Sunday, December 26, 2004


Oh fuck! I mean, really, what else can you say?


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

I Wish I'd Said That

With the excessive fall-out from the Super Bowl halftime show, the rest of the country now knows what it feels like to live in Cincinnati, with its unnecessary overreaction to the slightest things 'adult'. ('The Year in Film & Music 2004: Maximum Gauge')

Things I For Some Reason Cannot Do

I cannot close bottles of Coke without inadvertently sealing them so tightly and rendering them nearly impossible to open without either the utmost limits of Promethean patience and ingenuity, or if nothing else insane surges of adrelin-addled Herculean strength.

I cannot write a 1,200-word review for a book of interviews with a Slovenian philosopher of ill repute, despite increasingly nasty emails from a major academic journal's book reviews editor and a long-suffering wife who insists that I confine my thoughts about the book to the written page she will never, under any circumstances, read.

I cannot read hundreds of pages of notes, written over the course of three years, which would make the task of completing a thesis considerably easier, because otherwise I will not remember most of my past research, let alone the degree to which I suspect I simply do not agree with most of it.

I cannot keep track of my blogging promises, those half-cocked notions of blogging ideas that I say I'll get around to but never do which litter so much of Silentio's archives, like the desiccated detritus of a relationship three years in the making.

I cannot help myself from being slightly frustated when friends of Silentio regularly regard so much of it as a 'full frontal assault on Christianity', even when they know their libelous accusations are clearly not true.

I cannot believe that a disproportionate number of readers expect me to be as bombastic, pretentious or self-important in person as I am so often in blog-form, as though I would ever actually, explicitly, and publicly refer to fellatio, Jesus' penis and homophobic desire in a declarative sentence, as I've been known to do here.

I cannot wait, speaking of pretension and self-importance, until Ryan Adams' version of 'Wonderwall' comes back on my LaunchCast Radio station, no matter the abuse I will inevitably suffer from some of my more-indie-than-thou friends for admitting that I still like some of his post-Whiskeytown-but-not-much-from Gold music.

UPDATE: Okay, 'libelous accusations' may have been a little off the market, as pointed out by the one I was implicitly accusing, as he had linked to proof that I indeed had typed 'full-frontal assault on popular religion in America' -- though, I would still claim, like many an idiotic athlete who is faced with the consequences of his inane comments, that was taken out of context, or, if not out of context, out of the spirit of the dialogue it was said and the jest with which it was intended; moreover, I think he is projecting his desires for such an assault onto one who, ostensibly, is more than willing to lead one front of the charge.

Is it Christmas Again, Already??

Proving once again that being victimized is still its best market strategy, evangelical Christians must be very pleased that they're making headlines this month across the liberal media claiming that their celebration of Christmas as a religious holiday, the day that Jesus sprang from the dilated vagina of Mary, is, of course, the butt of wanton cultural bias.

You know, I'm actually kind of supportive of the beef itself. I, too, get very annoyed that one has to walk on eggshells, not knowing what to say around this time of the year. It was much easier in Britain, where everybody, even the atheists, just said 'Happy Christmas', and you were done with the whole awkward exchange of pleasantries and returned to your pint. Then again, this probably has to do with the fact that everybody over there has pretty much embraced the full-bore secularism of Christmas, and regard Christmas as a time either one must endure with one's family, or a holiday break that allows one to jump on an EasyJet flight bound for Spain.

Not so in America. No .... it's never so easy. Even when America wishes to be multicultural and secular, it's always in the vaguest most hypocritical of hues. I'm not quite sure why these Christians think that re-injecting religion into the cultural acknowledgement of Christmas would be any different in that respect, with its attendant motto: Happy Birthday, Jesus. I hope you like crap!'

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A Promised Post On Capitalism & Christianity

It is a philosophical commonplace of these postmodern times that every identity or community is a reciprocal product of its binary opposite. Simplistically rendered: 'I' am not 'You', and 'You' are not 'I'. Also commonplace, and obviously related, is the recognition that evangelical Christianity, to be itself, requires 'the damned' -- i.e. in order that the redeemed / saved might be identified as such. Less often discussed, though, is how all this relates to evangelical Christianity's (not-simply-economic) commitment to market capitalism.

In short, the productive matrix of capitalism not only requires the concept of 'the damned' for the maintenance of evangelical Christian identity, but, more importantly, actively posits its necessity. Which is to say, for the evangelical Christian, 'the damned' are a sort of excess that is actually constitutive of Christian redemption. For those inclined towards a hardline doctrine of 'original sin', this may not seem an immediate problem ... that is, until the reciprocal thought would require you to acknowledge this excess as a conditioning agent, the originality of this sin, itself retroactively presupposed by the evangelical Christian. Is this only the vicious circle of faith?

Similarly, as we know, capitalism also requires losers. Such is the nature of the 'risk', for instance, we are told to enjoy as 'free Americans', that we might lose all that we own in a stock market crash, a corporate scandal, etc. This is the precise means by which the free market creates and sustains itself. Without the risk of loss, which is another way of saying without the reality (and maintenance) of loss and losers, the system simply cannot last. In contemporary, liberal society, all people receive, at least formally, the opportunities of success -- a la 'freedom' / 'democracy'; but, in reality, not all people actually have (or are provided) the means to receive and/or utilize those opportunites. Free trade for us -- the EU, the US, Australia, etc. -- but not for you -- the 'developing nations' who are kept that way under the heel of the First World's protectionist subsidies and trade tariffs.

It is easy to see how this easily weds itself to the evangelical Christian self-understanding. More problematic, however, is the degree to which this self-understanding undermines its official mission: that of 'saving souls'. What many non-evangelicals do not seem to understand is that the Christian mission is, for the evangelical, constitutive of his exclusivism. This leads to a lot of intentional and unintentional misunderstandings of rhetoric and action, some justified and others not. On the other hand, and on a level that goes beyond conscious misunderstanding, many evangelicals do not seem to understand the capitalistic reasons for or implications of their exclusivism's constitutive role in their mission.

This is, I think, the horrific truth of evangelicalism, that from which it shrinks. Namely, that it forces the betrayal of that which he must hold most dear, the mission of saving souls. The radicality of evangelicalism's necessary exclusivity, what it must exclude to be itself, is too much to bear. The betrayal is two-fold: by betraying itself -- i.e. its offical goal -- to realize itself, the truth of the horrific/repressed void at its heart emerges. All my talk of 'void' is not that of passive nihilism -- something I've been accused of in the past. Rather, it is the truth of an unthinkable absolute freedom, an active willing of the impossible, the 'nothing' of an impossible thought that somehow happens, that happens even at the heart of evangelicalism, though necessarily repressed (if formal evangelicalism is to remain what it is); the Event that blinds just before it breaks the old, and creates the conditions of something wholly new.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Where Christmas Yard Ornaments Go to Rest Eternally

Last night, K. asked me if I'd take her out to see some Christmas lights. Being Belgian, she still gets a kick out of this sort of Americana, even while being slightly horrified by it all. In the course of our search, we stumbled upon what can really only be described as a veritable cemetary of Christmas joy. Drummer boys playing throughout the night, without a neighbour one complaining ... wise men bearing gifts on bended knee because they are without receipts ... Winnie the Poohs offering not a dime to the Milne clan ... American flags ablaze with all the patriotism colored bulbs can offer ... 'God Bless America', 'Support our Troops', 'Santa's South Pole' ... Jesi of various hue and developmental stage ... Santas in various degrees of illuminated decapitation, like something from the set of Apocalypse Now ('the horror, the horror!) ... nightmarishly benighted trains set on their circular course, in an endless repetition of Christmas past, present and future ... inexplicable flora and fauna, frozen in time and out of its place ... all set to a soundtrack consisting of 'Grandpa Got Run Over By a Reindeer' and 'Silver Bells'.

I've been to the mountain top, I've seen hell on earth ... and it was fuckin' fabulous.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

A Bit About Paul

I may not have been able to get much, if any, blogging done here this week, but I did at least contribute a short post to Adam Kotsko's 'St. Paul Week' over at The Weblog.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Wow! -- I think

For several reasons, it became necessary this evening to delete everything in my Temporary Internet File. Not knowing much at all about computers until about a year ago, when I was hit with my first virus and spent a few months actually listening to the advice of my friends in IT, I had completely neglected this important file for over three years. In the course of deleting everything, cookies and all, for the first time since buying the bloody thing, I freed up nearly 300 meg from my threadbare C:. These selfsame IT friends, is that a lot, or am I just being unnecessarily dramatic in posting about it?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Going So Far Over the Rainbow As To Jump the Shark

Now that I'm fully moved and the desk is assembled, I can finally get to a lot of the articles that I long ago bookmarked and printed, in hopes that they'd inspire me and Silentio on to bigger and brighter posts. One can always count on Slavoj Zizek for a little inspiration, if nothing else.

In his most recent piece, 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow!', he uses Thomas Frank's book What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America as a means to return to beating his nearly dead hobby-horse: liberalism. I've been reading some very interesting interesting blog posts about this book ([1] [2]), so I maybe it's high time to finally check it out. As is usual with Zizek's book reviews, he doesn't spend much time talking about the book itself. (N.b., I really wish I could get away with that!) Also as usual, there's a lot that's worth reflecting on and quite a bit to question pretty vigorously.

First the stuff worth reflecting on, no matter how repetitious the theme:

The first thing to note here is that it takes two to fight a culture war: culture is also the dominant ideological topic of the "enlightened" liberals whose politics is focused on the fight against sexism, racism, and fundamentalism, and for multicultural tolerance. The key question is thus: why is "culture" emerging as our central life-world category? We no longer "really believe," we just follow (some of the) religious rituals and mores as part of the respect for the "life-style" of the community to which we belong (non-believing Jews obeying kosher rules "out of respect for tradition," etc.). "I do not really believe in it, it is just part of my culture" effectively seems to be the predominant mode of the disavowed/displaced belief characteristic of our times: although we do not believe in Santa Claus, there is a Christmas tree in every house and even in public places every December - "culture" is the name for all those things we practice without really believing in them, without "taking them seriously."

I don't have much to add to this, except to say that I think it's pretty spot-on and a recurrent theme of this particular blog, especially when it comes to popular manifestations of religion.

He goes on to add:

The second thing to note is how, while professing their solidarity with the poor, liberals encode culture war with an opposed class message: more often than not, their fight for multicultural tolerance and women's rights marks the counter-position to the alleged intolerance, fundamentalism, and patriarchal sexism of the "lower classes." The way to unravel this confusion is to focus on the mediating terms the function of which is to obfuscate the true lines of division. The way "modernization" is used in the recent ideological offensive is exemplary here: first, an abstract opposition is constructed between "modernizers" (those who endorse global capitalism in all its aspects, from economic to cultural) and "traditionalists" (those who resist globalization). Into this category of those-who-resist are then thrown all, from the traditional conservatives and populist Right to the "Old Left" (those who continue to advocate Welfare state, trade unions ...).

[. . .]

The third thing to take note of is the fundamental difference between feminist/anti-racist/anti-sexist etc. struggle and class struggle: in the first case, the goal is to translate antagonism into difference ("peaceful" coexistence of sexes, religions, ethnic groups), while the goal of the class struggle is precisely the opposite, i.e., to "aggravate" class difference into class antagonism. So what the series race-gender-class obfuscates is the different logic of the political space in the case of class: while the anti-racist and anti-sexist struggle are guided by the striving for the full recognition of the other, the class struggle aims at overcoming and subduing, annihilating even, the other -- even if not a direct physical annihilation, class struggle aims at the annihilation of the other's socio-political role and function. In other words, while it is logical to say that anti-racism wants all races to be allowed to freely assert and deploy their cultural, political and economic strivings, it is obviously meaningless to say that the aim of the proletarian class struggle is to allow the bourgeoisie to fully assert its identity and strivings. In one case, we have a "horizontal" logic of the recognition of different identities, while, in the other case, we have the logic of the struggle with an antagonist.

The paradox here is that it is the populist fundamentalism which retains this logic of antagonism, while the liberal Left follows the logic of recognition of differences, of "defusing" antagonisms into co-existing differences: in their very form, the conservative-populist grass-roots campaigns took over the old Leftist-radical stance of the popular mobilization and struggle against upper-class exploitation. This unexpected reversal is just one in a long series. In today's US, the traditional roles of Democrats and Republicans are almost inverted: Republicans spend state money, thus generating record budget deficit, de facto build a strong federal state, and pursue a politics of global interventionism, while Democrats pursue a tough fiscal politics that, under Clinton, abolished budget deficit. Even in the touchy sphere of socio-economic politics, Democrats (the same as with Blair in the UK) as a rule accomplish the neoliberal agenda of abolishing the Welfare State, lowering taxes, privatizing, etc., while Bush proposed a radical measure of legalizing the status of the millions of illegal Mexican workers and made healthcare much more accessible to the retired. The extreme case is here that of the survivalist groups in the West of the US: although their ideological message is that of religious racism, their entire mode of organization (small illegal groups fighting FBI and other federal agencies) makes them an uncanny double of the Black Panthers from the 1960s.

Again, I think Zizek is spot-on. However ... the manner in which he fleshes this out, or fails to do so adequately, is pretty problematic. The upshot of his review is:

Are [today's liberals] not getting back from the conservative populists their own message in its inverted/true form? In other words, are conservative populists not the symptom of tolerant enlightened liberals? Is the scary and ridiculous Kansas redneck who explodes in fury against liberal corruption not the very figure in the guise of which the liberal encounters the truth of his own hypocrisy? We should thus (to refer to the most popular song about Kansas, from The Wizard of Oz) reach over the rainbow - over the "rainbow coalition" of the single-issue struggles, favored by radical liberals - and dare to look for an ally in what appears as the ultimate enemy of tolerant liberalism.

This is all well, good and 'radical', but I can't help but think that it is a line of thought that is not especially embodied in anything resembling practical reality. That is to say, how exactly does the 'alliance' of the Right and Left against liberalism actually effect the Leftist socio-economic agenda that Zizek clearly advocates? This is a philosopher, one recalls, who appropriately chides liberals of various stripe and hue as being devotees of the 'Beautiful Soul'-syndrome, whereby they have radical visions (e.g., freedom for Palestine, etc.) but lack the fortitude to deal with the radical consequences of those visions actually taking place. In other words, political / practical reality is pretty damn important. To this end, even though Zizek would undoubtedly not align himself with it, does not Timothy Burke's vision of the possible alliance of the anti-capitalist Left and Right if the Democrat party were to choose the path of communitarianism and 'moral values' as the means to resurrect itself (pp. 6-8), give us a clue as to how Zizek's position might be fleshed out?

Now, I'm not inclined to use the term sophistry too often, as I think it is often a non-starter that could easily be used on me, too; but when a philosopher of Zizek's political zeal is saying something he probably does not truly believe is the case or even practically viable, the accusation seems appropriate. The problem isn't that Zizek doesn't believe anything ... but that in this instance his political vision, i.e., his incessant need to always blast liberalism by praising the Right with a backhand bitch slap, does not seem to match the reality of the Leftist 'impossible actions' he advocates.

To be fair, as noted elsewhere, it may be significant to note that Zizek wrote this in mid-September, some six weeks before his Republican 'allies' swept back into power with a moralistic fury. I'm very curious to see how/if this changes his perspective.

Repetition ... Remembrance [2]

Is it just me, or does this passage from Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian sound a lot like another desert conflict, in another part of the world, in another era?

There is an old disordered Mennonite in this place and he turns to study them. A thin man in a leather weskit, a black and straightbrim hat set square on his head, a thin rim of whiskers. The recruits order glasses of whiskey and drink them down and order more. There are monte games at tables by the wall and there are whores at another table who look the recruits over. The recruits stand sideways along the bar with their thumbs in their belts and watch the room. They talk among themselves of the expedition in loud voices and the old Mennonite shakes a rueful head and sips his drink and mutters.

The second corporal looks past his comrade. Are you talking to me?

At the river. Be told. They'll jail you to a man.

[. . .]

The hell they will.

Pray that they will.

He looks at his comrades. He leans toward the Mennonite. What does that mean, old man?

Do ye cross that river with yon filibuster armed ye'll not cross it back.

[. . .]

The Mennonite watches the enshadowed dark before them as it is reflected to him in the mirror over the bar. He turns to them. His eyes are wet, he speaks slowly. The wrath of God lies sleeping. It was hid a million years before men were and only men have power to wake it. Hell aint half full. Hear me. Ye carry war of a madman's making onto a foreign land. Ye'll wake more than the dogs.

But they berated the old man and swore at him until he moved off down the bar muttering, and how else could it be?

How these things end. In confusion and curses and blood. They drank on and the wind blew in the streets and the stars that had been overhead lay low in the west and these young men fell afoul of others and words were said that could not be put right again and in the dawn the kid and the second corporal knelt over the boy from Missouri who had been named Earl and they spoke his name but he never spoke back. He lay on his side in the dust of the courtyard. The men were gone, the whores were gone. An old man swept the clay floor within the cantina. The boy lay with his skull broken in a pool of blood, none knew by whom. A third one came to be with them in the courtyard. It was the Mennonite. A warm wind was blowing and the east held a gray light. The fowls roosting among the grapevines had begun to stir and call.

There is no such joy in the tavern as upon the road thereto, said the Mennonite. He had been holding his hat in his hands and now he set it upon his head again and turned and went out the gate. (pp. 39-41)

If only we listened to Mennonites a little more often, eh, Scott?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Repetition ... Remembrance (1)

As one would expect, assembling furniture is as difficult now as it ever was. The how-to literature is just as esoteric, with its hieroglyphic scrawl and algebraic complexity. The hardware checklist just as frustrating, with its inadequate renderings of wood and screws that look the same. The pre-drilled holes are just as askew, bringing grown men to tearful anger and blasphemous rage. The furniture legs are just as flimsy, insuring that any future attempt at a move will be forestalled by a calamitous crack and crash of pressed wood whose final hour came the moment it was removed from the styrofoam.

I'd hoped my first post in this 'series' -- if it even becomes that! -- would be more substantive. More typically vague and eye-rollingly pretentious. There is something about putting together cheap Wal-Mart furniture, however, that requires the sort of plebeian clarity that Silentio typically lacks. Hopefully, now that the desk assembly from hell has finally been completed, and the study almost fully functional, things will get back to normal.

If not that, I'll make my editor happy and get her a long-belated book review. Either way.