On Martin Luther King Jr. Day:
In January, when the United States remembered the tragic death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., an urban history professor at the University of Buffalo named Henry Louis Taylor Jr., bitterly remarked: “All we know is that this guy had a dream. We don’t know what that dream was.”
“All we know is that this guy had a dream. We don’t know what that dream was.”
And we swagger because we know not how to part with rage…
Evan Calder Williams:
Down and Out in the New Middletowns
Dissent Magazine, Winter 2012
“Because this is going bad, for everybody. It’s too hard. I came with the idea that I’d make my life here—have a family, a house, a car. Be somebody, like everybody. That’s what I wanted. I don’t know if it’s my bad luck, or whatever.”
“But now everything’s bad, you know?”
From Racheal Rieder’s “Strategies of Containment” in the minnesota review n.s. 61-62 (2004):
“Inclusion” is such a dangerous word, and I would encourage you to generate alternatives to it: resistance, dissent. . . . The communities that I move through—gay or queer communities, communities of people with disabilities, and others—are constantly hearing, these days, about inclusion: neoliberal and corporate boosters have figured out that “including” us is a way to contain us, to dilute our critiques, to transform us into window dressing or entertainment in the world of “happy family multiculturalism” that corporate elites have planned for the future. (Letter to Students)
In classrooms, public spaces, and residential halls, voices, identities, questions and dissent are ignored, explained away, or dismissed as “youthful idealism.” In the case of the PSU, questions that undergraduate students posed to the university administration about working conditions on campus were ignored, put off, or violently eviscerated by smooth rhetoric of experienced administrators. When inclusion failed to work as a strategy of containment, the state was called in.
Second, they were a threat because of what they said. They introduced an economic argument into university space. By protesting the contingent, replaceable, low-paid status of adjunct faculty and service workers, the students challenged the university’s separation of diversity from economic policies. As Lisa Duggan suggests in Twilight of Equality, diversity is designed to give the appearance of a new freedom and tolerance, but disguises the economic objectives of neoliberalism, which is the upward mobility of capital. Neoliberalism promotes tolerance and inclusion, emphasizing identity politics or rights-based groups that engage language of equality through reform rather than more radical critiques which argue for downward redistribution of “money, political power, cultural capital, pleasure, and freedom” (xviii).
These events signal a new phase in the university that is part of wider neoliberal moment to achieve upward redistribution of capital by imposing a shared identity, and by bringing the force of the state to control bodies and voices that will not be subject to this shared identity. What kind of political movement can be constructed as an alternative to the authorized notion of diversity?
Police mentalities will always strive to impose correct readings, to align intentions with outcomes, and couple imaginary causes with putative effects, but we always have a choice. In a poorly regulated, cosmopolitan society like our own, the discourse surrounding cultural objects is at once freely contingent and counter-entropic. It neither hardens into dogma nor decays into chaos as it disperses. It creates new images and makes new images out of old ones, with new constituencies around them. It is a discourse of experiential consequences, not disembodied causes. Thus, the sheer magnitude of social experience and organizational energy generated in the wake of a single painting by Velazquez so far outweighs and overrides the effort and intention that went into its creation as to make nature pale and angels weep.
From Anthony IIes and Marina Vishmidt’s “Work, Work Your Thoughts, and Therein See a Siege” in Communization and its Discontents: Contestation, Critique, and Contemporary Struggles
The figure of the Incidental Person denotes a transformation common to both art and labor as social forms. As the artist becomes a template for a generic subjectivity adaptable to all forms of authority and abstraction, work becomes a form lacking identity or outcome. It is the apotheosis of the romantic figure of the artist: “Art is now the absolute freedom that seeks its end and its foundation in itself, and does not need, substantially, any content, because it can only measure itself against the vertigo caused by its own abyss.” This is the generic subjectivity of the artist, key to Western liberal discourse since the Enlightenment, whether as civic model or as exception that proves the law of capitalist social relations, and it has less relation to the negativity of labor-power than to the negativity of the ever-mutating form of value. Contra to the thesis that the dissolution of the borders between art and productive labor (or art and politics) heralds emancipation, this may be read instead as an index of the real subsumption of generic human capacities into the self-valorization process of a capital which is no longer sure about where value comes from or how to capture it; a process as self-referential and totalizing as the expanded field of art.
New Jacobin Magazine out… jacobinmag.com. I really like this magazine… its an outlet with a perspective that I agree with… I’ve excerpted a few key points below.
I like this sentence in regards to this past year’s protests:
The growth of precarious labor, the structuring of youth as a vehicle of debt, and massive proletarianization have pushed the imaginary onto the level of reality.
The Need for New Language:
But real debates, the clash of ideas, beyond just rosy, impressionistic reports from the front, are required now more than ever. Jacobin has managed to find writers outside the Washington Post’s op-ed circuit. And here’s the result, an outstanding issue – largely the product of precariously employed twentysomethings. Most of whom have never even seen a print copy of the New York Review of Books. The scene a few blocks away from that esteemed office offers inspiration enough — students and workers actively engaged in class struggle. Well, the majority of the protesters wouldn’t immediately embrace a term like “class struggle.” It strikes an arcane note, at which those weary of the radical left’s sectarianism and general insanity instinctively recoil. Yet this is language that needs to be reclaimed and confidently articulated. It’s political language that might have seemed out of place during decades of dormancy, but that will be increasingly relevant in the period to come.
At the center of Burns’ story is what he calls “the traditional strike,” which was the heart of trade union activity from the beginnings of labor history until its virtual disappearance after the 1970s. The crucial characteristic of the traditional strike — its sole reason for being — is that it forces capital to stop production. Although this fact may seem slightly obvious, its significance for both workers and radicals has been largely forgotten.
ALIENATION. In the 1950s and ’60s, this concept was used by sociologists, psychologists, pundits, and critics to explain any number of social problems. Kids were ‘alienated’ from their parents and from the larger society; adults were ‘alienated’ from their work and from their communities. It was a powerful concept and one that defined a generation of social commentary. Now, it seems, no one is alienated anymore. Historian David Steigerwald examines what happened to the notion of alienation by looking at the roots of the idea, the way it was used, and how it has disappeared from our discussion. Perfect reading for the holiday season!
Alienation Arrives in America
For those of us who study the intellectual and cultural history of the post-World War II West, it is strange that the concept of alienation seems to have evaporated. It was the paradigmatic explanation for social behavior in the 1950s and 1960s.
In the 1950s, alienation explained the timidity of white-collar workers and the conformity of suburbanites. It explained the eruption of juvenile delinquency in middle-class communities. It accounted for high divorce rates and the heavy use of alcohol and barbiturates among the professional classes.
Both the decline in voter participation and the political irrationality of the Red Scare were chalked up to alienation. In The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan deployed the concept to give voice to the vague but powerful “problem with no name.”
The concept gained even more persuasive power in the 1960s, when a generation of young people who had enjoyed unprecedented affluence erupted in radical protests across the developed world. Some rode that wave of public activism to violent extremes.
The causes of alienation were well understood. Privileged young people rebelled against the Affluent Society (the title of one famous book from that era), because the institutions and processes that created material well-being did so at steep human costs. Homogenized anonymity left individuals adrift in lonely crowds (the title of another).
Powerful corporations and impersonal bureaucracies imposed rigid, inscrutable rules and turned people into IBM punch cards. Reduced to automatons, people felt powerless. Computerized technologies of production, whether on the assembly line or in the office, gutted whatever was left of the worker’s control over the labor process and sucked away the pleasures of creative work.
American commercial culture offered the “choice” of three television networks that said pretty much the same thing at pretty much the same time about the same issue. The political class, united behind the Cold War “consensus,” engineered the entire political apparatus to suit themselves.
Even the geography of middle- and upper-class America, de-centered into undifferentiated suburban non-communities, destroyed neighborly relationships, and, as Holden Caulfield said over and over in Catcher in the Rye, made people “phony.”
These structures of affluence undermined people’s control over their daily lives and removed the sources of meaningful living—creative work, human relationships not besmirched by calculation, and connections to usable and dignified community traditions of art and folkways.
At least to me, this narrative made sense in the 1950s and 1960s, and today it makes sense of jihadism’s appeal to young people like Mr. Mutallab.
But when was the last time you heard someone say that alienation is the root cause of religious fanaticism? For that matter, why is it so rarely used to describe the social psychology of Americans? After all, none of those structures of power that emerged in the early postwar period have gone away, and several are arguably stronger.
No one, it seems, is alienated anymore.
Meanwhile, the intellectuals, who as a class were not only responsible for disseminating the concept but who, legend has it, were once alienated themselves, rarely employ the concept anymore. It no longer speaks to their condition. Secure in tenured university posts and yet often given to the self-delusion that they are still radicals, content in their comfort and given to toothless criticism, they enjoy their avocational prerogatives without the discomfort of the hand-to-mouth existence of bohemia.
Alienation? Who needs it? It doesn’t pay well, and there’s no 401(k).