@voyou Thinking about what @libankerDC's "Orgies of Feeling" might say about Trump: https://blog.voyou.org/2020/09/12/trumps-neoliberal-melodrama/ 12 Sep 20 Reply Retweet Favorite

Trump’s neoliberal melodrama

Jon McNaughton paints Trump threatened by a crowd of Democrats carrying Mexican, European, and Soviet flags, while they stand on the US flag.

I recently noticed Elisabeth Anker’s Orgies of Feeling: Melodrama and the Politics of Freedom on my bookshelf, and that’s a title that resonates at the moment, as the emotional register of politics ramps up, especially in the US. But the book, although advancing a theory of melodrama as a general political mode, is primarily about the Bush administration, which a certain segment of liberal opinion is currently attempting to retroject as a period of reasonableness. This revisionism is probably itself a version of melodramatic politics, which, as Anker argues, requires positing history as a period of innocence to dramatize our current politics in terms of dastardly assault and heroic response to it. What’s interesting about re-reading the book now, though, is the continuity between the post-9/11 period and today, which I think shows some interesting things about supposedly post-neoliberal politics, and potential responses to them.

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Better things aren’t possible

A recent (recent in actual time, if not in internet time) review of Sophie Lewis’s Full Surrogacy Now has led to a steady stream of moderate leftists acting scandalized at Lewis’s suggestion that abolition of the family should be at the centre of left-wing politics. This response, when it isn’t just incredulous scoffing, generally emphasizes the family as an institution that embodies qualities of caring that should be maintained and extended in a socialist society. As the critical review of Full Surrogacy Now puts it,

While abolishing the family is obviously fraught with problems, providing it with the resources to reform its pathologies has much to recommend it…. Any viable progressive vision of a postcapitalist future cannot look like an experiment in social engineering, but as a project that recognizes the ties, both within the family and without, that often underlie the everyday struggles of working people.

This genre of “don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses” propaganda seeks to counter the view that socialism is impossibly radical by asserting that people are already socialist, they just don’t know it yet, finding instances of putative socialism in things people already agree with. I’ve come to think of this approach as an attempt to trick people into being socialist, because, in taking the (obviously reasonable) point of beginning agitation where the audience already is, it dissembles about the genuinely radical changes that socialism requires.

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The fascism of Baby Yoda’s face

Obviously, The Rise of Skywalker is not a good film. A ton of stuff happens, none of it’s developed, and much of it is stupid. One of the stupidest things is the return of Emperor Palpatine, which undercuts the ending of The Return of the Jedi in order to avoid developing a new antagonist for the sequel trilogy. Stupid, and yet….

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If We Could Feel Beale Street

In his review of If Beale Street Could Talk, Mark Kermode praises the film for finding universality in its presentation of a story of a very specific time and place. Kermode suggests that it is this very specificity which allows the film to be universal, or, rather, a particular sort of specificity, the detailed drawing of the characters’ specific emotions. The idea that emotions have a universality that allows them to transcend the positions of the individuals experiencing them is a common one (I’ve used it myself), but we should be wary of erasing the specificity of experience in the supposed universality of emotion.

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Capitalist use and communist use

Sometimes people take the distinction between use value and exchange value as a moral distinction: use value is natural and good, and then capitalism came along and ruined things by inventing exchange value. This is wrong – use value and exchange value are a dialectical pair, and they both only came into existence with the development of capitalism.

Obviously, people used things before capitalism, but the idea of use value, that is, of usefulness in general, rather than some specific usefulness, was, before capitalism, an entirely mental abstraction. It’s only when usefulness in general comes to underpin generalised exchangeability (i.e., exchange value) that it acquires a practical reality.

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The power of garlic sausage and the limits of social reproduction theory

In 1852, Marx wrote that Napoleon III had managed to become Emperor of France because he knew the power of “cigars and champagne, cold poultry and garlic sausage.” Many attempts have been made to interpret the significance of these sausages (including Andrew Parker’s suggestion that they are a phallic symbol), but few have drawn attention to the fact that Marx specifies garlic sausage — that is, particularly tasty sausages that are especially well suited to whet the appetite. Marx’s interest in garlic sausage has not been taken up by the Marxist tradition, where categories of necessity or utility are more likely to be studied than categories of appetite. I think this is a mistake, and that paying attention to appetite — to the insatiability of our sensory desires — is an important materialist principle. Thinking about appetite can help us understand the social relations that are formed in the everyday practices through which we live and desire. Read more↴