Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Land of the Free

Langston Hughes:

American Heartbreak

I am the American heartbreak --
Rock on which Freedom
Stumps its toe --
The great mistake
That Jamestown
Made long ago.

(Langston Hughes, "American Heartbreak," Selected Poems of Langson Hughes).

Sunday, August 27, 2006


From Rusty Berkus:

"Full Circle"

"When I grow up
I'll read poetry in the New Yorker
and it'll be okay if I don't understand it.
I'll not be afraid to ask stupid questions
or challenge authority if I disagree.

When I grow up
I'll turn down a date on Saturday night
if it isn't meaningful.
I'll even stay home on New Year's eve
if I feel like being alone.

When I grow up
I might learn from listening
I might learn from criticism
I might even learn to have an "open mind."

When I grow up
I'll share all the feelings I've always
wanted to share.
I'll touch all those people I've always
wanted to touch.
I'll tell all the people I love
that I love them.

When I grow up
I'll go to the park and slide down slides
swing on swings
lie on the grass without a blanket
and make necklaces of buttercups.
I'll laugh at myself and giggle with others
scream and throw pillows when I'm angry
sing loudly and cry softly, cry loudly
and sing softly.

When I grow up
I'll forget time.
I'll write poetry on paper,
paint it on canvas or mold it with clay,
dance as if it were my last dance
and love as if it were my last chance to love

When I grow up
I'll never feel old again."

(Rusty Berkus, "Full Circle," Soulprints)

Friday, August 18, 2006

Distinction, Or The Ideology of the Aesthetic

Lindsay Beyerstein is puzzled:

"I've noticed an interesting cultural difference between freelance writers and freelance photographers. Economically, the two groups have similar concerns. Yet, for some reason, photographers are willing talk much more frankly about money.....Why is it that freelance writers (and the staffers who feel their pain) always conceal their legitimate economic anxiety behind endless squishy salvos in the blogger vs. journalist debate?

Anyone else noticed this cultural divide? Any thoughts on why it exists?"

The answer is to be found in the cultural arbitrary that confers distinction (Bourdieu). Photography, by and large, has less cultural capital than writing. Photography functions as a "popular aesthetic," and is thus considered to be based on "the affirmation of continuity between art and life, ... the subordination of form to function, or, one might say, on a refusal of the refusal which is the starting point of the high aesthetic, i.e., the clear-cut separation of ordinary dispositions from the specifically aesthetic disposition." Writers are trained to cultivate a "Kantian aesthetic" of "detachment, disinteredness, indifference"; to distinguish themselves by their "pure gaze," "a systematic refusal of all that is 'human,'.... the passions, emotions, and feelings which ordinary people put into their ordinary existence, and consequently all the themes and objects capable of evoking them." The habitus cultivated in the photographer is the "anti-Kantian aesthetic," that is, functional, easily read/understood, and "gratifying" to the senses rather than "pleasing." (Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste).

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Gramscian Pimpernel

Now and then they venture out and cause trouble on other blogs. Now you see him/her as "Ptochos," conversationalist, then as "elijah," scourge of the Marxist bourgeoisie. An exchange in the Blogora, the Rhetoric Society of America blog -- the whole exchange can be found here: :

Zionism and Hegemony

Here's a response:

1. I applaud the fact that you have refused to succumb to your fear and gone ahead to post the letter. Even though I disagree strongly with the contents of the letter, dialogue should not be shortcircuited by fear. It should be noted, nevertheless, whereas I believe your fear is genuine, it should be viewed in light of the overwhelming dominance of pro-Zionist/Israeli-government dominance of public discourse in the U.S. This dominance is often exercised through intimidation and smearing of those who are critical of the Israeli government -- usually by false accusations of anti-Semitism (Also, the statements by Democratic Party politicians on Israel ought to establish this point. Also see, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt paper in the LRB -- even though I disagree with some of their points, their argument on this dominance seems to me correct). The point here is to put in perspective the fact that critics of Israel are more likely to face reprisals; or that the reprisals may be far more severe than pro-Zionists.

Your correspondent pooh-poohs the Qana massacre as a "great media performance." You state that you're posting this letter "here in the hopes that people will stop using body counts and photos as a justification for who's right and who's wrong." But we are not offered any evidence -- from your correspondent or you for that matter -- for the denial of this Israeli government atrocity. Here's a story below that refutes this disinformation:

The actual murder of the Qana civilians is of course what is most appalling. Nevertheless, those who deny it are complicit in this atrocity [It should go without saying that Hezbollah war crimes are not justifiable and deserve condemnation as well].

2. Your correspondent argues: "If there are less casualties on the Israeli side it has to do a lot with luck and with the fact that most of the population that usually lives in the north has left the area and is staying with families in other parts of Israel or live in tents on the beaches." She adds: "Reading a bit more on this conflict will reveal that it is a country that is responding to violence in order to exist. For 6 years Israel didn't retaliate on repeated aggressive actions of Hezbollah! just see what happened as a result."

There is so much falsehood in these statements it is difficult to know where to begin. The first is the Israeli claim that this is an existential struggle -- but nobody (except the Israeli right and American neoconservatives) can seriously entertain the notion that Hezbollah can destroy the nuclear power that Israel is. Just yesterday, the NYTimes reported on the party atmosphere in Tel Aviv (contrast this with the terror in Beirut). As for the claim that "Hezbollah" started it all and the Israeli government merely responding, see the following article:

Your correspondent argues: "Some Christian neighborhoods in Beirut are safer than large areas in Israel." Another false statement. See Juan cole on this":
I could go on and on, but the falsehoods in your correspondents letter are not only numerous, they are blatant and ought to be obvious to anyone who has been following this conflict.
The best solution of the Middle East conflict is the creation of a binational state (wherein Palestinians and Jews hold equal rights). But that is a long-term vision. In the short-term, there should be a ceasefire (of equals) wherein Israel agrees to pull out of Lebanon and Hezbollah ceases its rocket attacks.

By elijah at Tue, 2006-08-08 14:53

The Best Solution of the...

"The best solution of the Middle East conflict is the creation of a binational state"
Well let's see. You don't want to be called anti-Semitic. Ok. Fair enough. But take your little statement there (and your cliche usage of the pejorative "Zionist") and you set yourself up for that claim. When one grants nationalism to every people in the world but Jews - Zionism, in case you didn't know, is the Jewish nationalism - than one is entering into racist territory.

Utter nonsense on your part. Either you are ignorant of the meanings behind the gestures you make, or you are aware. And if the latter, don't be surprised when you get the critique that follows.

Enough with the idiocy. You call for dialogue while basically calling for the elimination of Israel? Get real. That's hardly a dialogue.

By j.rice at Tue, 2006-08-08 19:10

Anti-Semitism, Nationalism, and Platonic Rhetoricians

Those of us familiar with the rhetorical tactics of Zionism will not be surprised by the sleight of hand involved in smearing any and every critique of Zionism as "anti-Semitic" and "entering into racist territory" and the vicious slander that a call for binationalism = the elimination of Israel.

I will nevertheless persist in my Bakhtinian commitment to dialogic communication. So let me try once again:

Zionism is problematic because the notion of a "Jewish state" ipso facto consigns non-Jewish citizens of Israel to second-class citizens. As Tony Judt has argued, "the very idea of a 'Jewish state' -- a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded — is an importation of "a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law."

The Zionist claim that a binational state = the elimination of Israel is bitterly ironic given that the people actually in danger of elimination are Palestinians whose existence shows clearly that the establishment of a pure Jewish state can only take place if they (the Palestinians) are ethnically cleansed from the land.

You assert that "When one grants nationalism to every people in the world but Jews - Zionism, in case you didn't know, is the Jewish nationalism - than one is entering into racist territory." But, as the Tony Judt quote above indicates, nationalism predicated on religious and/or ethnic separatism is immoral in the eyes of most of the world. Advocates of this kind of nationalism (apartheid-era South Africa, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran) are rightly seen as racist/bigoted/fanatics.

Judt's article can be found here:

I note that in a rhetoric site, interlocutors are insulted as "anti-Semitic," "racist," "idiots," and accused of advocating genocide. All this without argument. I wish I could genuinely say I'm surprised, but having attended rhetorical studies conventions, this only seems to me symptomatic of the parlous state of the field.

By elijah at Tue, 2006-08-08 22:02

"Blatant and Obvious" is not a Persuasive Label...

Do you really need Gramsci to say, "The Jews control the media"?

By jim at Tue, 2006-08-08 17:20

Gramsci Among the Rhetoricians

No, but Gramsci would appear to be a better resource than reading from the David Horowitz playbook.

Now, while I am leery of the endless handwringing about "civility," it seems to me that slinging an "anti-Semitic" smear is not only unethical, it does a disservice to your field (rhetoric). A lifetime's work attempting to refute Plato and we get this kind of argument-free response?
Let's try again: I am a Gramscian myself, so I'm not surprised he's not understood here in the belly of the capitalist beast (the U.S.). So let's turn to Burke and adopt the comic view, shall we? In which case, one of us is mistaken -- certainly, in our view of each other, but also perhaps on the facts regarding the conflict in the Levant. In which case, Prof., your task would be to marshall the evidence to critique my point of view. Perhaps then if we cannot stop the killing in the Middle East, we may be able to stop writing footnotes to Plato.

By elijah at Tue, 2006-08-08 18:23

I've Never Been Compared to D'Ho Before, But Here Goes....

I suspect that we're past the possibility of reasoned dialogue here, so let me just point out that sometimes it comes down to recognizing which of the following countries would allow this unpleasant exchange:

The Capitalist Beast US
The EU (barely, I won't show any cartoons)
Saudi Arabia
Shia-controlled Iraq, or the previously Sunni-Controlled Iraq

I think Gramsci would have wished to retain the bourgeois freedoms won by the liberal capitalist revolution rather than let them be trashed by Ba'athism or revolutionary islamism. Sometimes you have to make a choice.

By jim at Tue, 2006-08-08 19:11

Internationalism and the Complicities of Bourgeois Marxism

Prof. Aune shakes his head saying that "he suspects that we're past the possibility of reasoned dialogue here." But why? Unlike the Professor and j. rice, I have not hurled any insults at him (though I argued that his argument-free smear of me as anti-Semitic echoes the Horowitzian style). Even then, I urged him to adopt Burke's comic view and engage me on that plane. For a person whose field preaches civic deliberation, turning away from an argument after the slightest amount of disagreement seems rather...well...anti-democratic.

I must say that the argument the Professor offers as a response to mine is disappointing, not because it represents a particularly bad argument (though indeed it is), but because such a statement would come from a Marxist.

Prof. Aune offers a false choice between capitalist "U.S." and Islamic "Saudi Arabia." I feel almost embarrassed by this argument: does a Marxist have to be reminded of U.S. sponsorship of regimes such as Saudi Arabia? Of its overthrow of democratic governments and its frustration of democratic aspirations that created the conditions such as the one that brought about the Islamic Revolution in Iran?

In contrast to the provincialism of U.S. academics, the Marxist vision -- at least in its academic versions -- has been distinguished by its internationalist perspective. Prof. Aune's jingoism represents an astonishing ahistoricity from the very ideological perspective that arguably introduced history to philosophy. (I'm not sure if this jingoism emerged only after 9/11, though I first heard him give voice to comments such as the above at the 2002 RSA conference, much to the disbelief and dismay of this young radical. Fortunately, Dana Cloud was present at the same conference and in her talk proved just how important an engaged, internationalist Marxist voice was in resisting the smug depredations of bourgeois capitalism).

By elijah at Tue, 2006-08-08 23:38

Are you the Creator of Hi and Lois?

Elijah, pal, what's happening here? I have no argument to use in response to your words, since argument isn't going to change anything. While you've "attended rhetorical conventions," you might be surprised to learn that rhetoric as an action extends beyond high school debate-style arguments. Why the fundamentlist trip over proper Marxist party lines? Why the cliches about "bourgeois capitalism," which is an insult I used to hurl at my parents when I took my first political philosophy class in college?

Most of all, why the sureness in your own beliefs? Is it possible you're not totally right? Is it possible these people you quote (like a good fundamentlist) might not have the whole story? Is it possible this situation is just fucked up--and not just a consequence of Jews acting badly? What's so wrong with not knowing *exactly* the cause of the problems there? What's so wrong with spreading blame around to everyone? What's so wrong with saying that it's not right for a bullying paramilitary group to kidnap young soldiers, launch rockets at folks living on farms, or call for the destruction of a whole people? Do you have something at stake in ignoring that stuff?
Like I said, this is not an argument. These statements I'm making--and the statements that you've made/will make--are simply epideictic. That's okay with me. But I had to say something. The laughter was too great to keep quiet.

By jenny at Wed, 2006-08-09 08:44

Don't look at me, y'all heard the question, proles. Are you the creators of Hi and Lois?