Conspiratorial materialism

A few thoughts on what conspiratorial materialism might look like...

From quantity to quality: from one dead banker to ten thousand dead bankers.

From paranoia as individual pathology to paranoia as the correct affect and understanding of a pathological systemic order: from the false certainty of misrepresenting how the world works to the dead-on certainty of that misrepresentation as the actual presentation of the world's workings.

The problem isn't just the difficulty of cognitive mapping but what you see when you do it correctly. All those slippery connections, backhanded deals, flows of money maybe secret but never fully surprising aren't proof of hidden drivers at the wheelor cabals of the powerful pulling the strings. It's just the clearly lit fact of the totality, and hence mapping it better reveals only the tangles piled high.

And then to avoid the dysphoric muteness that results from the necessary attempt to present the mess sharply. Maybe to remember how Alexander the Great dealt with the Gordian knot (that is to say, sharply: don't untangle, just cut through) and learn how to do it en masse.

Salvagepunk doubleheader!

Guest introducing, via a back and forth with China Miéville, a special lumpen, trash heap, rag and bone edition of Kino First, to follow the post- Historical Materialism conference headache. To alleviate that headache, a salvagpunk double feature screening, with me promising to keep comments brief. Should be a hell of a time. BYOB.

Info below:

At the Hotshoe Gallery in Farringdon:

Richard Lester, The Bedsitting Room (1969)

Peter Sykes, Steptoe and Son Ride Again (1973)

Introduction by Evan Calder Williams

Date: Monday 30th November 2009
Time: 7.00pm
Place: Hotshoe Gallery, 29-31 Saffron Hill, London EC1N 8SW.

London time (drizzle, debate, drink, repeat)

Off to London for a week and a half, for much excitement, Historical Materialism conference, guest hosting a Kino-Fist double header (of The Bed Sitting Room and, if it's a go, Steptoe and Son Ride Again), Zero book launches, meeting new comrades, Brighton wandering, lots and lots of Marxist pub dialogue, and, if past trips are any indication, discovering buried busts of Lenin in front of Constructivist apartment complexes. Good times... track me down if you're in the area.

Refusal report

An interview with me and others on the California Report, talking about occupation, where to place anger, and non-acceptance of "not having a choice."

Occupied California

News from all around the way...

New York Times



SF Gate (and here)


Continued updates, of course, at OccupyCa

Unsere Unis,12.348633&spn=11.357555,27.685547&z=5&output=embed

Map of occupied universities in Europe (plus our American outposts far, far away).

Occupations across the state!

Refusal and excitement spreading wide. Here in Santa Cruz, the first waves of exactly what I've been hoping to see: open occupation, expression of a general will, and the start of a long struggle with centripetal force and gravity. More updates and thoughts to follow, but news here:

Tomorrow happens today

In this winter of our discontent, let's crank up the heat a little...

Jameson! Brown! Postone! Rowbotham! Apocalypse! Crisis! Red Planets! Derivatives!

Good times a-comin' - HM conference and mass gathering in Lodon. As always, too many simultaneous good panels meets the difficulty of having a finite body. To no great surprise, my talk falls under the heading of APOCALYPSE MARXISM, on a panel I'm proud to be sharing with Mark Fisher (k-punk) and Ben Noys (No Useless Leniency). Or as it should perhaps be phrased MARXISM --> APOCALYPSE. From analysis of value form to the burning horizons of end times...


Another World is Necessary: Crisis, Struggle and Political Alternatives

27 - 29 November 2009
Birkbeck College and School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
Thornhaugh Street, London XC1H OXG



CONFERENCE PROGRAMME now available at:

Speakers include: Gilbert Achcar * Robert Albritton * Kevin Anderson *
Jairus Banaji * Wendy Brown * Alex Callinicos * Vivek Chibber * Hester
Eisenstein * Ben Fine * Ferruccio Gambino * Lindsey German * Peter
Hallward * John Holloway * Fredric Jameson * Bob Jessop * David
McNally * China Mieville * Kim Moody * Leo Panitch * Moishe Postone *
Sheila Rowbotham * Julian Stallabrass * Hillel Ticktin * Kees Van Der Pijl *
Hilary Wainright


"Start the game by tackling University and then play the levels in numerical order. "

Virtual, immaterial, post-Fordist capital gets its cutrate virtual experience, with the joy and excitement of navigating its speculative waters in Creditability, a thrilling new game.

"Take a journey into the world of money and credit. Choose a bank account! Buy a house! Avoid the identity fraudsters! Do all these and more playing Creditability. "

(thanks to Alberto for this lead, and for probably making me waste hours of my life, as I already feel the Lovecraftian horror of my draw toward playing this...)

Openings out of fought closures

A thought, following the library study-in this weekend (and what to me was remarkable, namely a self-constituting group that formed out of a disparate collection of a couple hundred, a group that recognized our numbers, composition, and potential force, and asserted ourselves through mass argument, a channeling of palpable excitement at the prospect of such an emergent formation, and the clear-eyed recognition of where we stood and how we appear).

It's one thing to struggle to close off and hold a space against those who may try to enter and remove you. It's a whole other, and far more powerful, thing to insist on not closing that space but to hold that space open to others, to be enough of a mass to assert not just the capacity to shut down but to use better. The endpoint is not barricades, human or objects, capable of withholding. The point on the approaching horizon is to hold out - and to take hold collectively - without needing those barricades.

"water would bring an acute condition to a crisis" (i.e. the "ascending douche")

If we speak of needing a cold bath of political realism, the icy shock to clear the head and get the blood pumping, we might need to work harder to find a metaphorical equivalent of the following description. (Although I remain committed to a rejection of all ascetic fantasies. Spartan measures for times of plenty, perhaps, dionysian moments for scarcer years.)

"Gräfenberg offered a menu of water treatments: head baths - patients would lie on the floor with their heads in basins of cold water; wet stomach packs; the ascending douche, spraying water up the genitals, and the wet sheet treatment, in which patients were wrapped for hours, mummylike, in wet bandages. The cold douche was the coup de grâce: icy water was discharged over patients from a height of twenty feet. These were spartan measures, but they worked well on an overfed, overdrugged, and stressed-out generation."

(description of Vincent Priessnitz's mid 19th century spa, from Porter's The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity)

RIP, Chris Harman

Obituary from Alex Callinicos here.

Horrors: Werewolf of Washington

After a long hiatus, our horror squadron regroups. I know very little about this film, other than that it is nominally about a post-Nixon press assistant to the president who also happens to be a werewolf. Also, I know that it is one of the greatest film posters ever. Think I may have found a next tattoo. Though we might question the tagline: makes what perfectly clear? (We also may follow this up with Teen Wolf Too, a pretty necessary one-two punch.)

Sunday, 7 PM, my house

Loving to suck warm young blood, it kills corpses

Bordiga, on capital as vampire in a rather different and necessary turn: the vampire that has to finish destroying the dead before getting on with the business of being a bloodsucker.

"Modern capital, which needs consumers as it needs to produce ever more, has a great interest in letting the products of dead labour fall into disuse as soon as possible so as to impose their renewal with living labour, the only type from which it “sucks” profit. That is why it is in seventh heaven when war breaks out and that is why it is so well trained for the practice of disasters. Car production in America is massive, but all, or nearly all, families have a car, so demand might be exhausted. So then it is better that the cars last only a short time. So that this is indeed the case, firstly they are badly built with a series of botched parts. If the users break their necks more often, no matter: a client is lost, but there is another car to substitute. Then they call on fashion with a large cretinising subsidy of advertising propaganda, through which everyone wants the latest model, like the women who are ashamed to put on a dress, even if perfectly good, “from last year”. The fools are taken in and it does not matter that a Ford built in 1920 lasts longer than a brand new 1951 model. And finally the dumped cars are not used even for scrap, and are thrown into car cemeteries. Who dares to take one saying: you have thrown it away as if it were worthless, what harm is there in me fixing and reusing it? He would get a kick up the backside and a gaol sentence.

To exploit living labour, capital must destroy dead labour which is still useful. Loving to suck warm young blood, it kills corpses."

("Murder of the Dead", from Battaglia Communista, 1951)

derrière les décors des restaurants chics parisiens, ce sont aussi les sans-papiers qui tiennent les coulisses

Piece over at The Commune on the migrant cleaners in Paris, some of whom occupied the chic top-floor restaurant of the Pompidou Center. (Article from Libération here.) This is pretty damn powerful, even in its incipient stage, with real lessons to be learned for us here. Demands like, "We are not on strike just for ourselves, we want papers for all workers, including those working illegally" change the game. It's necessary - for us here, for all - to strive to find that precision of something concrete and comprehensible, yet the fulfillment of which would entirely rupture the ruling order of the day. (In this case, the regularization of sans-papiers would fundamentally alter the class and political composition of France.) The singular demand becomes universal...

"There is no harder thing than to have Glenn Beck outlive your child"

Victim In Fatal Car Accident Tragically Not Glenn Beck

Can't help myself here. Until Mr. Beck becomes the hidden sleeper cell ultra-leftist we know him to be, this will still be necessary.

Notes on apocalyptic method

[Two sets of three thoughts: on what is to be drawn from thinking combined and uneven development and on what an apocalyptic version looks like.]

What is the perspective which underlies this model of combined and uneven development and which it offers beyond itself? What does this have to do with making sense of movies about the end of the world and our reversion/conversion to cavemen, gas-obsessed barbarians, walking corpses, insane loners in an empty city? And what foothold does it give for a radical politics posed against late capitalism?

First, it is a perspective onto the ways in which we see neither a simple monolithic advance – or reversal, at times – of history as progress nor a scattered patchwork of different time scales, historical projects, and their resultant organization of bodies and moneys. Rather, it is a properly dialectical conception of real abstractions, in this case between political geography and visions of where the world historical project is going. Specifically, it considers the consequences of the intersections between such a monolithic perspective (the march forward of global capitalism through and toward liberal democracy as a way to weather the increasingly severe economic, ecological, and sociopolitical crises bound to emerge) and the zones which can never be seen by it as other than barbaric pockets of anti-modernity, lingering vestiges of intolerance, superstition, and simpler times to be celebrated for their “authentic diversity” while folded in under certain strictures of extractive market relations.

This isn’t to say that one perspective or the other, either the unified teleology of capitalist progress or the competing and incompatible micro-visions of different historical trajectories, is more or less true. Rather, the point is to grasp how the unified vision only gains consistency through its relationship to what cannot fit into it and of how it provides an ideological backdrop for the material shaping of a world that will preserve those unwelcome zones. In other words, decisively not “flattening the world” and welcoming all equally into the financial fold, but providing the narrative of that as the cover story for an opposite practice.

Second, what does or would it mean to fight “progress”, to refuse the trendlines and timelines offered? Neither to desperately cling to past regimes nor, crucially, to fetishized the way things were. Instead, to wonder, like a strain of idiosyncratic apocalypticism at once anti-capitalist and anti-modern, if the savage might throw away his bow for a rifle in order to take aim at the very need to throw away the bow in the first place. To take up the arms of the contemporary capitalist world, either to beat it at its own game (a certain Communist vision of employing “capitalist” technology in order to develop productive forces beyond the limits of capitalist scarcity) or to take it down from within (alternately, versions of Italian workerism and certain Situationist and anarchist cultural practices). The point, as always, is to stay a bit savage in the midst of all this mediated savagery, to fight for something more equal, organized, perhaps even clean and modern, by never going totally non-native.

Third, to stress the givenness of this order. One is always in the shadow of the world that rejects you, and privation is not reduced to the grayness of a degree zero. These are apocalyptic zones, sites in which we see exposed both the collapse of capitalist universality and the revealed presence of what cannot be included (“differentiated”, recognized) without undermining the workings of the global economic order. For this reason, the degradation to the status and material forms of the “backward,” the primitive, the anarchic, the hell-on-earth is always historically marked, and not in terms of what era of backwardness a region approximates. It is not uncommon to hear people speak of certain zones (deep in jungles, high on mountains) as “unchanged since the 13th century”, or the like, claims which, while perhaps accurate in describing agricultural practices, family structure, etc, are incapable of recognizing that such zones are historically tarred, however much in shadow, with the sign of the Now, precisely because they are visible to us only as a not-this, not-Now.

Even on a less extreme scale, the collapse – and willful maintenance by powerful nations – of certain areas into the barest subsistence farming, warlord powers, “clan” battles, uncontrollable ravages of disease, and aching famine: these must be grasped as “signs of the time”, not as vestiges of what should be outmoded if we could just get everyone to agree on the universal model of liberal capitalism. These barbarisms are the direct result and fundamental support system for all those new beasts springing forth, odd innovations in finance, different ways of streamlining shipping containers, revolutions in the time scales and cycles of capital. The seeming banalities and technical details are the real writers of a new apocalypse. To counter this, to write otherwise, is to also refuse to pass through the old stages, to stand in the present while recognizing that any capture of it we manage is of a moment already passing. The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk, indeed.

Before proceeding further, we need to take stock of a theoretical question perhaps specific to my apocalyptic project. If “combined and uneven development” as a concept and model itself grasps the levels of hellishness that ensure and ensured, what does combined and uneven apocalypse offer, beyond a demonstration of a deep attachment to pithy rewording? The point isn’t just to ramp this up, to stress that the political and social effects of capitalism are “apocalyptic,” in the looser sense of so bad that it signals the end of things. Rather, three reasons.

1 . It is rather to stress the apocalyptic potential of these spaces, not as permanent catastrophe – a paradoxical catastrophe that does not signal end but systemic health – but as permanent visibility of the “hidden.” It is not permanent, but a historical duration, particular to the 20th century and only getting worse, in which no event can signal a phase shift. It is diffuse apocalypse.

2. Despite our brief forays into consideration of “real world” conditions, the emphasis here is on the cultural fantasies of apocalypse and what follows it. Crucially, however, these should nor be taken as just hyperbolic versions of how things really are. Visions of the world after peak oil don’t just ramp our seemingly inevitable situation, zombies don’t just take the struggle of laborers and the denigration of the homeless and make them more mindlessly and necrotically horrible. If there is an allegorical relation at play between these movies and their historical conditions, it isn’t one of standing in as the limit-case of what already is the case. Rather, the argument is that given the ideological structure of capitalism, combined and uneven development is an invisible truth. We know it to be the case, but to speak it, to show it, remains something altogether different. These films and books, mass cultural phenomena and subcultural obsessions, are the closest articulation we can get of the structures of totality underpinning this, not a mirror but a prism. In the distortions of this restless cognitive mapping, we get closer to not just the texture of an age, but the support structure on which it is stretched and formed.

3. If this odd collection of instances, this anti-canon of shared apocalyptic dreams and nightmares, are an inconstant lens onto how things are, they are also a path to be followed to what may be. They are concrete fashionings not of how things will go (the real possibility of zombie holocaust remains unlikely) but how we might like them to, kickbacks against the horror of the endless same, projections out from the barely detectable of this conjuncture to a conjecture of where this leads us. With this comes, necessarily, a revision of what apocalypse can or should mean, and an insistence on readying ourselves for the role we will have its coming to be.

So forget enlightenment, forget the worry of starting in the dusk and losing our way. Let's willfully begin at midnight, with the singing of and about the dark times.