Monday, May 30, 2005

I wrote this up last night when I felt the urge to blog but did not have a computer at hand. By means of setting the scene, I'd just picked up and read Slavoj Zizek's introduction to Alenka Zupancic's Ethics of the Real, after letting my grasp of study slip over a few weeks or so. Or months, as may be more accurate.

Late Sunday / Early Monday, 29th-30th March '05.

--> As a testament to a small epiphany. I really must dedicate myself to this philosophy - Lacan, Kand, Freud, Badiou, Zizek, Zupancic. I get the impression that this is a part of philosophy that is dealing in/with fresh questions. Or at least, which is sharp.

But what is it that I want to cut through, if it is sharp? Interest in the philosophers mentioned above is where my 'gut' takes me - I do not think - or at least, I should not think - of it as the answer to a question, at least not at this stage. Obviously, this ['an answer to a question'] is not how philosophy acknowledges itself - not formally, anyway.

I would think that in truth, however, all this philosophy and theory is driven by a certain dissatisfaction - all these pearls must have begun with some sand. Even so, it is self-defeating to think of this as an action against. Such a way of envisioning the task will only lead to defeat - indeed, it defines the latter as the only possible outcome.

So what does draw me in to this sort of philosophy? In part, its 'newness' - this appears to be a new combination,* [It becomes clear here: the question I am semi-consciously answering is the eternal: 'am I justified in my choices?'] this Marx with Lacan and Kant and the reclaiming of the universal. That by itself is almost enough.

Still, the important thing is not to just laud this writing (as I feel I have done so far): I must study it, grip it, travel along (with) it. I cannot become a caricature of that which Wrong Side of Capitalism Tim mentions: my allegiances must not fall with Badiou's preference for bullet points, of all things. I do worry that I become possessed by the perceived sentiment of writers, rather than their philosophy itself ("affect, darling, no one talks about gaze anymore, it's all about affect... Meanwhile, have you read the latest Badiou?").

These caricatures scare us witless, of course - we hope to be disciples of truth, but are ever-aware that we may be faddish and witless after all, and so written off as merely pursuing/being swept up by an academic fashion.

> The above potential writing-off of trend/academic movement as 'mere' fashion misunderstands the nature of fashion, of course. The universal has a relationship with fashion, for instance. (Though the question remains: 'what sort?' Walter Benjamin would be the obvious source to turn to for this, I suppose, though what he would say escapes me at this late hour...)

Still, the main requirement is dedication: courage, discernment, moderation, as Badiou says. Beginning with such basics as a work ethic - for which there are many examples on this happy blog network - including Adam Kotsko, mark k-p, Glueboot, Infinite Thought...

To include later on the topic of the work ethic: Walter Benjamin's theses on the writer's method; those photos of Walter Benjamin working in the library that I've stuck above my desk.


PS. Mel - the message stick thingo will be responded to as soon as I have some time.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

I saw I Y Huckabees the other night, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It's a fine line between intellectual comedy and ironic 'meta' overload, but this film was delicate and authentic enough to pull it off.

It did make me think of a comment that I made a few weeks back to a friend of mine. We were talking about Arts degrees and how it's valuable to trace your intellectual history - so, in my case, from 1. naive pseudo-socialist AND unexamined liberal democrat of sorts; through 2. the above, but harping on about "recognition"; then 3. post Nietzsche-reading anti-Christian, anti-compassion and deeply skeptical about political involvement; ending up as a Marxist of sorts who likes (and is venturing into) Badiou, Benjamin, Freud and... others.* Though in the middle of my degree, I felt panicked as all stable ground for beliefs had been pulled out from under me, I felt after 'clearing the decks' in this manner that my allegiances began to reinstate themselves and that - importantly - these were positions that I could defend, having not only 'thought them through' in a passive fashion, but also having been forced to ensure their solidity in order to escape hyper-critical limbo.

So, all this prompted me to state that I think everyone should be (lovingly) broken and reconstructed before they can move into society. I like very much the notion that someone might be 'pulled apart' by a master before moving into adulthood - be this 'master' an in-the-flesh teacher or a philosophical work.

And though this role is portrayed in Huckabees as that of 'existentialist detectives' - zen-masters come sleuths - is this not (she says in her best Zizek voice) precisely the 'job description' of a psychoanalyst, particularly the Lacanian? Not problem-solving or 'therapy' (conciliation with already-existing values), but reconstruction?


And an aside: I have noticed that this topic (my intellectual history) recurs quite a bit in my discussion on this blog. This is because I think it's important, and not just because I feel that reflexivity is good to indulge in for its own sake. Political positions have a history, and in fact are always informed by how this is put together retrospectively. One of the sources of my discontent with mark k-punk is how his change in position is very rarely acknowledged - he seemed to turn on gnosticism in a matter of weeks, for example, after reading Zizek's stuff on Christianity. This in itself is obviously no problem, but what I have qualms with is an implicit refusal of Mark's to engage with the question of just how it is that people have or will come to hold the cold rationalist position. And such an engagement might just mean that Mark will have to reconfront how it is that he understands the category of 'experience'.

But to be clear on this: this only frustrates me because I have such high regard and expectations of Mark - k-punk is one of the most sophisticated theoretical-political sites, nay works, that I read. The above is an observation born of my profound love of Mark's writing. After all, it's a key part of what I presently find exciting in politics and philosophy.

This intellectual self-examination is also important because I don't think I've ever really been Marxist, Hegelian, anti-Hegelian, Spinozist, feminist, Bataillian or anything else - I've just had perceptions of these bodies of thought and how I've 'felt about' (it wasn't touchy-feely) or approached them. It's not quite pix-and-mix, it's not a strategy that I feel obliged to hold up as "Bricolage! The only strategy available to us in our post-Hegelian world!" or anything like that. What I mean is that I've never been able to consistently ascribe myself to any one doctrine - I've always moved towards one from the direction of another, thereby prejudicing both of them. Accordingly, I *think* and *believe* at the moment that I should trace my 'journey' thus far.

Another example of where this sort of intellectual honesty might be useful:

How many truly right-wing commentators/opinion-holders have you run into that claim to be justified in not considering other opinions, because they were "left-wing at uni"? That is, they are satisfied that they know what the left is 'really about' just because they believed some rubbish purporting to be socialism when they were younger? I'm tempted to call this "the argument from the living strawman". Whereas if you acknowledge that you had no idea when you were young, it saves smearing these probably quite complex philosophies with your own ill thought-out involvement. (I apply this, actually, to my own enthusiasm for Naomi Klein's No Logo in 2001, which was a formative text for me. It's a very worthy book, but I don't think I quite 'got it' at the time.)

Concluding funny thought: even super right-wingers like Keith Windschuttle ("rather than genocide and frontier warfare, British colonization of Australia brought civilized society and the rule of law") try to pull this "hey, don't you call me reactionary, I was left-wing once, I've been 'round the block, I know that the left-wing is talking idealistic crap because I WAS THERE!" schtick.


* There are median stages in here that couldn't be broken down into this schema, including the "discovering that queer and feminist critiques are philosophically rigorous" period.

Apologies for the crazy, now-it's-small-now-it's-miniscule formatting of this post. The blogger editor is not my friend.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

I heard a radio report earlier today about a Chinese-born Australian man who is going to sue the government for unlawful detention after he was detained for three days in 2002 at the Villawood immigration detention centre. From this ABC article ("Overseas-born Australians urged to carry passports"):

"A man identified only as 'Howard' was detained with his three-year-old Australian-born son despite telling immigration officials he had an Australian passport.
Howard's lawyer, Nick McNally, says his client showed officials his Medicare card, driver's licence and employment papers, and told them he had an Australian passport."

It seems then that the immigration 'debate' (if you could call it that - it's been more like four years of outcry from refugee advocacy groups, the "left" and the odd 'real' liberal within the Liberal Party, responded to with stone-walling from the government) is possibly taking another turn. I mean of course that the problem is perceived as leaking out to include Australian citizens. So it was pish-posh to the Bakhtiyaris, but ears are apparently pricking up again now that Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon Alvarez - cases of unlawful detention and deportation concerning Aussies (if only those foreign-born, mildly insane and therefore kind of suspect ones) - have been presented to the mainstream media.

It's hard to say whether or not this will have any real or large impact on government refugee policy. I mean, it's obvious that the only real moral justice will arise from having Amanda Vanstone accidentally trip and roll through the Liberal cabinet, fatally squashing Phillip Ruddock (from whom no vital fluids will be squeezed, as the man is both morally and physically shrivelled) and other such worms - but this is unlikely without the intervention of the Deus ex Machina.

I doubt there will be an explosion of outrage. I would like an explosion of outrage to force a Royal Commission, but I can't imagine that this will be forthcoming. It will probably end up being played down as an administrative error or string thereof - you know, "let's just set up a national missing persons list", rather than an inquiry to find whether or not there may be systematic problems within the Immigration Department.

Which is why I responded somewhat ambivalently upon hearing of this Sydney man sueing the government: when a person sues, it generally only addresses problems at the level of the individual, one-off case. Accordingly, the injustice and idiocy built into the fibre of the institutions themselves remains in place.

There is of course some possibility that an avalanche of such cases will turn into a 'scandal', and so be effectual within the arrogant bullshit-fest that is the Australian Parliament. As I've mentioned above, however, I can't really see this taking hold - it's too easily written off. And, of course, no one cares - well, no one outside of Age readers, and perhaps the odd (small-L) liberal.

Fat lot of good Kim Beazley's doing about it, too. And yes, that pun was intended.

(But I shouldn't whinge too much. After all, our reactionary, xenophobic and populist immigration policy means that Australia is at least a world leader in something! Just look as those smug Europeans as they struggle to keep up in our wake.)

It is interesting, though, that two or three of the 'big stories' of the last week or so have concerned the fate of Australians abroad: Schapelle Corby, Douglas Wood and Vivian Solon. A bright-eyed, ordinary Australian girl embroiled in drug trafficking charges up in Indonesia's barbaric justice system ("Did she do it? Was she framed? Tune into Channel Nine and voice your opinion!"); a fat, everyman taken hostage in Iraq as he was just trying to do his bit for the Iraqi people; and Solon... How do we place her? Where is she being placed by the media? And just what is the wider implication of this slew of 'Australians abroad' stories?

More analysis is needed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

I'm not sure what Elanor's on about - this quiz seemed highly respectable and scientific to me. Just check out my scores.

"Wackiness: 42/100
Rationality: 60/100
Constructiveness: 28/100
Leadership: 66/100

You are a SRDL--Sober Rational Destructive Leader. This makes you a Mob Boss.

You are the ultimate alpha person and even your friends give you your space. You can't stand whiners, weaklings, schlemiels or schlemozzles. You don't make many jokes, but when you do, others laugh out loud. They must.

People often turn to you for advice, and wisely. You are calm in a crisis, cautious in a tempest, and attuned to even the finest details. Yours is the profile of a smart head for business and a dangerous enemy.

You have a natural knack for fashion and occupy a suit like a matinee idol. Your charisma is striking and without artifice. You are generous, thoughtful, and appreciate life's finer things.

Please don't kick my ass.

Of the 123258 people who have taken this quiz since tracking began (8/17/2004), 3.5 % are this type."

(Apologies for resorting to quiz result posts. My narcissism is responding to the unseasonably high levels of Autumn sunshine.)
How does one tell when one is going crazy? Are there warning beeps, like those sensors in BMWs that tell you when you're about to back into a wall?
I am the slackest slacker in slackland. That aside, there are some joyously scathing and insightful posts at k-punk and infinite thought at the moment, about indie. k-punk's here, infinite thought's here. oh, and a note to infinite thought: the "Cardigans, lollipops, soft toys, 50s print dresses, horrifically cutesy relationships, hairclips" indie-crowd aesthetic is alive and well in melbourne also. which leads me to despair about lesbianism... can it escape all this? is there any hope for it? or is lesbianism a sentence of doom? this requires more discussion. later.