Spectacular Dispatches

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , , on March 25, 2017 by Magadh

“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation.”

Spectacles are the purest product of zero marginal cost capitalism. Whereas in earlier times, capital was primarily engaged in the reproduction of itself through the production of material commodities, now it is spectacles that accumulate rather than (primarily) things. Spectacles constitute the reproduction of domination through the production of fascination and apathy. They can be reproduced and distributed in practically infinite quantities through the medium of networked societies. Spectacles have become the lifeblood of modern capitalism.

coffeeThe circuits of production of modern capitalism are maintained by a politics centered on the production of compliance. This is not to say that there was in the past some sort of golden age in which the sphere of the political was one of free and rational consideration of substantive matters relative to the organization of society and its resources. But Habermas was probably correct to note that there was a period from the late 17th century in which there were spaces wherein such rational considerations were given greater scope that at other times, at least for those positioned in social and gender terms to have access to them. This era of the rationally structured public sphere was fleeting in the long history of human societies.

rallyThis era of the rationally structured public sphere was fleeting in the long history of human societies. It was also functional to the maintenance of the political and economic order, at least in the respect that it provided a means for the rising bourgeoisie to exert intellectual influence on the post-absolutist orders of politics and production that they were creating. Beginning in the 1920s this mode of ideological organization came increasingly to be seen as insufficient to the increasingly turbulent political conditions of imperialistically segmented industrial and finance capital. It was in this era that the production of spectacles began to replace the production of ideas as the medium for preserving the domination of capital.

An Excerpt from the Putney Debates

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , , , on March 22, 2017 by Magadh

putney2

I’ve been reading John Rees’s new book, The Leveller Revolution (which I’ll review either here or on Souciant.com pretty soon). Sometimes I think that if I had it to do over again (and by “it” I mean by academic training) I would have done early modern England. I still would be out of academia, but I think I’d be a lot less depressed. Studying modern Germany will do that to you.

This is not to say that there weren’t a lot of grim things associated with the English Civil War. Popular memory has to a great extent elided the brutality and atrocities that went on during the nearly a decade of warfare up and down the country. On the other hand, it is fair to say that our democratic traditions in the English speaking world (such as they are) are very much rooted the popular radicalism that took root in the middle years of the 1640s.

putney1

Perhaps the most crucial moment in the whole period was the series of debates that took place at St. Mary’s Church, Putney, in October and November 1647. There, the agitators of the New Model Army met with army leadership to discuss how the English state was going to be structured. Already there was an important faction that saw a future not only without the King, but also with Parliament elected on a much broader franchise than had ever been imagined. I’ve reproduced a section of the second day of the debates here. The principle figures are Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, one of the most radical democrats of the period, and Henry Ireton, who at the time was a relatively conservative defender of the rights of property and the existing institutions of the state (although he did later side with the regicides). I think this is worth everyone’s time to read, as it really gets to the roots of how we think about the relationship between political rights and property.

 

Ireton[asked]:

Whether those men whose hands are to it, or those that brought it, do know so much of the matter as [to know] whether they mean that all that had a former right of election [are to be electors], or [that] those that had no right before are to come in.

 

Cowling:

In the time before the Conquest. Since the Conquest the greatest part of the kingdom was in vassalage.

 

Petty:

We judge that all inhabitants that have not lost their birthright should have an equal voice in elections.
Rainsborough:

putney4I desired that those that had engaged in it [might be included]. For really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under; and I am confident that, when I have heard the reasons against it, something will be said to answer those reasons, insomuch that I should doubt whether he was an Englishman or no, that should doubt of these things.

 

Ireton:

NPG 3301; Henry Ireton copy attributed to Robert Walker, after  Samuel Cooper, and  Sir Anthony Van DyckThat’s [the meaning of] this, [‘according to the number of the inhabitants’]? Give me leave to tell you, that if you make this the rule I think you must fly for refuge to an absolute natural right, and you must deny all civil right; and I am sure it will come to that in the consequence. This, I perceive, is pressed as that which is so essential and due: the right of the people of this kingdom, and as they are the people of this kingdom, distinct and divided from other people, and that we must for this right lay aside all other considerations; this is so just, this is so due, this is so right to them. And that those that they do thus choose must have such a power of binding all, and loosing all, according to those limitations, this is pressed as so due, and so just, as [it] is argued, that it is an engagement paramount [to] all others: and you must for it lay aside all others; if you have engaged any otherwise, you must break it. [We must] so look upon these as thus held out to us; so it was held out by the gentleman that brought it yesterday. For my part, I think it is no right at all. I think that no [54] person hath a right to an interest or share in the disposing of the affairs of the kingdom, and in determining or choosing those that shall determine what laws we shall be ruled by here—no person hath a right to this, that hath not a permanent fixed interest in this kingdom, and those persons together are properly the represented of this kingdom, and consequently are [also] to make up the representers of this kingdom, who taken together do comprehend whatsoever is of real or permanent interest in the kingdom. And I am sure otherwise I cannot tell what any man can say why a foreigner coming in amongst us—or as many as will coming in amongst us, or by force or otherwise settling themselves here, or at least by our permission having a being here—why they should not as well lay claim to it as any other. We talk of birthright. Truly [by] birthright there is thus much claim. Men may justly have by birthright, by their very being born in England, that we should not seclude them out of England, that we should not refuse to give them air and place and ground, and the freedom of the highways and other things, to live amongst us—not any man that is born here, though by his birth there come nothing at all (that is part of the permanent interest of this kingdom) to him. That I think is due to a man by birth. But that by a man’s being born here he shall have a share in that power that shall dispose of the lands here, and of all things here, I do not think it a sufficient ground. I am sure if we look upon that which is the utmost (within [any] man’s view) of what was originally the constitution of this kingdom, upon that which is most radical and fundamental, and which if you take away, there is no man hath any land, any goods, [or] any civil interest, that is this: that those that choose the representers for the making of laws by which this state and kingdom are to be governed, are the persons who, taken together, do comprehend the local interest of this kingdom; that is, the persons in whom all land lies, and those in corporations in whom all trading lies. This is the most fundamental constitution of this kingdom and [that] which if you do not allow, you allow none at all. This constitution hath limited and determined it that only those shall have voices in elections. It is true, as was said by a gentleman near me, the meanest man in England ought to have [a voice in the election of the government he lives under—but only if he has some local interest]. I say this: that those that have the meanest local interest—that man that hath but forty shillings a year, he hath as great voice in the election of a knight for the shire as he that hath ten thousand a year, or more if he had never so much; and therefore there is that regard had to it. But this [local interest], still the constitution of this government hath had an eye to (and what other government hath not an eye to this?). It doth not relate to the interest of the kingdom if it do not lay the foundation of the power that’s given to the representers, in those who have a permanent and a local interest in the kingdom, and who taken all together do comprehend the whole [interest of the kingdom]. There is all the reason and justice that can be, [in this]: if I will come to live in a kingdom, being a foreigner to it, or live in a kingdom, having no permanent interest in it, [and] if I will desire as a stranger, or claim as one freeborn here, the air, the free passage of highways, the protection of laws, and all such things—if I will either desire them or claim them, [then] I (if I have no permanent interest in that kingdom) must submit to those laws and those rules [which they shall choose], who, taken together, do comprehend the whole interest of the kingdom. And if we shall go to take away this, we shall plainly go to take away all property and interest that any man hath either in land by inheritance, or in estate by possession, or anything else—[I say], if you take away this fundamental part of the civil constitution.

 

Rainsborough:

Truly, sir, I am of the same opinion I was, and am resolved to keep it till I know reason why I should not. I confess my memory is bad, and therefore I am fain to make use of my pen. I remember that, in a former speech [which] this gentleman brought before this [meeting], he was saying that in some cases he should not value whether [there were] a king or no king, whether lords or no lords, whether a property or no property. For my part I differ in that. I do very much care whether [there be] a king or no king, lords or no lords, property or no property; and I think, if we do not all take care, we shall all have none of these very shortly. But as to this present business. I do hear nothing at all that can convince me, why any man that is born in England ought not to have his voice in election of burgesses. It is said that if a man have not a permanent interest, he can have no claim; and [that] we must be no freer than the laws will let us be, and that there is no [law in any] chronicle will let us be freer than that we [now] enjoy. Something was said to this yesterday. I do think that the main cause why Almighty God gave men reason, it was that they should make use of that reason, and that they should improve it for that end and purpose that God gave it them. And truly, I think that half a loaf is better than none if a man be anhungry: [this gift of reason without other property may seem a small thing], yet I think there is nothing that God hath given a man that any [one] else can take from him. And therefore I say, that either it must be the Law of God or the law of man that must prohibit the meanest man in the kingdom to have this benefit as well as the greatest. I do not find anything in the Law of God, that a lord shall choose twenty burgesses, and a gentleman but two, or a poor man shall choose none: I find no such thing in the Law of Nature, nor in the Law of Nations. But I do find that all Englishmen must be subject to English laws, and I do verily believe that there is no man but will say that the foundation of all law lies in the people, and if [it lie] in the people, I am to seek for this exemption.

And truly I have thought something [else]: in what a miserable distressed condition would many a man that hath fought for the Parliament in this quarrel, be! I will be bound to say that many a man whose zeal and affection to God and this kingdom hath carried him forth in this cause, hath so spent his estate that, in the way the state [and] the Army are going, he shall not hold up his head, if when his estate is lost, and not worth forty shillings a year, a man shall not have any interest. And there are many other ways by which [the] estates men have (if that be the rule which God in his providence does use) do fall to decay. A man, when he hath an estate, hath an interest in making laws, [but] when he hath none, he hath no power in it; so that a man cannot lose that which he hath for the maintenance of his family but he must [also] lose that which God and nature hath given him! And therefore I do [think], and am still of the same opinion, that every man born in England cannot, ought not, neither by the Law of God nor the Law of Nature, to be exempted from the choice of those who are to make laws for him to live under, and for him, for aught I know, to lose his life under. And therefore I think there can be no great stick in this.

Truly I think that there is not this day reigning in England a greater fruit or effect of tyranny than this very thing would produce. Truly I know nothing free but only the knight of the shire, nor do I know anything in a parliamentary way that is clear from the height and fulness of tyranny, but only [that]. As for this of corporations [which you also mentioned], it is as contrary to freedom as may be. For, sir, what is it? The King he grants a patent under the Broad Seal of England to such a corporation to send burgesses, he grants to [such] a city to send burgesses. When a poor base corporation from the King[’s grant] shall send two burgesses, when five hundred men of estate shall not send one, when those that are to make their laws are called by the King, or cannot act [but] by such a call, truly I think that the people of England have little freedom.

 

Ireton:

I think there was nothing that I said to give you occasion to think that I did contend for this, that such a corporation [as that] should have the electing of a man to the Parliament. I think I agreed to this matter, that all should be equally distributed. But the question is, whether it should be distributed to all persons, or whether the same persons that are the electors [now] should be the electors still, and it [be] equally distributed amongst them. I do not see anybody else that makes this objection; and if nobody else be sensible of it I shall soon have done. Only I shall a little crave your leave to represent the consequences of it, and clear myself from one thing that was misrepresented by the gentleman that sat next me. I think, if the gentleman remember himself, he cannot but remember that what I said was to this effect: that if I saw the hand of God leading so far as to destroy King, and destroy Lords, and destroy property, and [leave] no such thing at all amongst us, I should acquiesce in it; and so I did not care, if no king, no lords, or no property [should] be, in comparison of the tender care that I have of the honour of God, and of the people of God, whose [good] name is so much concerned in this Army. This I did deliver [so], and not absolutely.

All the main thing that I speak for, is because I would have an eye to property. I hope we do not come to contend for victory—but let every man consider with himself that he do not go that way to take away all property. For here is the case of the most fundamental part of the constitution of the kingdom, which if you take away, you take away all by that. Here men of this and this quality are determined to be the electors of men to the Parliament, and they are all those who have any permanent interest in the kingdom, and who, taken together, do comprehend the whole [permanent, local] interest of the kingdom. I mean by permanent [and] local, that [it] is not [able to be removed] anywhere else. As for instance, he that hath a freehold, and that freehold cannot be removed out of the kingdom; and so there’s a [freeman of a] corporation, a place which hath the privilege of a market and trading, which if you should allow to all places equally, I do not see how you could preserve any peace in the kingdom, and that is the reason why in the constitution we have but some few market towns. Now those people [that have freeholds] and those [that] are the freemen of corporations, were looked upon by the former constitution to comprehend the permanent interest of the kingdom. For [first], he that hath his livelihood by his trade, and by his freedom of trading in such a corporation, which he cannot exercise in another, he is tied to that place, [for] his livelihood depends upon it. And secondly, that man hath an interest, hath a permanent interest there, upon which he may live, and live a freeman without dependence. These [things the] constitution [of] this kingdom hath looked at. Now I wish we may all consider of what right you will challenge that all the people should have right to elections. Is it by the right of nature? If you will hold forth that as your ground, then I think you must deny all property too, and this is my reason. For thus: by that same right of nature (whatever it be) that you pretend, by which you can say, one man hath an equal right with another to the choosing of him that shall govern him—by the same right of nature, he hath the same [equal] right in any goods he sees—meat, drink, clothes—to take and use them for his sustenance. He hath a freedom to the land, [to take] the ground, to exercise it, till it; he hath the [same] freedom to anything that any one doth account himself to have any propriety in. Why now I say then, if you, against the most fundamental part of [the] civil constitution (which I have now declared), will plead the Law of Nature, that a man should (paramount [to] this, and contrary to this) have a power of choosing those men that shall determine what shall be law in this state, though he himself have no permanent interest in the state, [but] whatever interest he hath he may carry about with him—if this be allowed, [because by the right of nature] we are free, we are equal, one man must have as much voice as another, then show me what step or difference [there is], why [I may not] by the same right [take your property, though not] of necessity to sustain nature. It is for my better being, and [the better settlement of the kingdom]? Possibly not for it, neither: possibly I may not have so real a regard to the peace of the kingdom as that man who hath a permanent interest in it. He that is here to-day, and gone to-morrow, I do not see that he hath such a permanent interest. Since you cannot plead to it by anything but the Law of Nature, [or for anything] but for the end of better being, and [since] that better being is not certain, and [what is] more, destructive to another; upon these grounds, if you do, paramount [to] all constitutions, hold up this Law of Nature, I would fain have any man show me their bounds, where you will end, and [why you should not] take away all property.

 

Rainsborough:

I shall now be a little more free and open with you than I was before. I wish we were all true-hearted, and that we did all carry ourselves with integrity. If I did mistrust you I would [not] use such asseverations. I think it doth go on mistrust, and things are thought too [readily] matters of reflection, that were never intended. For my part, as I think, you forgot something that was in my speech, and you do not only yourselves believe that [some] men are inclining to anarchy, but you would make all men believe that. And, sir, to say because a man pleads that every man hath a voice [by right of nature], that therefore it destroys [by] the same [argument all property—this is to forget the Law of God]. That there’s a property, the Law of God says it; else why [hath] God made that law, Thou shalt not steal? I am a poor man, therefore I must be [op]pressed: if I have no interest in the kingdom, I must suffer by all their laws be they right or wrong. Nay thus: a gentleman lives in a country and hath three or four lordships, as some men have (God knows how they got them); and when a Parliament is called he must be a Parliamentman; and it may be he sees some poor men, they live near this man, he can crush them—I have known an invasion to make sure he hath turned the poor men out of doors; and I would fain know whether the potency of [rich] men do not this, and so keep them under the greatest tyranny that was [ever] thought of in the world. And therefore I think that to that it is fully answered: God hath set down that thing as to propriety with this law of his, Thou shalt not steal. And for my part I am against any such thought, and, as for yourselves, I wish you would not make the world believe that we are for anarchy.

 

Cromwell:

putney5I know nothing but this, that they that are the most yielding have the greatest wisdom; but really, sir, this is not right as it should be. No man says that you have a mind to anarchy, but [that] the consequence of this rule tends to anarchy, must end in anarchy; for where is there any bound or limit set if you take away this [limit], that men that have no interest but the interest of breathing [shall have no voice in elections]? Therefore I am confident on’t, we should not be so hot one with another.

 

Rainsborough:

I know that some particular men we debate with [believe we] are for anarchy.

 

Ireton:

I profess I must clear myself as to that point. I would not desire, I cannot allow myself, to lay the least scandal upon anybody. And truly, for that gentleman that did take so much offence, I do not know why he should take it so. We speak to the paper—not to persons—and to the matter of the paper. And I hope that no man is so much engaged to the matter of the paper—I hope [that] our persons, and our hearts and judgments, are not [so] pinned to papers but that we are ready to hear what good or ill consequence will flow from it.

I have, with as much plainness and clearness of reason as I could, showed you how I did conceive the doing of this [that the paper advocates] takes away that which is the most original, the most fundamental civil constitution of this kingdom, and which is, above all, that constitution by which I have any property. If you will take away that and set up, as a thing paramount, whatever a man may claim by the Law of Nature, though it be not a thing of necessity to him for the sustenance of nature; if you do make this your rule, I desire clearly to understand where then remains property.

Now then—I would misrepresent nothing—the answer which had anything of matter in it, the great and main answer upon which that which hath been said against this [objection] rests, seemed to be that it will not make a breach of property, [for this reason]: that there is a law, Thou shalt not steal. [But] the same law says, Honour thy father and [thymother, and that law doth likewise hold out that it doth extend to all that (in that place where we are in) are our governors; so that by that there is a forbidding of breaking a civil law when we may live quietly under it, and [that by] a divine law. Again it is said—indeed [was said] before—that there is no law, no divine law, that tells us that such a corporation must have the election of burgesses, such a shire [of knights], or the like. Divine law extends not to particular things. And so, on the other side, if a man were to demonstrate his [right to] property by divine law, it would be very remote. Our [right to] property descends from other things, as well as our right of sending burgesses. That divine law doth not determine particulars but generals in relation to man and man, and to property, and all things else: and we should be as far to seek if we should go to prove a property in [a thing by] divine law, as to prove that I have an interest in choosing burgesses of the Parliament by divine law. And truly, under favour, I refer it to all, whether there be anything of solution to that objection that I made, if it be understood—I submit it to any man’s judgment.

 

Rainsborough:

To the thing itself—property [in the franchise]. I would fain know how it comes to be the property [of some men, and not of others]. As for estates and those kind of things, and other things that belong to men, it will be granted that they are property; but I deny that that is a property, to a lord, to a gentleman, to any man more than another in the kingdom of England. If it be a property, it is a property by a law—neither do I think that there is very little property in this thing by the law of the land, because I think that the law of the land in that thing is the most tyrannical law under heaven. And I would fain know what we have fought for. [For our laws and liberties?] And this is the old law of England—and that which enslaves the people of England—that they should be bound by laws in which they have no voice at all! [With respect to the divine law which says Honour thy father and thy mother] the great dispute is, who is a right father and a right mother? I am bound to know who is my father and mother; and—I take it in the same sense you do—I would have a distinction, a character whereby God commands me to honour [them]. And for my part I look upon the people of England so, that wherein they have not voices in the choosing of their [governors—their civil] fathers and mothers—they are not bound to that commandment.

 

Petty:

I desire to add one word concerning the word property. It is for something that anarchy is so much talked of. For my own part I cannot believe in the least that it can be clearly derived from that paper. ’Tis true, that somewhat may be derived in the paper against the King, the power of the King, and somewhat against the power of the Lords; and the truth is when I shall see God going about to throw down King and Lords and property, then I shall be contented. But I hope that they may live to see the power of the King and the Lords thrown down, that yet may live to see property preserved. And for this of changing the Representative of the nation, of changing those that choose the Representative, making of them more full, taking more into the number than formerly, I had verily thought we had all agreed in it that more should have chosen—all that had desired a more equal representation than we now have. For now those only choose who have forty shillings freehold. A man may have a lease for one hundred pounds a year, a man may have a lease for three lives, [but he has no voice]. But [as] for this [argument], that it destroys all right [to property] that every Englishman that is an inhabitant of England should choose and have a voice in the representatives, I suppose it is, [on the contrary], the only means to preserve all property. For I judge every man is naturally free; and I judge the reason why men [chose representatives] when they were in so great numbers that every man could not give his voice [directly], was that they who were chosen might preserve property [for all]; and therefore men agreed to come into some form of government that they might preserve property, and I would fain know, if we were to begin a government, [whether you would say], ‘You have not forty shillings a year, therefore you shall not have a voice.’ Whereas before there was a government every man had such a voice, and afterwards, and for this very cause, they did choose representatives, and put themselves into forms of government that they may preserve property, and therefore it is not to destroy it, [to give every man a voice].

 

Ireton:

I think we shall not be so apt to come to a right understanding in this business, if one man, and another man, and another man do speak their several thoughts and conceptions to the same purpose, as if we do consider where the objection lies, and what the answer is which is made to it; and therefore I desire we may do so. To that which this gentleman spake last. The main thing that he seemed to answer was this: that he would make it appear that the going about to establish this government, [or] such a government, is not a destruction of property, nor does not tend to the destruction of property, because the people’s falling into a government is for the preservation of property. What weight there [is in it] lies in this: since there is a falling into a government, and government is to preserve property, therefore this cannot be against property. The objection does not lie in that, the making of the representation more equal, but [in] the introducing of men into an equality of interest in this government, who have no property in this kingdom, or who have no local permanent interest in it. For if I had said that I would not wish at all that we should have any enlargement of the bounds of those that are to be the electors, then you might have excepted against it. But [what I said was] that I would not go to enlarge it beyond all bounds, so that upon the same ground you may admit of so many men from foreign states as would outvote you. The objection lies still in this. I do not mean that I would have it restrained to that proportion [that now obtains], but to restrain it still to men who have a local, a permanent interest in the kingdom, who have such an interest that they may live upon it as freeman, and who have such an interest as is fixed upon a place, and is not the same equally everywhere. If a man be an inhabitant upon a rack rent for a year, for two years, or twenty years, you cannot think that man hath any fixed or permanent interest. That man, if he pay the rent that his land is worth, and hath no advantage but what he hath by his land, is as good a man, may have as much interest, in another kingdom as here. I do not speak of not enlarging this [representation] at all, but of keeping this to the most fundamental constitution in this kingdom, that is, that no person that hath not a local and permanent interest in the kingdom should have an equal dependence in election [with those that have]. But if you go beyond this law, if you admit any man that hath a breath and being, I did show you how this will destroy property. It may come to destroy property thus. You may have such men chosen, or at least the major part of them, [as have no local and permanent interest]. Why may not those men vote against all property? [Again] you may admit strangers by this rule, if you admit them once to inhabit, and those that have interest in the land may be voted out of their land. It may destroy property that way. But here is the rule that you go by. You infer this to be the right of the people, of every inhabitant, because man hath such a right in nature, though it be not of necessity for the preserving of his being; [and] therefore you are to overthrow the most fundamental constitution for this. By the same rule, show me why you will not, by the same right of nature, make use of anything that any man hath, [though it be not] for the necessary sustenance of men. Show me what you will stop at; wherein you will fence any man in a property by this rule.

 

Rainsborough:

I desire to know how this comes to be a property in some men, and not in others.

 

The Return of Jessica Jones

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on March 20, 2017 by Magadh

jj2I’ve been a little behind in my comic reading, so I’ve only just gotten current on the run of Jessica Jones that’s going on right now. This was a title that I had (and to an extent still have) high hopes for. Jessica Jones is an interesting character and, Brian Michael Bendis (who wrote the original Alias series of that title) is running the show again, and it comes with a reader’s advisory tag, which at least means that people confronting life threatening emergencies won’t respond by saying “oh darn.” Having gotten through the first arc I will say that, although I enjoyed it, the presentation of Jessica Jones has, once again, not quite lived up to the excellence of Bendis and Gaydos’s original.

 

Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m kind of obsessed with Jessica Jones. I blame my pal Meredith, who first turned me on to Brian Michael Bendis’s original arc from Alias that ran from 2001 to 2004. When I got done with it I was pretty much ready to give up reading comics because I wasn’t sure there was anything better left to do. Bendis’s arc had an undeniable brilliance. It combined elements of continuity and discontinuity to tell a compelling story. For instance, the creators used collage in a way that I have not seen very often (especially in Marvel-linked titles). They also brought in J. Jonah Jameson in just about the most interesting way I’ve ever seen. There’s a seriously hilarious sequence in which Jessica Jones is out on a date with Scott Lang. They’re having dinner at an outdoor restaurant when Dr. Octopus rolls by being chased by Spider Man. They spend a moment considering whether they’re going to do something about it, and then Scott Lang says something like, “I don’t really have my gear with me” and they go back to their date.

 

Jessica Jones is interesting because, and precisely to the extent, that she doesn’t fit the traditional mold of the comic book super hero.  Bendis created a character that is an expression of the complex web of agency and fallibility in which human beings live their lives. She was an Avenger, but decided that she didn’t really fit in there. Instead of going out as a solo costumed hero, she chose the more low key life of a private investigator. This is clearly meant to be read as an outgrowth of her will to define and defend her own agency. Being part of the Avengers means compulsory teamwork. Being an individual costumed hero also means being beholden to others, perhaps to the public at large, but at least to screwball pseudo-populists of the like of J. Jonah Jameson. Working as a private eye allows her to control the obligations that she takes on.

 

And therein lies a further point of interest. Although Jones is a reluctant hero, she also feels a certain obligation to help people who are vulnerable. While this sort of duality in terms motivation is not entirely unheard of in the world of superheroes, more often than not it is rendered in the key of macho which effectively drains its emotional force, at least for readers older than about 12. Bendis has really done the world a service by presenting us with a female superhero who doesn’t have to be perfect, who gets drunk sometimes, who fails sometimes, and who is still dead set on living her life on her own terms and no one else’s.

 

The central event in the Bendis narrative is Jones’s encounter with Zebediah Killgrave (alias the Purple Man), a deeply nasty individual capable to compelling people to unquestioningly obey his commands. There’s a lot of backstory to this guy, the essential points of which can be picked up here, but suffice to say that this former Daredevil villain is seriously horrifying. Jones’s interaction with him is particularly grim because he takes from her the one thing that she views as most essentially hers (agency), turning her into a weapon for the accomplishment of his ends.  Ultimately, Jones is able to free herself from his control (and breaks his neck) because Jean Grey had implanted a psychic defense trigger in her mind after an earlier encounter with him. Once she knows she has a choice, the reclaims her agency, dispatching Killgrave in the process. The panel below is one of my favorite ever:

jj1

Needless to say, I was really excited when it was announced the Marvel was going to be partnering with Netflix to bring out a full fledged Jessica Jones series. I didn’t know much about Krysten Ritter at the time (although I’ve since watched Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23 and quite enjoyed it), but it seemed to me that casting David Tennant as the Purple Man was a pretty good sign.

 

jj4Sadly, the end product didn’t quite live up to expectations. Partly it had to do with some unfortunately plot decisions. At one point, Jessica Jones decides that the way to show people Killgrave’s power and criminality by getting herself thrown in a supermax prison. Ok, clearly it’s very difficult to demonstrate mind control to people, but this is a plan that couldn’t possibly work, and, although I think it was meant to reflect her desperation, it ended up making her seem stupid. Later on in the show, Jessica Jones manages imprison Killgrave in a room where his voice is muted (his power is based on the interaction between his voice and some sort of microbe that he exudes). She comes up with a plan that involves introducing Killgrave’s parents into the room. Shockingly, this plan also goes horribly, horribly wrong and anyone who thought about it for around two second beforehand would have been able to predict this.

 

At a more general level, I really wish that we had gotten to see a bit more of the Jessica Jones PI aspect of things. Killgrave was made creepier by his absence. In fact, his proxies were much more frightening than he was when he was actually on screen. Although Tennant played him to nauseating perfection, it would have been better if we’d seen him less. But there was simply no way to do that given the fact that they had cast a big name like Tennant. It wasn’t his fault, and in a way it wasn’t fault of the people producing the show, since I’m sure that they reckoned (correctly) that Tennant’s name would draw viewers who might not be all that interested in the character of Jessica Jones. Still, it meant that they had to turn him into a middle of the screen type of villain, which didn’t really do the overall atmosphere of the show any favors.

 

jj3I had high hopes for the new comic version, and these hopes may still be fulfilled, but I’m afraid the first mini-arc hasn’t quite filled the bill. We start with Jessica Jones having just gotten out of prison, for what we are never actually told, but it’s something that compromised her relationship with the Avengers as well as with Luke Cage, the father of her child. The arc starts off strong, with some interesting interplay between Jones and Cage, and with some of the kind of JJ as detective material that one really wants to see. But then it spirals off into some weird things that don’t seem to develop JJ’s character very much. Worse yet, from my perspective anyway, is the connection that it forges with the Civil War II arc which a) went of for too long already and b) wasn’t all that interesting to begin with.

 

One of the things that the comic version has going for it is that, unlike with the MCU and their Netflix partnership, it’s possible to include some other superheroes  without paying whatever gigantic sum it would cost to get Chris Evans or Robert Downey Jr. (to say nothing of Scarlett Johansson) into the action. So it would have been nice to see some other superhero type interactions over and above the obligatory stuff with Carol Danvers and a somewhat entertaining Jessica Drew cameo.

 

What the original comic series has going forward that this new version seems to lack is a kind of emotional depth. It’s not as if the story isn’t entertaining, but there doesn’t seem to be the same collage-like approach to creating the character that made the first iteration so entertaining. Admittedly this isn’t entirely the fault of Bendis and co. In the first place they did create a very high bar. And in the second, they were very much working with a tabula rasa in terms of Jones’s character, since she hadn’t been developed very extensively at all up to that point. Still, it would be nice to see a bit more of the little story pieces that add up to something more than the sum of the parts.

 

Just so we understand each other, I think this is worth getting. The artwork is dark and beautiful and sometimes almost looks like woodcuts. They’ve had a series of covers done by David Mack (who also did the covers on the rerelease of the original series), predominantly in watercolor (or at least so it looks to me) and those are really beautiful. Given the creative team involved and the willingness of Marvel to put money into this title (since there’s going to be a second JJ series after she appears in The Defenders later this year), there’s every reason to believe that they can up the level of quality to what it was in the original. But it hasn’t quite gotten there yet.

Review: Nashgul

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on March 17, 2017 by Magadh

Nashgul Cárcava Selfmadegod Records

nashgul1I’m not an alcoholic, although it’s probably fair to say that from time to time have had a relationship to alcohol that was not entirely healthy. I mention this because I’ve been told in such a way as to believe it that one characteristic of alcoholics is that they’re always chasing after the high that they get from the first drink. I certainly can relate. That first beer tends to go down awful smooth, and then for the rest of the evening I’m wishing I could find the level of enjoyment that I got at the very beginning.

 

My relationship to grindcore maps on to this. I’ve been listening to exemplars of this kind of music for a lot of years. And I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment out of it. From Napalm Death, to Repulsion, to Brutal Truth, and lots of more obscure acts than that. But for me the truly defining instance of grindcore is Terrorizer. I can still remember hearing the opening bars of “After World Obliteration” and being absolutely stunned. Admittedly I actually heard World Downfall after some of the others. I’d heard Mentally Murdered, From Enslavement to Obliteration, and Horrified (just to name a few) months before I heard Terrorizer, and (for what tiny amount this is worth) I actually saw Napalm Death a few times in 1986 (at which point they were doing like 30 songs in fifteen minutes). But World Downfall is the disc that defines the genre for me.

 

Nashgul2I have to admit that I got something like the old feeling the first time I cranked up Cárcava, the new disc from veteran Spanish grinders Nashgul. Which is not to say that this sounds a great deal like Terrorizer (as you might expect from my natterings in the preceding two paragraphs), but this record does have a lot of similar qualities. The guitars sound like someone tearing a piece of sheetmetal apart. Although downtuned pretty considerably, they are still crisp enough for one to actually hear what’s going. The singer kind of sounds like he’s gargling thumbtacks, very much as you’d expect, but he’s actually coherent enough that I might actually be able to understand at least some of what he’s saying (if it weren’t’ for the fact that it’s all in Spanish). Most importantly, they use the blast beat judiciously, employing it for emphasis but not getting married to it. This gives the music a varied quality that goes a long way to keeping one interested.

 

 

This is their first full length in seven years or so. In the meantime they’ve done a few ep’s and splits, including one with War Master that was quite good, although they only released a couple of hundred copies. But one thing you will notice if you go back and listen to El Día Después Al Fin De La Humanidad that there is a common (and very high) quality across the two recordings. Lot’s of this stuff it available on Bandcamp, so you should probably go ahead and get it there, if for no other reason that the incomparable joy of instant gratification.

 

Ok, pretty much any band with a Tolkien reference in the name will get me to listen at least once, but I must say that I was pretty stoked to find this release. All too often bands in this genre just go through sort of formulaic progression. Obviously, the thing that defines the genre is, to some extent at least, adherence to some sort of formula. But these guys execute their thing with serious aggression, but also enough variation from the norm to make this a really enjoyable disc.

 

The Neoliberal War

Posted in Articles with tags , , , on March 16, 2017 by Magadh

drone1The drone is the perfect tool of liberal warfare. It is notionally the most precise means of taking the war directly to the enemy. It allows U.S. forces to avoid the niceties of international law and the vulnerabilities that arise from putting boots on the ground where they are not wanted (which, let’s face it, is practically anywhere). The representatives of the U.S. security apparatus are conveniently insulated from any blowback from their actions. Safely ensconced in the air-conditioned shipping containers at Creech AFB, the  front line agents of this end of the conflict are far out of range of any direct retaliation by enemy combatants. Never again the smoking ruins of Khobar Towers, or the Marine barracks  in Beirut, or the gaping hole in the side of the U.S.S. Cole. More importantly, no more flag draped coffins and Gold Star families.

 

The central lesson of the Vietnam wars has finally been fully metabolized by the U.S. Government. Counterinsurgency warfare is dirty and difficult. It has the capacity to generate unpalatable images of people not easily classifiable as enemy combatants killed, maimed, covered in napalm. Lacking the underlying basis of legitimation in the defense of Western civilization that made the World Wars, the process of acquiescence is further disturbed by their propensity to generate dead white people. While non-white bodies can pile up like cord wood, the will to fight even for the most noble of causes deteriorates each time another Wally Cleaver comes home in a sack.

 

drone2To most Americans, the drone war is invisible. To its victims it is omnipresent. Each facet implies a psychological benefit to the overall process. Those in the conflict zones live life in a Benthamite panopticon, their lives reduced to mute pantomimes that might at any time call for a Hellfire missile from the empty air. Every act undertaken under the open sky (and sometimes within buildings as well) is translated into a symbolic code to deciphered in the cool darkness of a distributed military architecture. Each individually generated fragment of code synergizes with thousands of others, independently generated into a mosaic of life and threat. In most cases it is simply impossible to know when the flows and eddies of information will map lethally onto the ineluctable logic air to ground fire.

 

So far as the American public is concerned, the invisibility of the conflict eliminates the necessity, at least for most people, of thinking of it at all. Out of sight and very definitely out of mind, the invisibility of the drone war forestalls the need to soothe (or one might even say to embalm) one’s conscience. Otherwise reasonable (and reasonably critical) individuals can simply block out the reality of the situation through an assumption (more often than not simply tacitly made) that the people who get vaporized in drone strikes must have done something to deserve it. Collateral damage (i.e. surplus corpses) there may be. But if the good wars of the 20th century teach us nothing else, they teach us that the death of a few innocents is an unavoidable, if regrettable, concomitant of traversing the path of greater good.  And if those collateral losses outnumber the actual targets of (at least in some sense) legitimate violence by more than 25 to 1 the end must still be seen as justifying the means.

 

drone3The drone war reflects, in a certain sense, the perfection of limited, asymmetric warfare. Ideally, if not in every case, the application of violence can be limited to those who demonstrate by their actions malign intent. Rather than requiring the deployment of massed bodies of soldiery to far off places, the conflict can be bracketed, undertaken by a small cadre of anonymous joystick jockeys who have graduated from ninja level Mass Effect skills to the ‘leetest of the ‘leet. The relationship between this cadre and their opponents is both destructive and symbiotic. Prevented from striking back directly, the forces of Al Qaida, ISIS, and whoever else are limited to acts of pure terrorism against soft targets. Here the designation pure indicates only that it is not covered under the aegis of states sanction. State terrorism is different, more complicated in the sense that the actions that constitute it might, in some measure, be covered (less likely legitimated) by international law. Viewed in human terms its outcomes are hardly less grim. In any case, the perpetration of public atrocities facilitates the continuation of a conflict that benefits both sides. The cycle of violence is self-perpetuating and the medium is quite clearly far advanced in the process of becoming the message.

 

The capacity of this sort of warfare to cut off the malice at its source is touted every time it is announced that some important (though heretofore generally anonymous) member of the enemy hierarchy has been dispatched in a strike as surgically precise as the excision of a tumor. Perhaps it has, on a time, occurred to the agents and facilitators of this mode of conflict that they are fighting a postmodern enemy, one which has no center and thus one whose command and control structure is extremely difficult to degrade no matter how many explosions one causes. In fact, the state of continual war that this entails is functional to the complex of class fractions that run advanced capitalism, as it tends to occlude the pathways of democratic control that promoters of the neoliberal order find so pernicious.

 

In the industrialized world, warfare itself is in the course of becoming neoliberalized. This process was already far advanced by the self-reinforcing dynamic described above. War is a profit center. The other motivations that have at times governed its dynamics: religion, nationalism, racism, etc., have increasingly become epiphenomenal to the process of accumulation. The process is now, also, fundamentally different from that of accumulation by dispossession, in which war was undertaken for the control of resources or territory. War has now become a matter of the circulation of capital. It is the return of Keynesianism, but as if it was run by Darth Vader.

 

At its leading edge, war is decreasingly a human process. Rather, the goal is to make it a matter of autonomous, AI-governed systems making decisions and undertaking actions in the basis of merciless and unflinching algorithms. In the future, war will become like the weather, an event experienced as natural, sine ira et studio, an event for which there is no humanly comprehensible reason. It is becoming both hypercomplex and brutally simple. The technology, especially as current capacities and systems synergize with developments in artificial intelligence, is becoming increasingly prone to internally generated dynamics of such complexity as to far outstrip the abilities of human beings to understand them or to predict future outcomes. As artificial intelligence develops to the point that it becomes self-conscious and self-reproducing, it may turn out to be the case that it has goals and inclinations beyond the reaches of our souls. When that happens, capital itself may become autonomous and self aware. When that happens what place humans will have in the resulting order can hardly be guessed.

 

 

A Statement of Resistance

Posted in Dispatches with tags , on November 16, 2016 by Magadh

The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!

Damn Donald Trump, the most loathsome combination of bullying and mendacity to afflict American politics for generations. Damn his circle of toadies and yes-men. Damn the Republican Party, whose toxic mix of cynicism and zealotry are making this happen. Damn the Democrats, who suck up to bankers and hedge fund managers and yet try to argue that they have the answers for the men and women left behind by neoliberalism. Damn the misogyny of the American electorate that determined that an obviously better qualified woman was less appealing that a preening, self-important buffoon with the right kind of junk.

baudrillard-1968

I’ve talked to a number of people who are seriously considering leaving the country. I can’t really blame them. I’m sufficiently conversant with the history of fascist regimes (especially National Socialism) to recognize that it’s too much that people breast the tide of violence and hatred with no way of knowing when it will end or how bad it might get. I, for one, am staying. I recognize that part of my willingness to do so is based on the fact that, as a heterosexual white male (and a property owner to boot) I am not in the line of fire in the way that women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and others are. Given all that, it’s still tempting for me (and for many others like me) to go into what used to be called in the era of Nazism “inner emigration.” Forget that. This stupid regime will not get my compliance, my silence, or any sort of concession that the klepto-fascist order that they seem intent on building is in any way normal or acceptable.

My family has been in this country since the revolution. Does that make me more American than anyone else? No, it does not. Quite the contrary. We have benefitted in so very many ways from the freedom ensured its democratic institutions. And if that freedom has not been open to all, as the stated ideals of the Constitution declare that it should be, then the burden weighs on us all the more. It is the responsibility of those of us in communities under less immediate threat to show solidarity with those for which the danger is greater. We can’t stand up for them, but we can stand with them and let them know that we refuse to acquiesce in their debasement.

Once, as a child, I asked my father why it was that he would always talk about the virtues of American democracy given that it so often failed to live up to them. “Because,” he told me, “those are ideals that we are aiming for. We’ll always fall short of them, But we have to remember that the ideals themselves are important because they give us a way to know if we’re headed in the right direction.” America has fallen so gravely short of her ideals in the past: in the era of slavery, of colonialism, and in its continuing marginalization of people of color, of women, and of sexualities that don’t “fit in”. Now, in the moment that those ideals are challenged, it is time to reaffirm them and to make the goal of building a just, non-exploitive society, that recognizes and practically affirms the dignity of all human beings regardless of race, gender, or sexuality a reality in the world.

There will be struggle in the months and years ahead. We are likely to be under heavy manners for quite some time, and much of the progress that was bought as such great cost of lives and effort in the 20th century will be lost. So be it. We are the fighters, the rebels, the ones who don’t fit. I address this particularly to those of us who came of age in the hardcore punk scene of the 1980s. In the years before the rise of bands like Green Day made punk domestic, acceptable, and profitable, we experienced things of which “normal” people never dreamed. We know what it is like to be out of step with society. But we also have amongst ourselves a wealth of knowledge and experience of building a culture outside the mainstream and of operating in adverse conditions. Let’s use it to take the fight to the enemies of civilization and to let them know that we have the strength to resist over the long haul.

Everyone is going to have to do their bit, and every little bit helps. Not everyone is comfortable marching in demos. Don’t worry. There’s a lot that you can do. Network, post on social media, contribute money to worthy causes, let people who are afraid know that you are looking out for them and that they are not alone. Authoritarianism works, to an important degree, by isolating its victims. Don’t be isolated. Don’t let others be. Know in your heart that generations before you resisted and carried on the struggle without knowing what the end would be. Have courage and be strong. The era of resistance starts today.

Magadh

Punk as Absence

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , on October 22, 2016 by Magadh

blackflagI discovered punk rock when I was in eighth grade (which would have been in 1982 or so). My buddy Chris introduced me to it. In seventh grade he’d turned me on to Iron Maiden. At that point I thought Number of the Beast was the most transgressive thing ever recorded (and so I was fascinated by it). One day, toward the end of eighth grade, Chris said to me, “Iron Maiden is ok, I guess, but Black Flag is way better.” Our mutual friend Brian (who we all called Chauncy for reasons I never quite understood) hooked me up with a tape that had Damaged on one side and the Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables on the other. I was hooked.

dksThe music spoke to me in a way that metal never did. I always thought of metal as kind of thuggish, and that was never me. Strangely, punk didn’t seem that way to me at all. I got hassled at school all the time and I was pretty much a social pariah. Punk gave those experiences a meaningful narrative. The jocks and the rednecks and the cool kids and cute girls who made my life unpleasant were all scum. I and the few friends I had who’d tumbled on to this thing were privy to a sort of secret knowledge, of bands and scenes and signs and movements and languages. There’s a line from an old song by the German punk band Die Ärzte that goes something like, “Wir haben erlebt was andere nicht mal ahnen [We experienced what others don’t suspect].” That summed it up quite nicely, although I only heard it later.

It was only later too, once I’d learned a bit of the history of the cultural formation with which I had aligned myself, that I started to wonder what it was really all about (i.e. was it about what I thought it was about or something different). It was in the course of this that I worked out that talking about “the” punk scene was really a misnomer. The punk scene, like the underground scene more generally (and probably most cultural formations) is not a cohesive organization but a set of overlapping micro- and macro-scenes. There is no central unifying text or positive content, only a set of more or less overlapping networks.

Once I realized this, the culture of punk seemed to me to involve a paradox. People spent a lot of time and spilled a lot of ink in the 1980s trying to figure out what punk was and (what often seemed more important) what and who it wasn’t. If you read the letters section of Maximum Rock n Roll in those days you would see at least one or two, and more often significantly more, assertions that someone was a poser, or that some band was bunch of posers, etc. Even when I was 14 that stuff seemed like a stupid, sterile thing to argue about. In any case, this grated harshly against the ideals of freedom and the varieties of aesthetic expression that were fundamental to my attraction to punk at the most general level. On the one hand, authenticity was key. On the other, there was no such thing.

lydonI remember in this context reading an interview with John Lydon in which he asserted that anyone calling themselves punk at that point was being fundamentally inauthentic. There was a certain sense in which he had a point. From his perspective, he and a few dozen people in and around London in the mid-1970s had created a thing, which had then died (on an electrically tense night in the Cow Palace in San Francisco if not before), and they had moved on. Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple.

The London punk scene of the mid- to late 1970s was influenced by the sort of glam/art rock scene in New York, radiating outward from the New York Dolls, which was itself heavily influenced by bands like the MC5 and the Stooges. The more you dig into it, the more you find that each of these scenes was connected (sometimes by personnel, sometimes by style) to bands and scenes that had gone before. In Lipstick Traces, Greil Marcus makes the point quite effectively (pace Stewart Home’s rather nasty critique in Cranked Up Really High) that there is a line of cultural connection that can be drawn connecting Dadaism, Lettrism, Situationism, and a bunch of even less well known movements for the revolutionization of art and civilization, with the various punk-related scenes of the 1970s.

yotIn the early 1980s, I and my friends took part in inscribing the hardcore punk scene into the culture of small town eastern Washington. By that point the denizens of the “original” scene of Lydon and his compatriots had mostly moved off to serious musical careers, straight suburban lives, or spiralling drug addiction (or some combination thereof). By then too, the original impetus had fragmented, leading to the formation of complexes of microscenes in Los Angeles, D.C., New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and dozens of other cities (and hundreds of small towns) in the U.S. and around the world.

7secsGiven this process of fragmentary diffusion, it is not surprising that the question of what it all meant seemed so crucial. But, of course, there was no there there, at least in the sense of a coherent cultural something binding it all together. Even within the subgroups there was immense variation. Looking at straight edge, just as a for instance, the scene that grew up in D.C. around Minor Threat was much different than that in New York around bands like Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits, and both were different than the scene in California (Stalag 13, Uniform Choice, and others), and from the one in Reno centering on 7 Seconds. [NB. If you’re reading this and thinking that different bands might be more representative do bear in mind that I’m just tossing this stuff off the top of my head. If you know better (or think you know better) feel free to write your own blog post.]

stalag13This didn’t stop people from arguing about it, often quite nastily. A lot of it was social. The scenes that existed were often projects or projections of groups of friends, mostly high school or college age. These sets are fractious at the best of times, so it’s not at all surprising that charges of apostasy of various kinds might be made, especially when there was the possibility of amplifying them by having them printed in MRR, or Flipside, or whatever. These social dynamics synergized, once again, with the fact that the culture being appropriated was diffuse and acephalus. And so the grousing and griping spun on and on without ever really bottoming out or discovering very much that was fundamental.

Ultimately, the work of defining what punk was and wasn’t was left unfinished because the moment of its realization was missed. Green Day came along, and grunge, and the powers of the recording industry once again became convinced that there was some coin to be made. What it all meant became a matter of supreme indifference to any but the most neurotic purists and zine writers. Just what was punk? “Let’s make lots of money, and worry about it later.” So it has continued, although renewed corporate interest has not, in fact, managed to kill off the residual fragments of the punk scenes of what you might call the “intercommercial” era (i.e. the period between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s during which records types didn’t care very much about underground music). And still the devotees of crust and other abiding punk forms know what they are doing and with whom they share common ground without having to have an overarching theory to explain it.

And so, perhaps, it has come to this: punk was (and is), at its heart, an absence. If punk ever meant anything, if it was ever worth anything, it was because it created a space in which identities to could be created and explored (mostly) outside the hegemony of the dominant cultural forms. This did not mean that these identities were created sui generis. Nor did it mean that coercion was entirely absent. Some of the identities that people created were racist, sexist, homophobic, or chauvinist, the persistent influence of these tendencies distorted and constrained the cultural space of the underground. But still the space endured, not unique and certainly imperfect, but still a place where kids who were weird, or gay, or feminist, or otherwise marginal could take a hand in making themselves rather than merely reproducing images of what they were supposed to be.