Monday, 28 September 2015

Donna Haraway and the End of the Human

Postwar intellectual culture in Europe and America has been marked by several 'end' movements or trends or themes.   Writers such as Robbe-Grillet and Beckett seemed to announce the end of the novel.  Sociologists such as Daniel Bell, one of the 'New York intellectuals', wrote about the 'end of ideology' - the culmination of the 'modernisation' process (much beloved of Irish sociologists, political scientists, historians and the 'Labour' Party even as recently as the 1980s) would be the replacement of fundamental socio-political struggle by bureaucratic adjustment.  Thinkers such as Derrida, Lyotard and Deleuze promulgated a kind of late-Nietzschean anti-philosophy, or 'end of philosophy', under the influence of Heidegger.   Foucault declared, in a brilliant and chilling passage at the end of Les mots et les choses, the 'end of man': it is possible, he suggested, that 'man is in the process of perishing as the being of language continues to shine ever brighter upon our horizon', and man may simply be 'erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea'.  In 1990, Francis Fukuyama updated Kojeve's Hegelianism (which had underpinned much French intellectual radicalism in the postwar period) to announce - under the banner of the 'end of history' - the triumph of liberal democratic capitalism, if only because of lack of viable systemic competitors.

A particularly interesting and perhaps prophetic inflection of this lineage of thought emerged in the 1980s in the work of the gifted and innovative American historian of science and feminist theorist Donna Haraway.   Working within the eclectic and fertile History of Consciousness programme at the University of California at Santa Cruz (to which I made application for a PhD place, only to lose out due to lack of funding), which also offered a home to such crucial American scholars as Fredric Jameson, Hayden White and Teresa de Lauretis, Haraway mulled over the complex intersection of biology, zoology, feminism and technology.  She wrote a kind of anthropology of human relations with other primates, and her 'Cyborg Manifesto' is one of the most brilliant documents of postmodernism.   In our era where 'the humanities' are being eroded by neoliberal rationality, where the 'internet of things' will soon inhabit our clothes, cars, and household utensils, and where humans readily agree to their own subjectification by way of wholesale investment in the surveillance technosphere offered by computers, phones, credit cards, chipped pets and criminals, Haraway's work makes for enlightening reading.  Here is McKenzie Wark - historian and legatee of the Situationist International - on Haraway - a tremendous and illuminating combination:

Blog-Post for Cyborgs—McKenzie Wark on Donna Haraway's 'Manifesto for Cyborgs' 30 years later



Thursday, 17 September 2015

Taking Corbyn Seriously

This piece is taken from Jacobin, which had in its turn purloined it from Red Pepper, another fine leftwing website.  Alex Nunn here makes the case for Jeremy Corbyn, still being clouded at the moment by nonsense about singing or not singing the national anthem, and naive remarks made by his Shadow Chancellor some years ago about 'honouring' the IRA.

The Electable Jeremy Corbyn



Jacobin - The Five Year Plan

Jacobin, I've been slowly realising over the last year or so, is definitely one of the most impressive, and stylish, newer journals on the Left in the English-speaking world.  Drawing on contributors from across the globe, though principally with an American focus, it provides sophisticated non-academic discussion of politics, economics, culture and history.  Highlighted by Perry Anderson in his obituary-essay on Alexander Cockburn in the New Left Review last year, and joined by the likes of n+1 which was recently discussed intelligently by Francis Mulhern also in the NLR, it represents a platform for young American left intellectuals, and has become essential reading. 

Here Jacobin notes and celebrates its fifth birthday, today:

Our Next Five Year Plan





Monday, 14 September 2015

Cauterizing the Wound

Earlier this year, when the British general election was won by the Conservative Party, and the Labour Party was left reeling, I put up a posting, including a piece by Tariq Ali.   In that essay, Ali declared that the Labour Party, apparently mortally wounded, should be let bleed - his point being that the impending crisis of popular and party disaffection with Blairism, with 'New Labour' (which has in reality been the conquest of the Labour Party by neoliberal dogma) should be let come to a head.   The only change worth having at the Party would be radical change.

But even Tariq Ali probably could not have anticipated the extraordinary outcome of the leadership contest that would followed the resignation of Ed Miliband (son of the Ralph Miliband whose essay on Chile I posted on September 11).  Now the Party has, in Jeremy Corbyn, the most radical leader in its history, elected with a massive majority and mandate.  When one wipes from one's eyes the accumulated muck and mist of the alternately splenetic, triumphalist, crass, ignorant, hysterical or complacent commentary in the centre-right media mainstream, a leader of the greatest interest and potential is revealed.   Here is Ali reacting to Corbyn's victory - published in the London Independent and re-published on the Verso website:

The Most Leftwing Leader That Labour Has Ever Had



Saturday, 12 September 2015


In Ireland, as elsewhere, the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean has been headline news lately.  The Irish government's response has been rather somnolent, however, partly under the cover of our opt-out from the Schengen Agreement, and this has allowed various other, usually ill-informed, positions to dominate the discussion.

Firstly, it has taken weeks for the discussion to shift from being one about 'migrants' (bad, because they simply want to better themselves economically) to a more accurate one about 'refugees': the major flow across the sea at the moment is of people fleeing the brutal civil war in Syria, who are refugees by any post-Geneva Convention definition.

Next, and most obviously, there has been the split between the focus on, and pride taken in, the work of Irish naval vessels in the Mediterranean, plucking refugees from the sea or from their ramshackle boats, and the fear and hostility to taking in refugees evinced by crackpots like George Hook.  Hook, who presents an afternoon programme on Newstalk106 (which makes distinctions between 'comment' and 'opinion' that would make bamboozle most critical philosophers), sees the world through a Blimpish misted lens composed of Victor comics, the novels of Rider Haggard and Ian Fleming, philo-Churchillism, and the Daily Telegraph.  Accordingly, he has been warning us all that all the refugees crossing the sea from Africa and the Levant are likely to be Islamist terrorists.  So we have a body of opinion that takes a touchingly provincial pride in the work of the Irish Naval Service (as if it was the only national navy contributing to rescue efforts), because this image mobilises all the tropes of which we are so fond - helping the wogs because they can't help themelves, helping them far away, our doughty servicemen performing deeds of derring-do.  But this same body of opinion is more sympathetic to traders and shipping companies at the port of Calais than to the desperate people who, left to rot by the French government, having been willing to risk stowing away on the Eurostar railway, and this body of opinion cannot countenance the arrival of more than a couple of hundred refugees in Ireland.

As the geopolitical debate warms up, so analysts or 'analysts' of various hues appear. Respectable scholars of the Middle East such as UCD's Vincent Durac are brought onto the media, but so also are ludicrous figures such as Susan Philips, a former Wicklow county councilor who boasts an M Litt (an incomplete doctorate?) on 'the rise of politcal Islam', and who has somehow set herself up as a commentator in the Bernard Lewis mould - Islamophobic, generalising, essentialising, ultra-Zionist, and the kind of Christian who gives Christianity a bad name. 

Questions are asked about the unwillingness of the Gulf monarchies to take in refugees.  These countries are indeed fabulously rich, but to expect them to take in Syrian refugees is ignorant and naive.  Not that they lack the resources, but we need to remember that these regimes are bitterly opposed to Assad's Ba'athi government, that they are the wellspring of the Wahhabi or Salafi ideologies that motivate ISIS or Al-Nusra or Al-Qa'ida in their battles against the Syrian and Iraqi governments, and that they or wealthy private citizens of theirs have bankrolled ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.  Furthermore, the ethno-religious mix of Syrians (and Iraqis, Libyans and Afghans) crossing the seas is very likely to be distasteful to the Sunni princedoms.  So, expecting the Gulf emirates to take in refugees is tantamount to asking them to admit their catastrophic ideological and political handiwork in helping create ISIS, and is unlikely to happen.

Of course, we also have Israel, a very rich country in the region and next door to Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, declaring its unwillingness to take in refugees.   Unless, no doubt, they happen (somehow) to be Jewish, in which case under the Law of Return they will be welcomed with open arms and will be immediately entitled to citizenship.  Israel's ethnic 'democracy' has little welfare to offer any other refugees - after all, Israel has never accepted responsibility for the 'Palestinian refugee problem' since 1947, and has made a point of stamping on them wherever they find them ('mowing the lawn' in Gaza in 2009 and 2014).  And then there is Israel's disgraceful and cynical support for Al-Nusra, an offshoot of Al-Qa'ida in Syria - yet another example of Israel's efforts to ride the Islamist tiger - from its connivance at the organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza in the 1980s (which eventually produced Hamas) to its tacit alliance with Saudi Arabia today.

Here is a fine overview of the refugee problem, from Mondoweiss:

A guide to the worst refugee crisis since WWII


And here is Slavoj Zizek, on the website of the London Review of Books

The Non-Existence of Norway · 9 September 2015



Friday, 11 September 2015

9/11 Memories and the Current Economic Order

Today is the fourteenth anniversary of the terrible massacre of civilians in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in Manhattan, and of government staff at the Pentagon, by plane hijackers affiliated to al-Qa'ida.  Nearly 3000 innocent people were slaughtered in a brutal and spectacular attack on the contiguous territory of the United States. 

But today is also the forty-second anniversary of the rightwing military coup in Chile, which (assisted by the United States) saw the murder of the liberal-socialist president Salvador Allende and the ousting of his government, and the end of civilian democratic rule.   Decades of dictatorship by Augusto Pinochet were to follow.  Not only was this moment one of the greatest and darkest importance for Chile and its people, but it also witnessed the arrival and institutionalisation of the economic code by which the world economy has since been re-organised.   The 'Chicago Boys' - Chilean acolytes of Milton Friedman's brand of neoliberal or monetarist economics, trained at the University of Chicago - were installed in Santiago in one of the most important and drastic political-economic experiments of recent times.  The neoliberal 'reform' of Chile's economy, with its liberalisation, privatisation of public and state assets, and opening to the capitalist world-system, was a vital staging post on the way to the Friedmanesque/Hayekian revolution that was driven across America and Britain by the Reagan and Thatcher governments of the 1980s.  This was a crucial harbinger of the defeat and roll-back of the postwar social-democratic consensus in the western world, the coming financialisation of of the global economy, and the creation of what Wendy Brown calls a new form of rationality - market rationality - in almost all spheres of human activity.

Ralph Miliband, then Britain's finest and most formidable Marxist political theorist, professor at the London School of Economics, and notable interlocutor and critic of Nicos Poulantzas in the pages of the New Left Review, responded to the news from Chile in the pages of the Socialist Register.   Here is his essay, re-published by Jacobin:

The Coup in Chile



Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Obama and Academic Freedom in Palestine

Readers and comrades -

I have not posted for a long time, due to intense work commitments.  But the world continues to turn, surprisingly enough, even when I am not paying attention to it. 

Here is a recent piece from Electronic Intifada, on academic freedom in the Palestinian Territories, and Obama's moronic musings on Israel:

Obama must end support for Israeli apartheid against Palestinian scholars


And, from the same journal, an earlier piece to remind us that problems of academic and educational access in an occupied zone can be of the most quotidian kind:

Jerusalem students face constant harassment by Israeli forces