Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Recommended reading:

1) Seth Abramson's blog post New Orleans: The View from Here. Intelligent and tough-minded reflections on the disaster, the media coverage, and the political implications of both.

2) Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War. This book, written by a quartet of San Francisco intellectuals (Iain Boal, T.J. Clark, Joseph Matthews, and Michael Watts) who collectively refer to themselves as "Retort," is the most brilliant and sustained analysis of our contemporary situation that I've encountered in book form. Last year a portion of the first chapter, "The State, the Spectacle, and September 11" was published on the Web by New Left Review. Not only is the book a devastating indictment of the imperial neo-liberal policy of the United States (now and for the past two hundred years), not only does it include a sharp and provocative analysis of our unwavering and irrational support for Israel's own version of imperialism, but it also contains a crucial chapter critiquing Islamic militancy, a subject that has been treated gingerly if at all by most critics on the Left. With an impressive fineness of touch the authors acknowledge Islamic radicalism as a genuine response to U.S. imperialism and the empty religion of consumer culture without falling into the trap of endorsing it or seeming to. They do this through a remarkable act of self-critique, explaining the Left's discomfort with the subject of an Islamist revolutionary movement by its homologies to the Left's own history of vanguard movements: Leninism, in a word, with its dismal history of unlimited human sacrifice in the name of a future paradise. The book's conclusion constitutes a rejection of vanguardism (Islamist or otherwise) and globalization both; the authors choose to wager the future on the actions of "the movement of movements," a vaguely defined amalgamation of the actions of "multitudes" against ongoing acts of "enclosure" (a term borrowed from English history for the lawless appropriation and reappropriation of resources once held in common: land, water, minerals, the airwaves, our very DNA). They get at least specific enough to cite some examples of "multitude" action, such as the Zapatista movement in Chiapas—something I now feel compelled to learn more about. As far as I can tell the book has received little attention as of yet (it was published in June) but hopefully that will change: everyone with Left/materialist commitments should be reading and discussing and critiquing it.

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