Maeby: No, deep is good. People are going to say, “What the hell just happened? I better say I like it.” ’Cause nobody wants to seem stupid. Rita: I liMaeby: No, deep is good. People are going to say, “What the hell just happened? I better say I like it.” ’Cause nobody wants to seem stupid. Rita: I like it!
Somewhere, in some beautiful alternate universe, some years ago the young Iranian student Reza Negarestani was denied entry to the graduate school of the University of Warwick and, crushed, never received any academic training in the field of philosophy. After wallowing in disappointment for a few years, he channeled his despondency into Cyclonopedia, a beautiful and despairing horror novel that densely wove together critical theory and the story of an American artist stranded in Istanbul to re-imagine the geopolitics of oil in the Middle East as an occult attack by ancient Lovecraftian horrors out to turn the entire Earth into a desert.
In our humdrum reality, though, Negarestani did go to grad school and did become impressed with how many ridiculous theoretical neologisms he could create and so just tricked someone into publishing his notes for said novel. That or he wrote an essay/article that was not accepted anywhere so he plopped it into a "frame story" (ie 5 pages and a few footnotes) and published it as a novel. I don't know. This would be a good joke if Negarestani (and apparently everyone else on goodreads?) didn't take it so seriously.
I mean, here are his philosophical interests:
"Subsurface Political Geography; Surface Globalization; Underground Facilities and Chthonic Militarization; Archeology as the Science of Military Education in 21st Century; Tora Bora and the Cappadocian Complex; Worm Factor; Middle Eastern Necropolises and Underground Nuclear Facilities; Petropolitics, Guerilla-states and Architecture of Holes; Videogame Rhetoric and Memory as the Models of Alien Incursion; Poromechanics of War."
This is what informs his fiction, which would be fine, except that I lied and there's no fiction being informed by anything here - that list, with some conjunctions and prepositions tossed in, is pretty much what this book is. Seriously, this is the most unreadably pretentious nonsense I have ever encountered and man, I can usually get into some embarrassingly pretentious nonsense. Not to mention the fact that it's also flatly and awkwardly written. There is no art to any of it.
LOOK AT THIS:
In both Drujite and Lovecraftian polytics of radical exteriority, omega-survival or strategic endurance is maintained by an excessive paranoia that cannot be distinguished from a schizophrenic delirium. For such a paranoia - saturated by parasitic survivalism and persistence in its own integrity - the course of activity coincides with that of schizo-singularities. Paranoia, in the Cthulhu Mythos and in Drujite-infested Zoroastriansim, manifests itself as a sophisticated hygiene-Complex associated with the demented Aryanistic obsession with purity and the structure of monotheism. This arch-sabotaged paranoia, in which the destination of purity overlaps with the emerging zone of the outside, is called schizotrategy. If, both for Lovecraft and the Aryans, purity must be safeguarded by an excessive paranoia, it is because only such paranoia and rigorous closure can attract the forces of the Outside and effectuate cosmic akienage in the form of radical openness - that is, being butchered and cracked open. Drujite cults fully developed this schizotrategic line through the fusion of Aryanistic purity with Zoroastrian monotheism. The Zoroastrian heresiarchs such as Akht soon discovered the immense potential of schyzotrategy for xeno-calls, subversion and sabotage. As a sorcerous line, schizotrategy opens the entire monotheistic culture to cosmodromic openness and its epidemic meshworks. As the nervous system of Lovecraftian strategic paranoia, openness is identified as 'being laid, cracked, butchered open' through a schizotrategic participation with the Outside. In terms of the xeno-call and schizitrategy, the non-localizable outside emerges as the xeno-chemical inside or the Insider. ... 'If openness, as the scimitar blade of the outside, seeks out manifestations of closure, then in the middle-eastern ethic it is imperative to assuage the external desire of the Outside by becoming what it hungers for the most' (H. Parsani)."
Schizotrategy. This is a book that uses the word "schizotrategy" seriously. This would work as a brief essay satirizing the absurdity of the field, but as a serious book-length meditation...
This is meta-fiction with the fiction removed, an exegesis without an actual foundational work... it's like if, instead of publishing stories, Lovecraft just threw caution to the wind and wrote "I was walking in the forest one day. I found a book. It was the Necronomicon." and then proceeded to give the reader 200 pages of intentionally opaque character-less occultist nonsense cribbed from Hermes Trismegistus (that actually sounds more enjoyable to read than this was).
It's like if House of Leaves was an actual architectural treatise (or, even better, just a blueprint rolled up inside a book cover).
It's like if... well it is ACTUALLY like White Noise because there is no subtlety or symbolism or allegory or (again) art to its reflection on theory - we're just supposed to be impressed that the subjects in question were brought up in the first place. The difference is that White Noise is a better read because there's an actual novel in there, and that's saying something because I hated White Noise and thought that the novel in there was crap.
I'm still grasping at straws about how to categorize this, which I suppose is the point, but if so then it was a point that no one needed to tackle. Theory fiction? Fictional theory? I am leaning now towards "fiction in theory" because
1) this book's whole M.O. is embedding fiction in a dense web of critical theory (or vice versa? fuck it, man, I don't know) 2) in theory this is a book-length work of fiction, a "novel" if you will, but in practice it's just... philosophy that no actual philosophers would take seriously so it was repackaged as a work of fiction.
I almost respect the fact that this book does kind of reflect Negarestani's approach to philosophy. I think it's trivial nonsense, but the man has clearly devoted himself to it and most people are buying it hook, line, and sinker. It's kind of impossible to know where the fiction ends and reality begins with this work: Kristen, the American artist of the introduction whose discovery of the metafictive Cyclonopedia sets the "plot" in motion, is a real person who actually wrote the introduction for Negarestani. Hamid Parsani, the Iranian academic author of the metafiction within the novel, is fictional, but there really is a "Hyperstition Laboratory" at the University of Warwick that Negarestani was a part of. Did the online discussions about the false author attributed to academics "X" and "Z" of said laboratory actually take place? Who knows.
I get that this is supposed to a "fun" introduction to "speculative realism" or whatever dumb philosophical school he is trying to reclaim Deleuze and Guattari for or an exploration of the usefulness of his mode of critical theory even when further divorced from reality but I don't give a shit about philosophy (especially anything that isn't strictly materialistic and ESPECIALLY this kind of ultra-insular neologism-mad self-satisfied baloney) and as a novel (or any kind of fiction) this fails spectacularly....more
My mom has been "in the process" of turning my old bedroom into a sewing room for about 10 years now. To that end, I get a lot of stuff dumped on me fMy mom has been "in the process" of turning my old bedroom into a sewing room for about 10 years now. To that end, I get a lot of stuff dumped on me from time to time because she's cleaning out the closet (I think mostly just so new crap can be kept in that room). I'm sorry, not dumped-returned to me, or handed down to the grandkids, or whatever. Legacy stuff. Lots of comic books, lots of books like this:
We also found, on our last visit, a composition book with "CRECHERS" scrawled on the front, full of painstaking illustrations by a 6-year-old Zach. My imagination always outstripped my artistic ability by a pretty wide margin, though, so it's mostly triangles attached to squares with some wavy lines blowing up a building.
Anyway, my point is that monsters-as in nonhuman species of animals that play some sort of malignant role in our cultural imagination-are kind of a lifelong fascination of mine.
If these are the kinds of monsters you're interested in, though, you'll be pretty disappointed in this book, because they occupy about 15% of the text. What you get instead is a kind of rambling treatise on monsters-as in those things, mostly human, that have been "othered" to the degree that they are now considered inhuman. If this is a new and impressive idea to you, you might like this book. If you've read Benedict Anderson or Edward Said or David Roediger or (you get the picture), then the use of literal monsters to make this point might seem kind of clumsy and useless to you.
Also serial killers are monsters. See what he did there? Do you care about learning about serial killers? I don't.
Towards the end, furthermore, this book becomes a bizarre screed against "our" modern idea that everything is relative and that society is always to blame for monsters committing monstrous acts, never the specific individuals. "No sir," says Stephen Asma. "I think that people who do monstrous things simply ARE monsters." He then goes on to take a daring stance against some murderers from the Taliban, followed by a kind of halfhearted comparison with the torturers at Abu Ghraib. Seriously. Thank you, Stephen Asma, for standing up against all those intellectuals AND middle Americans AND neoconservatives who believe in a relativistic postmodern hyper-insistence on nurture over nature.* Again, seriously. This is his argument.
* I guess this goes hand in hand with his repeatedly-mentioned macho essentialist arguments about male readers understanding his points about protecting children or needing to fight monsters to prove their manliness. This is usually preceded by something along the lines of "Although modern stories have produced female monster-killers like Ripley from the Alien films, traditionally..."** ** And one of those times, in a footnote, he goes on to explain that although cultural relativism or whatever is drawing women monster-killers into these narratives, biology just might win out in the end and make the man the dominant slayer of nightmares and defender of families once again... seriously....more
Denning argues that the popular front (the broad radical, social-democratic movement forged around anti-fascism, anti-lynching/racism, and the industrDenning argues that the popular front (the broad radical, social-democratic movement forged around anti-fascism, anti-lynching/racism, and the industrial unionism of the CIO)'s "cultural front" movement reshaped ("labored") American culture regarding:
- use of "labor" or synonyms thereof in rhetoric - increased influence on and participation of working-class Americans in culture and arts (result of expansion of mass culture/higher education/entertainment industries) - labor of cultural production (the most convincing part of the book) - social-democratic influence on the left of the new deal - all producing a "second American Renaissance"
the first time, in other words, that the Left had a central impact on American culture....more
An early (1989) examination of the usefulness of sf to feminist writers, this book provides an interesting overview/call to arms, but the whole thingAn early (1989) examination of the usefulness of sf to feminist writers, this book provides an interesting overview/call to arms, but the whole thing feels slightly flat and shallow: it's split into two parts, one grouped into thematic chapters and the other divided by focus on specific authors (Tiptree, Le Guin, Charnas, Russ), but each section is only about 100 pages, and the chapters in the former tend toward scantiness: "The Reduction of Women: Dystopias," for example, clocks in at an impressively slight 5 pages.
That said, though, Lefanu does make a compelling argument for the use of science fiction, such a traditionally masculinist stronghold, for feminist works, due to the genre's basis in "skeptical rationalism." This is what makes a work "feminist sf" instead of "feminized sf" in Lefanu's reading: rather than simply featuring a strong woman protagonist, feminist works of sf apply this skepticism to the social construction of gender and patriarchal culture (Lefanu's point here also revolves around form-beyond-the-traditional-novel-narrative in addition to content, but she never really makes that argument convincingly, I don't think). This is a very constrictive definition, clearly, but one that I think makes clear what exactly could be accomplished by applying a feminist lens to science fiction....more
This is one of those studies that is kind of mind-boggling in its comprehensive approach to such a wide variety of subjects, any one of which could haThis is one of those studies that is kind of mind-boggling in its comprehensive approach to such a wide variety of subjects, any one of which could have filled a book or two on its own. Boyer traces American reactions to the atomic bomb in the first few years following the moment it first exploded into the national consciousness following Hiroshima. Although Boyer never phrases it as such (not being That Kind of Academic, even though at heart I would say this is more a work of cultural studies than of history), this rupture arguably marks the achievement of the absolute totality of modernity, with the destructive power of the modern mechanism finally overlaid on the entire globe. As Boyer makes clear, this rupture was obvious to most Americans at the time, which renders the fact that it has largely disappeared from the public consciousness kind of unsettling, to say the least.
Anyway here is a list off the top of my head of subjects that Boyer adroitly covers:
- calls for international control of the bomb/world government - the scientists' movement for peace - propaganda regarding the peaceful uses of atomic energy - the impact of the bomb on social science - the psychological impact of the bomb - the bomb and science fiction - the arms race - the impact of the bomb on religion and moral discussions
My one complaint is that after the thematic sections, the chronological chapters toward the end just felt like a retreading of the same material-although even there, the cyclical nature of the public concerns were fascinating to observe....more
An examination of/argument for the liminal nature of the middle class in the 20th century US, using social workers as a particular case study involvedAn examination of/argument for the liminal nature of the middle class in the 20th century US, using social workers as a particular case study involved in patrolling the borders between the lower classes (welfare recipients/workers/immigrants/etc) and the upper (wealthy volunteers)-the latter of which falls off as the century progresses and is largely replaced by the state and professionalization projects.
Not being particularly interested in social work per se, I enjoyed his introduction and conclusion the most, concerned as they were with the larger issue of class and identity formation in social and cultural history.
This is also a superbly constructed and clearly presented argument-hats off to Walkowitz for that....more
Well I was annoyed enough when I realized that this idiot's argument was that branding is basically the only way anyone can relate to anything anymoreWell I was annoyed enough when I realized that this idiot's argument was that branding is basically the only way anyone can relate to anything anymore but that that's GREAT and a way to give "high culture" more of a "mass culture" appeal. It's like this guy synthesized Jameson and the Frankfurt School and took from it that yes, the market has saturated everything, but that that is actually a positive (Sometimes. He thinks the fact that it has happened to churches is kind of hilarious and good but he is noticeably pissy about the fact that it has also happened to his own university). And then he starts in with that bullshit about the market democritizing everything and making life fairer and blah blah blah. Anyway so I was tempted to quit reading then and there but I kept going for a bit because Twitchell is the king of non-sequiturs and mixed metaphors (and also sweeping generalizations or points that he doesn't back up at all, but that is less amusing).
79: Desire often resides not internally but in the panic of others... such communicable panic may even be hardwired. In the mid-1980s, entomologists did a series of experiments with ants. Two food sources were placed equidistant from and on opposite sides of a nest... There was no reason for the ants to prefer one brand, so to speak, to the other. Logical economists would predict that the ants would divide the piles evenly... Instead, because ants can signal one another as to where food lies, the distribution fluctuated wildly... Follow the leader is no simple childhood game but a deeply installed herd behavior.
So human consumers "follow the leader" because of ant... herds? Herds of ants. Seriously. And I mean, I hate sociobiology as much as the next guy who hates sociobiology, but even if you're going to make an argument relying on that, maybe ants aren't the best starting point?
88: [Talking about megachurches:] In the world of fungible products, you don't capture market share without having to contend with the howls of those you displace. With the arrival of Wal-Mart come the cries of unfair, unfair. From whom? From Sears and J. C. Penney. And who howled when Sears and J. C. Penney... came to town? The downtown merchants... And who shouted "unfair" when the downtown merchants came? The corner store. And whom did the corner store displace? The door-to-door salesman, the drummer. In a strange sense, things have come full circle as the intependent megachurch pastor shares many similarities (independent, local boy responsible for his own territory) with the Victorian drummer. The drummer earned his nickname because that was his task: to drum up business.
These are all businesses, but apparently the drummer and the megachurch are the only ones who, uh, "drum up" business... and the megachurch drives everything else out of business, just as the drummer was himself driven out... of business... that he had attempted to drum up... it's a circle, you see.
94: [Again, megachurches:] And so when the music starts-and you know when it starts because the place shakes-the reverberence is literal. And when it's quiet, you can actually hear breathing. I haven't been to many rock concerts but my kids tell me the sound systems make isolation impossible. You don't listen to the sounds, you feel them.
I guess he means isolation from the music, i.e. silence. But that would give you "the sound systems make silence impossible" which is kind of the point at a rock concert? Side note: He also makes a reference to "electronic guitars" at some point, which doesn't mean what he thinks it means.
98: [In the office/seminar/study section of the megachurch:] Everything is neatly labeled in Helvetica, the floors have the telltale color-coded lines for how to get from here to there, the walls are greenish, the stairs all have no-slip strips, and the whole aura says Mayo Clinic. In fact, this side of Willow Creek looks like a hospital because, as I reflected, that's exactly what it is. There is even rubberized flooring in the stairwells just like the hospital. This is a cultural safe place. I almost expected to see one of those signs with a small child being hugged announcing a Safe Zone.
Sure, I guess he means hospital as "place where broken people are fixed" but... come on.
102: while men may read in private, in public they seem to crave the company of other men.
... I don't know (context doesn't provide any clues here, trust me).
Oh also he argues that the SAT introduced a kind of meritocracy into higher education and that class no longer plays a role....more
Red Planets is a collection of essays that offers an intricate analysis of the developI'm just going to steal the beginning of bill fletcher's review:
Red Planets is a collection of essays that offers an intricate analysis of the development of science fiction as a genre. This collection also unpacks many of the key themes in science fiction and relates them to broader struggles on the ideological plane. As such, Red Planets must be read less as an analysis of the hidden (and not so hidden) messages contained in much science fiction literature, cinema, and television, and more as an examination of how various issues of theory are struggled out within the realm of what we have come to know as science fiction.
I really liked carl freedman's article on noir and science fiction, and will try to get around to reading his book soon.
likewise andrew millner's work on raymond williams and sf (and I actually received an email about the release of a collection of williams' relevant writings edited by millner like the day after I finished this). steven shaviro, rob latham, and phillip wegner also had very strong contributions.
sherryl vint's essay lost me immediately by focusing on speciesism. don't care, sorry.
then there's darren jorgensen, whose essay is a call to arms in defense of... althusser? and who later reveals himself to be some sort of stalinist/ussr apologist? no thanks, guy.
also, only two woman contributors to the volume? for shame....more
A book chock full of lines like "Ludic feminism becomes-in its effects, if not in its intentions-a theory that inscribes the class interests of what bA book chock full of lines like "Ludic feminism becomes-in its effects, if not in its intentions-a theory that inscribes the class interests of what bourgeois society calls the upper middle class."
or: "The impact of ludic theories is considerable: as the dominant knowledges produced and commodified in the West, they participate in the colonization of indigenous knowledges globally and are often deployed to marginalize more revolutionary knowledges, especially Marxism."
An excellent overview of the development and stratification of the genre (and studies thereof). I should have read this before Red Planets, but what cAn excellent overview of the development and stratification of the genre (and studies thereof). I should have read this before Red Planets, but what can you do? ...more
Smith argues for a systematic understanding of gentrification, rather than a simple consumer-driven one. He does this in a convincing manner, relyingSmith argues for a systematic understanding of gentrification, rather than a simple consumer-driven one. He does this in a convincing manner, relying heavily on a Harvey-esque examination of capital disinvestment.
My chief complaint is that after his fascinating introduction, Smith pretty much drops the cultural analysis of the "urban frontier" myth, which I found fascinating....more
As reading the introduction left me with little more than embarrassment for Berman's atrociously sloppy writing and slipshod anything-goes methodologyAs reading the introduction left me with little more than embarrassment for Berman's atrociously sloppy writing and slipshod anything-goes methodology, I say: nuts to this....more
An impressively lucid (if rather lofty) examination of Marx and philosophy-or Philosophy with a capital "P" more accurately. Balibar is more concernedAn impressively lucid (if rather lofty) examination of Marx and philosophy-or Philosophy with a capital "P" more accurately. Balibar is more concerned here with situating Marx and his (anti- or non-) philosophy within the canon of Philosophy than he is with critical theory or even structures of capitalism.
NOT, as I keep seeing it referred to as, a useful first introduction to Marx or Marxism; more a way to restructure an existing understanding from a different conceptual direction....more
This is largely on me and not Bourdieu, but I am really not in a place right now where I care enough about the particulars of his argument to try andThis is largely on me and not Bourdieu, but I am really not in a place right now where I care enough about the particulars of his argument to try and puzzle my way through prose so intentionally abstruse....more