Viva la Revolución

April 20, 2010

We’ve been watching mostly revolutionary cinema of late. First The Battle Of Algiers the other week, then Che (Part 1) and The Baader-Meinhof Complex in the last couple of days. How much fun it would be to be in a revolution!
The Baader-Meinhof Complex is an uneven film (too much to fit into one film, really; lots of terrible dialogue to move to plot on faster) but very acutely displays the reasons and ideals of the RAF in a warm light without making them look nice or heroic (Andreas Baader, particularly, comes off as an immature manipulative womaniser, which is apparently historically correct). It is quite extraordinary that Ulrike Meinhof was a grown-up journalist before she got involved with it all. One thing particularly well portrayed was that they’re all a bit rubbish at the whole stealthy part of being a terrorist – Meinhof wouldn’t have been wanted as a criminal if she could have kept her cool and not run off with the others during the prison break, and they all look twitchy and suspicious as anything when staking out locations. Chris: “What do you expect? They’re like a bunch of Manics fans with guns.”

One of the funniest scenes in the film is, after a spree of stealing things, including cars, their car is stolen. Baader completely loses his temper. Compare this with Che, which ends with him barring his men from driving a stolen car to Havana. Probably a nicer way to go about it, although while I was watching it I was thinking how I would have let them.

The conference is set, appropriately enough, in the ruins of the Institut Francais (currently undergoing a refurbishment to commemorate their centenary). I must begin with a criticism, I’m afraid – no coffee was allowed in the auditorium. What kind of philosophy conference does not allow coffee in the auditorium?!
Peter Osborne opened the conference with an explanation of the more mysterious half of the conference title, ‘Transdisciplinarity in French Thought 1945-Present’. The key references were noted to be post-’68 French thought (for Eric Alliez) and the German critical tradition (for Osborne himself), and these references have a twofold structure: the ‘bad’ concept of transdisciplinarity (in its policy-bureaucratic incarnation) and the ‘good’ concept of anti-disciplinarity, the political-theoretical, engagement. So far, still quite mysterious, but it’s interesting to track how the different speakers incorporate the concept into their papers.
The first speaker is Etienne Balibar on Structure. His understanding of the threads between structuralism and transdisciplinarity is that they are a result of the undermining, delegitimizing impulse of structuralism and transdisciplinarity (and that, in some way, structuralism is always already post-strcutural). As transgender deconstructs the gender, so transdisciplinarity deconstructs the discipline. His talk is to be organized around what he terms ‘points of heresy’, to borrow Foucault’s terminology from Mots et Choses. He tips his hat to Jean-Claude Milner’s Le Structuraliste Methode et Subversion des Sciences Sociale for proposing this subversive, autodestructive conception of structuralism.
Structuralism is considered historically as the concept that allowed a ‘third way’ out of dichotomies, e.g. reductionism vs hermeneutics, or subjectivism vs objectivism. This stems from a primacy of object over method, of formations always-already considered as relational, allowing for an immanent theorizing. Structure is, then, the formal structure of a concrete system (functioning if not entirely functional).
The background to the development of structuralism were advances in mathematics (Hilbert) as can be seen in the heir to structuralism’s ontological and epistemological problems, Alain Badiou. The mode of inheritance of these problems revolves around whether the terms (or individuals) can be considered as concretion of structures, or should they be considered with a residual element (Badiou) or a line of escape (Deleuze) taken into account as disruptive element.
This anti-reductionism is inspired by previous epistemological breaks – for instance natural/human; a species of thought that can cross these boundaries. Galileo is the classic example of a theory. It also includes a ‘literalisation’ – primacy of the letter. The typical program of structuralism is to find a necessary explanation, in the form of an enlarged calculus.
Balibar insists that none of these characteristics could be carried on harmoniously – permanent splitting, dilemmas. It recognizes that there are at least two competing ways of realizing, and endless internal division.
Regading structures and subjectivation, the fundamental shift is from a constitutive to a constituted subject, and from there from subjection to subjectivation (a relative autonomy).
Is this movement disruptive? In Deleuze’s 1967 essay, How Do We Recognise Structuralism? we are urged us to look at the lack or defect of structures rather than looking on them as complete. They are both real and inconsistent, and no longer to be associated with the Kantian empirical-transcendental schematization. The key point of break is in Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, where the subject ceases to be inhabited by the universal.
Two forms of structuralism were Althusser, with his epistemological break, and Levi-Strauss with his view from afar – both a distantiation from the obvious and a disruption of the hermeneutic circle. Alterity becomes a prerequisite of knowing (in the mode of conflict from Althusser, and decentring of the observer for Levi-Strauss). Structuralism deals with how to speak from the place of the other (and the symbolic violence this entails). Balibar at this point tips his hat to Patrice Maniglier’s writing in Les Temps Modernes about Levi-Strauss.
Balibar understands structuralism as (1) a movement, in the sense of an adventure – deconstructing its own prerequisites, and (2) a new ‘French’ episode in controvery of content of philosophical anthropology, and in this a move away from the Kantian background of Heidegger and Cassirer.
In being a philosophy it is an anti-philosophy, which is to say it considers its problems immanently (the plane of immanence, consciousness appearing as a surface effect); ‘there’s no such thing as a meta-language’ and ‘theory will disappear in its effects’.
Balibar’s next contention is that there’s no such thing as poststructuralism, as structuralism always-already contained a post-structural move, and the structuralist question continues under other names. Structuralism is concerned with the limit idea of what deconstructs it – the line of flight, the point of impossibility, points where it becomes a disjunction rather than a conjunction, oscillating between lack and excess.
Levi-Strauss and Althusser are named by Balibar as the key figures of two kinds of structuralism (L-S as formalisation, Althusser as a heroic attempt of crossing border into a scientific but not quite positivist nondialectical theory of production).
Balibar considers the events of ’68 to be evidence of a ‘death drive’ of structuralism, pushing the subjectivities of the protagonists of structuralism towards the abyss. This is evident in Lacan’s descent into strings of puns towards his final collapse.
Structuralism contains a latent ontology which makes language (as sign) into the ultimate fabric of the real.
To return to Milner, certain constitution of disciplines is a given. This is because certain academic structures are the only possible structures for the development of science. Against this, Balibar insists that tendencies and countertendencies which are intrinsically division demonstrated hyperbolic extension always already implied in arbitrary disciplinary boundaries. The only discipline that corresponds to the structuralist view is critical anthropology.
[in response to a question] Structure is, precisely, not a representation. Structure is real (and thus incomplete).

April 12, 2010

I have begun to learn Ancient Greek, using an Open University course. Transliterating and translating classical Greek stories is strangely soothing and rewarding! I’m only 15 lines down the page and already I can mostly remember the alphabet, and have picked up some vocab. Slow work, though.

Saturday was mostly park-based, breaking only to go to the Mexican restaurant for James’s birthday. Saturday night went to the pub for a bit, and then watched And God Created Woman, which is an extremely depressing film about how everyone’s lives are ruined by sexism and not a sexy sixties chortle at all.
Sunday we had an accidental lie-in, and then a wander in Stokey. The Fox Reformed had an extremely effective advert in the window that merely said ‘Garden Open. Drink Pimm’s’ and so we did, while playing backgammon in their garden. I won! That never happens. Then we went home and I figured out how to use EndNote and pretended to do my essay while Chris cooked paella. We tried to go to the cinema to see No One Knows About the Persian Cats but I looked up the listings wrong and it wasn’t on, so we watched The Battle of Algiers at home (a fairly extraordinary film, featuring few professional actors and people playing themselves; a brutally naturalistic production). Col. Mathieu: “What were they saying in Paris yesterday?” Journalist: “Nothing. Sartre’s written another article.” Col. Matthieu: “Will you explain to me why the Sartres are always on the other side?” Journalist: “So you like Sartre, Colonel?” Col. Mathieu: “Not really, but I like him even less as an adversary.”
I was pleased to note I could understand nearly all of the French, and some of the Arabic (and many Berber loan-words; I hadn’t realised Algeria was so Berber). Possibly because it was an Italian production and so the speech wasn’t delivered at native speed!

music post again

April 9, 2010

RIP Malcolm McLaren. You were often ludicrous and incompetent, but you were important.

McLaren grew up in Stoke Newington (shout-out to my ‘hood!), and his mother reportedly had an affair with Charles Clore “the man who bought Selfridge’s”. (When I read that, suddenly a light goes on in my head – he must be the Clore who many university buildings are named after!)

Here are some of McClaren moments:

Bow Wow Wow – C30 C60 C90

Bow Wow Wow were manufactured to sell new romantic clothes, but they’re the still the perfect post-punk act. The tribal drumming motifs get me bopping around every time. (I love that whole tribal drumming phase on the Early Eighties – Ants, Creatures, etc.) A constantly retightening spring of energy.

Annabella Lwin has super-awesome style also – we used her on the front of a Black Plastic flyer.

Bow Wow Wow were formed after McLaren pinched some of the members from Adam and the Ants.

Malcolm McLaren – Double Dutch

I have fond members of skipping over the skipping rope to this at the Eighties Night at Whitby Gothic Weekend. Well, I say, ‘skipping’, I mean tripping over once and giving up.

And of course…

Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK

Here are some things I’ve been listening to in the last couple of days, some disciplined music.

The Human League – The Black Hit of Space

“It got to number 1, then into minus figures…” Chilling synths taking over the universe.

Cabaret Voltaire – Do the Mussolini (Headkick!)

Here’s a second selection from Sheffield. Extremely simple refrains complexified with interference.

DAF – Der Mussolini

As we’ve had one industrial/new wave classic mentioning Mussolini we might as well have the other. (Someone seems to have put this video together for Youtube!) The slightly unspooling then re-quickening backing riff just keeps pulling you back in.

Severed Heads – Dead Eyes Opened

Beautiful frosty electro track. I can’t do it on a video, but in Belgium it’s played at 33rpm+8 (rather than 45) to make it into ‘new beat’. (I find it difficult to make myself do that anyway, though… my DJing instincts generally push me faster, rather than slower!)

A Split Second – Flesh

Fully Belgian new beat classic on proper industrial label Wax Trax. Again, this one is supposed to be slowed down to 33+8.

Ellen Allien – Send

Cold minimal techno from the incomparable Ellen Allien. Whiplash percussion and a slowly approaching riff, echoing up and down the octaves.

Simian Mobile Disco – 10000 Horses Can’t Be Wrong

Perfect staccato beats, degenerating towards the centre.

Kraftwerk – Pocket Calculator

This is the version off The Mix. Kraftwerk constantly re-update their own music, perfecting and perfecting. This one is very Underworld-y.

Underworld – Cowgirl

I sometimes think that Underworld just sound like all of music, in its entirety, with the texture reorganised. So many sounds.

the hummadruz

April 7, 2010

This morning, as I walked to work, spring seemed to be around (despite the grey). Something about the air changes at this time of year. It’s lighter; less against you. On Sunday, after C. and I had been to visit his parents, we walked in the countryside. C.’s parents live in the interstices between the London, Hertfordshire and the countryside. You take a bus from Cockfosters, so it’s on the tube, but just opposite their front door is a field where you can walk and walk. If you turn left at the corner of one of the fields you can walk across to the stone needle statue in the grounds of my university – so strange that C. grew up just adjacent to the place where I’ve spent so much of the last decade.

C.: “That’s the field where C. shot T.”
I look at him quizzically.
“I mean, in the video.”
“It’s nice that there are places you can walk around with a replica weapon in London and not get arrested… I suppose.”

We spoke of the year to come, the summer progressing towards us. Long afternoons lying on the grass and listening to aeroplane noises. C. suggests this is not, in fact, aeroplane noises, but the hummadruz. At first I think this is just some nonsense (I mean, ‘hummadruz’, how made up does that sound?) but further research reveals this to be a Fortean phenomenon preceding frequent air travel. Even more delightfully, there isn’t a conclusive reason for it.

I always tend to be heartened by hearing of inexplicable things. Things that resist easy schematisation seem more real somehow (and give me hope that everything isn’t just subsumed by the capitalist system). The optimism of earthquakes and the eventual heat-death of the sun.


April 7, 2010

It’s astounding how productive one can be when one has an essay due. Never otherwise is my house so clean and tidy. I can be bothered to go out and flyer for my club nights when I should be reading (or vice versa, depending on how much I don’t want to do one or the other). Perhaps next I will alphabetise my socks. I discovered there is a blog promoting this as healthy – Structured Procrastination. One needs to construct the series of things that need to be done so that the important ones are eventually acheived. Careful administration, rather than eradication, is the attitude one should hold towards procrastination. Phew.

I am, of late, having urges to become accomplished. I spend most of my time at work looking at websites for tango classes, life drawing classes, cookery courses, that sort of thing. I’m extremely discouraged with university at the moment and am seeking to improve myself in other ways.

It’s one of the curses of wishing to be a renaissance person (awkward, clunky phrase, ugh) in the schematised capitalist system. One can only become a low-paid admin drone with an excellent line in dinner party conversation.