Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Are Prisons Obsolete?
I really liked Angela Davis' Are Prisons Obsolete? when I read it. Not only interesting, I also found it quite convincing. The short size, and accessible language also make it a great book to give around, or hold discussions about.
But the title has always puzzled me. If she means obsolete as in gone, quite obviously that goes against the book which is all about the continued growth and expansion of the prison industrial complex. If, on the other, she means obsolete as something that was useful and now we have a better solution, that also has no bearing on her book. She never argues that prisons were once a good idea, and her book is not so great if you are looking for a criminal justice alternative to prisons (indeed, part of the genius of the book is to untie the conceptual connection between prisons and criminals).
It has just always struck me as a silly title. Great, small book though. Read it.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Whitehead in the comic books!
Friday, September 25, 2009
Now, I know nothing about Twilight, so when I first heard about a vegetarian vampire I wondered if we were dealing with another Count Duckula. However, it seems that these vegetarian vampires kill and drink the blood of other animals, they just don't kill and drink the blood of humans. I don't honestly know what to do with this information. First of all, it seems everyone that says the world vegetarian is pretty meaningless these days might have a good point.
The other point is that this shows another way that vegetarianism enters into an economy of the sacred and the profane, the innocent and guilty, the pure and the impure. In this case the vegetarianism has obviously no real meaning, except for one -- to demarcate that the present vampire as 'good'. The concept of vegetarian is wielded in such a way as to make the vampire not a vampire. I mean this in two ways. The first is in the way that vegetarianism is stereotyped as fundamentally anti-masculine. The vampire that drinks animal blood (or the vampire that drinks true blood) is a fundamentally 'defanged' vampire (why, after all, do you think Bill drinks the blood of Sookie in True Blood when they are having sex, or when he is committing acts of violence?). This 'defanged' vampire is the sensitive, dark, brooding, vampire. (To take another example, in Joss Whedon's Angel, he is the only vampire to live on the blood of animals instead of humans, which is connected to a curse which gives him a soul. This curse, however, also prevents Angel from having sex. If he ever has sex, he'll become evil again).
But these tropes of vegetarian vampires are not just used to connect vegetarianism to virility. Vegetarianism is used in another way, too. The vegetarian is also a trope of a split within their vampirism. Not only is this connected to the questions of virility mentioned above, but there always remains a yearning for human blood. A quotation from Twilight (the movie or the book or both, I have no clue): "Drinking only animal blood is like a human only eating tofu. It's filling but never quite satisfies." Vegetarianism in this world is asceticism rather than askesis, a paralyzed being rather than becoming. Rather than being a creature whose nature symbolizes an impure and con-fused nature in thrall of all that is profane, this vegetarian vampire seeks after purity and redemption, a Vampyr Sacer. A fundamentally brooding creature, unable to embrace it's lack of reflection with all that implies (see D&G, ATP p. 416). Vegetarianism here seems to indicate nothing other than morality, but a morality of the most incoherent and sickly variety. A demon who has found religion.
Now, most of the vegans/vegetarians I know in the animal emancipation movements do not believe they are innocent. But, and this is important, they too are seeking redemption. A becoming-vegan means both that we are never innocent, but it also means that we don't have to be trapped by guilt or rituals of purity. Indeed, those of us in the animal emancipation movement see these rituals of purity everywhere we go. Welfarists vs. Abolitionists. Pacifists vs. Militants. A movement that has trouble moving because of all its fractures. A movement that has trouble moving because the question of tactics is always raised to the level of the pure and the impure. We need less vegetarian vampires and more vampiric vegetarians.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
My post on Calarco's Agamben chapter
Comments closed here, to encourage comments over there.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Nishida Kitaro as speculative realist (of the OOP branch)
What sort of thing is space? The space that I here take to be a problem does not mean geometrical space; it is actually existing space. What is called “space” is thought to be diametrically opposed to time. Things exist simultaneously in space. Space is the relation of interchangeability of thing and thing. To say that things exist simultaneously, to say that the relation of thing and thing is one of interchangeability, is to negate time. But it is not actually existing space that has negated time; necessarily, actually existing space must subsume the temporal. Actually existing space must be thought as the place [basho]* of the mutual working of thing and thing. Thus, what works mutually must together be independent; what works must be something of the singular thing. Actually existing space must be the mediation that mutually relates singular thing and singular thing together; it must be the mediation of the continuity of discontinuity. What works must be temporal; it must be thought to be within time. If not, then it is no different than a geometrical form. But time, as I said before, must be utterly spatial. What is thought, as the unity of time, to be circular must be something “spatial.” There is no space that subsumes the instant of time. The instant of time must be that which cannot even be thought as the spatial extreme limit-point of the division of a curved line. There is no universal that subsumes the singular thing. The singular thing cannot even be thought as the extreme limit of individuation; the truly singular thing is something that has gone beyond the universal. The synthetic is not what is independent in itself. The further one carries an analysis, the more do thing and force [chikara] alike become infinitesimal; force must be thought as instantaneous. But time and space are never unified, the vertical never becomes the horizontal. Yet actually existing space must be temporal; physical space must be four-dimensional. Something like a collection of points is not actually existing space. Actually existing space must possess the characteristic of the circular unity that links the before and after of time. Time truly becomes time because it negates time itself; it is because space negates space itself that it becomes true space. Where there is interior qua exterior, exterior qua interior, subject* qua the objective*, the objective qua subject [shukan soku kyakkan, kyakkan, soku shukan], there is the self-identity of time and space; there is established actually existing time and space, as the mutually opposed aspects of dialectical self-identity. The affirmation of the self-negation of time must be space; the affirmation of the self-negation of space must be time.
What we call the actually existing world must be a world of the interacting of thing and thing. What interacts must be things that are both utterly independent; they must partake of the nature of the singular thing. Thing and thing can be thought to be mutually interacting as the mutual relation of what are both independent things. In order to say that thing and thing relate mutually, there must be something called a mediation. Yet if that mediation is thought as continuity, there is no mutual interaction. To the extent that what is mediated is mediated to the extent that it possesses the characteristics of what mediates. It is usually thought that it is on the basis of the fact that thing and thing are mediated spatially, they mutually interact, but we can say that thing and thing mutually interact, that thing and thing are spatially mediated to the extent that the thing possesses the characteristics of space. If one pushes such a notion to its logical conclusion, one might conclude that the thing is something like an aspect of the mediation. And the notion that thing and thing interact disappears. Is that then to think that the mediation is merely nothing [mu]* and that thing and thing are merely discontinuous? What is merely without relation cannot even be said to interact. Therefore, what is called the mediation of acting thing and thing must be the continuity of discontinuity; it must be in the fact that being is nothing and nothing being [yu ni shite mu, mu ni shite yu]. And so what we call the mediation of the mutual relation of independent things must be circular; it must be a parallelism. To say that A is independent with respect to B, and that moreover they relate to each other, is necessarily to say that A stands in a similar relation to C, and similarly with B and C. What is called the actually existing world can be thought in the above manner as the world of the mediation of discontinuity, as the world of the dialectical universal. It is neither to think the thing before the mediation, nor to think mediation before the thing. There is neither mediation without the acting thing, nor can one speak of the acting without the mediation. To say that the mediation of the continuity of discontinuity itself determines itself is to say that thing and thing interact; to say that thing and thing interact is to say that the mediation of the continuity of discontinuity itself determines itself. This is to say that place [basho]* determines place itself; it is to speak of the self-determination of the dialectical universal.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Speculative Realism/Critical Animal Studies: The Event
Also, Calarco has a response up on the Levinas section. I think his ultimate explanation of destroying morality is really quite worthwhile of a read.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Miéville, Negri, Agamben: A brief note
In Perdido Street Station, a significant plot device is dedicated to the development of a crisis engine, something that would us to tap into crisis energy. Crisis energy is perpetual motion. Crisis energy takes the decisive moment that something changes, and uses that feed into more and more power for that change. Crisis energy is a part of being, by the very nature of being you are already in crisis, just waiting to tap into it to do anything. This seems close to the understanding of potentia by Negri. Power that comes from living being that allows one to constantly change, morph, become something else entirely. We don't know what crisis can do.
In The Scar, a different type of power is sought after, the power of the possible. The power of the possible sword, or the possible letter. The explaination of the possible is given with the possible sword. Uther Doul carries with him a strang piece of technology, called a possible sword. When turned on, it doesn't just hit the target he actually hits, it hits all possible targets to a certain degree. The more possible, the more they are hit. The power of the sword isn't to become something else (a la crises) but to be or not to be whatever it possibly could be.
Now, maybe crisis energy and the possible sword are bad examples. However, the way Mieville describes the tension between the two is a great description of the tension between the two politics of Negri and Agamben.
From The Scar:
[H]is conviction that underlying the facticity of the world, in all its seeming fastnass, was an instability, a crisis pushing things to change from the tensions within them.
In the possibility mining that Uther Doul had just described Bellis saw a radical undermining of crisis theory. Crisis, Issac had once told her, was manifest in the tendency of the real to become what it was not. If what was and what was not were allowed to coexist, the very tension -- the crisis at the center of existence -- must dissipate. Where was that crisis energy in the real becoming what it was not, if what it was not was right there alongside what it was? (p. 396).
Thursday, September 17, 2009
More on academic napster, and inhumanities update.
Also, Greg has a new post up on the Levinas chapter. Go, read, comment. Agamben chapter post done by yours truly is up for early next week.
On a different note, G.H. has an interesting rejoinder on academic piracy. He isn't defending intellectual property, or the need to defend large publishers. But it seems that Open Court is a small, but quality, publisher gig. I don't know how many of these exist, honestly. But I can understand the feeling that ripping those people off might not be the best course of action. My belief is that short term, scans of books only increase the sells of books (I think that is the point Kvond was making in comments on the last post). However, I also admit that as book readers become more common, that very well could change. I don't have a good answer to that.
Lastly, I had gotten backlogged with emails, but I think I have answered them all. If I missed yours, let me know.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Anyway, he seems shocked that someone is looking for a download of his Tool-Being, and furthermore seems surprised that there is a "napster" of books. Such distribution channels are only growing, and as things like the kindle make reading pdfs about as annoying as reading them printed off, I think we will see this sort of thing growing.
As at least some of you know, I use to moderate a forum on the internet that was for a while at the forefront of scanning and putting academic manuscripts online (done originally, if you want to know, to benefit mostly high school students). Most of the real action has, however, migrated over to gigapedia and scribd.
I know there is a real push by many in the academic blogosphere to see a significant increase in things like creative commons and copylefting instead of copyrighting material. I have to say I see no problem with taking this further with academic pirating. But that is just the type of crazy marxist I happen to be.
EDIT: Btw, GH, I just looked through the usual suspects and didn't find a copy of your tool-being on the pirate websites. Not sure if you should be sad or happy.
The Pope and the Multitude
So I recently was reading the article, "The Notion of the Person in Theology" (.pdf) by Ratzinger (which, I might add, if this was a villain's last name in a novel, people would accuse the author of being obvious). Is it just me, or does the second part of the article, on the concept of the trinity, sound absurdly similar to Hardt and Negri talking about the multitude? I am not trying to say they are the same concept, or that this is even a criticism to Hardt and Negri (or Ratzinger). Just merely a philosophical stylistic similarity in an odd place.
Perhaps I shouldn't be too surprised, considering Erik Peterson always maintained that Schmitt's political theology failed upon the shores of the trinity. But still... .
Sunday, September 13, 2009
In Solidarity: UC Grad Student Walkout
As everyone knows, the UC system is in a lot of trouble. Less widely discussed is why and whose vision of higher education this crisis benefits. Perhaps even less mentioned is what can and is being done to avoid total capitulation by faculty and students to the Regents. Please read the letter below being circulated by UC grad students and visit the sites:
Graduate Student Walkout
Dear Professor XXX,
I write to express my solidarity with the striking UPTE workers and UC Faculty pushing for a system-wide walkout on the first day of class on 9/24. In advance of this date, I want to let you know of my intention not to cross any picket line. The emergency powers recently seized by the University of California Office of the President—not to mention the Administration's heavy handed budget decisions made under cover of summer vacation and holiday weekends—are unacceptable from any perspective within the UC system. This new thrust of long-standing trends toward privatization makes a farce of the University's stated mission of providing an accessible and quality public education for the youth of California. As educators, students and workers, we all have a stake in fighting for this dream against the prevailing corporate cynicism of the Chancellors and Office of the President.
Along with my fellow graduate students I have witnessed steep cutbacks in TAships, departmental funding decreases, fee hikes and dwindling job prospects. These new cutbacks threaten graduate students, who already have staggeringly high levels of debt, with the prospect of real financial ruin along the path to completing their degree programs. Assisting our professors instruct undergraduates grows more difficult with each over-crowded classroom and every bloated discussion section that the administrators force upon us. We are asked to take the hit for the financial crisis while those charged with managing the budget reject significant cuts in their own large salaries and, remarkably, refuse public disclosure the budget itself. For these reasons and many more, I support the actions and demands of the UC Faculty Walkout which must ensure that the University of California will not be "business as usual" on 9/24. On behalf of a growing contingent of graduate students (http://www.gradstudentstoppage.com/ ), I strongly encourage you to make the decision to walk out and sign the open letter if you have not already done so. That open letter and signatory page is here: http://ucfacultywalkout.com/
I strongly believe that this faculty walkout represents an important exercise in pedagogy: disruption is an essential component of all critical thought and all advances in human knowledge. Towards this end, I welcome the opportunity to discuss ways of including our undergraduates in this day of action. It is of utmost importance that we don’t punish undergraduates who choose to walk out in support of faculty on the first day, so we may want to discuss postponing attendance, permission codes and enrollment until the next scheduled day of class. In the days to come, building solidarity and creatively collaborating on pedagogical resistance will be essential to defending—more than just our individual positions—the very principle of a free and public education against the vicious and failed ideologies of corporatization and privatization. I hope this letter is only the beginning of an ongoing dialogue between us about these issues.
Feel free to re-post or publicize this effort any way possible.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Craig has a new post up on The Inhumanities
Promise some non-group blog related blogging over here again shortly.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Calarco has a response up, and more on The Inhumanities
You will also notice that we have a weekly round-up feature, in which we hope to highlight some of the important developments and future projects in the realm of Critical Animal Studies. That feature cannot survive without people promoting and sharing their own work, conferences, and publications, as well as sharing those they run into. Don't hesistate to drop us emails or make comments for useful things to be included in the weekly-round ups.
Lastly, there seems to be some confusion as to what I want to go by or what I want to be called. Something rather so straight forward as a name shouldn't cause so much confusion, sorry. I don't care about my pseudo-anonymity anymore, so if you want to call me "James," feel free. Also, "Scu" is a long-term nickname that many people call me in real life. And "Critical Animal" is fine, but I reserve the right to laugh without control if anyone ever calls me that in real life.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Help on Bare Life
So far, on that score, I have Rosi Braidotti's Transpositions. Wadiwel's rather originary essay, "Cows and Sovereignty," and Andrew Benjamin's "Particularity and Exceptions: On Jews and Animals". What am I missing?
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Animal, all too Animal: On Bare Life, part I
Over at J Rodolfo’s blog Posthumanities and Peter Gratton’s blog Philosophy in a Time of Error, a small but interesting discussion has been going on concerning the canonical status of Agamben’s The Open within critical animal studies (Can CAS already have a canon? I guess if we can have debates over it, it can). You can check out the discussion here, here, and here. In it, Gratton claims:
But on Agamben, his whole approach to animality is still always defined in its relation the human. I’ll expand on this at some point, but identifying animality with bare life (nuda vita) does not sound pregnant with possibilities for post-humanistic discourse.This is what I was trying to get to awhile back with this post on bare life not being animal life.
Now, I haven’t known exactly how to respond because I am slated to do the Agamben chapter on Calarco’s book over at The Inhumanities. I think I will treat this post as prelude (concerning Calarco’s interest in Agamben doesn’t particularly reside in the concept of bare life). I find myself disagreeing with Gratton that Agamben is not useful for those of us, scholars and activists, who find it necessary to produce thought capable of responding to the present catastrophe of the treatment of other animals. But I agree that Agamben remains trapped within his anthropocentrism. As usual, the only to move is through immanent critique, a reading that seeks to produce an Agamben beyond Agamben. In particular the strongest elements of Agamben’s anthropocentrism remain in his interconnected thoughts of language and bare life. Due to certain time constraints, we will have to bracket his discussion of language (though one hopes to come back). In what follows, though, I hope to sketch out the problems with bare life from the perspectives of critical animal studies.
The first way to gloss bare life is through Heidegger. Let’s turn to Being and Time, and the essential existential analytic about death.
Furthermore, it was evident in our characterization of the transition from Da-sein to no-longer-being-there as no-longer-being-in-the-world that the going-out-of-the-world of Da-sein in the sense of dying must be distinguished from a going-out-of-the-world of what is merely living [Nur-lebenden]. The ending of what is merely living we formulate terminologically as perishing. The distinction can become visible only by distinguishing the ending characteristic of Da-sein from the ending of a living thing. 
In this we see a constant trope, those who are merely living are not able to die (sterben), they are only able to perish (verenden). Death, authentic death, is preserved for the human. Nur and bloß are pet words and term of art in the work of Heidegger, as Garham Harman has shown. And while they occur throughout Heidegger's work, they appear again and again in Heidegger's frequent attempts to show how animals exist in ontological poverty in relationship to humans.  The disjunction between death and perishing, with its automantic relation to other animals, is not just a feature of early Heidegger, but also late Heidegger. We can move from Being and Time to Heidegger’s 1949 Bremen lectures, “Einblick in das was ist.” (most of which remains, strangely, untranslated). For those of us that continue to see the question of the “fabrication of corpses” bound up with the question of the animal, these lectures are impossible to ignore.
Heidegger wonders in these lectures if those who die in mass deaths, actually die. He knows they can unkommen, he knows they can werden umgelegt, and he knows they can werden liquidiert. But none of these terms, often considered synonymous with death, answers the question, “Sterben Sie?” Indeed, for Heidegger the victims of mass death cannot die, just like the merely living. He makes this fairly explicit in the lectures. Claiming, “They become pieces of stock in the reserve of the fabrication of corpses.  In the earlier lecture, Das Ge-Stell, during a discussion of turning all beings into reserves of stock, Heidegger remarks that it would be odd to refer to a living being as piece of something, except of course we might talk of cattle as being pieces of stock. This connection between the perishing of the merely living (cattle, for example) and the inability of dying of those victims of mass death means that Agamben’s reading of these lectures in Remnants of Auschwitz are fundamentally incorrect. Remember, in that text Agamben advances the argument that Heidegger’s lecture mirrors the point made by Primo Levi, that the victims of Auschwitz experience a death that one hesitates to call a death. Rather, we find that Heidegger’s philosophy obscures mass death. 
The second gloss of bare life is to be found in Walter Benjamin’s “Fate and Character” and expanded to the realm of concept in “Critique of Violence.” This is even Leland de la Durayante’s argument in Giorgio Agamben for taking the side of Daniel Heller-Roazen’s translation of nuda vita to mean bare life, rather than Cesare Casarino’s translation of naked life. Nuda vita here is already a translation, a translation of Benjamin’s bloß leben. Let us now turn to Benjamin’s understanding of that concept in his “Critique of Violence.”
The term bloß leben appears relatively late in the essay, but emerges at the crucial moment by which Benjamin is trying to distinguish between mythic violence and divine violence. After Benjamin has distinguished between the bloody, lawmaking violence of mythic violence and the bloodless, lawdestroying violence of divine violence, we are introduced to our present term. It is necessary to quote at length:
For blood is the symbol of mere life. The dissolution of legal violence stems (as cannot be shown in detail here) from the guilt of more natural life, which consigns the living, innocent and unhappy, to a retribution that “expiates” the guilt of mere life—and doubtless also purifies the guilty, not of guilt, however, but of law. For with mere life, the rule of law over the living ceases. Mythic violence is bloodly power over mere life for its own sake; divine violence is pure power over all life for the sake of the living. The first demands sacrifice; the second accepts it. 
Mere life is thoroughly connected to natural life, to the life of one who can bleed and be injured. It is bound up with the guilt one experiences by having a body. Divine violence may destroy the law, but is necessary by exceeding our animal, all too animal selves. Just a little farther down, Benjamin makes this clear. Benjamin argues against those who argue for the sanctity of life, if “existence is to mean nothing other than mere life.”  The argument only comes to have any meaning if
"existence" … means the irreducible, total condition that is ‘man.’ … Man cannot, at any price, be said to coincide with the mere life in him … there is no sacredness in his condition, in his bodily life vulnerable to injury by his fellow men. What, then, distinguishes it essentially from the life of animals and plants? And even if these were sacred, they could not be so by virtue only of being alive, of being in life. 
In this Benjamin completely rejects the capacity for suffering and joy to ground an ethics and politics. The threat of such an movement based on shared vulnerability is highlighted by his immediate response, wondering what could possibly distinguish the human from animals. I may disagree about his thoughts on vulnerability, but I agree that it is not enough to base liberation on something that can be termed a mere or bare life.
 See Being and Time, Joan Stambaugh’s translation (translation modified, though), p. 224. Also, see the original, pp. 240-241.
 While the full scholarly reading of Heidegger's use of 'mere' in relationship to the lives, qualities, and capacities of other animals remains to be written, Stuart Elden has an excellent overview of the numerous places that Heidegger defines the human by showing the 'poverty' of the animal. See, Heidegger's Animals. Continental Philosophy Review. 2006;39:273-91. As Elden shows in great detail, this move by Heidegger far exceeds the usual citations in Introduction of Metaphysics and The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics.
 Heidegger will use the term Fabrikation von Leichen twice in these lectures, pages 27 and 56. “Bremer und Freiburger Vortrage,” in GA vol. 79. It is also interesting to note in that animal slaughters in France are as likely to use the phrase “faire la bête” (doing the animal) as they are “Tuer la bête” (killing the animal). However, the word faire carries with it also meanings of producing, making, fabricating.
 ibid. p. 56.
. Ibid. Sie werden Bestandstücke eines Bestandes der Fabrikation von Leichen.
 ibid. pp. 36-37.
 Remnants of Auschwitz, pp. 74-76.
 My argument in many ways mirrors Todd Samuel Presner’s argument that Heidegger is unable to think the Holocaust. See his Mobile Modernity, pp. 205-232. While I am in strong agreement with Presner’s argument, my advancement is that we are unable to understand Heidegger’s disjunction between death and perishing unless we understand Heidegger’s disavowal of the animal. It is because the animal remains in a place of privitation for Heidegger that he cannot think the human victims who are killed ‘like animals.’
 Leland de la Durantaye, Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction, pp. 202-205.
 Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence” in Selected Writings: Volume I, p. 250.
 ibid. p. 251.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
On my pseudo-anonymity
So, would have a long term, maybe interesting, academic blog help me at all for future job stalkers? Or potentially hurt me? My guess has been no and yes respectively. Am I wrong?
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
First post on Zoographies over at The Inhumanities
I am also employing the unusual step of not allowing comments on this post, because I want the discussion to be centered over at The Inhumanites. Please participate, and help make the new group blog a success.