The Master’s Knave: S2 for the good of S1

In 1972 Istvan Meszaros was contracted to take a post at York University as a professor in the Social and Political Thought programme (i.e. my program), but was denied entry and permanent residence to Canada on the basis that his presence was not in the public interest. He was branded a security risk. Though in the end he did successfully take up his position at York, he shortly thereafter left because the Canadian Government made it nigh impossible for the rest of his family to follow him.

Meszaros was a student of Georg Lukács. While Lukács was both a theoretician and a member of a communist government, Meszaros was only the former – he held a position at Sussex University and had a reputation as a respected Marxist scholar. I bring up Meszaros’ case to point to a contrast with the way Marxist thought is treated today: whereas in 1972 left-wing thought was dangerous enough to merit keeping prominent Marxist scholars out of the country, today the Canadian government funds Marxist scholars to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. This contrast demands an answer as to why.

Meszaros and Chavez

Meszaros and Chavez

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The State

February 27, 2009

This looks kinda cool:

Interdisciplinarity in Feminist State Theory

Reading for next week…

February 15, 2009

Seeing as we’re reading the sections that actually deal with Antigone next week, I think it would be in order to actually read the play as well.

To put a little twist in it, however, I suggest that we read Brecht’s version of it, as well as his “Mother Courage and her Children” – the lead character of which he characterizes as “definitely not an Antigone”. However, from a “Lacanian” standpoint we might be able to argue that she is in a formal sense like Antigone, perhaps in the same way that Badiou characterizes some events as ‘simularcra’ …

Any Takers? The plays aren’t that long. Brecht’s Antigone is only about 60 pages of dialogue, and we could limit our reading of Ethics to the section entitled “The essence of Tragedy” (pages 243-287).

And it might help further open up the question of the relevance of the social to the ethical…


Happy New Year to all…

Does anyone off the top of their head know how Z weighs in on this or where he speaks at length on it? I’m certain he speaks of it in his books, but I never really paid all that much attention to it. I haven’t read his ‘Violence’ yet – he must say something there, right?

The Poetry of…

September 10, 2008

Does anyone remember that section of Plaque of Fantasies entitled “the poetry of ethnic cleansing”? It had something to do with how it made sense that some military leader wrote poetry…

From Slate:

The Poetry of D.H. Rumsfeld

Recent works by the secretary of defense.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is an accomplished man. Not only is he guiding the war in Iraq, he has been a pilot, a congressman, an ambassador, a businessman, and a civil servant. But few Americans know that he is also a poet.

Until now, the secretary’s poetry has found only a small and skeptical audience: the Pentagon press corps. Every day, Rumsfeld regales reporters with his jazzy, impromptu riffs. Few of them seem to appreciate it.

But we should all be listening. Rumsfeld’s poetry is paradoxical: It uses playful language to address the most somber subjects: war, terrorism, mortality. Much of it is about indirection and evasion: He never faces his subjects head on but weaves away, letting inversions and repetitions confuse and beguile. His work, with its dedication to the fractured rhythms of the plainspoken vernacular, is reminiscent of William Carlos Williams’. Some readers may find that Rumsfeld’s gift for offhand, quotidian pronouncements is as entrancing as Frank O’Hara’s.

And so Slate has compiled a collection of Rumsfeld’s poems, bringing them to a wider public for the first time. The poems that follow are the exact words of the defense secretary, as taken from the official transcripts on the Defense Department Web site.

The Unknown
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

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The Doctrine of Sublime Shock

September 3, 2008

I read the first few chapters of NK’s Shock Doctrine yesterday, and it’s interesting to note that she founds the structure of her theory in a way that is similar to the opening of Z’s SOI: where Z tries to show the links between the form of the Freudian dream and Marx’s description of the commodity form, Klein attempts to show a link between the thought and work of Ewen Cameron and Milton Friedman.

The link between the two is the idea of a ‘clean slate’ or pure state from which to begin, and the ‘shocks’ that need to be taken advantage of or induced to get to that state.

Cameron (at different times head of the American, Canadian and World Psychiatric Associations) did research at McGill and was funded through a front by the CIA. His work became a highly influential ground for the CIA’s torture techniques that are being used today. Cameron’s idea (as Klein tells it) was that you could strip away a person’s personality and build it back up from scratch. He tried to achieve this through sensory deprivation, drug treatments and electroshock ‘therapy’.

Friedman (according to Klein) also desired a ‘clean slate’, but for him it was in the realm of the economy. He wanted markets unfettered by social programs (public health care, public schools…) and trade barriers in order to let capitalism find its ‘natural’ balance. Klein argues that Friedman thought ‘Shocking’ economies – quickly transforming them into ‘laizer-faire’ markets during times of strife – was the best way to go about this.

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I’m in a Parallax… reading group and yesterday we were talking about chapter three, in which Z riffs on Kurosawa’s Rashomon. The discussion took something of a negative turn when the issue of rape came up (the film’s premise centers around a rape and a murder), and I managed to stick my foot (I think it was the left one) in my mouth: after someone’s comment on the passage in question I said “Well, first, It happens” – refering to rape. Before I could get any further, someone said “you’ve totally just depoliticized rape!” I turned deep red and said “No I didn’t!” The intention behind my comment would have become clear (I think) had I been able to continue, but as they say, you’re responsible for what you say, not what you mean.

Where I wanted to go with “it happens” is that it’s perfectly valid to talk about rape. Perhaps even more so given the premise of Kurosawa’s film: Z’s take on the flick is that the drama played out between the three people involved in the murder/rape is a stand-in for the destruction of society that is going on around them. The film, Z argues, ends with the ‘explosion’ of feminine logic, of the not-all that lies behind any ‘world’ (in the Heideggerian/Badiou sense), any horizon of meaning. In addition, that which is one of the most ubiquitous (and ignored) aspects of war is taken to represent the whole. So, it seems to me this is an instance of what Z calls “Infinite Judgement” – if “Spirit is a bone”, then “War is a single instance of rape”.


Jeremiah Wright

March 23, 2008

Are you guys following this? It’s F’ing fascinating.

Within the context of his church, Wright is (must I say ‘from his point of view’?) blasting out truths that are concealed by dominant right-wing ideology. No doubt he has, all along, wished that these truths would be broadcast into every American home, to tear the veil of ideology from everyone’s eyes. And now, lo and behold, the right wing American media does it for him.

There is a great deal of talk on Youtube about ‘framing’ and ‘context’ and how the media is distorting Wright’s message, but let’s be frank, they’re not, or if they are, it’s pretty minimal. Which is to say, from an engaged leftist position, everything Wright says, even in the Fox news clip, is essentially the truth. (Personally, the accusation that the American government intentionally manufactured the AIDS virus seems a bit far fetched, but he’s at least not alone in thinking this.) Moreover, they don’t even have to interpret it. Apart from mentioning the phrase “anti-American”, they just show the clip, like “check this guy out…”

Isn’t this a prime example of parallax? The same object has completely different, non-reconcilable meanings from each engaged viewpoint. There is no real argument over what he said, only antagonism over what it means. One searches in vain within the text for the objet a that proves that it is finally either a thrilling indictment of right-wing ideology or an anti-American terroristic message.

Maybe I’m making too much of it, but isn’t Barak’s forced retreat from this antagonism into talk of unity precisely the liberal tolerant multiculturalist retreat from the universal struggle against oppression? An admission that things will remain the same? K. says he has to do this to have any chance of winning, that if he stood behind his pastor, he’d be killing his chances for victory. Does this mean that there is no revolutionary moment here, that he is compelled to compromise his desire? Or should we hope that he is repeating Lenin and seizing a momentary opportunity, lying if he must to get into power, so that he can then begin the real work of change?


There is a piece in yesterday’s Globe and Mail called “The Working Wounded” and is about Canadian soldier’s who have been wounded in Afghanistan. The only reason this is in the paper, of course, is because some of them are trying to get back into service, with the help of prosthetic limbs.

The first thing that came to mind when I first saw this was Virilio’s Speed and Politics. The first chapter of the third part is titled “Unable bodies,” which he opens by telling us that Goering was a pilot because he had a bad foot – to go on long marches made being a foot soldier hard. That is, he was placed into a large machine that acted as a prosthesis that overcame the limitiations of his body.

While it’s pretty cheap to open with reference to a Nazi (‘you see, this is so evil – the Nazi’s did it!’) the things that he says are relevant in a time when war is fought with a great deal of technology, and of course, when we see an article about soldiers trying to return to combat after having been maimed. “It was discovered that the damage caused by the war machines to the mechanics of the surviving bodies could be compensated for by other machines – prostheses” (p 61 of the semiotext(e) version). Virilio’s argument is that experienced soldiers would, in the near future, be ‘refitted’ to continue in combat, whereas heavy-armoured vehicles (like tanks) would be reserved for people who weren’t otherwise considered for combat (he mentions deaf people and those with hunchbacks).

While Virilio cites the Germans in WWI as an instance where this had already happened, I don’t think it holds true for the Canadian army. The Globe and Mail article refers to 2 or 3 soldiers who have had limbs destroyed, and they all appear to be having trouble getting back into combat service. The soldier who stands as the main focus of the article – Master Corporal Jody Mittic – however, finds inspiration in Capt. David M. Rozelle. He is a member of the U.S. army who had a foot blown off in Iraq but has become very functional with the aid of a prosthetic foot. (And he was, by the way, in command of some 22 tanks, and got his foot blown off while riding around in an armoured vehicle…)

So, Apparently this American guy is back on duty. There is a quick mention in one article about a soldier who got his hand blown off and is still in active duty because he has some crazy robot hand and can still do the gun-assembly thing in 90 seconds. (USA TODAY) Now, what is this but the realization of Anakin-cum-Darth Vader!?:

“‘The armed services are going to get used to seeing guys with mechanical parts,” Rozelle predicted, ‘because there are many others who want to continue to serve after suffering a serious injury’” (American Forces Press Service).

Or further:

“‘We anticipate that up to 40% of all of those injured will be able to return to active duty,’ says Chuck Scoville, administrator of Ward 57, the amputee wing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. It is the military’s hub for amputation surgery and rehabilitation. ‘A lot of the guys want to stay. They’re just amazing’ ” (USA Today).

Then again, maybe this is all just for show so the US doesn’t have to face their constituents…”see, they’re fine!”

Anyway, what I really wanted to mention was in regards to ‘malign fate’. The cliché is that after having some part of one’s body amputated, a person will fall into a period of asking ‘why did this happen to me? Why? Why!?’ (perhaps this isn’t a cliché… but what do I know?) Which is, I think, a demand to know what malign force has chosen the person to be its victim. I think that Rozelle (the American Captain) had a ‘leg up’ on other people, so to speak. That is, he knew that there was an actual enemy out there to get him. And he knew (either before or after) that there had been a 1,000 dollar reward offered for his death. So, perhaps we can surmise that this in part made it easier for him “to reach deep inside himself and overcome astounding odds” (Greenville news). And it’s this ‘pulling oneself up by the bootstraps’ that comes with traversing the fantasy, is it not? That is, if you worry to long about the evil Cartesian god who is out there to trick you, to do evil to you, you can’t very well get to the hard work of putting yourself together. If you know there’s actually an evil fate out there, perhaps its easier to accept that there’s noone but you who can do anything about it.

Then again, maybe part of his drive was “the terrorists can’t win”, that his ‘symbolic identification’ with the American army enabled him to push on…(I guess I’ll have to read his book and find out.) If “Love Means Reporting Back to Duty“, that’s probably the case…

Anyway, if the ‘end of analysis’ is to reach a point where the big Other is something that you don’t put any stock in, my presumption is that you want to keep it that way. But, I think that the tendency is to turn the ‘malign fate’ into a ‘benevolent fate’. That is, lady luck or the God that Decartes finally decides has to exist. Take these comments, for instance:

“If this accident wouldn’t have happened, I would not have seen my son until he was 9 months old, so I guess it was really a blessing in disguise,” Rozelle said (Amer. Forces).

Or this one, from another soldier:

“I felt lucky that I just lost the bottom of my left leg, 9 inches,” Callahan says. “Other guys lost an arm, a leg, two arms, even their face. I realized that if I have to deal with something for the rest of my life, I might as well go into a field that I’d relate to the best” (Sgt. Justin Callahan, 22, of Syracuse) (USA today).

So, what I guess I’m getting at is even Luke Skywaker, the good guy with a mechanical hand believes in the Force. Though I havn’t really looked, I haven’t seen any stories about soldiers who later went to challenge the social arrangements that led to the war that got them maimed in the first place, though I’m sure they exist. I guess that would be part of a real move from ‘malign fate’ to the ‘end of analysis’, in a political sense…

But this is all just speculation based on a couple of crappy articles. I guess I should just read some more stuff about these dudes… and Rozelle’s book…



Eric Connor: “Army captain David Rozelle returns to Iraq despite amputation” in The Greenville News.

Patrick O’Driscoll: “Losing a limb doesn’t mean losing your job” on Posted Posted 5/5/2004

Pfc. Matthew Clifton: “Amputee Achieves Goal: Returns to Iraq” in American Forces Press Service

Siri Agrell: “The Working Wounded” in The Globe and Mail. Saturday, march 8, 2008.

Razelle’s Book