InterCcECT Summer Reading Group

Totalizing, teleologizing, triadic: standard readings of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit are monotone. In The Hegel Variations, Fredric Jameson re-encounters the rhythm and dynamism of the text, reprising the fluidity of the negative. Come tune your dialectic with InterCcECT at our first reading group of the summer, Wednesday 25 June, 12noon, Bucktown-Wicker Park Public Library Study Room.

What’s on your reading/talking/writing/making list? Email interccect at gmail to propose summer collaborations, or to request the texts.

Cath Kidston as Utopia

In the essay “Utopia as Replication”, Jameson suggests we consider Walmart as an example of how “the most noxious phenomena can serve as the repository and hiding place for all kinds of unsuspected wish-fulfilments and utopian fantasies”. Jameson intends this as a bit of a provocation, but I wonder if Walmart isn’t actually too easy a choice for the “paradoxical affirmation” of “what is most exploitative and dehumanizing in the working life of capitalism”. Walmart’s vastness of scale and remorselessness give it an aesthetic alibi, allying it with a tradition of modernist creative destruction which is likely to be attractive, at least to the sort of people who read Jameson. To really follow through Jameson’s project of unearthing the “utopian impulse”, we need to consider an aspect of capitalism that is not just exploitative but also in bad taste; for a certain strand of contemporary opinion, that would be “twee”, the kind of cutesily-retro faux-petit-bourgeois capitalism of cupcake shops and Cath Kidston.

We need, that is to say, a dialectical appreciation of twee. There is an indie lineage that runs from The Smiths to Keep Calm and Carry On posters, and we need to explain both how it is that The Smiths are David Cameron’s favourite band and how this lineage was the basis of a genuinely oppositional subculture (“twee as fuck”). Tom Gann suggests that the utopian core within twee is “gentleness”, which sounds right, or at least part of the answer, but I want to consider a couple of slightly different aspects, although ones which might end up themselves adding up to a certain type of gentleness. The occasion for my thinking about twee is having recently seen Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. The film turns out to be in large part a painstaking defence by Anderson of his work, and, because Anderson is often criticised as twee, this defence is also inevitably a defence of twee. Continue reading “Cath Kidston as Utopia”

totality, represented: an InterCcECT reading group on Fredric Jameson

Jameson’s recent Representing Capital encounters Marx’s first volume through foregrounding the reading modes necessary to appreciate Marx’s writing modes, which are themselves not peripheral to the subject matter but essential.

Jameson writes “the central formal problem of Capital Volume I is the problem of representation: namely how to construct a totality out of individual elements, historical processes, and perspectives of all kinds; and indeed how to do justice to a totality which is not only non-empirical as a system of relationships, but which is also in full movement, in expansion, in a movement of totalization which is essential to its very existence and at the heart of its peculiar economic nature.”

Join InterCcECT for a reading of Jameson’s reading.
Friday, 28 June, 2pm
Bucktown / Wicker Park Public Library (Community Room, 2nd Floor).
1701 N Milwaukee, accessible via Blue Line Damen or Milwaukee, North, Damen, Western, and Armitage buses.

As always, we welcome your proposals at interccect @ gmail dot com, and encourage your input at our Facebook page.

Sympathy for Olive Garden

Nothing has changed at Olive Garden since the last time I visited, in 2003 in Momence, Illinois. There had been a long gap between my previous visit, in the late 90s in Flint, Michigan, but I found it to be much the same in that 2003 visit as it was during my childhood and adolescence. The decor, the service, and the food were all the same. The breadsticks were basically the same, as was the salad — with the precisely two small jalapeños and a lone olive. The menu had obviously changed to some degree, but the same old favorites were there: the “Tour of Italy” combo (The Girlfriend’s choice), chicken alfredo, pasta primavera.

And I’m going to take a risk here and admit: it was all pretty damn good. Not the best Italian food I’ve ever had, but definitely a nice dinner. When you think about the scale of the operation, it becomes even more remarkable. Continue reading “Sympathy for Olive Garden”

Runaway train, never coming back

In Jameson’s Late Marxism: Adorno, or The Persistence of the Dialectic, one reads the following:

But we must initially separate the figuration of the terms base and superstructure—only the initial shape of the problem—from the type of efficacy or causal law it is supposed to imply. Überbau and Basis, for example, which so often suggest to people a house and its foundations, seem in fact to have been railroad terminology and to have designated the rolling stock and the rails respectively, something which suddenly jolts us into a rather different picture of ideology and its effects. (pg. 46)

It certainly does! Why had I never heard this before?

Structural questions

In recent days, I have become confused about the problems facing the US economy.

Among liberal commentators, it’s more or less accepted wisdom that the stimulus was too small. The underlying premise is that the problem facing the economy currently is a lack of aggregate demand and that adequate Keynesian “pump-priming” could thus get things moving nicely again. Meanwhile, the deficit spending required would pay for itself as a growing economy increased government revenues. In general, I have tended to find such views convincing.

Many other commentators embrace the view that the high unemployment we are experiencing is “structural” and that the only thing hiding it for the last decade was an artificial housing bubble. Continue reading “Structural questions”

Unemployment and bare life

In lieu of a post, here’s a quote from Jameson’s latest, Representing Capital: A Reading of Volume One:

It is in keeping with the latest form of this dialectic–the exposition of that “general law” whereby industrial productivity generates overwork and unemployment simultaneously–that we make a final tour of these ultimate spaces of capitalism, in which we confront a form of “naked life” far more deeply rooted in the economic system itself than Agamben’s hopeless inhabitants of the concentration camps. [A footnote continues:] Agamben’s pseudo-biological concept in Homo Sacer proves in reality, like those of Foucault, to draw on categories of domination [i.e., as opposed to exploitation] (as it would have been difficult for it to do otherwise, given his example of the concentration camps). This is why the destitution of unemployment is the more fundamental and concrete form, from which such later conceptualizations derive: what is concrete is the social, the mode of production, the humanly produced and historical; metaphysical conceptions such as those involving nature or death are ideological derivations of that more basic reality. (pg. 125)

(I highly recommend the book, by the way.)

The cunning of reason

I’m starting to think that my liberation theology course is being haunted by the ghost of Hegel, because every time I think that I’ve explained the dialectic to them, the next book we read overturns what I’ve said.

(It makes me think that I need to read Jameson’s Valences of the Dialectic, and indeed if any of my readers are journal book review editors who could hook me up with a copy in exchange for a review, you know how to contact me.)