good response…

…to some of the recent ‘happenings’ from i.t.

An excerpt:

I’m sure that people in much more serious physical trouble – heavy addiction, sickness exacerbated by poverty, those who have suffered bodily abuse – are unlikely to celebrate their oh-so-exciting degradation and would probably prefer access to free, high-quality healthcare. There is something horrible, truly horrible, about people who have access to clean water, enough food and adequate shelter celebrating ‘the rot of the flesh’ and ‘contamination’ as if it were sexy. Go and lick open wounds and tube seats if you think it constitutes an interesting philosophical position.


read the rest here

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7 thoughts on “good response…

  1. reidkane says:

    I understand where she’s coming from, but I think she’s missing the point. No one is trying to ‘romanticize’ or ‘aestheticize’ decay, to act like its appealing or cool. The point is, rather, to accept it as an unsurpassable condition: even the most sterile, sanitized corner of our world is doomed to ruin.

    This has very tangible political consequences, for example: rather than treating sanitary and healthy life as a default that we enjoy by right, it points out its very artificial and contrived character. This has the effect of forcing you to ask why, in fact, you enjoy this privilege while others do not.

    Moreover, it has the effect of challenging the dominant aesthetic of the blobjective, sterile, smooth and untainted. It questions the default superiority of such uncontaminated culture, culture of purity. Just because there are medical benefits to cleanliness does not mean it should be an aesthetic, or even ontological, preference. Keeping your body healthy is one think, but the trouble starts when we try to keep society healthy, or culture healthy. This more often than not is the basis for things like ethnic purity, rejection of minoritarian lifestyles, and so on.

    The rhetoric of cleanliness is very often used to demonize homosexuals and gender queer individuals, minority races and immigrants, and even working class people and labor-culture.

    So no, its not just what’s hip. There’s good reason to question cleanliness as an aesthetic or ontological norm. (Sorry that this kind of turned into a response to IT, but as she doesn’t allow comments I had no other outlet.)

  2. Reidkane – my attack was not, of course, entirely serious. I don’t believe that ‘cleanliness’ or ‘purity’ is a better way of thinking about humanity (nor, incidentally, do I think Badiou is a philosopher of purity – there’s lots of ‘mess’ in Badiou – the tricky business of fidelity, the difficulties of organisation, the body as material support, etc. ‘Mess’ is not a moral judgement either). I am also very happy to routinely think about and from the end of the universe, in so far as this is possible!

    What bothered me about Alex’s post, apart from the poverty of the ‘critique’ of Badiou, was precisely a residual, very privileged, romanticism of the ruins. This kind of thing:

    ‘If only there were a misanthropy pure enough to become divested of its human shell.’

    This doesn’t seem to me in any way to be a prelude to your far more reasonable point that ‘[Ruination] has the effect of forcing you to ask why, in fact, you enjoy this privilege while others do not.’ I’m all for a bit of strategic theoretical anti-humanism, but Alex’s position just seems like boring old clever-boy self-hatred spread over the earth like rhetorical Nutella. I’m not sure it’s quite the prolegomena to justice you think it is, but happy to be proved wrong.

  3. Alex says:

    It seems to me, and this comes from a scholar of Bataille, who thinks he has a great deal to say to us, that it is mostly because it is hip. That it fits into a certain aesthetic – black metal, hauntology, Xasthur, Sun O))), Burial (and Burial Hex), Lovecraft, hauntology, avant metal promoted by Wire magazine. There is nothing wrong with liking something for an aesthetic, but there is something a bit wrong about not holding up to this. It is very much that these things are “appealing” and certainly that they are “cool”, with every Vice magazine hipster in sight leaping on these aesthetics like there is no tomorrow.

    My problem is that people come on like thinking their is nothing unpure or untainted is a new notion. Religion, but most explicitly Christianity has stressed the decay and horror of the material world, through it’s fallenness and it’s corruption as a result of (original) sin and the need for some kind of restoration or flight from it. Indeed, this is what Nietzsche critiqued about it! Michael’s comparison of certain strands of thought and Calvinism is furthered. Even further back, all cultures have a sense of change and decay, death and loss, the memento mori etc. Why do you think Black Metal bands draw so heavily on pagan motifs? It’s because pagan cultures had these ideas thousands of years ago! This is why Black Metal is ridiculously conservative to the point in several cases of actual fascism and numerous cases

    Your political point about cleanliness is well taken. But the point is that these people are not actually unclean, but social structures cast them as such. So affirming the ontological uncleanliness of everything does not seem to be helpful here – you just say, no, actually, it is okay to embrace an AIDs sufferer. Again, people act like this is a brave new notion, but Susan Sontag, in works such as Illness as Metaphor and AIDs and Its Metaphors among other cultural theorists, feminists and queers have been saying this for thirty years. Isn’t one of the standard feminist critiques that the patriarchy makes women feel ashamed of their bodies, like their natural functions, for example menstruation are unclean? Analysis of structures of exclusion has been one of their central projects, and part of this is a rhetoric of disease. The idea of “healthy culture” as a logic of death has been extensively looked at by thinkers who have analysed the holocaust – Adorno and Lyotard spring to mind. No one is denying that the state of health we enjoy now is very much artifical and contrived, but again, I don’t see why more than a basic understanding of medicine and history is required to endorse the conclusions you have drawn – it’s what public health advocates have been doing for hundreds of years.

  4. Alex says:

    PS As for santised places as doomed to ruin, as the recent financial shock and quick recapitulation of pro-capitalist norms has shown, these spaces are hardly doomed to ruin. Those places that are doomed to ruin are those places capital decides are so doomed.

  5. michaeloneillburns says:

    Reid,
    Thanks for the response, and also, I posted the link to i.t.’s response partly because I just enjoyed the humor/irony of it, not necessarily to try to further ‘prove’ any point.

    I will say, however, I’m just really confused as to what you (and others) see as the potential efficacy of a ‘politics of decay’? I mean, just to be practical here, your pointing out the arbitrariness of privilege is no different than if I were to point out the arbitrariness of poverty, which could make sustainable life the ‘norm’.

    Not to make things too sociological, but isn’t there something to be said about the fact that most people who seem to be supporting such a ‘politics of decay’ are privileged white males from the western world? (Clearly I say this as one who fits all those categories as well) But, for example, in contemporary Latin American political philosophy, which is heavily influenced by contemporary European figures (Ranciere, Badiou, Zizek, Negri, etc), no one is talking about a politics of decay, and these are people actually living and working in countries where they are faced with actual situations of social and human decay and poverty. It’s interesting that when faced with death, philosophers in such a situation often theorize the emancipatory potential of life, and in countries where most of the population have access to food and health care, we’re going to theorize death as that which holds emancipatory potential? I honestly just don’t get it.

    I’d genuinely like to hear more about this, but I would like to hear about it in non-romanticized and clear manner, as when ever I read things about this sort of ‘dark politics’ on blogs, I can never really get down to what is actually being argued.

  6. d barber says:

    I love color.

  7. reidkane says:

    I’ll respond to you all at once for convenience sake.

    First off, I can’t really speak to Alex Williams’ motives. Maybe is just trying to be chic. I don’t really like speculating about such things however. If I see a useful bit of conceptual work, be it vague and underdeveloped, I’m going to try to use it, not worry about its popularity or whatever.

    Michael, your point about arbitrariness is well taken, although the point isn’t only to denaturalize cleanliness, its to denaturalize its uneven distribution, or the economy of health.

    I’m not really trying to champion a politics of decay (Reza calls it ‘polytics’, which I quite like), but I do find it useful to an extent, and while I know to an extent you all were just having fun, I nonetheless figured it should be mentioned that there may be something of value going on here.

    Michael, another point, however, is that I find it suspect to claim that it is the ‘Third World’ who have an authentic experience of decay, whereas we in the West have no contact with it. I just think thats wrong, especially in a time where I can walk down the block and see empty storefronts, decrepit housing units, people living out of shopping carts. When last year’s outdated merchandise is piled up and rotting in landfills, when houses everywhere are empty and vacant lots are full of old furniture and appliances left over from evictions, etc.

    Zizek, at the very least, does have a certain point about decay when he goes off about the Real at times. And as for the others you mention, they’re all Westerners aren’t they? And they weren’t always popular in South politics.

    Alex, I get your point about the unoriginality of it, although I don’t know that anyone was claiming to have discovered something new, only something that figures like Badiou neglect. Your point about public health is of course correct, but the two caveats I have are 1) at some point, public health concerns give way to biopolitical ones, and 2) the demonization of the unhealthy and unclean is really the target here, not the lack of public health.

    I also completely endorse your point about capital. Indeed, thats what I’m getting at. Capital, of course, is a massive force of decay as Marx well knew, it simply restricts it to the minimal degree, until it must let it go in the burst of a crisis.

    Nina, I don’t know Alex (Williams) very well, but I have found great value in some of his writing before, so that’s all I really care about. You’re of course right about his ‘critique’ of Badiou, but as he pointed out on a previous post here, the context of the “I hate…” declaration was lost on most of the theory blog circles, as it involved a conversation with Simon Reynolds about music and genre identity. That he imported that into philosophy is not, I don’t think, a necessary indication of shallow thinking.

    But again, I want to emphasize that I recognize you were being somewhat tongue in cheek, and to be honest, I think Alex was as well. I just wanted to point out that somethings deserve a bit more than quick condemnation on the basis of rhetorical style.

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