency to make a feeble presentation of myself. He strongly suggested that I gain weight. He wanted me to “grow out” into Hitler…. I had the advantage of substantial height, big hands, big feet, but badly needed bulk, or so he believed—an air of unhealthy excess, of padding and exaggeration, hulking massiveness.

Which makes me wonder, how should I shape my physical appearance to be appropriate to the kind of academic career I want? Or, have I already, by my sartorial choices, sealed my academic destiny? A troubling thought.

Which brings me to this article discouraging people from doing PhDs (via). Read more↴

Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-imperialsm. Political Statement of the Weather Underground I’ve been meaning to scan and upload The Weather Underground’s Prairie Fire for some time. It’s a fascinating book, written in 1974, just as the transition from the crisis of Keynesianism to the ascent of neoliberalism was taking place, and it’s a fine attempt to understand this change and how economic change, alongside the dissolution of the movements of the sixties, would effect forthcoming political activity. Not that they got everything right; their prediction of a revolutionary upsurge was sadly inaccurate and, given that, it turns out that they overestimated the role that would be played by armed struggle in the rest of the decade. On a more theoretical, rather than strategic, level, they did much better, however; it’s particularly interesting to read their materialist sketch of the intersections between capitalism, race, and gender, although it is a little depressing to realize how little influence this kind of analysis has had since then, with so many accounts of intersectionality tending towards the idealist and post-Marxist.