time to get ill

Weep no more: children, weep no more!
Jah would never give the power to a baldhead
Run come crucify the Dread.
Time alone – oh, time will tell:
Think you’re in heaven, but ya living in hell

Blobs of oil from the massive spill float on the surface of the water on May 5, 2010 in Breton and Chandeleur sounds off the coast of Louisiana. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

-Bob Marley “Time Will Tell”

I try to maintain a fairly even keel: no sense getting hysterical. Even if the worst ecological disaster in US history is being bandied about for the political advantage of the cynical (if you recall my last post, I don’t mean kynical). Or that all signs would suggest that the US is entering a Japan-style ‘Lost Decade‘ (which, by the by, is entering its second decade). Everywhere I look when I follow the news, or the Facebook newsfeeds, all I see are signs of division and looming violence.

A United States that is emphatically not interested in being united if being unified means being united in the search for the possibility of freedom. Freedom is a foregone conclusion – “we” had it (even the nature of this who is meant by “we” won’t be considered), and it’s gotta be taken back and locked-up like the liquor cabinet after the kids got into it while we were out of town.

It’s raining in Atlanta today. And it’s hard not to wonder (and this is probably the hysteria talking, admittedly) if maybe some of this rain isn’t only the usual blend of car exhaust and burnt coal dust, but maybe also we’re getting some of that oil from the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf Stream has always brought us sweet summer rains. But what’s falling on us today?

I am specifically referring to that bonehead Rand Paul.

Sure, he’s not a pop star, like Lady Gaga or Lil’ Wayne. But, my central thesis is that today to be a political entity is to be a spectre. Primarily I am referring to Guy Debord’s theses in Society of the Spectacle, but also to a quote in Giorgio Agamben’s “What Is an Apparatus?” that we are witnessing the contemporary subject (you and me) undergoing the, “processes of subjectification and processes of desubjectification [that] seem to [have] become reciprocally indifferent, and so they do not give rise to the recomposition of a new subject, except in… spectral form.” I am contending that through absorption into the media ecosystem, political agency is reduced to this spectral form. The result is that the mode of political participation moves further and further from principled decision making (c’mon, Randal, “sometimes accidents just happen”? Are your principles getting in the way of understanding a simple concept like criminal negligence?) The result of this is a mode of morality that equates paying (attention, or using your money) with being an active solution to problems facing us. It’s depressing.

And somehow Slavoj Žižek, of all people, is offering me some consolation. He tells a great joke, and since the good borrow but the great steal:

When the Mongol Horde controlled Russia, two Russian peasants – a man and his wife – were walking down the road. A Mongol warrior came riding up the path to them. The warrior announced to the peasant, “I am going to rape your woman. And you must hold my testicles so that they do not get dirty from the road.” When the warrior rode away, the peasant began to laugh. “Ha! I showed him, I let his balls get filthy in the road!”

Žižek heard the joke from some of his dissident buddies, talking about the frustrations of dealing with the Socialist and Communist regimes under which they struggled. He states that the Left to this point has, “only succeeded in soiling those in power, whereas the real point is to castrate [those in power]….The task is not to conduct the castration in a direct climactic confrontation, but to undermine those in power with patient ideologico-critical work, so that although they are still in power, one all of a sudden notices that the powers-that-be are afflicted with unnaturally high-pitched voices.”

His is a similar position to that taken by David Graeber that revolutionaries need to understand that “there are times when the stupidest thing one could possibly do is raise the red or black flag and issue defiant declarations. Sometimes the sensible thing to do is just to pretend that nothing has changed, allow official state representatives to keep their dignity, even show up at their offices and fill out a form now and then, but otherwise ignore them.”

So what do we do? Boycott BP? No, a boycott only affirms that the proper (and perhaps only) mode of political exchange is through economic exchange. The long-term effect of this is what got us here in the first place: those with money get to influence the debate while those without money must serve as the foot soldiers of these co-opted debates (either by serving in the military or working in its inverse, the prison system). We must find a way to show the Rand Pauls of the world that the only reason to even tolerate a government is so that when “accidents” do occur, as they surely will, we will have the logistical engines present to overcome the damages caused by accidents. The government doesn’t need to be smaller, or efficient, at all. It must be, however, responsive to the situation at hand.

Further, and this is what I have to consistently repeat to myself, it is imperative to recognize that the primary means by which this hollowing-out of our subjectivity occurs is through the acquisition of our sense of time. Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Virillio… we have great resources for understanding our sense of time. We live only so long, so how will we fill that time?

The 24 hour news cycle is completely contingent upon our affirmation that we all share the same twenty-four hours. Time is not the same thing as experience. The 24 hour news cycle assumes that time exists but that experience is there to be exploited to the fullest. Experience is not our only resource, but it is ours and it is being plundered in a manner not dissimilar to the way in which archaeologists looted Antiquity during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Images: Peakenergy, Boston Globe, ABC (by way of Hulu), Cult Case.

Dave Ward



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3 responses to “time to get ill

  1. living in louisiana, i’m pretty worried about the fact that hurricane season is fast approaching. not quite sure what this means, but it very well could mean that oil will literally rain down on us, and possibly a large portion of the midwest.

  2. by “spectre form”, is Agamben referring to a powerless apathetic human? I´m a little confused about his (de)subjectivization.

    we can feel your sigh in this article… : /

    • I don’t think that Agamben is saying that anyone is powerless in this spectral form, but rather that something ghostly has happened to us. Maybe think of the opening of that film “Memento” – are we not ourselves also wondering what in the hell happened? It’s not that we are powerless, but that there has been this resounding emptiness that has come up in our explorations of power itself. It’s quite clear that those in power will simply do all they can to maintain that, and the purpose for achieving it has been primarily only to abuse those not in power.

      The desubjectification, I believe is alluding to the contemporary strains of antiessentialist thinking that has grown over the past 50 years or so. It’s old hat now to talk about “who we are” as not being the container of some essence. But that said, we now are the inheritors of a melancholy, a haunting existence as we see to fumble on with our lives in the absence of a stated end point in mind or an agreed upon history from which we arose.

      We certainly can enact differences in this world, but we must also come to terms with this state of affairs.

      Thanks, y’all!

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