This book is great fun; a genuinely enjoyable work of theory. Bifo has a certain reputation as the wild man of post-Workerist (aka Italian autonomist)This book is great fun; a genuinely enjoyable work of theory. Bifo has a certain reputation as the wild man of post-Workerist (aka Italian autonomist) theory - he was the real activist, spending years doing pirate radio, but he's also extremely bipolar, given to wild bouts of enthusiasm and troughs of utter despair - but somehow, often overlapping in his own unique signature way, whereby he can announce that revolutionary hope is dead, that the only possible remaining radical gesture is self-mutilation, but do so in such a cheerful, playful, charming fashion that one can't help but feel invigorated by the experience anyway. (Plus he cured me of a terrible stomach ailment in Japan so I will always appreciate him for this, but that's another story.) One might say: he's the only person I've ever met that can be both manic and depressive at the same time.
The limitation - for me, anyway, but it's my review, so that's what's relevant - is that he does accept, and start from, what might be called the canonical, Negrist wing of post-Workerism - the "law of value no longer exists" pomo branch, which I find problematic in a lot of ways. I much prefer the alternative tradition represented by say, Massimo de Angelis or the Midnight Notes Collective. Still, Bifo's not especially attached to most of these assumptions, they're just assumed by the tradition he's coming out of. What he does do is something the others of that tradition almost never do, which is, look at what all this means for real people's lives, work, and existence. For most continental theorists, it's all supposedly about that, but you never quite get to the object - as in Maurizio Lazzarato's famous essay on immaterial labor where he starts by saying that a "vast and growing body of empirical research" carried out by him and his colleagues has shown how different new forms of labor are than ever before, and then never cites any of it or even drops the tiniest hint as to what sorts of jobs the research addresses or what it specifically uncovered, but just goes on to make airy generalizations couched in terms of pure abstraction. Bifo is very different. He talks about real problems, real issues, real struggles, and while a lot of his analyses are zany in their over-enthusiasm (under Bush, the capitalists lost power and were replaced by a new ruling class of warriors and neoliberal technicians...) and he endorses some of the sillier excesses of the Negrian political analysis (computer geeks will be the next wave of revolution) he nonetheless manages to come up with profound, exciting, and, indeed, hopeful analyses again and again and again. There's always something surprising here. And in a way it doesn't matter whether many of these arguments are right or wrong; or even if they're often annoying, because they're almost always annoying in a good way; they cause you to think and see the world in a new way; they are endlessly provocative and engaging. ...more
I probably should have given this five stars because it's absolutely brilliant. It's an extrmely important contribution to a developing debate on theI probably should have given this five stars because it's absolutely brilliant. It's an extrmely important contribution to a developing debate on the invention of coinage and its effects on Greek thought: the argument, ridiculously compressed, is essentially that the dual nature of Greek coins, which were at once valuable pieces of metal, that is, whose value seemed to come from their very material substance, but simultaneously, political objects stamped with a collective seal that got some of their value from pure convention, a political decision to treat them as valuable (all ancient coins circulated at a value higher than their pure metal content) was a philosophical problem that kicked off endless debates about the nature of meaning and materialism, the mind/body split, imminence and transcendence, and all those classical Axial Age philosophical problems that have been with us ever since. If it seems far-fetched, the evidence is pretty overwhelming: for instance, the fact that the first Greek philosophers lived in precisely the city (Miletus) that saw the first coinage, at exactly the time it appeared, and also - though Seaford never talks about this - the fact that exactly the same thing seems to have happened in northern China and the Ganges valley of India at just around the same time coinage was invented there as well.
The four stars is mainly to express my displeasure at Seaford's one major flaw, which is that he's extraordinarily ungenerous - a bit of a Classicist-Hellenophile snob I'd even say. For instance, Marc Shell, who made very much the same argument decades ago, but who is not a a Classicist, is almost completely ignored. Sure, Seaford has written a more detailed and ultimately better analysis and Shell is a bit of a wild and crazy thinker, but he's also obviously brilliant and laid the ground-work for all this. Fair's fair! Similarly, Seaford only talks about the civilizations of the Near East to disparage them, arguing that they didn't really have egalitarian distribution in sacrifice (probably true) which is why they never developed coins, in an interesting variation on Bernard Laum's old argument), but goes from there to ultimately argue that those civilizations didn't "really" have money at all - leaving one to wonder what it even means to have "real" money if one can have compound interest rates, expense accounts, and counter-endorsed promissory notes without it. Still, his own argument is fascinating and important....more
Deleuze, while from a working-class family, was severely asthmatic and had a strange condition whereby he couldn't touch things with his fingers withoDeleuze, while from a working-class family, was severely asthmatic and had a strange condition whereby he couldn't touch things with his fingers without pain, causing him to grow extremely long fingernails. He largely stayed in bed. Guattari was the activist. For a long time I took the "Deleuze bad, Guattari good" position - and I'm not sure I ever really abandoned it, though I still look at Guattari with some ambivalence. But most of his interventions are addressing very practical political problems - the notion of "machines", which is his contribution, not Deleuze's, was originally a way to think about non-vanguardist forms of political organization - and in context, was immensely helpful and creative. Even if under Deleuze's influence it then became a key part of the non-dialectical ontology occasioned largely by Deleuze's hatred of Hegel. This book gives you a sense of what Guattari was like on his own, with concerns very much overlapping those of Gregory Bateson and other anti-psychiatrists of the time, and is very much worth the perusal just on that basis....more
This is an anthropological classic of the first water - and one of the books that opened my eyes to what anthropology could be. It's hard to explain hThis is an anthropological classic of the first water - and one of the books that opened my eyes to what anthropology could be. It's hard to explain how reading about hill tribes in Southeast Asia where powerful people periodically try to create little kingdoms (gumsa) in imitation of the Shan states in the valleys, but where the complexities of their forms of agriculture and marriage systems inevitably lead them to collapse and form democratic republics (gumlao) again - and then the whole cycle starts all over again - but when you read it, you are entranced. Well, okay, I was. It's books like this that made me want to dedicate my life to anthropology....more
In many academic circles Wallerstein is considered passé, not quite as much as, say, Levi-Strauss, but still a creature of the past. It shows the stupIn many academic circles Wallerstein is considered passé, not quite as much as, say, Levi-Strauss, but still a creature of the past. It shows the stupidity of academic fashion because the man keeps churning out brilliant new ideas which have largely gone unnoticed even in radical academic debates, except in the relatively restricted world of world-systems analysis itself, where of course he is the Grand Old Man and always will be. In the '90s, he was responding to the hegemony of the pomo turn after the fall of the Soviet bloc by producing a really brilliant new theory of world revolutions which has been largely ignored. In this one, he pulls off two feats. First of all, he manages to make himself one of the few academics who correctly predicted the economic crash of 2008 - like Dean Baker (coming from a different, neo-Keynesian, perspective) he noted that logically, the US faces three bubbles, each of which must necessarily burst: the tech bubble (which already had), the 8 trillion dollar housing bubble (which as we all know did in 2008, but had not at the time of writing) and then the dollar bubble, based on imperial segniorage (the fact that as a world empire the US provides the world currency, and attains huge economic advantages from this.) That one hasn't burst yet but when it does it's hard to see how it won't be curtains for the US empire.
His second brilliant point: the real secret of neoliberalism, which I haven't seen elsewhere anywhere. US power, he explains, must decline because US productivity is so much lower than that of our rival centers of industrial production in Europe and East Asia. This seems startling because on paper US productivity is extremely high, but that's just because we cook the books, just counting wage laborers - who are exploited here like nowhere else in this respect - but never white color salaried workers. In fact, Wallerstein argues, in a delightfully provocative but also ultimately perfectly common-sensical argument, US executives in particular are the least efficient and least productive in the world: it takes 3 US executives to do what one Chinese or even French one can do, and each one has to be paid much, much more. As a result we are burdened with an unproductive largely parasitical class that's pulling us down. One of the points of the US attempt to impose the neo-liberal economic model on other parts of the world was a vain effort to force other countries to create a similar class of overpaid parasites to slow down their economic advantages, and delay their inevitable overtaking us.
The long-term prospect? I'm not sure if it's in the book, but Wallerstein suspects over the next generation or two, East Asia will overcome its major divisions and achieve global hegemony, reducing the US, slowly and subtly, to the role of military enforcer for East Asian capital. The EU will be forced to turn to Russia to provide a similar role - provider of resources and military enforcer. That is, if capitalism endures, which, he is always careful to point out, is by no means guaranteed. ...more
What is it about animal sacrifice that makes otherwise staid European scholars and experts on go ape-shit crazy and start fantasizing about primal vioWhat is it about animal sacrifice that makes otherwise staid European scholars and experts on go ape-shit crazy and start fantasizing about primal violence and making up strange myths of their own? I liked this book, actually, it's fun, but it's in a certain tradition, ranging from Robertson Smith to Rene Girard, of just making stuff up about how all religion goes back to some primal, orgiastic desire to kill and rip and eat the flesh of animals as a way of resolving our desires to kill and rip and eat the flesh of one another - and (usually) that it all goes back to a distant paleolithic time of origins when we became human by killing other living creatures. (Okay that's putting it crudely.) Maybe these gentlemen ought to speak for themselves.
Reality, it seems to me, is simpler: killing animals is almost always surrounded by elaborate ritual, often expressing ambivalence and guilt, because it's disturbing. Especially when it comes to domestic animals - since game is almost never sacrificed, anywhere - the problem, really, is you have to raise them, take care of them, tend to their needs - and then kill them. How can this not cause a certain ambivalence? The Greek ritual of pretending the animal agrees to the sacrifice, and then holding a trial for the axe on charges of murder, seems only one particularly elaborate working-out of a dilemma that must always exist. (This is also why we feel most ambivalent about pork, incidentally: it's both smarter and more like humans than the others, and it's the one animal we raise _only_ to eat. At least with cows and sheep and goats we can tell ourselves we're doing it for the fleece or milk, etc. Pigs you just eat.)
This stuff is disturbing as it dovetails with the "killer ape" theory of human evolution that is just pure and unadulterated myth - but it's also worth reading because it does have a lot of fascinating material. ...more
I suppose I might be accused of bias, having co-edited a volume with Stevphen myself, and having been a flatmate of his in London during some of the tI suppose I might be accused of bias, having co-edited a volume with Stevphen myself, and having been a flatmate of his in London during some of the time this was written, but I still think this is a delightful and important book so why not say so? I still remember clearly hearing the author report - this book is actually based on his Ph.D. dissertation - "I just got my committee to agree that I didn't have to write a chapter on methodology but could substitute a chapter on communist space aliens." Good thing, since it's one of the best chapters in the book. All in all, the author is treading notoriously difficult ground, trying to fuse together to subtleties of Italian post-workerist theory, the insights of real world anarchist and anarchist-inspired organizing in the present, popular culture (there are also zombies), and the tradition of artistic subversion since the beginning of the century, to come up with ideas that are both fresh and actually useful to those trying to make sense of, and do something about, the world situation. The author's voice conveys a bemused detachment that never once dips into cynicism, a kind of playfulness with ideas that in its own way serves as the most compelling embodiment of the kind of liberatory imagination that he proposes as a way out of the stubborn political dilemmas of the present day....more
All right, let me honest and start by saying this was totally my favorite book in the entire universe when I was, like, 11. Hands down. It gave me myAll right, let me honest and start by saying this was totally my favorite book in the entire universe when I was, like, 11. Hands down. It gave me my first sense of what scholarship might be - if it were actually fun.
Now I did end up becoming a professional scholar, and one who probably does have too much fun for his own good, so perhaps a word here is in order.
Those people who say the book provides zero evidence for its points - all I can say is, "yeah, that's right. It's kind of a joke. Or... well, Graves does insist that poetic truth is not a totally different truth, not to be judged by prose criteria of truth, but that it should always be at least true on the prose level and also something more (that something more being magical, profound, etc etc). But the question is always: is that very assertion part of the joke as well. Because what is magic? It's something that's both true, and a fraud, a trick, but it's true because you can carry it off. And what makes Graves so much fun is that he can always carry it off. When he says that he's solved some ancient mystery - why are fish used as a symbol for Christ - by time-traveling in a poetic trance and overhearing a conversation between two Roman literari c100 AD, he's obviously not asking to be judged by normal scholarly standards. He's having fun, and saying, "well, tell me it _isn't_ true!"
What I love about Graves is that he writes about religious devotion, of utter subordination to a terrifying entrancing but ultimately destructive goddess-muse, in such a way as to imply absolute subordination, but in fact, turns it into a license to do absolutely anything he pleases. His biographers always seem to miss this, presenting him as a sort of pathetic wimp in the sway of all these headstrong domineering women. In fact, you read books like this, or even more perhaps his essays on poetry, and you meet someone utterly different: someone who is having more fun than any professional scholar would ever be allowed to, sounding off on any topic in a way that's simultaneously outrageous, ground-breaking, profound, world-shattering, and probably, on some level, also, ridiculously untrue. What's the real game and what's his aim in playing it? That's half the fun. You can never be completely sure. But like any great theorist (and to be honest, I sometimes think Deleuze and Derrida, etc, are really doing exactly the same thing) the point is not to spend the rest of our lives deciding whether we adore him like a god or revile him, but to take it as a demonstration that it's possible to have just as much fun ourselves. That's what I did, without ever realizing that's what I was doing. And in retrospect, I'm not sure my career was better for it, but my writing was, and probably, arguably, the world is - if only slightly.
This book has the best first line of any book in world literature ("one day Trurl the constructor put together a machine that could create anything stThis book has the best first line of any book in world literature ("one day Trurl the constructor put together a machine that could create anything starting with the letter n.") It's definitely my favorite Lem, too. By far the funniest. Some of the Pirx the Pilot stories are almost as funny, but never with such consistency.
Probably can't add too much to the other reviews except to say: I actually read this before I read Rabelais, so I didn't realize how much this is a modern version of the same thing - well, minus the crude humor, etc, but totally running with the crazy mock scholarship, over-educated characters making absurd lists and doing utterly inappropriate things. Making all the characters robots makes it... might one even speak of an intellectual carnivalesque? There's a tradition of authors who just purely play with ideas (Borges, Calvino are common comparisons) but no one else I can think of has nearly so much fun with it. ...more
This is a classic - or should be anyway. One of the few books that even in graduate school when I had no time I couldn't help but read slowly, every wThis is a classic - or should be anyway. One of the few books that even in graduate school when I had no time I couldn't help but read slowly, every word, cover-to-cover. It's beautifully written, and better, I think, than Weapons of the Weak - well, this is really taking off above all else from that book's first chapter. He starts off with the question "What does it mean to speak truth to power?" Especially when we all agree now that it's not there is but one truth in the world really. Yet at certain moments - when a tenant farmer's wife tells off the landlord, when someone says what they really think about Pinochet in Chile and isn't taken away - that everyone feels someone has spoken for everyone. Why? Scott suggests a big part of the reason is that under conditions of extreme oppression, pretty much everyone is going around making little speeches in their head that they'd really like to say but don't dare too, not realizing that everyone else is doing it too, and that the speeches are all almost exactly the same. One reason for that, in turn, is that extreme inequalities of power always create a world of make-believe, an official line that everyone feels they must claim to accept in public ("really, slave owners have a paternal concern for their slaves' well-being", that sort of thing) that nobody believes - not the slaves, not the owners; not the peasants, not the lords - but which the higher-ups insist no one challenge as a test of power itself, rather like holding a gun to people's heads and insisting that they tell you that 2+2=5. As a result, it's almost as if everyone is collaborating to falsify the historical record, because if you look at the documents that remain to us from say, feudal Europe or ancient China (etc etc), what you'll get is probably the official line that no one at the time took seriously behind closed doors at all.
Minor criticisms: the phrases "public" and "hidden transcript" - while useful to make the point about history - are not well chosen otherwise. Also, Scott could have been more insistent about making clear this is not a theory of power, but a theory of what happens in cases of extreme and explicit inequality between clearly demarcated groups (the experience of peasants, slaves, serfs, untouchables, victims of overt racism, etc...) This might seem unfair as Scott does say this in the introduction, and has come under a lot of quite unfair criticism anyway (Susan Gal's review essay in Cultural ANthropology comes to mind) by people who accuse him of writing an inadequate theory of power in general - pretending they haven't read the into where he explicitly says that he is not writing a theory of power at all - but at times, some chapters can be read this way, and it might have been helpful to keep hammering home the point. Though it's so ridiculous we academics should have to watch our ass this way against ways we're likely to be misinterpreted....more
Does anybody read this book any more? They should. It's quite remarkable. Gernet comes up with the apparently bizarre argument that modern capitalismDoes anybody read this book any more? They should. It's quite remarkable. Gernet comes up with the apparently bizarre argument that modern capitalism originates in Buddhist monasteries in early Medieval China. Basically the story (my reconstruction granted) seems to go like this: the Confucian bureaucrats who controlled the administration were inherently suspicious of merchants. They liked markets, and tried to promote them as much as possible as ways for ordinary people to be able to get things they need for prosperous lives, but set up all sorts of policies to ensure that there were no concentrations of speculative capital, seeking profit for its own sake. As Roy Bin Wong, drawing on Braudel, argued, this made China for much of its history the ultimate anti-capitalist market state, since capitalists normally seek to ally with the government (this is the Braudelian line) to subvert the logic of the market, which is ordinarily C-M-C', to make it M-C-M', which requires establish monopolies and oligopolies and other such advantages - and in China this was usually impossible.
Then between around 400-800 AD, something strange happened. Buddhism was carried into China by merchants and the commercial classes were its greatest supporters. But it became a religion of popular fervor and renunciation, where people would abandon their lives to become monks and nuns, many would give up all their worldly possessions or even commit spectacular suicide... Yet somehow, as a result, all that wealth ended up in the Inexhaustible Treasuries of the monasteries that sprang up all over China, and itself became a form of investment capital. Why? How? Because when one gave money to a monastery to, say, light a candle for your mother's soul, or feed a monk, you did so _forever_ - and the way that was effectuated was by lending the money out at interest so the principal wouldn't be touched. Soon monasteries were surrounded by shops and mills and became industrial centers, not to mention enormous investment funds; all the cash around them would be sucked into the temples and melted down to build giant statues of the Buddha, and the government would have to step in to expropriate everything and melt down the statues to be able to create coins and get the economy running again. (The Buddhists didn't need coins much since they ran everything by credit schemes.)
In some ways the argument is kooky - obviously this wasn't really capitalism in the modern sense, and some of specific interpretations, say of the suicides, are extravagant - but I've never seen another book even remotely like it....more
This book is awesome. De Angelis comes out of the same grand tradition as famous Italian autonomists like Negri, Lazzarato, Virno, etc, but where the This book is awesome. De Angelis comes out of the same grand tradition as famous Italian autonomists like Negri, Lazzarato, Virno, etc, but where the latter all seem to have sunk into a common obsession with the notion of "real subsumption", that there is nothing and noplace outside of capitalism, De Angelis argues exactly the opposite. In fact, he insists that it would be better not even to talk about "capitalism" as a total system (as opposed to as an ideology - as an ideology it obviously does exist), but rather, to talk about capital, and capitalists, and capitalist value practices (using money to make more money), but that these capitalist value practices are never the only game in town. There are always other ones. True, the capitalist ones are dominant at the moment, but there is a continual struggle going on, where on the one hand, the market sets everyone against each other, sets the livelihood of people in Africa against those in Germany, of one city, town, enterprise, community, occupation against another, so that even every invention or discovery that was originally intended to eliminate scarcity and improve people's lives ultimately gets diverted to the purpose of creating new forms of scarcity and keeping people in desperate competition against each other. In reaction, those motivated by other values (solidarity, community, ecology, beauty, security, tradition...) are constantly creating new forms of commons, of shared and collectively managed resources, and political forces aligned with capitalism are always attempting to break them up and appropriate them with new enclosures. Thus, what Marx called "primitive accumulation" has never ended. At the same time, the capitalists are always trying to create "commons" of their own, what they like to call "externalities", fobbing off the costs of production onto other people, communities, or nature. Much of the political struggle of the last twenty or thirty years, De Angelis explains, can be understood precisely as battles over the creation and enclosure of different sorts of commons, and behind it all, lie battles over the nature of value itself.
This book is a brilliant antidote for the stylish despair that has overtaken so much of the autonomous Left in recent years - that has sent figures like Yann Moulier and even, to some degree, Hardt and Negri to the point of throwing themselves as the feet of their former enemies once their prophecies of the rising of the Multitude did nt seem to be becoming immediately true. While sometimes technical, it is always engaging, passionate, and often, inspiring....more
I was thinking of doing an abridged edition of this book for a university press - that way it could be assigned for classes. (I felt it was importantI was thinking of doing an abridged edition of this book for a university press - that way it could be assigned for classes. (I felt it was important to publish the long version first, if only for documentary purposes, because so much history would otherwise be lost. But obviously it cuts down on the book's appeal, even though it was designed so you can skip around in it and don't have to read the whole thing.)
So what do people think: which parts would definitely have to stay, and which are disposable?...more