June 06, 2006


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Sorry Zeke, did you say something?


I don't know D&G so I can't comment on a of this, but you get at a tension in Schmitt that I'm quite interested in, that between "making political" and "discovering as already political." I can see a use for each type, but I think the two involve different sense of the term 'political.' I think the former and the decision it involves is bound up with the explicit or deliberate composition of a collectivity in a way that the latter isn't. At the same time, as I read him, Schmitt does use a sort of pre-political collectivity in his argument (the people, the homeland which provides the telluric character, etc).

great post. this reminded me of related thoughts on thought/writing being a sort of terrorism (that is, in a good way, before the dark period when saying such things could get everyone locked up).


"The friend/enemy distinction becomes a plane upon which singularities are laid out in different intensities, but with which we cannot still escape from the war machine."

anthony, i am surprised you didn't reference d&g's "l’ennemi quelconque". From a draft footnote to one of my papers:

"The ‘Terror’ tag captures and embodies what Deleuze and Guattari call the ‘l’ennemi quelconque’, which in ATP is translated as the ‘unspecified enemy’, but in Empire is translated as ‘the whatever enemy’. ATP, p. 422; Empire, p. 444 fn11."

This change of translation has a particular meaning in the paper due to the implicit in-text connection to Agamben's 'whatever singularities'.

The synergy of State (sovereign) and commercial (capitalist) interests in the current WoT is expressed through the 'semiotization' of a residual enemy, the 'terrorist'.

I saw a bollywood flick last night, Fanaa. see the wiki for it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fanaa_%28film%29

There is a scene in the film where the 'Terror' tag is used to discourse a particular set of actions (theft of a trigger for a nuclear device). An 'anti-terrorist' agent uses a power point type presentation to indicate the levels of violence carried out across the world. What is interesting is the selection of particular cases of violence and the omision of others. I forget the exact list but it is something like, "London, New York, Bali" and one other one I can't remember, maybe Madrid, with a correlating graphic that represents the amount of destruction. (On of the meanings of the film's title is 'absolute desctruction' ala the nuclear weapon.) However, there was certainly no mention of the Iraq invasion as an example of terrorist violence, or the current violence in Africa as worthy of being considered. These acts of violence are committed not only being *carried out* by 'enemy-terrorist' but *against* a singular 'friend'. So by implication the current suffering of the populations of Iraq or Africa are not worthy of being distributed across this global-political field of intensities. SO I think this points to a Schmittian compliment of the State[-Sovereighty]-machine's 'whatever enemy' and that is the 'whatever friend'; in this brief case, the suffering of the 'whatever friends' is used to incite a sympathetic reading of the anti-terrorist agents' counter-insurgent actions in the plot of the film.

More History of Madness

Rather than going away as an issue, the Scull versus the Foucauldians debate seems to be spreading. It seems odd to me that people are willing to get worked up over this issue. Afterall, standard periodizations of Foucault’s work place The History of Madness outside his developed periods; viz., the archaeological, the genealogical, and the problematization. That is, within the Foucauldian corpus itself, The History of Madness is an outlier (not unlike his commentary on Kant’s anthropology, his book on Roussel, or the disavowed Maladie mentale et personnalité). The question, then, appears not to be about the place of The History of Madness in Foucault’s own oeuvre – a concept that should no doubt be question by anyone who takes Foucault’s work seriously – but, rather, about what “Foucault,” that is to say “Theory,” signifies in the context of (primarily) (North) American disciplinary politics. (Although, it is worth pointing out that comparing passages from the “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” essay with The History of Madness is, at best, strange – it is wrong-headed to criticize a non-genealogical work for not being genealogical!) Scull is engaged in a territorial pissing match with rivals. His concern, it seems to me, is to reject the work of Foucauldians by nit-picking Foucault’s major dissertation. (I guess it is easier to take on a dead guy’s dissertation than it is to take on work published by Nik Rose twenty years ago.) Predictably, the “Theory” warriors – themselves derivative hacks of the worst sort – are all to happy to jump into Scull’s boat in an effort to push their own agenda within the narrow perspective of American English departments.

April 02, 2007

Good Magazine: Philanthropic Condescension, Teacher Salaries, and Truthiness

I subscribe to a lot of magazines, sometimes just for the hell of it. I have a long standing interest in the genre... And many of them don't cost very much. So I signed up for Good Magazine after I took a look at the first issue. This was especially easy since, remarkably, 100 percent of the cost would be donated to a charity of my choice... No lose situation... What the hell, right...

Good is a strange bird, but one fully in sync with the times. Here's the editorial statement:

We see a growing number of people tied together not by age, career, background, or circumstance, but by a shared interest. This revolves around a passion for potential mixed with fierce pragmatism and creative engagement. We sum all this up as the sensibility of giving a damn. But to shorten it, let's call it GOOD. We're here to push this movement and cover its realization.

While so much of today's media is taking up our space, dumbing us down, and impeding our productivity, GOOD exists to add value. Through a print magazine, feature and documentary films, original multimedia content and local events, GOOD is providing a platform for the ideas, people, and businesses that are driving change in the world.

The word "business" sticks in the craw a bit, but who cares, right? Sounds like a good idea, even if the statement doesn't inspire much confidence as far as a predictor of hard-hitting content. One imagines post-partisan up-beatness, neo-liberalism restrung as greenish good will plus tech innovation etc...

But looking back, I probably should have seen what was coming up the pike. I was shocked today when I opened up the newest issue arrived and I flipped through to the following infographic feature at the center of the magazine. (Please excuse the poor scans - hopefully you'll be able to make them out... Click to enlarge....)

Scan 74223225 1

Scan 742232115 1

I nearly choked on my dinner when I saw this page, which is a state by state chart of how much higher the average school teacher salary (well, not quite... wait for a second) is than the average "white-collar, nonsales employee" in the US. So we're not even talking teachers vs. proles and farmers here. This is teachers vs. executives, managers, administrators, (nonsales) service and clerical workers.

The numbers are shocking. The average teacher in Connecticut makes 43.1% more than the average white collar worker? In New York, it's 37.7%. Vermont, 53.9% And in Florida, we're talking a whopping 65.2%. Teachers must stock the upper-echelons of the upper-middle class, giving doctors and lawyers and corporate vice presidents a run for their money! Wow! We're not even talking college teachers here - just plain old high school, middle, and elementary school instructors.

Of course, this is just so much bullshit. The first clue is the lead name in the list of sources for the infographic. That's right, the good old Manhattan Institute, an organization renowned for its slippery use of statistical analysis - a Scaife and Olin funded right-wing think tank in the classical mold pledged to "develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility."

So what is the trick of the MI study upon which the Good pages are based? The oldest and silliest trick in the book when it comes to knocking teacher pay: the comparisons are based on hourly earnings rather than yearly salaries. So, because of the summer and other breaks, as well as the short formalized work day (8-2 or 9-3 clock in and out), yeah, obviously teachers' rate of pay looks ridiculously impressive. Basically, when presented this way, the average teacher in the US, who actually makes $47,674, is factored as making the equivalent of something like $57,000 per annum.

Which of course they don't make. They make $47,000 per year. The Manhattan Institute explains their deceptive method in the following way:

One of the significant benefits available to public school teachers is that they work fewer weeks per year. Teachers can use that time to be with family, to engage in activities that they enjoy, or to earn additional money from other employment. Whether teachers use those free weeks to make additional money or simply to enjoy their time off, that time is worth money and cannot simply be ignored when comparing earnings. The appropriate way to compare earnings in this circumstance is to focus on hourly rates.

Um, sure. This is true. But let's be clear. School teachers are not going to, as a rule, find work during the summer months (and mid-semester breaks, for god's sake) that compensates them at the same (ridiculously high - that's the point, right?) level. Anyone who has been a Ph.D. candidate in need of summer cash can tell you that the summer temporary work options generally include, what, landscaping, summer camp counselor, barista, lifeguard, supermarket bagging - all minimum or in some cases subminimum wage type positions. Over the summer, one might expect to pull in, oh, $1500 or so before taxes. Of course, teachers can "be with family" or "engage in activities they enjoy," sure. More likely, teachers do some of that type of thing and a lot of class preparatory groundwork, etc. But the one thing they can't do is go into cost-reductive hibernation for the summer months, abandoning rent, mortgage, car payments, eating, and the like. The cost of living runs on a, yes, twelve month cycle. The salaries, yes, are for a twelve month cycle. In casual parlance, it's usually called a year, and there is no option to stay alive and hungry only during a fractional part of it.

OK. Well and good. The MI study is dishonest, cherry-picking a set of data to work with that paints an inaccurate picture of the situation. But we expect that of the good folk at the Manhattan Institute. Still, why didn't I just write a post arguing with the MI? Why bother with Good?

I bother with Good because they dishonestly made things even worse. Take a look back at the scans above. While the Manhattan Institute paper is careful to ground its claims in the proper nomenclature - they are careful to at every point describe the comparison as one of mean hourly earnings, which is the right word for the numbers compared - in the Good graphs the comparison is erroneously stated as one of salaries. "CT 43.1% above avg worker's salary." No one, speaking proper English, uses the word "salary" to denote an hourly wage or hourly earnings, or really anything other than the total amount of money one is paid for a job over the course of an entire year. (Just in case anyone is unclear on this point, take a look at what comes up when you search for the phrase hourly salary on Google - a whole bunch of calculators for converting your yearly salary into an hourly wage.) This error on Good's part smacks of hyperbolic, inflationary dishonesty. Far fewer of its readers would be all that stunned to learn that teachers have a relatively high rate of pay per hour - the graph is only provocative because it suggests that the yearly salaries of teachers is that much higher than other white collar workers.

I imagine the reaction of the average reader would be something like Holy crap! Teachers make that much money and they don't even have to work summers!!!! Overpaid bastards!!!! Which is exactly not the case. The word salary, in other words, allows Good to score twice against teachers for a single strike...

I'm sure the reaction of Good would be that this was a fact-checking error, a non-intentional slip. But of course it isn't - the proper language is right there for them to take from the MI piece, and the fact is salary sensationalizes the piece, makes it seem provocative and convincing in a way that mean hourly earnings does not. You can hear the number crunching, the figure forcing in the latter - the former seems to be clear as day, a simple calculation.

So why would the good folks at Good play the truthiness game? Why would they take up this issue, which seems a bit distant from the overall focus of the magazine, in the first place? Go take a look at some of the press on the founder, and I think the picture starts to clear up a little bit, especially in regard to his family foundation's investment in teaching entrepreneurship in the schools. (Hint: public sector teaching jobs are not very entrepreneurial... But privatized, deunionized schools, well, that would be a different story... Hell, while we're at it, why not scrap the whatever shreds of public sector infrastructure are left in the world, as tech savvy scions of media capitalists with their checkbooks + 25-40s with their green and good intentions (organic eats etc) would do a far better job at this whole taking care of poor folks than the... You get the point.)

It's a shame, really. The magazine, in general, seems like a partly noble gesture. But it is hard to see how this infographic jives at all with these philanthropic intentions. (Even if schoolteachers were overpaid, which they of course aren't, not by a longshot, this is an issue that Good thinks is worthy of attention, among all the other very grave problems there are in the world?) And above all else, we suffer from far too much bullshit in the realm of politics and popular sociology, far too much fact bending and bad faith argumentation, which makes this sort of thing, in the end, truly unforgivable.

The short seems, at first glance, to be an eco-redemptive narrative. The tyger appears in a nihilistic urban setting and unleashes the primitive core of each character, animalizing them. These characters are, to borrow an often quoted term from Deleuze and Guattari, becoming-animal, their repressed primitive essence exploding onto the bleak world and illuminating it.

But this becoming is not as simple or as easy as my theoretical shorthand suggests.  Becoming, first of all, has nothing to do with essence, nor does it have much to do with the animal.  As Ron Broglio and Fred Young suggest in the subtitle to their essay Animal Revolution, "there are no animals."  Steve Baker's The Postmodern Animal argues further that Deleuze and Guattari's becoming-animal is a mode of experimentation in which the language of subjectivity is sacrificed for the awkwardness of finding a new style, a new way of participating in the "unthinking or undoing of the conventionally human".  One does not become an animal when one is involved in a becoming-animal. 

Tyger struggles with the line separating interpretation and artistic experimentation associated with becoming-animal.  The film must contend with another becoming that haunts literary scholars: its uncertain relationship with William Blake and his poem "The Tyger" written around 1794. "The Tyger" argues against the violence of symmetry by allying it with the ferocity associated with tigers and disrupting the otherwise orderly and arguably symmetrical meter and rhyme with the word "symmetry."   The poem performs the violence of symmetry by highlighting our desire for order in poetry, suggesting that this order can only exist by sacrificing the most important word in the poem  and foregrounding our frustration when the orderly structure of the poem is subverted.

Marcondes and Valentin’s film replaces essentialist conceptions of ecology and authorship with one that celebrates the awkwardness and uncontrolled enthusiasm of artistic experimentation.  Its setting suggests the carnivalesque, with early images of roller-coasters and tents replaced with the neon foliage surrounding the drab, flat cityscape at the end.  The tyger is manipulated by shadowy figures, its joints expose a kite-like structure to the animal.  The shadowy figures highlight the tyger’s artificial nature and suggest a sinister presence behind the tyger’s actions.  The distinction between artificiality and nature becomes difficult to maintain in the film as it represents nature with artifice and imagines the cityscape (and its resonances of artificiality) with realistic photographs.   

The filmmakers situate the background with filmed images, and place their flat, artificial characters on top.  As the film progresses, the distinction between the background and the foreground becomes more apparent. This celebration of artifice in the face of authenticity or realism becomes the rallying point for the filmmakers' Deleuzo-Guattarian clamor of being—as the artificial, flat animals rise up and obscure the photo-realistic cityscape at the end.  It also suggests that the becoming-animal is not natural or related to nature, but that to be becoming-animal, one must also be becoming-artifical.  

May 20, 2009

Discipline and Punish

Following from Barret's post on interdisciplinarity, one might also wish to enquire into the problem of disciplinarity. In our case - Barret and I are both doctoral students in Canadian sociology departments - our professional association is engaged in a series of "professionalization" measures which, to be sure, are at once also disciplinary (in the sense of imposing discipline on those who call themselves sociologists or who study or teach or research in sociology departments) measures. This comes into close relief in two instances: first, changes to the structure and organization of our annual meeting and, second, larger arguments regarding the structure of the discipline in relation to other disciplines (this is external, boundary policing). In large part, this follows what from what is perceived as a 'coming crisis in English Canadian sociology' (for the most part, there is no communication between French language and English language sociologists in Canada - mostly because English Canadian sociologists can't be bothered to learn to read French and French Canadian sociologists have closer ties with other non-Canadian French language sociologists than they do with Canadian English language sociologists) premised upon the fact that most senior sociologists who presently dominate the discipline in Canada were more or less hired at the same time and will more or less retire at the same time, thus creating a power vacuum. The question, then, becomes what to do with sociology once the old guardians are gone.

For whatever reason, Canadian sociologists tend not to discuss these issues in public - our dirty laundry is aired in unread journals and unread newsletters. (For my part, I have a stack of unopened copies of the Canadian Review of Sociology, formerly the Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology. First boundary policing measure: cut off the few anthropologists who still participate in what was called the Canadian Sociological and Anthropological Association.) Other disciplines, such as English language philosophy, however, enjoy bringing their reasoned debates to the level of a visceral spectacle more commonly found in celebrity gossip blogs, such as the Superficial, and fully, openly and gleefully engage in disciplinary policing right out in the open. (It makes for great reading in the same way that the Superficial does.)

Now, I have no desire to revisit the tired question - fought mainly by those who already control the discipline of philosophy anyway - of analytic vs. continental philosophy and the apparent delegation of the latter into "literary" or "social" or "political" or "cultural" theory housed at the margins of other disciplines... (I am in a sociology department in large part because of two reasons: (1) political theory has a distinctive conservative slant in the major departments in Canada and (2) the generally insular, hostile and venomous atmosphere displayed in English language philosophy.) It seems, the philosophers just can help themselves: endless quantifying of "the most important" or "greatest" philosopher through online polls, endless quantifying of "the most important" or "best" journals, publishers and doctoral programs, and endless disputes over, say, political theory and philosophy. (See here replying to here; and here and here and here and here and here - you get the idea!) Other than reeking simple-minded aristocracy, what do these endless fights - fought mostly on one or two blogs but involving dozens of people - mean, if anything?

Note: I expect John Emerson to step up to the plate on this one.

May 20, 2009