Sunday, 28 May 2017

The Hollowing-Out of Universities Continues

There has been much talk on the Right in the last decade (or more) of the damaging effects on university campuses in America, Britain and even in Ireland of 'political correctness' - allegedly attempts to silence dissent by militant cabals of students and professors who deploy the rhetorics of identity politics (feminisms, queer thought, black and postcolonialist movements).  Mostly, it must be said, the accusations of 'political correctness' come from the Right and the far Right, which seek to use the liberal forum of the university institution to advance highly illiberal ideas and policies.

But now we have more concrete examples of the truly sinister and institutionally powerful 'political correctness' being mobilized by the neoliberal or managerial university, in the age of the 'war on terror' and of Trumpism.  Karma Nabulsi, a Palestinian teaching at St Edmund Hall Oxford, has written a brilliant article for the London Review of Books, revealing the ways that British government policies pitched against 'extremism' on campuses bleed into and infect the capillary activities of university life.  At this link, you can also listen to Professor Nabulsi on audio:


And here is an article - from Jacobin -  showing the ever-widening gap between America's small number of rich universities, which reproduce privilege and inequality even as public education is filleted, just in case you had any other delusions about universities as sites of liberal values: 




Conor


Diary - Blogging, Discontinuity, Revolution

I've left another long gap in my blog.   This is regrettable on a number of counts. Most cynically, one keeps up one's readership by regular posting.  When one does not post, reader drift away and are lost.  More to the point, perhaps, there is so much to write about, or to be angry about.  Christopher Hitchens used to say that being angry was what got him out of bed in the morning - that was in the Better Old Days, before Hitchens himself became one of the expanding number of things to be angry about.  But he had a point - the only antidote to Trumpism, Brexitism, Zionism, Varadkarism and Fine Gaelism generally, the dump that is the mainstream Irish media - the only antidote to these things is 'a ruthless criticism of everything', as the young and hopeful Marx once wrote.   I've been slack in my contribution to this criticism, due to a variety of personal and work-related problems.   But, for now at least, I am back.

I've been reading, all-too slowly, about the history of the Russian Revolution.  I've whipped with great pleasure through A People's History of the Russian Revolution, by Neil Faulkner.  I am reading, much more slowly, John Reed's Ten Days That Shook The World - reading it slowly is foolish, because the book moves at a breakneck pace, and one should read it breathlessly.   I have a short history of the Revolution by Sheila Fitzpatrick waiting to go.   We live, of course, in the centenary year of the great Revolution, but its commemoration is a mixed affair.   Western historians are either blissfully hostile, or, if they are sympathetic to the Revolution, adopt a modest and qualified tone.   Fitzpatrick is a distinguished liberal historian who negotiates very well towards the latter pole.  Here in the LRB (March 30), she reviews the state of play:

Sheila Fitzpatrick


No greater contemporary inheritor of the radical spirit of the Revolution than Tariq Ali.   Here are two articles of his, one a list of further reading, the other his take on the legacy of Lenin (from Jacobin)





Let no-one doubt that the Revolution was also a profoundly important moment for women and for feminism:



More to follow!

Conor

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Women's Resistance - The Theory and the Practice

In preparation for tomorrow's International Women's Day, and global women's strike, I am posting three articles here.  The first, from the Verso site, is an interview with Judith Butler, maybe the pre-eminent radical philosopher now active in the Anglophone world.   I've written about Butler several times already - in celebration of her winning of the Adorno Prize and the unholy flak she faced when she did so, as a brave anti-Zionist Jewish intellectual, in particular.   But while I began reading Butler properly only in the last decade, when she wrote increasingly about Palestine and the Middle East, it must immediately be admitted that her career extends at least another decade further back, to Subjects of Desire (1987), her study of French Hegelianism, and then to Gender Trouble (1990), her groundbreaking and career-making account of gendered identity not as an essence or mere biology, but as a constantly reiterated performative function.  This problematic has not fallen away from Butler's thinking since those early books, and in this interview, which was made by Jean-Philippe Cazier to honour the publication of a French translation of her book Notes Toward A Performative Theory of Assembly and first appeared at the Diacritik site, we find her re-thinking the nature of demonstration and public politics in performative terms.

The second and third articles on on notable examples of women's struggle in two widely separated parts of the world, Argentina and Palestine.  In each region, women's battles grow out of particular or local difficulties, but, via protest and representation, will achieve global resonances tomorrow.  The article on women in Argentina comes from Jacobin; that on women and the fight for Palestinian rights and independence comes from ElectronicIntifada.

First, Butler and Cazier:

Acting in Concert: a conversation with Judith Butler



Next, Veronica Gago and Augustina Santomaso on the situation in Argentina:

Argentina’s Life-or-Death Women’s Movement



Lastly, Sofia Arias and Bill Mullen on Palestinian women:

ON 8 MARCH, STAND WITH WOMEN OF PALESTINE


Conor

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Global Women's Strike - Mass Protest on International Women's Day, March 8, 2017

Next Wednesday, International Women's Day, in over 40 countries women will march in protest, agitating for reproductive rights, and against violence in the economic, domestic and institutional spheres.  In Ireland, the particular focus for the strikers will be the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which disgracefully equates the right to life of a foetus to that of the woman who bears it.

To mark this great event of mass protest and agitation, I am posting an article on the strike, from Jacobin, and also the LRB spring lecture by Professor Mary Beard, the brilliant English classicist based at Cambridge, which is on 'Women in Power'.  First, on the strike - Cinzia Arruzza and Tithi Bhattacharya explain its meaning

What the Women’s Strike Means


And then Mary Beard, from the London Review of Books website:



Conor

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Power, Alienation and Truth - Chaplin and Chomsky

Here are two excellent essays from the Jacobin site, just to cheer up your weekend.   Firstly, a wonderful discussion by Owen Hatherly of Charlie Chaplin, and the early admiration of him and his politics by the Russian revolutionary film industry.  Hatherly's work will be familiar to many readers of the Guardian, the New Statesman, and the London Review of Books.   Here he reveals the contradictory and at times strange effects of the love of Chaplin displayed by film-makers such as Kuleshov, Barnet and Pudovkin, where pro-Bolshevism is wedded to the industrial-technocratic values of Taylorism and Fordism.   This movement received the intellectual reinforcement of the great literary critic and theorist of literature as alienated language, Viktor Shklovsky, who saw in Chaplin's jerky movements a version of the actions of the industrial worker.

Charlie Chaplin in Moscow 



Moving from Shklovskian 'ostranienie' to a different form of alienation, Daniel Geary, a historian working at Trinity College Dublin, marks the fiftieth anniversary of Noam Chomsky's great essay 'The Responsibility of Intellectuals', first published in the New York Review of Books in 1967, at the height of America's war in Vietnam.  Chomsky's essay, which would receive an even more formidable iteration in 1977 in his Huizinga Lecture, 'Intellectuals and the State', took the world of American policy-formulation as its subject and turned it inside-out, in the manner of all great critics: he presented American liberals with a radically alienated vision of the intellectual scene with which they had thought they were so familiar.  This essay was essentially a manifesto for the extraordinary life of dissent which Chomsky has led ever since, and which he has always believed is open to any ordinary person endowed with some curiosity and a moral imagination.  'The Responsibility of Intellectuals' is reprinted in American Power and the New Mandarins, also published in 1967, Chomsky's first openly political book, and also the place where you'll find 'Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship', an overwhelming indictment of mainstream American social science and its complicity with the war in Indochina.  'Intellectuals and the State' is collected in another superb volume, published early in the Reagan era, Towards a New Cold War.  Chomsky is not infallible, as Geary points out, but what a bracing example he offers to us all, as he nears his ninetieth year.  Here is Chomsky's article, and then Geary's re-reading of it:


A Special Supplement: The Responsibility of Intellectuals



Truth to Power


Conor

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Performing the Revolution - Tariq Ali on the Communist Manifesto

Yesterday - I should have written about this before enthusing about WJT Mitchell and Robert Darnton - was the 169th anniversary of the publication of Marx and Engels' Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), probably the greatest and most influential political pamphlet ever written.   Like the Proclamation of the Irish Republic of 1916, the Manifesto is a tremendous piece of performative writing (in JL Austin's famous phrase) - its being read brings into existence that to which it refers, it does things, it makes things happen (in this case, on the most epic of scales), and this goes a long way to explaining its enduring power and haunting effect.

Here is Tariq Ali - commentator, film-maker, street-fighter - on the Manifesto - from the Verso website:


Tariq Ali: Introduction to The Communist Manifesto


Conor

American Psychosis and the Yellow Press - WJT Mitchell and Robert Darnton after Trump's First Thirty Days

Critical Inquiry is one of the finest, most stylish and most important literary/cultural critical journals in the English-speaking world - here's its website: Critical Inquiry - Official Site  Published out of the University of Chicago, it's long been edited by Bill Mitchell, himself a brilliant critic of both literary and visual culture.  Here he is, writing in the Los Angeles Review of Books, in an essay which was originally given as a lecture at the University of Geneva, just before Trump's inauguration:

American Psychosis: Trumpism and the Nightmare of History

I first discovered Robert Darnton, one of America's great cultural historians and a major scholar of eighteenth century France, through his wonderful collection of essays, The Great Cat Massacre (1984), and then his classic study of The Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (1995).  This book, which builds on Darnton's earlier study, The Literary Underground of the Old Regime (1982), is a superb account of the chapbook and pamphlet literature of the streets, which - by way of satire, polemic, pornography, and critique - helped to undermine the Bourbon monarchy.  Long on the staff at Princeton, Darnton now is University Professor and Director of the University Library at Harvard.   Here is Darnton's personal website, which contains online or pdf versions of many of his essays and reviews: Home | Robert Darnton  And here he writes about the history of the late nineteenth century 'yellow press', a notorious earlier instance of the creation of 'fake news' and 'alternative facts' - an essay from the New York Review of Books:



The True History of Fake News


Conor