May 14, 2012
CBC: MPs studying a bill that would make it illegal for rioters to cover their faces have doubled the proposed penalty to 10 years.
A chapter from Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power about the paranoia of authority and its need to unmask its subjects:
A Despot is always aware of his inner malevolence and thus he must dissimulate. But he cannot always deceive in this way. There are always others who also desire power who do not acknowledge his claims, but regard themselves as rivals. Against these he is always on his guard, for they are a potential danger to him. He waits for the right moment to “tear the mask from their faces”; behind it he finds the malevolence he knows so well in himself. Once they are unmasked, he can render them harmless. If it suits his purpose he may spare their lives for the time being, but he will see to it that they do not get away with any fresh dissimulation; he keeps their true shape clearly in his mind’s eye.
He dislikes all transformations in other which he has not enforced on himself. He may advance men he finds useful, but the social transformation thus accomplished must be absolutely distinct; it must stop there and be entirely within his power. Whether raining men up or abasing them he determines their place; no-one must dare to move on his own.
A ruler wages continuous warfare against spontaneous and uncontrolled transformation. The weapon he uses in this fight is the process of unmasking, the exact opposite of transformation…
If it is practiced often the whole world shrinks. The wealth of appearances come to mean nothing; all variety is suspect. All the leaves on all the trees are the same, and all dry as dust; every ray of light is extinguished in a night of suspicion.
(The chapter on Unmasking is on page 377)
February 21, 2012
February 8, 2012
January 31, 2012
On Saturday night a group apparently semi-related to Occupy Williamsburg threw a party in a vacant condo building. The party and its riotous aftermath have been covered by the New York Times, Village Voice, and the Daily News to name a few, but so far only one statement has been released from the occupationist side: a tract posted on anarchistnews.org titled “Enter the Vandalists” and signed by the “Geiseric Tendency,” possibly a reference to the historic Vandal King.
Resorting to an automatism characteristic of their class, the gentry of Williamsburg summoned their militia to dissolve the siege being laid to a conspicuously empty palace of banality, newly erected in the heart of their spectacular playground. The vandalists had recognized the inhospitablility to life of this sarcophagus for the young professional class, and did not shy from the conclusion that it lent itself only to defilement. The object of their critique was not limited to the class for whose consumption the condominiums that cover Williamsburg are produced, but included the extreme boredom that the proliferation of these kinds of spaces induce. The prevalence of the condominium is a symptom of the spreading homotopia that is the Metropolis—the endless repetition of the same forever.
The vandalists will not reconcile themselves to merely appropriating these habitats—designed for gradual atrophy, optimized for the most comfortable postponement of death. Rather, they want to see them recycled in the urban biosphere; turned into manure from which unforeseen species might emerge.
It will not only be the police, the rich, and the reactionary press that will slam the vandalists—activists will likely join in as well, decrying the occupation as not being social enough, not populist enough. Why did it have to be a party, with booze, hip hop music, and NO RULES? Why not an attempted squat? Why was the media not called? Why was the action not ‘consensed’ upon in some public group? No one will understand the vandalists because they are not of either world; they seek neither professionalist capitalism nor professionalist activism. Perhaps if squatting a social center were still sometimes tolerated this desperate mayhem would not have occured, just as if there were anything to be gained from joining Organized Labor or Revolutionary Parties perhaps we would not see the global masses chaotically rising against singular abstractions of all authority (Wall Street, Mubarak, the IMF, Money, etc).
Activists call protests, the vandalists instead call potlucks. Potlucks of destruction.
We can expect more Occu-parties and general bad citizenry from these vandalists leading up to an ultimate act of descecration, an intelligibility strike, on May First.
While the text undermines the social element of the occupation: a criticism of property relations in a city where there are more abandoned living spaces than homeless, it also speaks to an element of occupy many of its proponents want to bury: unruliness. In Oakland after the thwarted occupation of an abandoned convention center, a group of protesters broke into City Hall, damaging everything in site and burning an American flag. A building was also occupied, vandalized, and used for a party in Minneapolis.
Some commenters, such as the poster of this fantastic Youtube video showing hundreds of Oakland occupiers evading mass arrest, have observed a sea-change in the occupy movement as its repression increases:
I have no doubt that the number of marchers will increase next time. This group started with camping – The city’s responses seem to be slowly turning them into some kind of militia.
But without the use of arms, what sort of militia is this? A commenter on this NY Post article about an occupier’s disruption of an arraignment court proceeding says:
This is exactly why Occupy Wall Street has even been repudiated by the Far Left, who want nothing to do with the anarchists, druggies, homeless, and other disenfranchised who have hijacked this movement.
Oakland and New York are now officially building General Strikes for May Day, and it is still being discussed weather the strikes will follow in a traditional mold of labor marches and picket lines, or if it will be something more in line with the developing style of the “hijackers” and “vandalists” who are keeping Occupy strong through the winter, indeed some sort of “intelligibility strike.”
January 23, 2012
Since last week the Occupy Williamsburg and the Occupy Brooklyn GAs have announced their support of a New York City General Strike on May Day, and even more posters and stickers have popping up around town urging the wildcat strike as well. Now, these banners were spotted today above the former Salvation Army on North 7th and Bedford in Williamsburg. They read: “OCCUPY WILLIAMSBURG/THE REAL IS ON THE RISE” and “NO WORK/NO SCHOOL/BLOCK THE FLOWS/BE THE CRISIS/GENERAL STRIKE MAY 1.”
For those not familiar with the area, North 7th and Bedford intersection is considered this global geographic center of hipster trendsetting; an invaluable piece of real state for advertisers. The “REAL IS ON THE RISE” phrase is presumably a nod to a recent single by Drake, who is no stranger to causing scenes of unrest in New York.
UPDATE: A reader sent in another great piece of propaganda spotted in Williamsburg today
Books aren’t selling well, and the result is a desperate and dark era for content merchants, the ones who have historically determined what qualifies as “literature.” They see themselves as going the way of switchboard operators, carriage chauffeurs, and all other redundant analog labor. They are desperate for a later-day Twain or Dickens, a man of the times who can come out of the digital world to harness its momentum and keep their factories running; someone who knows how to get the wealthy yet thrifty young demographics to buy their paper once again.
The first of these cybernetic heroes has emerged as Tao Lin, the mediocre minimalist whose shallow characters and banal plots resonate with the emptiness of hipster existence. Sure, his critical reception was a disaster, but he achieved that elusive type of success marketers religiously call “going viral,” a feat so potent it has proven literary criticism an artifact of less desperate times in publishing—a time when consumers not only wanted to buy new books, but they wanted good ones. Now that the time of the book and its critic, a time of meaningful and significant content is long gone, the tyranny of the shitty-but-marketable writer is upon us.
It is in this dystopic setting that Canadian writer Andrea Coates has mobilized a sprawling piece of criticism against Lin, a figure whose popularity is largely based on his ability to absorb and render obsolete all criticism, especially from the passé intellectual realm. Coates‘ critique is intellectual, for sure, but its strength is that she brings the fight to Lin’s terrain, The Internet, where experimentation in text, form, and taste run free, especially in terms of overhead. A scatterbrained polemic, she tries many avenues. She attacks his work, especially the dismal “Richard Yates.” She focuses on the man as he markets himself—the vegan, the libertine, the exploiter of young female talent. She says he is sexually repressed. She says he is boring. She says if he were any worse a writer, he would have to work in advertising. The attacks on Tao and what he represents take up more textual area and become more a focus than what he does with words. He, not is work, is the primary target.
Tao Lin is a Self Absorbed Guy, but he has internalized the Attitudes of those who keep the Cages: despite it’s Manifestation in his Literature, Tao Lin behaves, in his OnLine Identity, as if he is Completely unAware that the Theme of his Work is that our Consumer Identities are destroying us by keeping us Captive within them, unable to live our Lives as we ought to: Freely, Emotionally.
Our Consumer Identities trap us, use us, and destroy us: Capitalism raises us in a Cage of Consumerism wherein Every Action must be mediated by the Market. In the City, Capitalism feeds off us at Every Turn. It co-opts our ProFunDity as Beings by making us its Slaves and then convinces us, via School, Advertisement and Media, to replicate its Memes of Production in Order to perpetuate it, and so Tao does: Every Thing about Tao Lin screams: Capitalist Brand. The Truth is, it is him who has been branded, by Capitalism, and so now he is its Slave.
The essay appears self-aware of the Faustian bargain that is feeding the troll, criticizing that which eats criticism; opposing a power structure which only learns to be more successfully cruel from its opposition. Her method thus resorts to counter-position of ‘caged’ and ‘free’ prose. Coates presents herself as the alternate pole of her criticism: “Where Tao Lin is Caged/I am Wild,” she says, before the essay moves completely into the realm of self-promotion.
And while the form of her criticism achieves a mirror-like disruption of Lin’s shit-into-gold success machine, one can’t help but wonder if there is actually a way through the shitty game of paper-selling, or if by attacking Lin as a means to both further a polemic against the acceptance of late-capitalist ennui in literature and to further her own career. She too must play on the same freemarket field of self-promotion and websavy virus-baiting. She is a “Slave” as well, albeit a more colorful and rebellious one.
By and large, Coates will be successful for all the reasons she doesn’t want: the spectacle of controversy between players in the literary realm, the success of writing based on its novel form, the want for a new, sexy young literary popstar. For her, this last point may be the most self-defeating. We like Coates because she is an anarchist, she’s pretty, she cares about stuff, and yet she still seems fun! We begin to imagine that we will like her writing before we have even read it. Like Lin, she is engaged in a process of seducing us by creating a character of herself—one largely divorced from her work.
It was once true that “Lorca died and Hemmingway survived”, but what now that they’re both dead, and their literary field is someplace you can tour and visit monuments. While it is noble for Coates to throw in the towel on Tao Lin and his Kmart Realist prose, she needs to aim her throw a bit farther—against not just the man and his genre but against nostalgia for bygone eras when literature and its criticism were imagined to be socially relevant wholly outside of its existence within the marketplace. Most of all though, Coates needs to throw in the towel on authorship itself.
Instead of watching the video of her smoking weed and burning “Richard Yates“, watch this much better video of Coates reciting her work:
January 15, 2012
MoMA is exhibiting work from one of the most renowned Mexican painters of the twentieth century, Diego Rivera. Diego influenced by the Mexican Revolution and the Russian Revolution, believed that art should play a role in empowering working people to understand their own histories. Meanwhile MoMA buys and sells millions of dollars in art at Sotheby’s auction house. Sotheby’s has locked out 43 Local 814 union art handlers, claiming they are unable to negotiate a new contract with them. “The auctioneer proposed cutting the handlers’ workweek to 36 1/4 hours from 38 3/4 hours and increasing the number of temporary laborers, according to both sides. The union said new work rules would decrease eligibility for overtime, resulting in take-home pay declining 5 percent to 15 percent. Temporary workers without medical or pension benefits would replace unionized art handlers as they retire or find other jobs. Chief Executive Officer William Ruprecht, yearly salary doubled in 2010 to $6 million dollars.”
More information on the strike from L Magazine and Sothebys Bad for Art. Not in the video: an anti-art contingent of the protest that detonated stink bombs in each gallery, clearing large portions of the museum.
January 10, 2012
Excerpt from short story by Don DeLillo about watching the crisis unfold from a prison for financial crimes.
“All of Europe is looking south. What do they see?”
“They see Greece.”
“They see fiscal instability, enormous debt burden, possible default.”
“Crisis is a Greek word.”
“Is Greece hiding its public debt?”
“Is the crisis spreading at lightning speed to the rest of the southern tier, to the eurozone in general, to emerging markets everywhere?”
“Does Greece need a bailout?”
“Will Greece abandon the euro?”
“Did Greece hide the nature of its debt?”
“What is Wall Street’s role in this critical matter?”
“What is a credit-default swap?
What is a sovereign default? What is a special-purpose entity?”
“We don’t know. Do you know? Do you care?”
“What is Wall Street? Who is Wall Street?”
Tense laughter from pockets in the audience.
“Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy.”
“Stocks plunge worldwide.”
“The Dow, the NASDAQ, the euro, the pound.”
“But where are the walkouts, the work stoppages, the job actions?”
“Look at Greece. Look in the streets.”
“Riots, strikes, protests, pickets.”
“All of Europe is looking at Greece.”
“Chaos is a Greek word.”
“Canceled flights, burning flags, stones flying this way, tear gas sailing that way.”
“Workers are angry. Workers are marching.”
“Blame the worker. Bury the worker.”
“Freeze their pay. Increase their tax.”
“Steal from the worker. Screw the worker.”
“Any day now, wait and see.”
“New flags, new banners.”
“Hammer and sickle.”
“Hammer and sickle.”
Their mother had the girls delivering lines in a balanced flow, a cadence. They weren’t just reading, they were acting, showing facial expression, having serious fun. Screw the worker, Kate had said. At least their mother had assigned the vulgar line to the older girl.“
His end was officially sanctioned, an act welcomed by some, protested by some. If he’d spent half a lifetime in prison cells, in solitary confi nement and fi nally on death row for one or two or multiple homicides, where were we and what had we done to be placed here? Did we even remember our crimes? Could we call them crimes? They were loopholes, evasions, wheedling half-assed infractions.
Some of us, less self-demeaning, simply nodded at the story, conveying credit to the man for the honor he’d brought to the moment, the back-country poetry of those words. By the third time I heard the story, or overheard it, the prison was located decisively in Texas. Forget the other places—the man, the story, and the prison all belonged in Texas. We were somewhere else, watching a children’s program on TV.
“Means nothing. Words,” I said.
“Like Abu Dhabi.”
“The Hang Seng in Hong Kong.”
“The girls like saying it. Hammer and sickle.”
“Hammer and sickle.”
“Hong Kong,” I said.
We went on like that for a while. Norman was still murmuring the names when I shut my eyes and began the long turn toward sleep.
“But I think she means it. I think she’s serious. Hammer and sickle,” he said. “She’s a serious woman with a point to make.”