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.
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.
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….
Marx is disturbed by the strong resemblance between the activity of the performing artist and the servile duties, which, thankless and frustrating as they are, do not produce surplus value, and thus return to the realm of non-productive labour (54).
In A Grammar of the Multitude, Virno attempts to ground his own theory of virtuosity in work in Marx, and notices Marx’s apparent discomfort that his theory analyses artistic work and “servile” work in the same way. What is it that makes “servile” work servile? The distinguishing feature seems to be that it is work that is never finished, but rather work that has to be continually done again. That is to say, servile work is reproductive work, or what Arendt calls the work of animal laborans, the never-finished work of maintaining the human animal. Arendt hates this sort of work because it doesn’t produce anything that outlasts the animal: it does not create something new, or, in Greek, it is not poiesis.
What Virno misses, though, in his attempt to show the new importance of virtuosity in the post-Fordist economy, is that, while it’s true that neither reproductive nor virtuosic work are poiesis, neither is productive work in capitalism. Read more↴
Canada’s premiere supernatural drama Lost Girl came to an end last week, more, it has to be said, with a whimper than a bang. The last episode was the resolution of a storyline involving the mysterious dark plots of Bo’s dad (who turned out to be Hades), a storyline that the show has been vaguely teasing since the end of season 2. But this kind of long-running plotline has never been the show’s strong point; it’s “worldbuilding,” for want of a better word, has always been rather incoherent and perfunctory, like a bad RPG quest where an NPC shows up and says “you’ve never heard of me before but I’m here to tell you that this random object you’ve never heard of either is VERY IMPORTANT and you need to go and fetch it.” Much better was the episode a couple of weeks ago, which was a Wizard of Oz pastiche, or a few weeks before that, a flashback set in a high school for valkyries. Or the classic second season episode in which all the characters swapped bodies, or the episode where characters swapped bodies and also were in a belle-époque alternate universe. The show was at its best, in other words, when it was embracing the tropes or formulae popular in fanfiction. Read more↴
Britney’s new song has been widely condemned as pure ideology; this piece in the Guardian is typical, arguing that the song reflects a contemporary, “religious” commitment to the value of work. That’s not what the song sounds like to me; it’s not so much capitalist ideology as capitalist id. While the official capitalist ethic proposes the necessity of hard work as the ground of equality, the capitalist id glories in the reality that you have to work while (indeed, because), capital doesn’t. Hence Britney’s imperious “work, bitch!” with the subtext that, work as hard as we like, we’ll never be as good as her; and doubtless we’ve all come to terms in our own way with the fact that we’re not Britney and never will be. But, if we follow the insight of the Neue Marx Lektüre that capital is the historical subject of capitalism, we might find in the id of this historical subject some useful indications of the mutations happening to the role of work in contemporary capitalism, and thereby come up with a more dialectical anti-work politics. Read more↴