Empire and Spectacle - note to E

Filed under: difference, animal, the political, spectacle — sdv @ 08:34:35 pm

I was wondering how to reply to E and his proposition that the concept of Empire and Multitude make little sense anymore because of the collapse of the certainties of globalization and neo-liberalism and the consequent turn to more traditional varieties of liberal governance… And yet still the imperials manifest themselves in Afghanistan and Iraq, the local running dogs of European governance confirm the tendency of dogs anywhere to obey their masters, and Empire represents itself (throughout the) in the spectacle and it seems therefore that the concept and the actuality of the spectacle has become more important as we try to understand how an anti-imperial multitude can become an ever more real possibility. Because the spectacle is the key.

Some people may even speak of intellectual property but the spectacle doesn’t care who owns it…. But It’s not enough to listen with interest to Paul Mason hyper-realistically lamenting the tragic goings on in Gary Indiana on Radio, the internet and at the ICA or to read and scoff at the laments of liberals in the Guardian in its most reactionary moments. Given the centrality of the spectacle for Empire, something more than a love of the internet is required…


Notes on Juvin The Coming of the Body

Filed under: culture, philosophy, event, difference, animal, text — sdv @ 10:28:11 pm

I’ve been reading Henri Juvin’s The Coming of the Body in a direct sense thinking that this is related to the post-humanist thought that’s been hanging around the periphery of my virtual desk. A moment where the human/technology assemblages collapse before the sheer unlikeliness of the thought that out of mass-consumptive capital something that is inhuman might actually develop. In Juvin’s terms this may be considered as ‘A breakthrough in the liberal project of departing from nature into human self-determination’, or referencing Nick Bostrum and placing in the same liberal project ‘Transhumanism is underway via steady technological improvement in the capacities of the human species’. But I can’t help but think that this is because the singularity is always considered as in the future, that it is going to be the consequence of future scientific and technological changes that may not happen? That on this side of the singularity we may not recognize which side of the singularity you are on. Reading Herve Juvin’s work draws the reverse conclusion from this, founded on logic related to currently unfashionable postmodern thought and to Michel Serres argument that the significant break in knowledge and circumstances happened over thirty years ago, the end of the Cartesian imperative that we learn to dominate nature and the requirement that we learn how to manage ourselves, with this thought that the technological singularity has already passed and we simply missed it, and that we Europeans are living in the aftermath of a change. Juvin’s interesting line of thought in the book is that which delineates the change.

You might choose to understand this with the usual genuflections towards the idea that since death of god we Europeans believe in their bodies instead. With the consequent turn towards the general idea that life should be safe and rules by pleasure. But this would be to ignore that the ground on which the person stands has changed - “The Darwinian view, placing the human species over all the others, as a final outcome, is refuted; the earthworm is a final outcome too, like the nightingale. The human species has the specificity that it can kill all the others, but that is not permitted on pain of destroying itself. An old order of value is overturned; it becomes more obvious every year that the destruction of the surviving members of a threatened species is a crime as grave as crimes once committed against human beings…” (sadly Juvin doesn’t acknowledge the positive implications of the neo-Darwinan view, if he did then the ‘all the others’ delusion might never have existed). The specialness, the uniqueness of the human vanishes precisely because after the change we are responsible. What Juvin describes is how the development of medical and bodily technological science have already redefined what it is to be human. Not through the merging of the body with technological augmentations, though this has of course happened but through something much more subtle and interesting, the emphasis on human longevity, the extension of youth and the taking control of human death. The proposition is that the people of Western Europe face a present and future disconnected from need, suffering and duration. (And notice the central importance of the localism ‘European’, we are not addressing humanity here but a restricted localized subset). Our youths, middle and old ages stretched out into a distant future, a new territory. The reluctantly claimed side effect of this is the developing loss of the previous social and moral compass which Juvin will miss and which was founded on a culture which most of humanity was excluded from. But is this really meaningful and what is the evidence that supports the logic enabling Juvin to make the claim ? The authoritative claim is that the ‘Body is New’ is structured on the growing length of human life, the changing relationship to death and old age. The body has changed in time and changed in space, and beyond the body that is no longer as mortal, the human subjects body suffers less. So the change is not presented as technological, not market driven, nor a social conflict between capital and islam but rather the European body slipping into quietude and privacy. The loss of moral compass then is also in explicit loss of embodiment. Leading to the ‘production of the body’, a very different body which is no longer founded on the same ground … ‘The end of the land dates from yesterday…’ Juvin argues marking the very different relationship to nature that the change references. This is a unique European restructuring which is founded Juvin believes in the change from wealth being material, based on land and towards variants of (underspecified) immaterial labour. A technical revolution which constructs the world as an object, placed incredible strains on human relations with nature and without constructing anything final in its place. The immediate consequence of the change is precisely that ‘This has liberated man from want, danger and the violence of the elements’, that nature is our responsibility.

The question of whether the necessary ontological change complete or whether the partial critique that Juvin’s text represents maintain its dominance of the world is unclear. The partial critique can be shown in different ways – the simplest is perhaps the absurdity of a belief that in a world consisting of seven billion soon to be nine billion people that it is possible to regret that it is no longer true “…Children used to to be synonymous with wealth to come, seen as a blessing and an advance…” Juvin argues this is an aspect of the break in the transmission of cultural capital across the generations. Regretting the death of a particular bourgeois liberal culture that might have communicated across generations but which is not meaningful after the change. Whereas in truth its a matter of finite resources and the world(s) changing rather than maintaining the liberal and capitalist direction towards human extinction, because that’s the strange thing about the liberal culture he regrets, it remains enthralled by its own extinction even as it mutates into something different. Because of the nostalgia for the dying if not quite dead liberal culture he regrets the way capitalism is ‘going to concentrate unprecedented means on the human body. The investment in health, procreation and the production of bodies…’ With the arrival of the change, the economy and financial markets, even the exchange of female bodies to circulate genes across the planet will no longer be contents of our truth systems. It won’t of course be supplanted by the politics of bodies as Juvin imagines, that’s nearly a past already… but that’s another story

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