Muddy With Sentiment

From The New Yorker review of John Banville’s most recent novel:

“A man remembering his parents at the beach maybe sixty years earlier: you expect something windswept, lyrical, pleasingly melancholy. What you get is the splayed banana skin, the mottled legs, the lard-colored ankles. Does Banville mean to be iconoclastic? Then what do you make of the final line, with the past ‘untarnished, gleaming, bright as that tin box’? Again, Banville is trying to show us how things are bewildering, double. Sentimentality, he told an interviewer, is ‘the absolute death of art.'”



Paranoid Power

How excited am I for Anne McClintock’s next book?  So unbelievably excited.  She talked a bit about the project at a Wikileaks event a year or so ago, and I find myself going back to the terms quite a bit as I wade through the digital dark side.  One of Anne’s great strengths is gathering materials and archives, structures and subjects, in a way that acknowledges the dynamic of power between them.  She consolidates knowledge without fixing it, and transforms multiple fields in the process.

One article is out from the project, “Paranoid Empire: Specters from Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib.”  Explaining the dynamic of paranoid power, the project so helpfully articulates power’s doubleness.  In her words:

“a social entity such as an organization, state, or empire can be spoken of as ‘paranoid’ if the dominant powers governing that entity cohere as a collective community around contradictory cultural narratives, self-mythologies, practices, and identities that oscillate between delusions of inherent superiority and omnipotence, and phantasms of threat and engulfment.  The term paranoia is analytically useful here, then, not as a description of a collective national psyche, nor as a description of a universal pathology, but rather as an analytically strategic concept, a way of seeing and being attentive to contradictions within power, a way of making visible (the better politically to oppose) the contradictory flashpoints of violence that the state tries to control” (53).


She ties such paranoid power explicitly to militarized institutions, and certainly this seems to be the case.  But by articulating paranoia as a dynamic between individuals and institutions, as something that subjects individuals to institutions, she also explains a far more pervasive phenomenon.  For structures and individuals intersect precisely at the moment of paranoia – the power of the structure encourages both the feeling of omnipotence and engulfment precisely because our structures both have and do not have power.  That is, in a neoliberal moment, structures ensure doubleness throughout the system–power without responsibility, responsibility without power–but also within individuals (to resist? to find a ‘new’ way even in a moment of utter pessimism).  But what McClintock’s article so powerfully reminds us is that this doubleness is not simply economic, it is imperial.


Action and Representation

Reading a selection from Jodi Dean’s The Communist Horizon, I was struck by the role representation and action played within her argument.  Analyzing the Occupy movement, she celebrates its event-ness – the way that it creates rupture – but questions its resistance to representation and leadership (i.e. ‘the party’).  She suggests that you can’t move beyond representation because to speak is to speak for, and to disavow leadership is only to become paranoid about the leaders that emerge.  Thus, you should subject oneself to the party – a political form that institutionalizes lack – the lack of Capitalism (i.e. its failure) and the lack of Occupy (its non-knowledge, precarity, incompleteness) – because it ensures collectivity in practice.
As she gives this pragmatic advice (my word- certainly not hers), she repeatedly emphasizes the difficulty associated with occupation – most frequently mentioning the difficulty of duration.  And certainly, within the media landscape and the forms of political activism that so interests her, duration is a hard thing to achieve.  But it is precisely this emphasis on difficulty that makes me question her account.  Because, as a good Victorianist, I also value action and representation – two things often dismissed in the 21st century or in the name of radical politics.  And, I certainly agree that occupation is difficult.  But, I also think that precisely because so many occupations are so easy (here I’m thinking about settler colonialism, of course, but also how easy it is to inhabit a space assigned to us, to contribute to the duration of old forms of power) that I question why a party that disciplines difference and shapes divisions into those that are important to “the struggle” is necessarily of value.  There are events that create ruptures everyday that remain invisible, unspoken for, not in the name of some celebration of plurality or multiplicity but rather precisely because they do not serve “the struggle.”  Non-knowledge here is slightly different, it’s institutionalized on every level not as a desire for collectivity, but as identity politics – i.e. that which prevents collectivities from emerging.
We have to speak for, and we have to act.  Yet, I believe, perhaps naively, that there are ways of doing both that have a more accurate, and politically useful, understanding of an event.