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There is widespread confusion about what the demands working group is proposing. I don’t mean confusion with regard to the content of the demand – in progress – but the objective of the act of demanding, the meaning of demand assumed. What is the objective of the group in demanding GA ratification of its proposed demands? What happens after or is the mere ratification of its wish list by the GA the goal of the group?
Some things could no doubt be quickly cleared up.
1.Who is the addressee? Assuming even just formally it’s the US federal government – executive and congress – (though for the world as audience) does the DWG propose to offer to end the occupations if its demands (tba) are met (or just agreed to) by the Federal government?
If this is the case – the DWG proposes the GA offer to end the occupation on condition that demands are agreed by the addressee* – then the DWG is actually assuming advocacy for “the 1%” in negotiation with the protagonists of the occupations, undertaking to persuade the occupiers to commit to finite concessions in consideration of which they are willing to cease current resistance. If the DWG is indeed intending to offer the cessation of “OWS” in exchange for the meeting of its demands (whatever they may be), what does this entail? What exactly is DWG proposing to offer the government and the ruling class from the occupiers? What level of cooperation does it desire the GA authorise it to offer in exchange for the enactment of its policy recommendations?
* what would constitute agreement to or meeting of demands needs to be specified to if the GA’s promise is requested – the Democratic Party taking up the demands as a platform? Is the Iraq war over in the DWG’s opinion? Where does the DWG perceive the US to be at war rather than peacekeeping, occupying, hunting terrorists, or simply doing business? Is the “War on Drugs” among the wars to be ended?
2.Are the demands indeed being formulated with a negotiation as the objective? Is there a time frame the DWG estimates for the effort to get the addressee to the table? After which the DWG, if failing to begin negotiations, will need to go back to the GA for reconsideration? Since one of the common rationales for demands, and for these in particular, is “get something while we can, before the mobilisation fizzles out or is repressed”, and since time is money – people’s debts are mounting, a “living wage” unionized job three years from now is not the relief a job tomorrow would be for many, certainly the clock is ticking for healthcare needs for millions as well – this is an important issue.
These demands could look good if they are delivered very quickly or like a stalling tactic if there is no deadline. When does the DWG suppose it will have a concrete offer of something near its demands for the occupiers to consider? (Can we all assume the answer is “never” in all conversations and not just those where it is convenient to the case for demands?)
If this is really the case – that the DWG envisions, or adopts the posture of envisioning, a negotiation for the enactment of these policy recommendations – it should be first of all made clear. Right now the advocates of the “Jobs for All” demand are opportunistically shifting between one posture – the demand is realistic and can be met within the existing insitutions of government and without the abolition or transformation of private property and thus rejecting it is depriving 25 million people of unionized jobs and free healthcare in the short term – and the opposite: the demands are designed to be refused, to perform as the “tic tac toe” exhibition of futility to display the impossibility of low unemployment in the US economy, and these specific demands (of all unattainable demands) are chosen on the assumption that they
a) “transcend right and left” with their civil libertarian individualism, their show of faith that the US is not really an empire but just bunglingly and impecuniously meddling, and involving certain solutions common to fascism and to soviet communism
b) will appear to most “Americans” to be perfectly reasonable and to describe conditions “Americans” have always believed were their due and the purpose of their form of government and property laws
and therefore this list can serve in this heuristic purpose better and more vividly and poignantly than other equally “impossible” (unattainable without prior revolutionary change) demands which most “Americans” would associate with fringe leftism.
The DWG could very helpfully clarify whether the list they are trying to get the GA to approve is concocted for one purpose or the other. It should be made clear to the press, too, whether the DWG should be seen as trying to commence the negotiations for the end of the occupation, by getting conditions for the demobilisation agreed, or:
3. Are the demands not at all directed at the initiation of a negotiation for the end of the occupations and the enactment of these policies but some kind of spectacle or theatre which is intended rather to help the movement define itself and discover its unifying desires, wishes, beliefs (or lowest common denominator of desired change)?
If so, these demands so far are really, really divisive, typical petty bourgeois dissident effrontery, and will only naturally be seen by communists and socialists as just wretched reactionary propagandizing, strengthening the legitimacy of the status quo, feeding nostalgia and taking a very serious risk of promoting a fascistic narrative (this is a considerable danger) of what is wrong, how it happened, and how it can be solved. As self-portrait, these demands define the movement as Fabian, Fascist or Peronist rather than as communist or socialist, ostentatiously prioritizing economic growth and the perpetuation of capitalist exploitation in a bourgeois nationalistic perspective over democracy, justice, building internationalism, halting and reversing the militarization of the ruling class and its imperial state, commencing reparation, restitution and redistribution worldwide. It is a plan to restore the legitimacy of a ruling class as depraved as and more dangerous to us all than Nazis.
Moreover, given the current power relations, which are more asymetrical than ever, with the US ruling elite possessing unprecedented unchallenged supremacy, mindbogglingly powerful people-control and weapons technology, superbly disciplined, flexible and effective networks of kapos and clerks, the demands could be met to the letter in such a way as only to benefit the ruling class and to further enslave the population as if by its own consent and at its request. As they stand now, the DWG wants the occupiers to ask the treasury (the people) to pay the wages of $25million workers who might otherwise be unemployed, which is effectively to guarantee the payment of their debts to the richest few thousand people on the planet, while undertaking to exploit them (with the government as manager/enforcer, therefore no capitalists placing capital at risk in production) in the production of valuable infrastructure which can (and assuredly will, barring the overthrow of the current ruling class) be privatised as quickly and rapidly as it is produced, either in the old fashioned way or the newfangled manner. The ostensible egalitarianism (former convicts and undocumented workers eligible) and the feeble gesture toward redistribution top-down via financing (this scheme to pay the .01% its rents, interest, fees through taxation of the top 10%) seems like window dressing to disguise that the demands would fit well with a ruling class plan to stabilize itself as a ruling class while transforming the society over which it rules from one characterised by competition, asset volatility and formal liberties for the workforce to a more fully monopolised, feudalistic and despotic one with all rights attaching to property ownership. That the demands conspicuously reject proposed mention of humanity’s rights, democracy, justice, and politely refuse any language that might bring to mind the ruling class’ lawlessness, barbarism and mercilessness, tends to nudge the discourse in the most dangerous direction, toward the legitimisation and indeed inevtiabilisation of reaction and toward faciliating the project of containing this revolt in the guise (flimsy enough, and usually disavowed) of securing some concrete gains while the getting is good.
Now at the start, these demands were proposed alongside a list of demands for an end to the state’s violence and terrorising and lawlesness and debt amnesty. That these didn’t make the cut is very signficant, and shows how “compromise” can transform a radical agenda not into a reformist one but into a reactionary gain for the ruling class. Without debt amnesty, the Jobs for All scheme is a completely different animal.
Well, someone brought to mind this old post from the extinct Alphonse Van Worden blogspot blog from 2005 called, like this one its echo, “Capital is Monstrous” :
In in preparation for pîcking up that Badiou Meme from Fort Kant again, I’ll reproduce here some remarks I made on Charlotte Street’s haloscan, in response to Mr. Kaplan’s post à propos of the polysemic fecundity of literary monsters:
Occurs to me that the monstrous, being dominant now in the discourse of political propaganda, has this specific ability to create and justify the normal and natural which no straightforward argument can accomplish – it unifies and cleans up and endows with both form and essence whatever it is that it is disrupting. And the moderm monstrous is a late 18th century thing, arriving just in time to grant an ideological unity to perilously divided social arrangements whose conflicts are suddenly really hard to ignore – grendel and dragons and demons and Spenserian kinds of hybrids and beasts are not quite the same. Bring the monstrous into a discourse and it shuts down another sort of social rationalist critique -an examination say of European society changes radically with the introduction of the monstrous menace Alzarkawiqaeda. Toss in the burka-bearing Taliban and the anthropology of the miniskirt loses all ambiguity.
The complexity of ‘Europe,’ or ‘the West,’ this internally contradictory, largely deplorable social (dis)order, with slums and off shore slave labour camps, which is not a whole, suddenly in an instant sort of snaps into a neat shape and glows with a handful of charming ideas worth preserving the instant the monster appears, as a threat to an ‘all of it’ that did not exist before it was unified by the threat’s attention itself.
In fantastic literature, the monster, because so flexible a meaning-generator, functions not only as the source of a flattering light to place the threatened in relief – the family, relations of producton; etc. – but as its own displaced disorder, pain, irrationality, fear, violence, etc.. But this latter function is perhaps weaker, and only visible to a critical pov; in terror and horror fiction, the vampire’s role a a metaphor for the mother is simply subordinate to other functions it performs, but nonetheless operative; in the pseudo-myth of mass produced propaganda, “Bin Laden”‘s role as a metaphor for “Bush”, for the unacknowledged reality of “Bush”, is all but completely inert. It more or less successfully shuts down the critique of “Bush” through the extraction, expulsion, alienation of all content of “Bush” with the exception of that form and essence whih “Bush” owes solely to “Bin Laden” – that ‘our freedom-values-prosperity’ sculpted and defined precisely by the binladenmonster’s opposition and hostility.
[the miniskirt] in itself, in its real historical context, [is] a site of conflict and contradiction. But when the monster appears – and really one is encouraged to experiment with the monster as a point of view – it solidifies into form and essence.
This starts off in the early 18th century, the use of the (imaginary) monstrous to heal up what appears to be descending into chaos and to shore up Ideals against the threat of the irreducible material. The automaton and the monstrous in the modern sense are first appearing in the debate over the mechanistic model of humanity (early 18th c.). The pre-cartersian manichean model of human duality – angel devil – is transformed in a couple of decades into man as a hybrid – body and soul, Steele put it that man is ‘at once Engine and Engineer.’ This was comforting so long as the halves of man were stably separate, but the anxiety is about the stability of the border, the permeability of the membrane, the possibility of sinking back into the muck of matter – the fear that matter, associate by these guys with Imagination, was secretly influencing reason and mind.
We are half pig half seraph, which is fine so long the seraph is above the ruff, in the command module, and so long as the pig is not really in control. The pig of course is the part of man that is attached to the commons and for whom commoning is the only appropriate social arrangement. [Marx’s ‘Estranged Labour’ in the 1844 Mss explains the objectification and alienation of our species-life, creating this illusion of the hybrid, the alienated reality then appearing as the pig in ideology, the seraph above the ruff of course being the proprietor/appropriator in his flattering self portrait as Engineer, creator, producer.]
Within the rational perspective, there is no way to avoid recognition of this possibility [that the pig is dominant, and that the seraph above the ruff is just property] and recognition of the dialectic here, poles in tension. So the monstrous then is offered as a perspective from which to view the assumed hybrid creature that is man, to throw it into relief, and make it look solid, whole, defined. The riven and messy aspect, which is the suspicion, and which has distinctive political implications for enclosure which the 18th century recognized and adressed fairly explicitly, is amputated, defined and imagined as monster, and then used as a comparison to the Ideal its own extraction (of the material) has left behind. All in all this brand of monstrous, 18th century onwards, is performing the incessant expulsion of the material from the depiction and imagination of the social world and of humanity, thus holding the possibility of idealism together against the constant allure of materialism.
The State and the King for example: The pre-18th century assumption is the king embodies the state, which implies the state needs a body, and indeed that everything needs a body. The Cromwellian revolution then liberates the state as a bodiless thing, a thing which exists apart from all matter. No Cromwell, no Hegel. In the English theatre, this possibility of cutting off the King’s head was prepared for, sedulously, by the creation of some figures which can with hindsight be recognized as early modern monsters. [Franco Moretti does not focus on the proto-monsters of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama but brilliantly tracks the desanctification of the body of the king in Renaissance English theatre in Signs Taken For Wonders.]
Ultimately this defeat of materialism which the monsters of literature and political discourse serve is pursued because it is neccessary or at least convenient to the transformation of property from largely concrete (physical control over concrete stuff) to largely abstract.
Fantastic beasts vs. Monsters in literature: there is a useful distinction to be made between the products of an instinctively materialist fancy and those of a devotedly idealist one. One notes the far greater flexibility of tropes themselves, of metaphor, in ideological product driven by the idealist assumption.
A medieval unicorn can signify in a limited way, a way limited by its unicorness; its poetic uses are confined by this ineluctable attraction to the bodily and the physical. So it cannot signify the devil precisely because the latter has two horns and it only has one. Tropes, metphors, in this pre-idealist product have these restraints; they elaborate on the basic impulse of personification, a give and take between concrete and general really driven by the experience of the concrete and sensual as the source of the imaginary.
(This is the pre-commodity practise of metaphor.)
The shark in Jaws (commodity-era practise of metaphor) is freewheeling in its ability to generate meaning, and the specific material qualities of sharks are no impediment; it might signify something incompatible with life underwater. The details of the physical shark don’t have to match up with the idea of the shark nor with the ideas the idea of the shark produces. The sensual particular and physical are more than merely subordinate – they’re just random tools to advert to a play of abstractions. Blobs of jelly are fine monsters, invisible groaning noises, houses, computers – all these can serve to represent the same forces-ideas-anxieties, because the importance of embodiment itself – the materialist tendency – and therefore the importance of the character of the literary embodiment of x, has diminished enormously since the late 18th century when idealism decisively defeated materialism and established its ideological hegemony.
This expansion of the trope from the 18th century (a little earlier really) goes with this victory over the materialist assumption. Materialist fantastic is still being produced, but in a field dominated by the idealist, to which the modern monstrous belongs.
Monsters are, while not garden variety metaphors, poetic figures of some sort – what sort? They represent the outer edge of the literary and figurative, the limit of content generation and more importantly referent-exchangeability. They are the ultimate mutable embodiments; that is, the anti-embodiment, body-less, parody of embodiment (manifestation and concretization of essences) itself. They exert pressure on referents without pressure in return – they represent with no (semiotic or formal) strings attached.
So they are – like money, like currency in capitalism, with which they are also coeval – (as close to) limitless (as possible) in their ability to refer; they are a universal medium of meaning-exchange; they accommodate any content and any content can be expressed in terms of monsters/in monstrous terms (a baby, an old man, a skyscraper, a cloud, light, sound, silence, wetness, dryness – all these can be expressed as monsters, as monstrous.)
The monstrous is so convertible it also serves to represent (without strings, without being latched to) Convertibility itself, and, if required, also, simultaneously Non-Convertibility (destiny).
They are the $ of metaphors.
… Monsters are money, a kind of discursive super-commodity. Ultimately the (human, social) significance of money is that it can be exchanged for other stuff of use value, but its irreducible condition as itself is tremendously important.
This limitless convertibility, which Scylla, Asterius and Grendel don’t possess, is a marker of the ideological work of the idealism necessary to maintain the current property arrangements. More and more in mass culture the figures which have this quality are portrayed as human beings – Fatal Attraction, Cape Fear, the war on terra.
The polysemy of monsters is not an isolated self-generating and self-sufficient characteristic but primarily a function in ideological product not reducible to it. What it does is impose upon the surrounding product, the text in which it operates, certain fixed and abstract ideological contents or more properly values. Dracula is himself limitlessly convertible as signifier; but his actions in the text have the opposite effect on those elements which more directly refer to social reality – Dracula can’t be pinned down to a cargo of content, but his function is to pin down the value of what’s around him – genteel virgins for example, sex, the institution of marriage, etc.. These – which do exist – emerge solid and unambiguous after the encounter with Dracula, who doesn’t. As ‘European values’ emerge solid after their encounter with ‘The Zarkawibeast’ or ‘Islamofascism.’ So he, the monster, is indeed functioning and acting in the fictional world like the process of commodification itself acts in the real world. Money is a fiction which is nonetheless functional and active, capable of transforming everything around it from its ambiguous state as material reality to its cleaner form as exchange value.
Monsters are perhaps most significant in literature for the effect they have on the production of protagonists/heros – of the wishfulfilling, prescriptive or anxious and proscriptive self-portraits of humanity, of individuals, of us.
So I’m coming to that….slooooleee….sloooleeee….
posted by Alphonse van Worden at 11:41 AM