Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Occupy's Poet Laureate: Keats

I am still having difficulty getting back into my exam reading after the quarter (not that Caleb Williams and Althusser aren’t super exciting), so I will procrastinate by blogging about why the Occupy poet laureate should be Keats. Yeah, ode-on-a-grecian-urn Keats as a radical leftist.
            The modern playbook on avant garde and politically subversive poetry comes, in large part, from Wordsworthian Romanticism. Not only was Wordsworth’s second preface to Lyrical Ballads one of the first literary manifestoes, it established the poetics of subversion as rooted in Romantic irony. Such irony stipulates the near impossibility of any truly meta-perspective (i.e. the Burkean sublime) outside one’s embeddedness within a phenomenological and moral environment. Romantic irony marks the site of one’s encounter with the other, who is, within this space, never truly other. Accordingly, Wordsworthian romanticism is all about relations – self/other, human/nonhuman, middle class/peasants, etc. This is precisely why Whitehead’s process theory jives so well with both Wordsworth and Percy Shelly (the hyper-Wordsworth). In sketching the genealogy of his Organic Theory of Nature (all reality is a process of becoming composed of events, realizations, and relations wherein entities bind together through prehension and patterns), Whitehead calls Wordsworth his a nineteenth-century predecessor not only because “he dwells on that mysterious presence of surrounding things, which imposes itself on any separate element that ewe set up as an individual for its own sake,” but primarily because Wordsworth “exhibit[s] entwined prehensive unities, each suffused with modal presences of others” (Science and the Modern World 83-84).
            Whitehead’s deference to Wordsworth indicates not only the prevalence of Wordsworthian poetics, but also the operations of its political subversion. As a political act, Wordsworthian Romanticism proceeds by reconstructing a profuse environment (not only “natural,” but also socio-economic) outside of which the poet seemingly offers a meta-position (that place where the environment is known fully, as if the reader-perceiver were some Burkean sovereign) only to undercut any such position.
“The Old Man Travelling” is a prime example of such a politics of subversion. Wordsworth opens this poem with what appears to be a nicely poetic description of an old man wandering, an opening seemingly ripped from the pages of a sentimental poem by, say, William Cowper. We see the old man and his poverty from a vista removed from the action – the abstraction of this gaze seemingly isolates the political content (poverty and class inequality) so that we the privileged reader (both epistemologically and economically) can abstractly understand that content. Such sentimentalizing (or more precisely, pastoralizing) is ironically sketched in the lines, “He is by nature led/ To peace so perfect, that the young behold/ With envy, what the old man hardly feels.” Here we already get a sense that the joke is on us, who have up to this point assumed the position of “the young” by presupposing our own epistemologically privileged perspective – we know what the old man feels better than he can know because we have attained our nicely distanced gaze.
However, by giving the old man the final word, the poem undercuts this meta-position by forcing the reader into an undue intimacy with the old man. What a sentimental gaze led us to believe (the old man is a poor-in-world primitive) is completely shattered when the old man reveals his “real” feelings: anxiety over his son, who is “dying in an hospital” following a Napoleonic war “sea-fight” This rug-pulling maneuver places the reader face-to-face with the other. But the encounter is uncannily ambiguous: where is the line between self and other when the coordinates of that division have been seemingly obliterated? Locked in such an undue intimacy, the reader becomes aware of his/her embeddedness in an economic and moral environment and hence ethically responsible for the alterity that, as Whitehead stipulates, “imposes itself” on us.
While such an undue intimacy is the initial, experiential task of Wordsworthian political poetics it is a controlled intimacy. If on the one hand Wordsworth seeks to toss the reader into a radical intimacy with the other, he does so by also implicitly assuring his reader that in the last instance this is only in one’s mind. The entire subject-forming, ethical machine of Wordsworthian poetic experience is predicated on the possibility of “world making” – or, the suspension of one’s immediate experience of the real through an abstracting prehension that translates the always incomplete real into a fulfilled phenomenal Real. If Wordsworth pulls the rug of sentimental poetry from under our feet, in the end he does so not to obliterate our phenomenal distance from our surroundings, but rather to upgrade our prehension of those surroundings. The problem with the sentimental gaze isn’t that it is world making; the problem is that is merely too abstract. As Wordsworth famously claims, “We murder to dissect” – an inescapable operation poorly managed by sentimental poetics. Luckily for us, Wordsworth has the solution. Sure we murder with our dissecting gaze, but we can do it with feeling – which makes everything okay. By attuning ourselves to our surroundings, the violence of phenomenal prehension (murdering to dissect) becomes tempered, which then allows for a more authentic relation to our surroundings. By being attuned to the old man’s true feelings, we enter into a more ethically efficacious relationship with him. As a political-ethical procedure, Wordsworthian Romanticism serves to upgrade our consciousness of our relations with the other so that we can then, perhaps, change those relations for the better. As a political action, however, such a political poetics ­– which stretches from Wordsworth to Shelly to the Realist novel to Dada to Modernism to certain David Lynch films – operates to the side of the political “reality” it comments upon. Just as we never actually enter an undue intimacy with the old man (Romantic irony protects us from a full immersion into our environment), Wordsworthian poetics never enter into a lived political struggle.
Keats’s poetry, on the other hand, is all about the actual immersion within an aesthetic, political, ethical world. As poems like “Ode on a Grecian Urn” (and its precursors “Lines to J.H. Reynolds, esq.” and “Sleep and Poetry”) are not only about relations (they are object-lessons detailing our capture by the kitsch dispositifs of capitalism), but also participate in relational actions, albeit in a truly subversive manner. The poles of Keatsian object lessons stretch from a meditation on the poet’s desubjectifying experience of apparatic capture (see my previous post on apparatuses) to the poet’s construction of an object that will operate exactly as the object within the poem acts on the poet. As the poet is “teased out of thought” by a profusion of capitalist kitsch – it is incredible how many of Keats’s objects are kitsch: a reproduction Portland Vase, busts of poets in Leigh Hunt’s library, reproductions of paintings, mass-print translations of Homer – he simultaneously reenacts the same operations to capture the reader. Keats’ poems work in a totally different register than Wordsworthian Romanticism. Instead of upgrading our consciousness of relations, Keats seeks to place us on the very gears of capitalist relationality – in the hiatus opened by each object of a capitalist economy and our selves.
But this is not critique. Keats does not say, “Because you now know how dispositifs operate you can be more effective participants in society.” Rather, he actually renders the mechanisms of capitalist capture inoperative. By reproducing an object that functions according to the same operations as an imitation Portland Vase, Keats profanes the very operations of capitalist sacredization (the jettisoning of living being into a separate sphere, here the teasing of thought by consumption), returning to free, poetic use the faculties of living being previously appropriated by capitalism. This is the meaning of the famed lines “Beauty is Truth, truth beauty.” Keats is not evoking some auratic universalism – one that would merely fetishize the procedures of sacredization – but rather stressing that the aesthetic encounter – one’s capture by a dispositif – is the condition of any encounter with any object and that the modality of that encounter is completely contingent. These lines say, simply, "You cannot escape apparatic capture, but you can reconfigure the modality of that capture just like this poem’s profanation of a capitalist dispositif does." Hence Keats’s indefatigable stress on inoperativity: apparatic capture suspends living being in a certain modal relation, but there are also subversive reconfigurations of those relations. That is what Keats’s object poems are all about. They mediate and construct new modal relations with the objects of capitalist consumption, therein doubly suspending the apparatic suspension of living being. If kitsch teases us out of thought, then it is also possible to tease kitsch out of thought. Keats’s poems do this in reality
And that is precisely how the political activities of Keats and Wordsworth differ. While Wordsworthian Romanticism seeks to upgrade our consciousness, Keatsian poetics actually changes our imbrication within our environment and is, accordingly, politically subversive in actuality.
The tactics of the Occupy movement share the political operations of Keats’s poetry. At bottom, the Occupy movement is about one’s simple existence in space and how that act renders the operations of hypercapitalism inoperative. By refusing to participate in the mechanisms that appropriate vital functions of living being by capitalism’s dispositifs, an occupier radically suspends the efficacy of capitalism – which is predicating on the abstraction of productive vitality (labor, consumption, thought, language, etc.) from one ontological layer (individual being) to another (field of capitalism). The occupier’s mere existence in space – his/her inoperativity – is the most radical form of revolution possible under the existing conditions of biopolitical hypercapitalism. Quite literally, the inoperativity of protesters across the world consists in the placement of their bodies on the gears of the apparatus such that those apparatuses cease to function. That is why the recent west-coast port shutdowns are radically violent: by placing their bodies within the space capitalism needs to distribute its goods, the protesters actually strike a blow against that system.
Wordsworthian models of political activism are absolutely impotent in this regard. Predicated on consciousness upgrading, Wordsworthian subversion can be heard in the persistent entreaties that the occupiers formulate demands or offer nuanced philosophical explanations of their movement. Such formulations are nothing more than a reinscription of a potentially revolutionary energy within the very operations the movement seeks to overthrow. That is why I personally find the conciliatory rhetoric of certain strains of the movement worse than pointless. By calling for ethical openness for the other, such strains merely recapitulate the assimilationist logic of capitalism. While being open to the other is ethically correct, it is merely a precondition for the actual revolution and not itself revolutionary. Rather, the revolutionary work of the movement happens at the level of inoperativity – the port shut downs and building occupations – wherein the operations of capitalism are suspended. The occupy movement isn’t, in the last instance, an upgrading of our ethical consciousness. The occupy movement is about the revolutionary overthrow of capitalist relational in actuality. Keats provides one model for such revolutionary inoperativity. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Constitutional Impasse. Constitutional Solution.

     Article IX, section 9 of the California State Constitution establishes a legal fiefdom for the UC Regents. The University of California shall be "subject only to such legislative control as may be necessary to insure the security of its funds and compliance with the terms of the endowments of the university and such competitive bidding procedures as may be made applicable to the university by statute for the letting of construction contracts, sales of real property, and purchasing of materials, goods, and services." 
    I am still churning this all over, but it seems that our state constitution offers an impasse and a solution.
    First, it establishes the conditions of the crisis through which our students are fighting right now. We can occupy quads and buildings, cancel classes and withhold grades, rally 24 hours a day, but legally there is nothing that can bind the governing body of the UC to our demands. This is why President Yudof can repeatedly profess his solidarity with students against higher fees while simultaneously raising them. He knows that no matter how large a coalition forms against him and his privatization of the UC he can do exactly as he pleases. Certainly there remains something like a "public conscience" and ability to hold the administration accountable to it. That is what the Katehi resignation movement is about: showing the administration that they cannot call in riot police to arrest nonviolent protestors without losing their jobs. One problem, however: the next chancellor, like our current chancellor, has no reason to call in the riot police to squash protest. Students could occupy the entirety of all ten UC campuses and turn them into one massive Open University and the Regents could still raise fees. 
    Such a change in administrative tactics is what we are seeing right now on UCD. The UC regents have  calculated that they can allow students to overrun the quad and Dutton Hall indefinitely precisely because there is no constitutional mechanism holding them accountable to legitimate student grievances. They make identitical calculations every time students protest fee hikes, be it in town halls, public forums, rallies, or occupations. The administration knows that no matter how loud the students scream or how many buildings are occupied, they don't have to do a thing. 
    At last week's UCD English Graduate Student Association meeting, we crafted a letter demanding both the resignation of Katehi and the dissolution of the UCPD. But we did so under the pretense that such actions move forward towards a democratic system of administrative selection (this as a point of rhetorical debate. Our original language stated, "more democratic elections" until a colleague pointed out that it should be simply "democratic elections"). Any  such reform cannot, however, be enacted from within the UC system. 
    This is the second thing our state constitution offers, albeit not in Article IX, section 9. Under a 1911 amendment to Article IV, section 1, voters can alter the state constitution through direct balloting. By collecting petitions equal to 8% of the previous gubernatorial vote (roughly 750,000 signatures), citizens can put a constitution initiative up for a general vote. While made notorious by "Proposition 8," this procedure could offer a solution to the current UC crisis. If the current state constitution establishes a UC-wide fiefdom for the 1%, then it can also offer the avenue for democratic accountability. 
   Again, I am still mulling this over, but I am beginning to think that our movement's next move will have to be outside the university. Perhaps I am naive, but I think voters would be sympathetic to a democratic governance of publicly mandated and funded universities. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

UC Davis Updates

    So far, this has been another exciting and turbulent week at UC Davis, despite an underwhelming Monday morning.
   As expected, the UC town forum was a sham. The regents, etc. listened to student grievances for about an hour and a half. While the extra half hour of public comment appears as a nice gesture by the administration, it was instead merely a ploy to tire out students at the four teleconference sites (Davis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Merced) -- a plan that worked fairly well. Many students left when the addition time was announced. More sinister, perhaps, was the procedure for collective sharing of speaking time. Each student was given one minute to speak. But when students pooled their time, some miraculous arithmetic occured. Whenever three students pooled their time the administration gave them 2 1/2 minutes to speak. That's right, in the UC universe 1+1+1=2 1/2. And further stressing their clear disregard for our grievances, after students at three campuses (Davis, SF, and LA) repeatedly mic-checked over regent's discussion post-forum, the regents went behind closed doors and approved a series of administrative salary raises, some as high as 21%.
   Now for the truly amazing events. Following the public forum, Occupy UC Davis stormed and occupied Dutton Hall, which houses amongst other services the Cashier's Office. Bodies on the gears of the machine? Check. Demands? Dutton Hall will be occupied for two weeks or until: Katehi resigns, the UCPD is disbanded, and tuition increases are frozen.
  About forty-five students (and one "Rogue Element" -- my fiancee) spent the night at Dutton:

Despite several key tactical mistakes -- no night watch, no plan for action the following morning -- we managed to hold our ground around the Cashier's office. But not without collateral damage. Dutton Hall also houses the Student Academic Success Center (a tutoring service), whose operations we consistently worked to continue (escorting students, complying with all staff requests). The administration, however, preemptively shut the building down for, guess what, "health and safety concerns," forcibly locking SASC up and making it look like we intended to interfere with student academics. Typical divide and conquer tactic, anyone?
   Frustrated, we convened a strategy and logistic meeting last night to discuss the long term goals of a Dutton occupation. Clearly the tactical advantage of holding Dutton is a disruption of the Cashier's office, where the university collects fees and tuition. Clearly, however, students at large were not getting this logic, but instead saw us as a fringe element intent on making everyone else's lives more difficult.
   So now a new strategy: We continue to occupy the hall 24 hours a day, but during business hours we maintain an information table (and tent) in front of the Cashier's office without blocking access (of course the office itself locked its doors, forcing everyone to have to knock for access -- at which time we can chat with visitors. Win for us!).
   More important, however, we have renamed and repurposed the entire building. Dutton Hall is now Paulo Freire Open University, a 24-hour academic center open to all students:

At night it serves primarily as a study space desperately needed by students during finals week. We are also holding teach-ins and workshops throughout the day, as well as various group office hours (the University Writing Program is holding open office hours on Friday, 3-5 – surprisingly with director support), tutoring services, film screenings, various department events (poetry readings, discussion groups), even a dance party.
  By repurposing the building we effectively combat a growing wave of criticism – that we are not concerned with student academics – by providing supplemental academic services. We just happen also to be clogging part of the university's financial operations.
    In all honesty, I believe this is what the coming community will look like, at least in its revolutionary phase: a spatial activity that at once renders the a specific location's dominating mechanisms of life inoperative and establishes a vibrantly active political community. It is everything I have been envisioning (politically) for a few years: inoperativity, profanation, the Messianic community.
   But as is the nature of these measures, what is rendered inoperative tends to become operative again. The police will come, the study spaces will be locked up, and the machine will hum once more. But for at least a moment we will have created the living image of a coming community.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

General Strikes, Administrative Acquiescence, Union Contracts: the Already Privatized Public Education


      The reason behind Monday's general strike is simple: UC Regents are holding a teleconferenced town hall meeting ahead of their rescheduled vote on tuition increases. Given the timing of the town hall's public forum (immediately before the tuition vote, therefore leaving regents no time to reflect upon student grievances) and its organization (Skype-style, limited access, one hour period at only four of the ten UC campuses), last week's general assembly approved (with 99% of some 2,000 votes) direct action to shut down both the vote and the sham forum. Because the public forum is merely a ploy by the regents designed to give the illusion of democratic participation, we have decided to make our grievances heard -- on our terms.
    My problem, however, is not that I teach at Monday 8:00 am, but that I work for a unsympathetic department (University Writing Program) and under a compulsory union contract that bars me from striking. Using the logic of capital, our administration claims that as instructors "we are ethically obliged to hold class for the students who wish to be there." Translation: because students have already paid into a privatized UC system, they are guaranteed receipt in the form of educational services. By refusing to provide this product for my student-consumers, I withhold their rightly purchased commodity.
   But this is precisely the logic (and concrete manifestation) Monday's activities are intended to subvert. As we attempt to push back against the increasing privatization of the UC system, departments and union contracts,  both deeply entrenched within the gears of a capitalist education paradigm, restrain the voice and power of student-lead activism. By "ethically obliged," our department chair intends (knowingly or not; I suspect the later) an obligation not to our students, but rather to the smooth operations of privatized education. We are obliged to offer a service to paying customers. We are obliged to ensure that the logic of capital is not ruffled, that our students' tuition will not be wasted on activities wavering from the our student-teacher business contract (our syllabus).
   And this is not merely a matter of administration discretion. Certainly other departments have worked with their faculty to ensure actual ethical commitments are met. For example, my parent department, (English) has approved a department-wide "sick day" on Monday. Why? Because tenured faculty and graduate student employees university-wide work under union contracts that prohibit strikes. Negotiated by the UAW, my own contract not only prohibits my ability to stand in solidarity with the majority of my students, but also demands my compliance. Whether or not I pay dues, whether or not I willing opt into the union, I must work under this contract. No compliance, no work.  Working under an administration unwilling to stand up for its students and alongside its employees, I am handcuffed into either teaching/serving my students (most of whom will not be there anyway) or risk losing my already precarious graduate school funding. My choice is to some degree this reductive: either continue the logic and operations of a privatized education or suspended that logic and operation and potentially lose my job.
     This personal dilemma is indicative of more than the tenuous employment status of a graduate student. Rather, it displays the degree to which our public universities are already privatized. Humanities departments churn out the logic of capitalism to defend their acquiescence as if it were some moral high ground. Union representatives are forced to accept contract provisions against striking just to ensure a living wage for their workers. And when our public university students rise up against privatization they face not simply the challenge of lowering tuition or ousting belligerent chancellors. They face modes of thinking and institutional structures deeply enmeshed within the operations of capitalism.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chancellor Katehi's Initial Response to Police Brutality.

Chilling, legalese prose. My first-year writing students have a blast ripping this letter apart.

November 18, 2011

To UC Davis Campus Community,

I am writing to tell you about events that occurred Friday afternoon at UC Davis relating to a group of protestors who chose to set up an encampment on the quad Thursday as part of a week of peaceful demonstrations on our campus that coincided with many other occupy movements at universities throughout the country.
The group did not respond to requests from administration and campus police to comply with campus rules that exist to protect the health and safety of our campus community.  The group was informed in writing this morning that the encampment violated regulations designed to protect the health and safety of students, staff and faculty.  The group was further informed that if they did not dismantle the encampment, it would have to be removed.
Following our requests, several of the group chose to dismantle their tents this afternoon and we are grateful for their actions.  However a number of protestors refused our warning, offering us no option but to ask the police to assist in their removal.  We are saddened to report that during this activity, 10 protestors were arrested and pepper spray was used.  We will be reviewing the details of the incident.
We appreciate and strongly defend the rights of all our students, faculty and staff to robust and respectful dialogue as a fundamental tenet of our great academic institution.  At the same time, we have a responsibility to our entire campus community, including the parents who have entrusted their students to us, to ensure that all can live, learn and work in a safe and secure environment.  We were aware that some of those involved in the recent demonstrations on campus were not members of the UC Davis community and this required us to be even more vigilant about the safety of our students, faculty and staff.  We take this responsibility very seriously.
While we have appreciated the peaceful and respectful tone of the demonstrations during the week, the encampment raised serious health and safety concerns, and the resources required to supervise this encampment could not be sustained, especially in these very tight economic times when our resources must support our core academic mission.
We deeply regret that many of the protestors today chose not to work with our campus staff and police to remove the encampment as requested.  We are even more saddened by the events that subsequently transpired to facilitate their removal.
We appreciate the substantive dialogue the students have begun here on campus as part of this week.s activities, and we want to offer appropriate opportunities to express opinions, advance the discussion and suggest solutions as part of the time-honored university tradition.  We invite our entire campus community to consider the topics related to the occupy movement you would like to discuss and we pledge to work with you to develop a series of discussion forums throughout our campus.
I ask all members of the campus community for their support in ensuring a safe environment for all members of our campus community.  We hope you will actively support us in accomplishing this objective.

Linda P.B. Katehi

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New Voohries and the Quad Encampment

The English department has set up an encampment on the quad -- seriously, colleagues are holding office hours and student conferences here! I am beginning to wonder if this might be the start of the coming community? Special things are happening at UC Davis. Also, this is only one corner of the encampment; the latest estimate was over 120 tents. That's 5X the original ("criminal") encampment! Katehi made an appearance shortly after I took these photos. Apparently she is trying to restore our confidence in her . . . But how can anyone have confidence in privatization's papier-mache mask? 

Yesterday's Rally

Here are some videos from yesterday's rally: Nathan Brown mic-checking his critique of the Chancellor's language and the English department's formal call for Katehi's resignation and the immediate and permanent removal of all police forces from campus. Another outcome of this rally and general assembly: approved (by 99% of some 2,000 voters) General Strike on 11/28 to disrupt and cancel the UC regent's backdoor vote to raise tuition 81% over four years.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

11/19's UCD Protest

      Some corrections to recurrent media accounts of yesterday's UCD protest. First, there were not a mere 100 students, but rather 500 students (our final line of sitting, silent, and arm-linked students stretched for a little over 1000 feet, according to googlemaps, so at roughly 2 feet per person, 500 students). Bear in mind that this protest was organized within two hours after the Chancellor called her last-minute press conference in an obscure corner of campus in a room too small to allow student representatives (originally, Aggie TV, our student news channel, was not allowed inside). If we can get 500 students to mobilize in two hours, Monday's Rally should surpass last Tuesday's 2,000 person rally/strike with ease.
       Second, our dear Chancellor Katehi and her media lackeys (i.e. Sacramento's KCRA) have repeatedly claimed that she could not leave Surge II because she was surrounded by protestors. This is simple false. 1) While we had established a ring around the entire building, it was a ring with a 10-15 foot corridor through it with openings onto Hutchison Ave. The Chancellor had easy egress. 2) Our representatives at the door who were in communication with Katehi's handlers made clear our willingness to let her leave in peace -- i.e. without chanting, but rather silence (although I suspect that she objected to our willingness to link arms, which has been deemed by the UCPD, at Cal and now at UCD, as violent protest -- I don't mean this as a joke). Further, following a series of "mic-checks" we all agreed to this proposal -- to let the Chancellor leave in peace through our walkway, in peace and silence -- and repeatedly over the course of the two-hour "standoff" (a farce engineered poorly by Katehi to give herself time to complete an interview with CNN's Don Lemon -- again, no joke) chanted "You can leave in peace."
     This is what happened when she finally decided to accept our proposal, although she did not maintain her end of the agreement: walk to the end of our line where she would be picked up. "End of the line of students" now means "200 feet" or "the end of the building's lawn." And that makes myself and 300 others no longer students, but mere bodies on the side of the road.

And finally, the most important correction of all. UCD is not Chancellor Katehi's university. It is our university.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Petition for Chancellor Katehi's Resignation

While videos of the UCD's deliberate, calculating, and inhuman assault of peaceful, non-violent protestors are evidence enough to support this petition, I would also like to stress the larger, perhaps more significant threat Katehi posses to not only the UCD and other UC's, but to the general erosion of public life in America. First, Katehi is directly responsible for the mass privatization of our state's public education -- an education guaranteed in principle and in law for all citizens of California, irregardless of economic background. By increasing tuition from $6,312 in 2005 to a proposed $23,000 by 2015-2016 Katehi and the other Chancellors and regents of the UC system prohibit the enactment of the UC's mission. The administration argues that such tuition hikes are necessary to offset state funding cuts. But this argument is a mere ruse covering their actual agenda. First, state funding actually increased this year, albeit by a minuscule  amount. Second, and more importantly, tuition hikes serve as a means of privatizing the public university. How? State funds are restricted funds that by law must be spent on instructional necessities. Tuition funds, however, are unrestricted funds. The UC administration uses these funds as collateral for capital and market investments. Such investments are ultimately guaranteed security through the presupposed continuation of tuition increases. Tuition increases guarantee a privatized UC increased profits. They do not ensure the continuation of the UC's mission as a public university offering world-class education to (nearly) all citizens of California. The administration's responsibility is, under this economic model, to their investors, not the students.
     For this reason, I beg everyone committed to public education to sign the petition for Chancellor Katehi's immediate resignation. The issue isn't police brutality, but the rational beyond such brutality: protestors are interfering with the smooth operations of the radical privatization of California's legally public universities.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Object-Oriented Dickens?

             This is more or less a short essay I just wrapped up for seminar on Victorian Labor. Other than being about Great Expectations, it has little to do with labor. Rather, it begins to trace what I tentatively call a Dickensian ontology -- which, in closely following Dickens's text, emerges as curiously object-oriented: 
Imploring Pip to keep isolated the moat-surrounded Walworth and the criminal-teeming Little Britain, Mr. Wemmick remarks: “Walworth is one place, and this office is another. Much as the aged is one person, and Mr. Jaggers is another. They must not be confounded together. My Walworth sentiments must be taken at Walworth; none but my official sentiments can be taken in this office” (288, emphasis added). While Wemmick’s petition stems from a desire to separate the personal from the professional (a separation mimicking his employer, Mr. Jaggers’, ceaseless abdication of personal sentiments), his comments point towards a more widespread field of separations. Not only must the personal Walworth be isolated from the professional Little Britain, so too must the persons who inhabit each sphere. Yet, Wemmick’s final sentence further widens the scope of separation. While the modal “must be” hints at the potential collapse of the personal into the professional, Wemmick’s final “none . . . can be” insists on the impossibility of thinking any personal–professional collapse. After all, the sentiments of Walworth are unintelligible to the sentiments of Little Britain.
            Wemmick gives us, on the one hand, a material plane of seemingly tenuous separation, and, on the other hand, a conceptual sphere of irreducible isolation. Simply: things appear able to connect, while thoughts cannot. Yet, Wemmick presupposes not only this dichotomy, but also the conditions of possibility requisite for the collapse of places and persons. Wemmick’s modal “They must not be confounded,” indicates that while Walworth and Little Britain, the Aged P and Mr. Jaggers are equally one and another, they can, potentially, be confounded – thought of as not one and another, but rather one and the same. Only through such confounding thought, Wemmick anxiously argues, can an underlying isolation be mistakenly collapsed. Or, to shift the valence slightly, places and person can be connected only through the medium of thought.
            Wemmick’s implicit ontic claims hint at a larger Dickensian ontology. Once we see the curious isolation–connection model girdering Wemmick’s petition to Pip, we begin to see Great Expectation as teeming with isolated objects connecting with other objects only through the mediation of some third object: Pip serving as a “connubial missile” between his sister and Joe (9); Pip’s fantastic translation of Miss Havisham’s connecting working class with middle class (66-67); Wemmick’s “portable property” yoking former clients to him (199); the “avenging phantom” linking Pip to London’s lumpenproletariat (216); the “oath” ensuring communion between Herbert and Magwitch (336).   
            Given the two constraints I find myself under – Great Expectations’ preponderance of object mediations and a blog format – I will isolate a singular instance of object mediation: Mr. Jaggers' appearance at the Blue Boar. This prolonged yet demarcated scene offers two main advantages. First, Mr. Jaggers can, with relatively little mental agility, be read as emblematic of Dickens’s insistence on the isolation of objects; second, while Mr. Jaggers is fully aligned with the juridical concerns of Great Expectations, he can nevertheless be more easily isolated from the larger social contingencies of the novel, namely class. Like Dickens and his characters elsewhere, I can, with Mr. Jaggers’ entrance, trace an autonomous object’s mediated contact with other equally autonomous objects.
            An unidentified Mr. Jaggers arrives at the Blue Boar amidst a thoroughly one-sided discussion of a recent murder. Immediately isolated from the “that group” of which Pip “was one” (130), Mr. Jaggers is, at first, dimly noticed by Pip as “a strange gentleman,” and then, his presence being made known to the group itself, he appears “as if it were the murderer” (131). As a narrator, Pip sets up a fundamental opposition between Jaggers and the group not simply by marking him out as strange, but by further reducing him to the vague pronoun “it.” Such a nameless and genderless Jaggers stands as an object (an “it”) radically opposed to the group. Out of this second object (the group), Mr. Jaggers enacts his own condensation by separating out Mr. Wopsle as a metonymy for the group. So, instead of a Jaggers–Group opposition we get a Jaggers-Wopsle–Group mediation. Yet, once Wopsle becomes a metonymic mediator between Jaggers and the group, he also becomes an autonomous object by immediately establishing an opposition between himself and Jaggers (“‘without having the honour of your acquaintance’”), an opposition (Jaggers–Wopsle) that demands further mediation.
            Misleadingly, the medium between Jaggers and Wopsle appears to be simply language – the mere fact of their engaging in conversation. Yet, the mediation here is far more complex than any Jaggers–language–Wopsle mediation. Indeed, while the content of the discussion provides the impetus for communication, its initial modality provides the conduit through which it can pass. Jaggers’ demanding from Wopsle a hypothetical verdict on the murder suspect shifts the entire discussion into an abstraction of the conversation’s manifest content, the murder. Immediately, Jaggers comports himself towards Wopsle not simply through language, but through the special modality of abstraction, a gambit Wopsle quickly adopts by identifying himself through the equally opaque appellation, “Englishman.”
            Having entered into an equally abstract modality of language, the potential for any Jaggers–Wopsle mediation appears met. Yet Jaggers not only refuses Wopsle’s “Englishman” response – “ ‘Come . . . Don’t evade the question’” – but also initiates another form of mediation: the act of “biting his forefinger at him.” In pattern that will repeat moments later, the potential mediation of Jaggers and Wopsle through a modality of language is foreclosed upon, immediately substituted with the mediation of finger biting, and then shifted back onto new modality of language – a pattern spatially sketched by the narrator Pip: “ ‘Come!’ [cessation of previous discursive mediator], said the stranger, biting his forefinger at him [gestic mediation]. ‘Don’t evade the question. Either you know it, or you don’t know it [new discursive mediator]” (emphases added). Jaggers’ “it” condenses the previous discursive mediation (the abstraction of a hypothetical verdict) into a crystalline yet vague pronoun. Nevertheless, this condensation of discursive mediation carries with it an exigency for physical mediation; the finger biting is again repeated before Wopsle seemingly connects with Jaggers: “‘Certainly I know it’” (132).
            Nevertheless, Wopsle’s entering into contact with Jaggers through “it” is, for Jaggers, insufficient. So, after another bite and point of Jaggers’ forefinger a new discursive mediator is introduced: the question of the murder suspect’s cross-examination (a procedure to which Jaggers clearly suspects Wopsle). With this new discursive mediation something curious happens. Whereas the mediations of the hypothetical verdict and condensation “it” were only sequentially connected with the physical mediation of finger biting, this new discursive form is irrevocably tied to its own materiality. Wopsle is not simply implored to consult the discursive fact of the suspect’s cross-examination, but also the material vessels through which that fact is made intelligible:  “‘the printed page’” and Wopsle’s “‘eye.’”
            Provisionally, then, we can plot the scene’s overall mediation dynamic like this: Jagger -- Discursive (verdict, it, cross-examination)/Material (finger biting, printed page, eye) -- Wopsle. Rather than a simple Jaggers–language–Wopsle mediation, we have instead a mediation through an intermediary field of discursive and material objects. To read the entire scene as one act of mediation is, therefore, to diagram a mediation not merely through a field, but rather through an object that is simultaneously discursive and material: Jaggers–Material/Discursive–Wopsle.
Overall, my provisional, diagrammatic sketch allows for a tentative assertion: real objects (Jaggers and Wopsle) are mediated not merely through sensual, intentional objects (Jaggers-in-thought, Wopsle-in-thought), but another type of object entirely, one that has “real” content (materiality) and “ideational” form (discursivity): the gesture. Accordingly, in the Blue Boar scene the actual mediation is Jaggers–Gesture–Wopsle. Such a hybrid object as the gesture may allow a more nuanced reading of class (perhaps the parting welded together that Great Expectations is most concerned with) than orthodox Object-Oriented Ontology would allow. The splitting of the gestic object that connects Jaggers and Wopsle into a simultaneously material and ideational form is precisely what enables the mediation to occur, as if the gesture’s dual-frequency alone is what allows for complete resonance between disparate objects.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Levi Bryant on Pseudo-Left Ideology

         If you haven't read this yet, check it out. Levi does a great job pointing out the Liberal Humanism at the core of the purported "left" in contemporary American politics. Faith in the universality of human nature does nothing if not reproduce the horrifying structures of racial, economic, gender inequalities. As Levi concludes, the "Kumbaya left" must be filled with the white, bourgeois. Hence all the recent and silly "post-racial," "post-homophobic" assertions ("We" elected a black president, so race isn't real anymore; "we" repealed don't ask, don't tell, so homophobia has vanished).

Friday, January 14, 2011

Arcimboldo and Object Oriented Ontology

And now for something not depressing. I recently stumbled across the amazing Renaissance paintings of Giuseppe Arcimboldo:
Here we find emblemized an Object Orient Ontology framework. Composed of autonomous objects (flowers, fruits, vegetables), this portrait expresses OOO’s assertion that there exist “objects all the way down” – that each autonomous object is composed of smaller objects. Yet, precisely because this portrait resembles a historical person (Rudolph II), we also see that the painted object, which is composed of component objects, exceeds the sum of its component objects. The resemblance or portrait-ness of the painting is irreducible to any sum of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. And because of this excess beyond component parts, the resemblance itself marks the withdrawnness of a real object. 
Arcimboldo has, then, translated the real object-ness of his subject into a sensual object (the portrait) much as the subject translates the fruits and vegetables that constitutive it. 

Addendum to "Liberal Humanist Zombies"

             In my last post, what did I signify and intend by my invocation of a philosophical re-formulation of political, subjective, and epistemological models? Why is a wholesale reformulation exigent at this particular historical moment?
Philosophical paradigms have concrete, material impacts on concrete, material existence. That is what the Tucson shootings tell us. The bankruptcy of Liberal Humanism literally resulted in the deaths of six people. If we continued to think under the rubric of Liberal Humanism and its concomitant model of critique, we would accordingly treat the philosophy behind this tragedy as merely so many ideas that are barred ontologically from material embodiment.
            But such a critical bracketing of ideas from materiality has concrete impacts on the world. By treating ideas as divorced ontologically from all concrete, material impacts, Liberal Humanism is unable to properly and fully think through the contingencies of our contemporary cultural condition (or, for that matter, any condition). The bracketing of ideas – a gesture Marx labels as fetishism – divorces their real impacts from themselves. Liberalism and its model of epistemology (critique) take ideas and fetishize them, therein jettisoning them from their historical and material contingencies into a separate and alien sphere. What this movement performs is precisely the obscuring of the historical and material ground the jettisoned ideas both draw their existence from and produce their impacts within. Further, with this fetishism of ideas we are left dramatically ill-equipped to confront the fullness of any idea’s reality – that is, its ideality and its materiality, its reflective/signifying capacity and its actantial power.
            So what we are left with is exactly what happened in Arizona last week. We treated ideas and discourse as fetishes, ignoring their agentive force. And in the aftermath of the event, all of our retreats into our Liberal hovel will do nothing to either conceptualize or influence the agentive force of ideas in our contemporary condition.
            Because ideas are real entities with real impacts on the real world, we must strive for a radical re-philosophizing of subjectivity and collectivity – call this project a “coming philosophy” or Object Oriented Philosophy. Because discourse and ideas have effects they themselves produce, we cannot continue to bracket political discourse and ideology off from material existence.