Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Dear [REDACTED] #5

Glenn O'Brien

The last in a series of draft emails I wrote a while ago. Read the rest here: 1, 2, 3, 4


I feel like my brain/mind/whatever is running out of space. The big crunch. I forget. I become overstimulated far too easily. I can't consume the things I NEED to consume because I feel like my brain will explode. 

I always feel like I'm having to get myself ready. I keep giving myself more and more of a "run-up". I store things away. I'll consume them all when I'm ready. Which means: when I feel a little less burdened, when it feels a little less immediate, when my mind is clear, whatever that means. 

Sometimes I feel like it's laziness and cowardice, sometimes I feel like it's actually self care, because the list of things to read/watch/listen to/do/learn is never ending.


Saturday, 26 November 2016

The Future is NOW pt 2: In Defense of Utopia

Part 2 of my notes on Kathi Weeks' 'The Future is Now'. See Part 1 below

Weeks suggests Ernst Bloch is an example of a Marxist who embraces utopian desire and demand (unlike Marx and Engels).  His book The Principle of Hope argues that imagining that another world is possible isn't frivolous but reasonable. He sees utopian thought as reason allied with imagination, and says it can be seen as a 'particular brand of realism'. That's if we take reality to be that which not only consists of what has come to be, but also its 'potential to become other'.

Utopian Reason

Bloch sees his project as the union of "cold" and "warm" streams.

Cold = dedication to empirical analysis and analytic reason
Warm = hope, desire, and imagination

'politically effective knowledge requires not contemplative reason, but anticipating reason, which takes [things] as they go, and therefore also as they could go better.

Bloch believes in the 'intellectual productivity of the imagination'. Utopian hope needs reason and imagination but also it's also characterised by the warmth of enthusiasm, and the cold of sobriety.

The Not-Yet-Become concerns whether or not utopianism as a type of speculative practice or mode of political aspiration is necessarily unrealistic...'

The Not-Yet-Become suggests reality as a process that goes forwards as well as backwards. 'Everything real has not only a history, but also a horizon.' 

It goes against the idea that reality is static. So, Bloch challenges the idea of the "real" that informs anti-utopianism. (see the future is now part 1)

Bloch contests ideas that utopianism is something nebulous and super-extraordinary that isn't compatible with pragmatism.

Not-Yet-Conscious: Allows us to anticipate the not-yet-become as a possibility. The model is the Freudian unconscious. But instead of being backward-looking, it is 'oriented towards the future'.

The unconscious is also seen to be the source of creativity, Bloch considers the daydream. The daydream, like utopianism, is seen as a trivial and idle indulgence. Bloch suggests the daydream might be cultivated. Unlike a night dream, daydreams do not generally alter reality, they are more subject to the dreamer's guidance, they are more like 'directed constructions'. Also the 'I' of that person is kept in tact, but it is a "utopistically intensified ego" that can imagine a better life without or with less of the censorship that might occur in real life.

Daydreams are a 'world-improving exercise'
Bloch's goal is to shift our view of utopia from something illusory to something with a claim to the real

The Project of Hope 
Bloch suggests fostering wishful images like daydreaming and channelling them into 'polished utopian consciousness'.

Hope = something that can be practised

'The great challenge facing hope as a cognitive practice is our difficulty thinking beyond the bounds of past and present'

There's a distinction between a concrete utopia and an abstract utopia.

Abstract: imagined w/ fantastical contents and without enough regard to the present conditions that could make them possible.

Concrete: 'real-possible', a vision within historical trends which concerns itself  with delivering the 'forms and contents which are already developed in the womb of the present society'

In a way this means we will never be able to implement a better world that is completely removed from the processes and constructions available to us in present society.

The cognitive task of utopian hope: 2 elements of the concrete utopia: commitment to the real-possible, and to the new

Bloch sees emotional part of utopian hope as necessary link between utopia as a 'knowledge project' and utopia as a 'political project'.

'For hope to be a political force, it must be more than a matter of thinking: it must be also a matter of desire and will.'

Junot Diaz wrote about organising, about support, and radical hope as a weapon.

Fear on the other hand, is a consuming force, which is dis-empowering, and can lead people to give up their own power and rights in the desire for protection. (Hobbesian)

Some of the ideas here are interesting but I can't help thinking they lack urgency. Maybe I'm thinking about the constant putting out of fires that lawmakers and activists have to do which leaves little time and space for utopian dreaming as praxis. But perhaps a move towards this could see an overhaul, a turning over of the systems that produce inequalities, instead of us continually having to douse these fires and hold on to ground that threatens to be taken back by the very system that seemed to produce it.

img sources: mindmeister/eyewoo;giphy

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Future is NOW

Since That Day, on the 9th of November, amongst the horror, and shock, the mourning, and sadness, I've seen really encouraging, and inspiring calls for solidarity and action all over the internet.  As part of a utopia course on my Master's degree, last week I read chapter 5 of Kathi Weeks' The Problem With Work: 'The Future is Now'. It was extremely timely and as I read it I just couldn't help but think of all the people mobilising, creating, donating, protesting, around the world.

I thought I'd condense and put the notes I made on Weeks here. I didn't agree with absolutely everything, and some concepts I was hearing about for the first time in any kind of detail. But yeah, food for thought.


Nowadays things like basic income and shorter hours are dismissed as utopian. People are told to focus on more "feasible" goals and the "utopian-ness" of ideas such as the aforementioned, are seen as a fatal flaw in them.

BUT what if this "utopian-ness" is seen as an asset instead of a liability?

The Utopian Demand: 'political demand that takes the form not of narrowly pragmatic reform but of a more substantial transformation of the present configuration of social relations' pg.176

'the political practice of demanding is of crucial importance'

Utopian Critics
Liberalism was seen as the home of utopianism's loudest voices. But Weeks suggests that in the 20th century, there's a disowning by liberalism of utopian impulses once Liberalism becomes the dominant ideology. Then it is dedicated to the conservation of existing regimes.

Karl Popper in 1945, published The Open Society and Its Enemies which anticipated the cold war threat to liberalism. He argues that demands for radical change are seen as threats to reason and "civilisation". Utopian ideals were seen to be spread by appealing to the emotions so were viewed as having a propensity for irrationality and to divide, and lead to violence. (inspired by Hobbes' Leviathan). It was seen as better to be
'searching for, and fighting against, the greatest and most urgent evils of society, rather than searching for, and fighting for, its ultimate greatest good'

In 1989 Francis Fukuyama's The End of History? saw the end of the cold war threat to liberalism, because it suggested liberalism had triumphed.

There was the sense that the defeat of fascism and communism, and the end of the cold war, meant the 'universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.'

The idea of an exhaustion of systematic alternatives to Western liberalism (because of a political reality that "history had ended" with the triumph of Western liberalism) means a 'resignation to a disenchanted world'. 
Pierre Bourdieu suggests at present there seems to be a fatalism that suggests that the world can't be any different from the way it is.

! Link to the idea that what is deemed realistic is socially constructed

'the parameters of what is accepted as reality and representations of it that are deemed realistic narrow to coincide with whatever is judged to be consistent with the exigencies of global capital accumulation.'

Feminist projects have often been associated with utopianism and there's been a gendering of politics. 
Political realism is seen as hard-line, male
Utopianism seen as soft-hearted, feminine

Wages for Housework movement of the early 1970s
In the 1980s when (Weeks suggests) feminist thought and literature seemed to be waning, it was thought to be because of economic and political restructuring that resulted in many working class people having to abandon political imagination and activism. Robin Kelley said

'We are constantly putting out fires, responding to emergencies, finding temporary refuge. All of which make it difficult to see anything other than the present.'

Suddenly, there's no longer any space to dream, instead, struggling to hold onto the ground they've already won.

Left Melancholy: Wendy Brown in Resisting Left Melancholy suggests identity politics is filled by ressentiment, becoming 'deeply invested in its own impotence even while it seeks to assuage the pain of its powerlessness through its vengeful moralizing.' It's characterised by nostalgia and attachment to their 'marginalised left critique' rather than the possibility of social change.

I couldn't help but think what happens to our identities if/when we ever become free. Are so many of our identities inextricably linked to past and present oppression?  What does blackness free from the pressure to adhere to western beauty standards, free from internalised racism, free from having to absorb toxic images of itself, free from constant racial struggle, look like? It's mind-blowing to imagine.

Next time: Part 2 of my notes: in defense of utopia - Ernst Bloch's ontology of the not-yet

image sources: 1.giphy 2.Women's History Network

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Dear [REDACTED] #4

The Same Guy (2010) by Wayne Koestenbaum

The 4th in a series of draft emails I wrote a long while ago. You can read the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.


'So perhaps when writing about a woman, writers should ask themselves a few questions: Am I paying more attention to her eyes, lips, tits, legs, etc. than her work? Would I write about a man this way? Did I just jizz on my story? If so, shouldn't I, before submitting this story to my editor, wipe that jizz off the page?

That's from a round-table on men writing profiles on women after Rich Cohen's disgusting Vanity Fair profile. 

And I felt the pang of guilt about writing on you know who. Although that was more like a failure to jizz. I barely talked about his work which, when I think about it now, was actually quite a large part of the attraction. In fact, I touched on it with a single sentence.

Not only do I feel horrible about it, but I'm going to make myself a promise never to write something as ... masturbatory as that ever again. Even if I have some sort of theoretical or academic thrust behind doing it, it will never be like that. He's a person. Not merely an idea. That was an experiment, inspired by I Love Dick and Wayne Koestenbaum. Of course, there is also the aspect that I am not very good. But I will get better. I will learn how to do something like this with more taste and less...jizz.


Sunday, 30 October 2016

Dear [REDACTED] #3

The third in a series of draft emails I wrote a while ago. You can read the 2nd here, and the 1st here.


I was watching Mr. Robot, and Gideon said something to Elliot about finding someone you can be your honest self with. Elliot found that to be ridiculous.  Even at the superficial level, nobody is their honest self with somebody else. And I think I've been in some moments a bit too honest with people, because I'm growing tired of the facade. It's so hard to keep up. There are moment when I am almost sick with frustration because I want to blurt out every messy thought I have to someone, I want someone (a platonic someone) to know the ways I'm horrible and accept that I can be both monstrous and human. And if they can say theirs, I can accept that in them too and we can be monstrous together. We can be selfish, insecure, apathetic, obsessive together. We can fail together, and fail better together.