Drifting and Drifting Until . . . What Now, Composing, 26/06/2018

Tomorrow’s post is going to switch gears pretty hard. After going through Jeremy Gilbert’s history of academic Cultural Studies and its place in the anti-capitalist movement, I decided to switch gears in my research.

The ideas for which I came to Gilbert in the first place were locked in my thinking pretty solidly. His book and his bibliography offered me a great outline for some ideas and passages in Utopias. It was just what I wanted from his work. There was just one way where it fell short.

I think a reason why many academics' books peter out so sadly
as they end is because so much training and mentorship in the
humanities accustoms you to staying away from thinking with
the scope needed for a 250-300 page work. You need to think
with ambition to produce a unified work of philosophy or
history with that size. University philosophy especially trains
you to stop well short of that, sticking to smaller and smaller
debates and dialogues.
Anticlimax. Now, a work of philosophy or history doesn’t need to be written with a full narrative arc like the conventions of drama. When I talk about a philosophical or historical work being anticlimactic, I mean that it loses focus as it ends.

Here are a couple of examples. Maybe they’ll illustrate what I mean. Maybe they’ll confuse you more. I honestly don’t know.

In AntiCapitalism and Culture, the core ideas run up against the same wall. Now for him, it probably didn’t seem like a wall. As I said a few days ago, Gilbert was writing ten years ago in a very different time and with very different purposes, than I am. By the end of his book, he’d explored pretty thoroughly the history and ideologies he wanted to explore.

Yet his writing kept running up against the same point at the end, the repetition becoming frustrating. My own notes on the closing chapters are all reiterations of the same question. Exactly the question I wrote about yesterday.

Gilbert isn’t sure what protest can achieve other than simple demonstrating that a different way of living and thinking together is possible. He doesn’t think you can achieve much with that.

He has some good reasons for thinking so, most of which are reasons of strategy. Such a demonstration can’t finish the job. Plus, the globalized nature of 21st century capitalism creates its own problems – if there’s no real keystone to the networks of oligarchy and finance capital, then there’s nothing to attack with revolutionary activity. No palace to storm.

Which is fine, if you think of an economic system and ideology as a state government. That’s slipping into what had been a common tendency on the radical anti-capitalist left – falling under the image of 1917. The shocking attack on the centre of government, the speeches from the leader of the military and intellectual vanguard from the balcony of their deposed royals’ palace.

Seriously, guys. This was 100 years ago. I think at least the internet
and all of our contemporary technology has changed the economic
and military situation of politics from 1917. Yet the only folks I
know who sincerely think you can straight-up replicate Lenin's
revolution in contemporary Washington are underemployed
sessional academics who only talk to other marxist academics.
These people couldn't organize anything outside of a set of
moderators' rules for a Reddit forum.
Protest is the first step, in today’s context, of prompting rebellion everywhere. A system with no centre isn’t stormed – it’s eroded from the inside. Experimental spheres of new economics form, reinforce themselves against attack, grow and connect. But without these ideas, Gilbert’s book just runs over and over against the pessimistic premises.

I’ve even noticed this in other books I’ve been reading. A fascinating book on Martin Heidegger and the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge school is drifting into disconnected comparative moments from an earlier clear thematic unity. More thoughts on that will come from the SERRC later this summer.

Even a fiction book ended like this. I picked up Isabelle Allende’s The Infinite Plan at a garage sale I wandered by last year, and finally got around to reading it a month ago. It’s a strong piece at the beginning, depicting the singular protagonist’s bizarre family and the vivid world of his upbringing in the Los Angeles barrio of the 1950s.

But that unique character becomes sadly generic once he leaves his eccentric, colourful world and becomes an ordinary rich white guy with shitty narratives who needs some therapy to deal with his PTSD from the Vietnam War and parental neglect. It drifts through well-written but increasingly boring stereotype after stereotype.

I think I dislike promising books that drift away more than books that are outright terrible from the start.

Anyway, an ecological / geological ontology of contemporary media tomorrow. Switching gears for a little bit.

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