The Lebanon-based Daily Star reports that Egypt's current economic crisis is making it difficult to maintain the country's wealth of cultural artifacts, not to mention excavate for new ones. Due in part to a steep decline in tourism since the 2011 revolution, attendance at museums and cultural heritage sites, such as the Giza pyramids, has dropped dramatically. As a result, there is less money to maintain precious artifacts and keep museums open. Here's an excerpt from the article:
[Antiquities minister] Khaled al-Anani says that without a revival in tourism none of his new projects – such as the introduction of year-long museums and heritage site passes or extending opening hours – will have the desired effect.
Neither will reopening Pyramid Complex of Unas – built for Pharaoh Unas, the ninth and final king of the Fifth Dynasty in the mid-24th century B.C. – which has been closed since 1998 for fear of overcrowding and which Anani reopened in May.
Anani said Egypt plans to partially open the Grand Egyptian Museum – an ambitious center for ancient Egyptian artefacts, said to be the world’s largest archaeological museum – in 2017, bringing forward the scheduled opening date by a year.
This is only possible because the $248 million needed came from a Japanese loan years ago.
Financial woes also affect excavation attempts, he said, which have seen a steep decline since 2011.
Image: A box of King Tutankhamun sits in the Wood Laboratory of the conservation centre of the Grand Egyptian Museum, under construction, on the outskirts of Cairo, August 21, 2016. Via the Daily Star.
To Fredric Jameson, the detective novels of Raymond Chandler are not mere hardboiled entertainment. They rise to the level of literature, on par with Proust and Zola. They do this not by simply smuggling high-minded themes into the popular form of detective fiction. Rather, they use the formal elements of detective fiction to explore themes of isolation, mortality, and political corruption in a way that more "literary" fiction cannot. Thus writes Jameson in a new collection of his writing on Chandler, Raymond Chandler: The Detections of the Totality, just released by Verso. Below is a short excerpt from the book. You can read a longer one at Verso's blog.
The action of Chandler’s books takes place inside the microcosm, in the darkness of a local world without the benefit of the federal Constitution, as in a world without God. The literary shock is dependent on the habit of the political double standard in the mind of the reader: it is only because we are used to thinking of the nation as a whole in terms of justice that we are struck by these images of people caught in the power of a local county authority as absolutely as though they were in a foreign country. The local power apparatus is beyond appeal, in this other face of federalism; the rule of naked force and money is complete and undisguised by any embellishments of theory. In an eerie optical illusion, the jungle reappears in the suburbs.
In this sense the honesty of the detective can be understood as an organ of perception, a membrane which, irritated, serves to indicate in its sensitivity the nature of the world around it. For if the detective is dishonest, his job boils down to the technical problem of how to succeed on a given paid assignment. If he is honest, he is able to feel the resistance of things, to permit an intellectual vision of what he goes through on the level of action. And Chandler’s sentimentalism, which attaches to occasional honest characters in the earlier books, but which is perhaps strongest in The Long Goodbye, is the reverse and complement of this vision, a momentary relief from it, a compensation for its hopeless bleakness.
The detective’s journey is episodic because of the fragmentary, atomistic nature of the society he moves through. In European countries, people no matter how solitary are still somehow engaged in the social substance; their very solitude is social; their identity is inextricably entangled with that of all the others by a clear system of classes, by a national language, in what Heidegger describes as the Mitsein, the being-together-with-others.
But the form of Chandler’s books reflects an initial American separation of people from each other, their need to be linked by some external force (in this case the detective) if they are ever to be fitted together as parts of the same picture puzzle. And this separation is projected out onto space itself: no matter how crowded the street in question, the various solitudes never really merge into a collective experience, there is always distance between them. Each dingy office is separated from the next; each room in the rooming house from the one next to it; each dwelling from the pavement beyond it. This is why the most characteristic leitmotif of Chandler’s books is the figure standing, looking out of one world, peering vaguely or attentively across into another
Image of Raymond Chandler via the Guardian.
For the New Yorker, Dana Goodyear writes a profile on Michael Heizer and his quest to finish "City," a decades-in-the-making work of land art. Heizer, now in his 70's, has been living in Soho and has seemingly developed a cartoonish "cowboy in the city" persona. Read Goodyear in partial below, in full via the New Yorker.
Throughout his career, in paintings and in sculptures, Heizer has explored the aesthetic possibilities of emptiness and displacement; his voids have informed public art from the Vietnam Memorial to the pits at Ground Zero. “Levitated Mass,” a three-hundred-and-forty-ton chunk of granite that since 2012 has been permanently installed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is one of the few sculptures in the world designed to be walked under, an experience that strikes most visitors as harrowing. Heizer once told Vander Weg he’d like his tombstone to read, “Totally Negative.”
“City” is a monumental architectonic work, with dimensions comparable to those of the National Mall, in Washington, D.C., and a layout informed by pre-Columbian ritual cities like Teotihuacan. Heizer started it in 1972, when he was in his late twenties and had already established himself as an instigator of the earthworks movement, a group of artists, including Robert Smithson and Walter De Maria, who made totemic outdoor sculptures, often in the majestic wastelands of the American West. “City” is made almost entirely from rocks, sand, and concrete that Heizer has mined and mixed on site. The use of valueless materials is strategic, a hedge against what he sees as inevitable future social unrest. “My good friend Richard Serra is building out of military-grade steel,” he says. “That stuff will all get melted down. Why do I think that? Incans, Olmecs, Aztecs—their finest works of art were all pillaged, razed, broken apart, and their gold was melted down. When they come out here to fuck my ‘City’ sculpture up, they’ll realize it takes more energy to wreck it than it’s worth.”
It is either perfect or perfectly bizarre that Heizer’s sculpture, a monument meant to outlast humanity, is flanked by an Air Force base and a bomb-test site; in recent years, the land surrounding “City” was under consideration for a railroad to convey nuclear waste to a proposed repository at Yucca Mountain. As it happened, Senator Harry Reid, a dedicated opponent of Yucca Mountain and an advocate for public lands, fell in love with Heizer’s crazily ambitious project and its quintessentially Nevadan setting. “I decided to go and look at it,” Reid told me. “Blew out two tires. I just became infatuated with the vision that he had.” Last summer, at Reid’s urging, President Obama declared seven hundred and four thousand acres of pristine wilderness surrounding “City” a national monument, meaning that it will be protected from development, including a nuclear rail line, for as long as the United States exists.
“City” reflects the singular, scathing, sustained, self-critical vision of a man who has marshalled every possible resource and driven himself to the brink of death in the hope of accomplishing it. “It takes a very specific audience to like this stupid primordial shit I do,” Heizer told me. “I like runic, Celtic, Druidic, cave painting, ancient, preliterate, from a time back when you were speaking to the lightning god, the ice god, and the cold-rainwater god. That’s what we do when we ranch in Nevada. We take a lot of goddam straight-on weather.”
Glenn Lowry, the director of the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, says, “ ‘City’ is one of the most important works of art to have been made in the past century. Its scale and ambition and resolution are simply astonishing.” Its unseen status has made the place almost mythic—it’s art-as-rumor, people say—and has turned the artist, who became known for chasing off unwanted visitors and yanking film out of cameras, into a legend, or a “Scooby Doo” villain. Heizer says that he simply does not want his sculpture judged before it’s finished.
After decades of torment—“When’s it gonna be done, Mike?”—the piece is nearly complete. Michael Govan, the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, says that the site, which lacma will help to administer, will admit its first visitors from the general public in 2020. Govan, who has been raising money for “City” for twenty years, sees it as one of our civilization’s greatest achievements. “Mike started the idea that you can go out in this landscape and make work that is sublime,” he says. “There is nothing more powerful, romantic, and American than these gestures that in Mike’s case have taken his whole life.”
For Heizer, urgency, suffering, drama, and hazard are requisite conditions for making art. “My work, if it’s good, it’s gotta be about risk,” he says. “If it isn’t, it’s got no flavor. No salt in it.” He produced his first significant pieces—burials, dispersals, pits, motorcycle drawings in a dry lake bed—in the shadow of the Vietnam War, after being summoned before the draft board and narrowly avoiding service. “Thinking you’re going to die makes you get radical in a hurry,” he says. In “City,” Heizer gave himself a near-impossible task in a forbiddingly isolated place with no obvious means of support. Physical danger was inevitable. “My rib cage is blown out,” he said. “My feet don’t work. Every bone in me is torqued and twisted.” Since the mid-nineties, he has been afflicted with severe chronic neural and respiratory problems, likely stemming from exposures during the sculpture’s construction; treating the pain led to a morphine addiction, which he hid for years. “Then I did all this shit to my brain,” he went on. “Burned twice and almost dead. Crashed bikes. I’m surprised I’m still alive—I bet everyone is.” “City” ruined him, he says—destroyed his personal life, his health, and his finances—but he is determined to finish it if he can.
Two years ago, Mary Shanahan, Heizer’s wife of fifteen years, and for a decade before that his studio assistant, collaborator, and companion, left him. He is baffled by this loss, and can only guess why it happened. “Me and my goddam art and everyone talking about me, me, me—just overpowered her, wrecked her,” he says. The ranch declined—Shanahan had taken care of the cattle—and so did Heizer. He stopped eating, and was down to an emaciated hundred and six pounds. “Winter came, I couldn’t breathe, I was broke, I was gut-shot, probably the best thing would have been just to off myself, though I’m not suicidal at all,” he told me.
With the help of Govan and Vander Weg, Heizer left the desert for New York, bringing his favorite border collie, Tomato Rose. Now he feels like Sleeping Beauty, awakened from a needle dream. At first, he says, “my brains were gone. I couldn’t hail a cab. I got an iPhone—I’d never seen one. They’re bringing me into the modern world slowly, a step at a time. I’m pretty primitive. I got a long way to go.” The biggest surprise has been to discover that he isn’t the pariah he believed himself to be. “I pissed off everybody and insulted everybody,” he told me. “I got ’em all. And nobody likes me, or they didn’t. Now everybody likes me, now I’m accepted. Which is hilarious to come back and find out that I’m O.K.”
*Image: Heizer, a pioneer of the earthworks movement, began “City” in 1972. A mile and a half long and inspired by ancient ritual cities, it is made from rocks, sand, and concrete mined and mixed on site. PHOTOGRAPH BY JAMIE HAWKESWORTH FOR THE NEW YORKER
It's been a year since Greece accepted its third massive bailout, after left-wing prime minister Alexis Tsipras threatened to defy international lenders but ultimately acquiesced. Helena Smith of the Guardian recently visited Athens to gauge the economic climate and the popular mood. She found a large swathe of the population unable to live on the lower wages and increased taxes, and so they turn to buying and selling on the black market. She also found widespread disillusionment with the political class as a whole, with Tsipras "now a reviled figure." It seems apparent that the latest bailout will not solve Greece's economic woes in a stable way, and was perhaps never intended to. As Smith reports:
Almost all agree that last summer’s bailout simply kicks the can down the road – an art EU mandarins have mastered since Greece’s ordeal by financial collapse begun. Europe’s weakest link will face further tumult when the latest measures kick in this autumn and the Syriza-led government is forced to enact contentious employment reforms to secure a further €2.8bn in loans.
"I wish I could say Greece has been on the mend over the last year,” says George Papaconstantinou, who oversaw the country’s first rescue package as finance minister. “Instead we are witnessing a double-dip recession that can be wholly ascribed to Syriza’s first six months in office, which almost destroyed the country and certainly set it back many years.”
More than ever, he says, Greece needs large-scale foreign investment to kickstart growth – investment that is unlikely to happen in the face of government hostility to investors, both domestic and foreign.
Papaconstantinou, who has chronicled the crisis in a memoir, Game Over, argues that last summer’s lifeline was all the more tragic for being unnecessary. “What really differentiates the latest bailout from the previous ones is that this time around, it could have been avoided,” he writes in the book. “It became necessary because of a mix of ideological blindness, lack of understanding of basic eurozone rules, unforgivable brinkmanship and plain incompetence during the first six months Syriza was in power.”
A year on and Greece, though quiet, remains as febrile as ever on the frontline of the euro storm.
Image: Greek anti-austerity protesters staging a demonstration in May. Via the Guardian.
Dylan Matthews writes for Vox about the internet-sprung, increasingly popular (and worrisome) political philosophy nicknamed "alt-right." Like all political philosophies born on the internet, alt-right, and its cohort neoreactionism, deserves some unpacking. Given that Clinton and Trump have seemed to pick up on alt-right rhetoric, Matthews' introduction to the problematic movement seems all the more timely. Read Matthews in partial below, or in full via Vox.
Later today in Nevada, Hillary Clinton is scheduled to deliver a speech on the subject of "Donald Trump and his advisors' embrace of the disturbing 'alt-right' political philosophy" that she characterizes as "embracing extremism and presenting a divisive and dystopian view of America which should concern all Americans, regardless of party."
That's a striking level of prominence for a movement that until recently was extremely obscure. A movement lurking in Reddit and 4chan threads and in community blogs and forums, a movement of right-wingers who openly argue that democracy is a joke. That it's weak, it's corrupt, and it caters to the whims of a fickle electorate rather than the needs of the citizenry. That Congress and the president must be replaced with a CEO-like figure to run the country as it truly should be, without the confused input of the masses.
For some in the movement, Donald Trump really is that figure. For the hardcore, even the most authoritarian-styled presidential candidate in decades isn't good enough.
Welcome to the alt-right.
The label blends together straight-up white supremacists, nationalists who think conservatives have sold out to globalization, and nativists who fear immigration will spur civil disarray. But at its core are the ideas of a movement known as neoreaction, and neoreaction (NRx for short) is a rejection of democracy.
Thus, within the world of neoreaction, Trump's seemingly authoritarian impulses are a feature, not a bug. The only real problem is he may not go far enough. NRxer Michael Perilloux, for example, complained that Trump wouldn't pull off the kind of power grab that many of his critics fear him capable of:
Is Trump likely to cancel the constitution, declare martial law, declare himself emperor to be succeeded by his children, nationalize the banks and media, hang some of the worst criminal bankers, send the Israelis back to Israel, call the National Guard to roll tanks into Harvard Yard, place all communists and other anti-American elements under house arrest, retire all government employees, replace the USG with the Trump Organization, and begin actually rebuilding America and western civilization?
Short of that, he is simply another phenomenon within the arcane workings of the system, as worthy of support as the ebb and flow of the tides. Surely, the unprecedented nature of his campaign warrants excited interest as a historical case-study and promising fore-shock of a true restoration, but he is not the king, and we have a ways to go yet.
Others on the alt-right hew closer to Trump, though. The alt-right has become a major base of Trump's online support, causing Trump observers from BuzzFeed to National Review to take notice. They're striking fear into the hearts of the mainstream rightists.
"They are the vehicles by which anti-liberal and dehumanizing sentiments become legitimized in conservative circles," Washington Free Beacon editor Matthew Continetti explained in an essay for Commentary. In an essay for the Federalist called "You Can’t Whitewash the Alt-Right’s Bigotry," Cathy Young assails the movement as, "a mix of old bigotries and new identity and victimhood politics adapted for the straight white male."
The alt-right is often dismissed as white supremacist Trump supporters with Twitter accounts, and they are certainly that. But spend some time talking to key players and reading the movement's central texts, as I did, and you'll find it's more than a simple rebranding of the white nationalist movement. It's the product of the intersection of a longstanding, long-marginalized part of the conservative movement with both the most high-minded and the basest elements of internet culture. It's a mutated revival of a monster William F. Buckley thought he killed in the early 1990s, given new energy by the web.
And it's making its impact felt in a big way this election. In the past, when mainstream conservatives have gone up against racialist, conspiratorial elements on the right, they have emerged the victors. Buckley successively marginalized the John Birch Society in the 1950s, and then Pat Buchanan and his followers in the 1990s. People like Continetti and Young are trying to do the same thing to the alt-right. But with huge amounts of online energy behind the movement, and Trump this year's GOP nominee, it's not clear that the mainstream will win.
*Image of Elon Musk via the Telegraph
The website of n+1 has an excerpt from a new book by one of its most compelling regular writers, Kristin Dombek. The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism examines how narcissism evolved from a clinical diagnosis to a ubiquitous cultural phenomenon, and asks whether narcissism really is more prevalent in the age of the internet than before, as is widely believed. In the excerpt, she suggests that narcissists are really empty people pretending to be full. Here's a snippet:
It might take you a while to realize that the narcissist is not merely selfish, but doesn’t actually have a self. When you do, it will seem spooky, how good she has been at performing something you thought was care. Now you see that she is like a puppet, a clown, an animate corpse, anything that looks human but isn’t. For the narcissist, life is only a stage, writes Alexander Lowen, the author of Narcissism: Denial of the True Self, quoted on the Wikipedia page about narcissism, and “when the curtain falls upon an act, it is finished and forgotten. The emptiness of such a life is beyond imagination.” You might empathize: how horrible to live this way, having to imitate self-ness all the time. You can think of it that way, compassionately— intimacy issues, attachment styles, some childhood trauma beyond their control—or you can decide that your compassion is another sign you’ve been tricked: that because the narcissist has a priori no empathy, yours is just applause to her, and she is not just fake, but evil.
If you work for a narcissist, or are the child of one, or are in love with one, what should you do? Some mental health professionals think that you can love a narcissist, in a way, but that you just have to treat him or her like a six-year-old and expect nothing from that person. Some do think that narcissists can change. Deciding between these two theories can haunt you forever. And on the internet, the change theory is a minority opinion; just about everyone advises that if a narcissist begins to entangle you, you should run. As one blogger put it: “What does one do when encountering a narcissist for the first time? The simple answer: grab your running shoes and start your first 5K right there in the middle of the cocktail party!”
Image via n+1.
Almost a year after the unveiling of its first version by the Laboria Cuboniks collective, a new and more stable version of the XENOFEMINIST Manifesto has been successfully reconstructed by operators at The New Centre for Research & Practice. Deeply hidden in a myriad of encrypted files and multi modal firmware, the components of the Manifesto which were produced and sent sporadically from a distant future to the year 2014 by cyberalien hybrids of humanoids have been freshly reassembled into a new code and released as an authorless user manual. The researchers are inviting the members of public to use their version as a starting point and, in the spirit of the manifesto itself, rearticulate and upgrade it through collective thinking, writing and action.
0x0 Abstraction, virtuality and complexity are part of daily life. XENOFEMINISM constructs a worldview adapted to these realities: a theory of practical cunning, scale, and vision; a future in which the realization of emancipation contributes to a universalist politics assembled from the needs of all.
0x00 No more futureless repetition on the treadmill of capital, no more submission to the drudgery of labour. XF seizes alienation as an opportunity to generate new worlds. We are always already alienated. It is through, and not despite, alienation that we can liberate ourselves from immediacy. Freedom and parity are neither a given nor natural and their construction entails more not less alienation. Alienation is the labor of their construction. Nothing should be accepted as fixed and permanent—neither material conditions and social forms, nor the technological horizon. The glorification of ‘nature’ has nothing to offer. XF is anti-naturalist because naturalism stinks of humanism and theology.
0X000 In regards to feminism, XF seeks to eventually eliminate the need for such theory and its hegemonic deployment.
0x01 XF promotes the idea of using existing and emerging technologies to re-engineer the world. There should be no doubt that technology is fraught with serious risks; it is prone to imbalance, abuse, and exploitation. Rather than pretending to risk nothing, we ought to augment political interfaces between technologies in accordance with these risks. Technology is neither inherently progressive nor intrinsically regressive; it functions influx with culture in positive and negative feedback loops that make linear sequencing, prediction, and total caution impossible. The real emancipatory potential of technology remains unrealized. Fed by the market, its rapid growth is offset by bloat, and its elegant innovation packaged for consumers whose stagnant world it decorates with updates and upgrades. Gender, racial, class and geographical disparities still characterize the fields in which our technologies are conceived, built, and legislated.
0x02 XENOFEMINISM is rationalism par excellence. To claim that reason or rationality is "by nature" White, patriarchal and European is to simply concede defeat. Yes, it is true that the canonical “history of thought” is dominated by men, and it is male hands we see throttling existing institutions of science, politics and art. But this is precisely because of this miserable imbalance, and not despite it that opposing the dominance of white heterosexual European-descent man must be itself rational. Science ought to ultimately be redefined as the only true suspension of inequality. If today it is dominated by masculine egos, then it is at odds with its own true function. Reason seeks the kinds of parity and freedom, which Eurocentric patriarchy cannot provide.
XF is genderless, sexless and inhuman, unbound by physical, biological, natural and historical limitations. XF is a space for marking the intersection of these claims visible. It names reason and reason alone as the engine of emancipation, and the right of everyone to speak as no one in particular.
0x03 The excess of modesty in emancipatory movements is not proportionate to the world’s monstrous geopolitical, cultural and scientific complexities. Systematic thinking and structural analysis have largely fallen by the wayside in favor of admirable, but insufficient struggles, bound to arbitrary identities, fixed localities and fragmented insurrections. While capitalism is understood as a complex and ever-expanding totality, most anti-capitalist projects remain profoundly fearful of transitioning to the universal, resisting big-picture speculative politics by condemning them as suspicious vectors. Such a false guarantee treats universals as absolute, generating a debilitating disjuncture between what we seek to depose and the strategies required for reaching this objective.
0x04 Global complexity opens us to Promethean cognitive and political demands. Much of twenty-first century politics—from the remnants of post-war Western Marxism to Postmodern countercultural movements— fail to address these challenges in a manner capable of producing substantial and enduring change. XENOFEMINISM encounters these obligations as a collectivity capable of transitioning between multiple levels of political, material and conceptual organization.
0x05 XENOFEMINISM is synthetic, unsatisfied by analysis alone. It urges constructive oscillation between description and prescription to mobilize the recursive potential of contemporary technologies upon disparities of power. Given that there are a range of challenges specifically relating to life in the digital age, the situation requires a philosophy at ease with computation. However, XENOFEMINISM is about more than digital self-defence, cyber equality and freedom from oppressive networks. We assert the exercise of positive freedom--freedom-to rather than simply freedom-from--and demand the invention of novel cognitive and material technologies in the service of the common ends.
0x06 The radical opportunities afforded by new forms of technological mediation should no longer serve the interests of capital, which, by design, benefits the few. The constantly proliferating fruits of technology can be annexed, and although no one can claim their total accessibility, digital tools have never been more widely available or more sensitive to appropriation than they are today. This is not an intentional omission of the fact that a large amount of the world's poor is adversely affected by the expanding technological industry. Multinational corporations’ employees work the developing world under abominable conditions while entire towns are becoming a repository for the world's electronic waste. XF acknowledges these conditions as a target for elimination. Just as the invention of the stock market was also the harbinger of the economic crash, XF understands that technological innovation must responsively anticipate its own systemic failures.
0x09 XF rejects illusion and melancholy as political inhibitors. Insisting that the weak need no strategic coordination to prevail over the strong leads to unfulfilled promises and unmarshalled drives. This is a politics that, in wanting so much, ends up building so little. Without the labor of large-scale and collective social organization, declaring one's desire for global change is little more than wishful thinking. On the other hand, leftist melancholy teaches us that emancipation is an extinct species to be wept over and that flashes of negation are the best we can hope for. At its worst, such an attitude generates nothing but political lassitude, and at its best, installs an atmosphere of pervasive despair which too often degenerates into factionalism and petty moralizing. The malady of melancholia only compounds political inertia, and—under the guise of being realistic—relinquishes all hope of recalibrating the world. XENOFEMINISM refuses to mourn.
0x0A We take politics that valorize the entirely local in the guise of subverting waves of global abstraction, to be utterly insufficient. To secede from or disavow capitalist machinery will not make it disappear. Likewise, suggestions to pull the lever on the emergency brake of velocities is not a universal option but a possibility available only to the few, ultimately resulting in catastrophe for the many. If we refuse to think beyond the microcommunity and foster connections between fractured insurgencies, we have no choice but to remain satisfied with temporary and defensive gestures. XF is an affirmative creature on the offensive, insisting on the possibilitiy of large-scale social change for our alien kin.
0x0B A sense of the world's volatility and artificiality seems to have faded from contemporary Queer politics, in favor of a plural but static constellation of identity, in whose light bleak equations of the good and the natural are stubbornly restored. All the while, the heterosexual center marches forward. XF challenges this centrifugal referent, knowing full well that sex and gender are exemplary of the fulcrum between norm and fact, between freedom and compulsion. To tilt the fulcrum in the direction of nature is a defensive concession at best, and a retreat from what makes queer and trans politics more than just a lobby: that it is an arduous assertion of freedom and parity against an order that seemed immutable. Like every myth of the given, a stable foundation is fabulated for a real world of chaos, violence, and doubt. When the possibility of transition became real and known, the tomb under Nature's shrine cracked and new histories bristling with futures, escaped the old order of "sex". The disciplinary grids of gender and sex are in no small part an attempt to mend that shattered foundation, and tame the lives that escape it. The time has now come to tear down this shrine entirely, and not bow down before it in a useless apology for what little autonomy has been granted.
XF advocates not only for the eradication of gender identities but the annihilation of nuclear family and the global dismantling of heterosexuality. Instances of sexuation between a man and a woman are not a concern, but a lifelong commitment to reenacting them is. We demand a world in which the sexual, legal and ideological union of a man and a woman both in its traditional and contemporary forms is scientifically, culturally and legally recognized as a pathetic and pervasive social illness. At the heart of this perversion is the idea that two units of humanity with opposing or even the same or similar genders are sufficient for the cultivation of new-born subjectivities. XF finds queer emancipation insufficient if heterosexual ideologies and practices are politely tolerated and quietly afforded their historical privileges. XF aims to completely liberate and deliver humanity to its real sexual and communal desires and objectives.
0x0C XENOFEMINISM is gender-abolitionist. "Gender abolitionism" is not code for the eradication of what are currently considered "gendered" traits from the human population. Under patriarchy, such a project could only spell disaster--the notion of what is "gendered" is attached disproportionately to the feminine. "Gender abolitionism" is shorthand for the ambition to construct a society where traits currently assembled under the rubric of gender, no longer furnish a grid for the asymmetric operation of power. "Race abolitionism" expands into a similar formula--that the struggle must continue until currently racialized characteristics are of no more significance than the color of one's eyes. Ultimately, every emancipatory abolitionism must incline towards the horizon of class abolitionism, since it is in capitalism where we encounter oppression in its transparent and denaturalized form: You're not exploited or oppressed because you are a wage laborer or poor; you are a laborer or poor because you are exploited.
0x0D XENOFEMINISM understands that the viability of the projects aiming for the abolition of class, gender, race and geography hinges on a profound reworking of the universal. The universal must be grasped as generic. Genericity slices through every particular, refusing the classification of bodies and lands. This non-absolute, generic universality must guard against the facile tendency of conflation with bloated, unmarked particulars. Absent such a universal, the abolition of class will remain a bourgeois fantasy, the abolition of race, a tacit white-supremacism, the abolition of gender, a thinly veiled misogyny, and abolition of geography a new form of global imperialism.
0x10 XENOFEMINISM seeks to construct a coalitional politics, a politics without the infection of purity. Wielding the universal requires thoughtful qualification and careful self-reflection so as to become a maximally ready-to-hand tool for multiple political bodies and something that can be appropriated against the numerous oppressions that transect with gender and sexualities. The universal is no blueprint, and instead of dictating its uses in advance, we propose XENOFEMINISM as a platform. The very process of construction is therefore understood to be a restless, iterative, and continual refashioning. XENOFEMINISM seeks to be a mutable architecture that, like open source software, remains available for perpetual modification and enhancement following the navigational impulse of militant ethical reasoning. Open, however, does not mean undirected. The most durable systems in the world owe their stability to they way they train order to emerge as an "invisible hand" from apparent spontaneity, or exploit the inertia of investment and sedimentation. We should not hesitate to learn from our enemies, and seek ways to seed an equitable order into the geometry of freedoms these platforms afford.
0x11 Our lot is cast with technoscience, where nothing is too sacred for reengineering and transformation so as to widen our aperture of freedom and parity. To say that nothing is sacred, that nothing is transcendent or protected from the will to know, to tinker and to hack, is to say that nothing is supernatural. We understand ”Nature" as the unbounded arena of science. We will tear down melancholy and illusion, the unambitious and the non-scaleable, and the libidinized puritanism of Nature as an un-remakeable given. There is nothing, we claim, that cannot be studied scientifically and manipulated technologically.
0x12 This does not, however, mean that the distinction between the ontological and the normative, between fact and value, is simply cut and dried. The vectors of normative anti-naturalism and ontological naturalism span many ambivalent battlefields. The project of untangling what ought to be from what is, of dissociating freedom from fact and will from knowledge, is, indeed, an infinite task. There are many lacunae where desire confronts us with the brutality of fact, where beauty is indissociable from truth. Poetry, sex, technology and pain are incandescent with this tension. But give up on the task of revision, release the reins and slacken that tension, and these filaments instantly dim.
0x13 The potential of early, text-based internet culture for countering repressive regimes, generating solidarity among marginalised groups, and creating new spaces for experimentation that ignited cyberfeminism in the nineties has clearly faded in the twenty-first century. The dominance of the visual in today's online interfaces has spaces of interaction, but this does not mean that cyberfeminist sensibilities belong to the past. Sorting the subversive possibilities from the oppressive ones latent in today's Internet requires a feminism sensitive to the insidious return of old power structures, yet savvy enough to know how to exploit the potentials. Digital technologies are not separable from the material realities that underwrite them; they are connected so that each can be used to alter the other towards different ends. Rather than arguing for the primacy of the virtual over the material, or the material over the virtual, XENOFEMINISM grasps points of power and powerlessness in both towards unfolding this knowledge as effective interventions in our jointly composed reality.
0x14 Intervention in material hegemonies is just as crucial as intervention in digital and cultural ones. Changes to the built environment harbour some of the most significant possibilities in the reconfiguration of our horizons. As the embodiment of ideological constellations, the production of space and the decisions we make for its organization are ultimately articulations about 'us' and reciprocally, how a 'we' can be articulated. With the potential to foreclose, restrict, or open up future social conditions, xenofeminists must become attuned to the language of architecture as a vocabulary for collective choreography—the coordinated writing of space.
0x15 From the street to the home, domestic space too must not escape our interventionalist tentacles. So profoundly ingrained, domestic space has been deemed impossible to disembed, where the home as norm has been conflated with home as fact, as an un-remakeable given. Stultifying "domestic realism" has no home on our horizon. Let us set sights on augmented homes of shared laboratories, of communal media and technical facilities; the home is ripe for spatial transformation as an integral component in any process of futurity. But this cannot stop at the garden gates. We see too well that reinventions of family structure and domestic life are currently only possible at the cost of withdrawing from the economic sphere—the way of the commune. If we want to break the inertia that has kept the moribund figure of the nuclear family unit in place, which has stubbornly worked to isolate men and women from the public sphere, we must overhaul the material infrastructure and break the economic cycles that lock it in place. The task before us is twofold, and our vision necessarily stereoscopic: we must engineer an economy that liberates reproductive labor and family life, while building models of familiality free from the deadening grind of wage labor.
0x16 From the global to the local, from the cloud to our bodies, XENOFEMINISM avows the responsibility in constructing new institutions of technomaterialist hegemonic proportions. Like engineers and artists who must conceive of a total structure as well as the molecular parts from which this totality is constructed, XF emphasises the importance of the mesopolitical sphere against the limited effectiveness of local gestures, creation of autonomous zones, and sheer horizontalism, just as it stands against transcendent, or top-down impositions of values and norms. The mesopolitical arena of XENOFEMINISM's universalist ambitions comprehends itself as a mobile and intricate network of transits between these polarities. As pragmatists, we invite contamination as a mutational driver between such frontiers.
0x17 XF asserts that adapting our behaviour for an era of Promethean complexity is a labor requiring both action and inertia, a ferocious patience at odds with simply waiting. Calibrating a political hegemony or insurgency not only implies the creation of material infrastructures to make its values explicit, but places demands on us collective subjects, as to how we are to become hosts of this new world. How do we build a better parasite--one that arouses the desires we want to desire, that orchestrates an emancipatory and egalitarian community buttressed by new forms of unselfish solidarity and self-mastery?
0x18 XF thinks like the schemer or lisper, who constructs a new language in which the problem at hand is explained, a code in which solutions for an entire class of problems become relatively trivial. XENOFEMINISM is an open-ended ambition to construct a new language for new politics--an explicit language capable of seizing its own methods as materials, bootstrapping itself into existence piece by piece. The problems we face are systemic and interlocking, and that any chance of global success depends on infecting myriad skills and contexts with the logic of XF. Ours is a transformation of both seeping but directed subsumption as well as that of rapid overthrow; it is a deliberate construction, submerging the white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy in a sea of procedures that soften its shell and dismantle its defenses, so as to build a new world from the scraps.
0x1A XENOFEMINISM indexes the desire to construct an alien future, with a triumphant X on a mobile map. This X is not a mark of destination, but the insertion of a topological-keyframe for a new forging logic. In affirming a future untethered to the repetition of the present, we struggle for accelerating capacities, for spaces of freedom with a richer geometry than the aisle, the assembly line, the barricades, and the newsfeed. If geometry implicitly structures our exterior world already, our Umwelt, we need new perceptions and actions unblinkered by naturalised rigidities. "Nature" shall no longer be a refuge of injustice, or a basis for any political justification whatsoever!
If nature is unjust, rebuild a new nature from scratch!
At Public Seminar, McKenzie Wark surveys the books of Chris Kraus, from her seminal debut I Love Dick to her latest novel, Summer of Hate. You might think that nothing new and interesting could be said about Kraus's work, since its been covered exhaustively over the past few years by a younger generation of aficionados from the spheres of art and literature. But you'd be wrong. Wark suggests that Kraus's books expose "the means of production of theory," and take theory more seriously that academia does by asking how it illuminates the pleasure and abjection of a real physical body—her own. Here's an excerpt:
Sometimes reading Chris Kraus is like archaeology. Somewhere beneath the surface of the text are some rich fossil layers. Call it the hyperreal strata of the Anthropocene. Some of it smells like the New York of a certain era, all speed-sweat and peroxide. On top of that layer is something else, something that filled the niche when those punk creatures went extinct. Once there used to be whole separate ecologies of art and fortune. There were poets, performers, artists of a sort. They made their own rules for glory. Then they went away, and after that comes pedigree creatures, sired by great names for brilliant careers.
Among other things, Kraus has written the Domesday Book of the lost wilds and commons of New York. “All of New York’s mystery had long since been depleted.” This is perhaps the case with a lot of the cities of what the Situationists so usefully called the overdeveloped world. Kraus: “There is no longer any way of being poor in any interesting way in major cities like Manhattan.” As late as the winter years of the eighties, other lives, other communities, other values still survived in neglected corners. But is that still possible? “It’s only rarely that the overwhelming sadness of the city galvanizes into anything like rage. And when it does, this rage is quickly channeled into new careers in the art world.”
As people get older they start to think it is all over and the good old days are gone. As a Kraus-like character says of LA: “There’s no alternative hierarchy of glamour here. Those who work outside the gallery system are simply losers.” And yet the actual Chris Kraus could still celebrate the brief and brilliant life of the Tiny Creatures scene in LA’s Echo Park: “What all these people do best is collage. They’re all on speed….” So while her books are in part like archaeological records, they are also blueprints for how to turn your own quirk and smarts and boredom into its own scene, with its own intensities, if only for a time.
Perhaps this is not the least reason Kraus’ books have a following. They are about working the inside-outside margin. As the Kraus-character says in Summer of Hate: “She saw no boundaries between feeling and thought, sex and philosophy. Hence, her writing was read almost exclusively in the art world, where she attracted a small core of devoted fans: Asperger’s boys, girls who’d been hospitalized for mental illness, assistant professors who would not be receiving their tenure, lap dancers, cutters and whores.”
Image of Chris Krauss via the Guardian.
At the n+1 website, Jeanne-Marie Jackson writes a nuanced and illuminating review of a dizzyingly complex and ambitious new novel, Square Wave by Mark de Silva. Exploring the colonial history of Sri Lanka, microtonal music, and modern American urban dissolution, Square Wave uses the form of the novel to engage in a kind of wide-ranging philosophy that is rarely seen in conventional academic texts. Here's an excerpt from Jackson's review:
If this all seems rather chaotic, that’s because it is: there are character links between plotlines and sections (the microtonal music theorist, for example, is Stagg’s girlfriend’s friend from high school), but they are not points of interest in their own right. Nor do the subdivisions stop there. The sections set in Sri Lanka also alternate between multiple imperial perspectives (the English and the Dutch), as well as that of an indigenous Sinhalese monk who contemplates the criteria by which political events are admitted into the island’s official history. Unlike other “philosophical novels” that are unified by a single idiosyncratic persona—David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress and Sergio De La Pava’s A Naked Singularity might be generative comparisons—Square Wave is consistently alienating. There is no unifying through-line of voice; only of concept.
To speak of a “plot” in any traditional sense would be to greatly oversell Square Wave’s mass marketability. (This will hardly count as a problem for De Silva, who once published an essay in 3:AM on the merits of “putdownable prose.”) A better way of describing the book’s nearly 400 pages is as a chronicle of intersecting fields of innovation, in which things might “happen,” sure, but only to point back toward the structures being analogized. When Stagg discovers the hurt prostitute in a vacant lot, it does not set in motion a relationship between the two characters that can then come to some kind of psychological or social fruition. They do interact a few more times, but their conversations would carry much the same weight even were they devoid of context.
The take-away is rather that the prostitute, named Jen, embodies the dark side of a democracy that has lost its capacity to effect humanity’s elevation: she’s left college and chosen this path of self-debasement. This meeting in turn prompts De Silva and Stagg’s meditations on the nature of democracy in its populist versus non-representative forms, neither of which satisfies. Jen’s life and the elitist goals of The Wintry then look like two sides of the same political coin. Similarly, the atmospheric physicist is involved in a collaborative plan between the US and India to manipulate storm systems across the world, which might alternately serve humanistic or weaponistic aims. Square Wave presents morally ambivalent systems without any clear evaluative standard: redemption looks like apocalypse depending on your point of entry, and there are many.
Aheda Zanetti, the designer who invented the burkini, has written an op-ed for the Guardian about how she created the swimsuit to give Muslim women freedom. She speaks against the intolerance of French authorities banning the burkini, saying that they're as bad as the Taliban. Read Zanetti in partial below, in full via the Guardian.
This has given women freedom, and they want to take that freedom away? So who is better, the Taliban or French politicians? They are as bad as each other.
I don’t think any man should worry about how women are dressing – no one is forcing us, it’s a woman’s choice. What you see is our choice. Do I call myself a feminist? Yes, maybe. I like to stand behind my man, but I am the engine, and I choose to be. I want him to take all the credit, but I am the quiet achiever.
I would love to be in France to say this: you have misunderstood. And there more problems in the world to worry about, why create more? You’ve taken a product that symbolised happiness and joyfulness and fitness, and turned it into a product of hatred.
Also, what are the French values? What do you mean it doesn’t combine with French values, what does that mean? Liberty? You telling us what to wear, you telling us what not to do will drive women back into their homes – what do you want us to do then? There will be a backlash. If you are dividing the nation and not listening and not working towards something you are naturally going to have someone who is going to get angry. If you are pushing people away, and isolating them – this is definitely not a good thing for any politician to do, in any country.
I remember when I first tested the burkini. First I tested it in my bathtub, I had to make sure it worked. Then I had to test it by diving in it, so I went to the local pool to test that the headband would stay put, so I went to Roselands Pool, and I remember that everyone was staring at me – what was I wearing? I went right to the end of the pool and got on the diving board and dived in. The headband stayed in place, and I thought, beauty! Perfect!
It was my first time swimming in public and it was absolutely beautiful. I remember the feeling so clearly. I felt freedom, I felt empowerment, I felt like I owned the pool. I walked to the end of that pool with my shoulders back.
Diving into water is one of the best feelings in the world. And you know what? I wear a bikini under my burkini. I’ve got the best of both worlds.
*Image of burkini via jpost.com
Writing in the Boston Review, social-movement historian Robin D. G. Kelley delves into a rich and detail policy document recently released by the Black Lives Matter movement, “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice.” Kelley shows that in its call for a universal basic income, community control of policing, and reparations for US slavery, the document is a roadmap for ending the oppression of not just African Americans, but of all marginalized people. Read an excerpt from Kelley's piece below or the full text here.
If heeded, the call to “end the war on Black people” would not only reduce our vulnerability to poverty, prison, and premature death but also generate what I would call a peace dividend of billions of dollars. Demilitarizing the police, abolishing bail, decriminalizing drugs and sex work, and ending the criminalization of youth, transfolk, and gender-nonconforming people would dramatically diminish jail and prison populations, reduce police budgets, and make us safer. “A Vision for Black Lives” explicitly calls for divesting from prisons, policing, a failed war on drugs, fossil fuels, fiscal and trade policies that benefit the rich and deepen inequality, and a military budget in which two-thirds of the Pentagon’s spending goes to private contractors. The savings are to be invested in education, universal healthcare, housing, living wage jobs, “community-based drug and mental health treatment,” restorative justice, food justice, and green energy.
But the point is not simply to reinvest the peace dividend into existing social and economic structures. It is to change those structures—which is why “A Vision for Black Lives” emphasizes community control, self-determination, and “collective ownership” of certain economic institutions. It calls for community control over police and schools, participatory budgeting, the right to organize, financial and institutional support for cooperatives, and “fair development” policies based on human needs and community participation rather than market principles. Democratizing the institutions that have governed black communities for decades without accountability will go a long way toward securing a more permanent peace since it will finally end a relationship based on subjugation, subordination, and surveillance. And by insisting that such institutions be more attentive to the needs of the most marginalized and vulnerable—working people and the poor, the homeless, the formerly incarcerated, the disabled, women, and the LGBTQ community—“A Vision for Black Lives” enriches our practice of democracy.
Writing in the journal Rhizomes, Jared Sexton, professor of African American Studies at UC Irvine, examines the history, development, and current resistance to Afro-Pessimist thought. Afro-Pessimism is not a unified school of thought, but rather a theoretical tendency that combines philosophy, history, and critical race studies to explore, among other things, the idea that African American identity is inseparable from white supremacy. Afro-Pessimism has garnered increasing influence and attention in the past few years, even as it has encountered resistance from more established academic disciplines. Here's an excerpt from Sexton's text:
 Afro-Pessimism is a contemporary phenomenon, some may even scoff that it is trendy, but its political and intellectual evolution is considerably longer and its ethical bearings much broader than one might expect, and there is work yet to be done regarding a genealogy of its orientation and sensibility. No individual or collective effort, of course, springs forth whole cloth and yet the controversy that has accompanied the emergence of this discourse over the better part of the past decade has suffered greatly from a refusal—on the part of most critics and too many proponents as well—to follow the old Jamesonian edict to historicize the theoretical aim and object (Herman 2003). I only note the problem here, as the development of proper context would require far more space than available at present. The vacuum-packed controversy has been surprisingly pointed as a result, and it is easy to miss the true significance thereof between the epiphanic tone of recent acquaintance and the acrimony of recurrent denunciation.
 Some part of the pace and extent of debate about Afro-Pessimism to date is no doubt due to the proliferation of social media platforms in the same moment when the professoriate groans under the intensified administrative command to turn research into output with eventual market value (including the market value of "civic engagement"); the subsequent migration of much previously refereed scholarly commentary to these less (or differently) regulated forums in search of greater and faster measurable impact and, for better or worse, readership beyond the ken of advanced higher education; and the increased if uneven porosity of deliberations among activists, artists, educators, journalists, non-profit workers, researchers, etc. afforded by the digitization of print culture and the growing access to recordings of conference panels, public lectures, radio interviews, and the like. It is no exaggeration to say that, as a result of this convergence of global economic restructuring and technological development, there are thousands of online conversations underway across Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe, especially among students and young scholars, adjudicating the relative merits of Afro-Pessimism.
Image of Jared Sexton via mixedracestudies.org.
Now that we're on the brink of pushing our own earth to the max of its capabilities and resources, the world's finest capitalists are looking to space as their next frontier. While private space travel has already become a thing thanks to companies like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX, the former owned by Richard Branson and the latter spearheaded by Elon Musk of Paypal and Tesla Motors fame. It should come as unsurprising that Branson, along with Google founder Larry Page, are behind this new interest in space mining. Read Shannon Stirone's report for The New Republic in partial below, or in full here.
On September 8, NASA is embarking on a new mission to investigate the origins of the universe. Launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, a small spacecraft, the OSIRIS-REx, will journey 509 million miles to an asteroid called Bennu. Named for an Egyptian deity linked to the sun and creation, Bennu has likely gone untouched for the past four billion years, offering us a valuable glimpse into the early days of our solar system.
The spacecraft will orbit the asteroid for approximately 19 months. Once it has mapped Bennu’s surface, the Osiris-rex will inch closer to the asteroid. Then its eleven-foot robotic arm will reach out and collect a two-ounce sample to bring back to Earth in 2023.
A seven-year journey to fetch a candy bar–sized sample of rock hasn’t sparked the kind of global excitement reserved for, say, the prospect of blasting Sir Richard Branson off the planet and into deep space. But there’s a bigger game at play here: The precious minerals and metals in asteroids may be worth billions of dollars to galactic prospectors, and NASA’s mission is paving the way for an outer-space gold rush.
Asteroid mining hasn’t even begun, and it’s already being privatized: Several for-profit companies are currently jockeying for position in the fledgling industry. Planetary Resources, founded in 2009 in Redmond, Washington, counts Branson and Google co-founder Larry Page among its investors. James Cameron, the director of Avatar and Titanic, serves as an adviser. A Silicon Valley–based company named Deep Space Industries, founded in 2013, is also at the forefront of the industry.
The initial goal for both companies is to mine asteroids for water, an essential commodity for long-duration space travel. If humans ever travel into deep space—to Mars, for example—we will need water for life support and fuel. But it’s prohibitively expensive to take all of the necessary water supplies with us from Earth. A company that can develop the technology to find and extract water from an asteroid could set up the H2O equivalent of a gas station in outer space—a potential gold mine.
From there, space prospectors plan to move on to asteroids with high iron content and others that contain rare metals—the raw materials that will allow us to set up not just gas stations, but entire communities in space.
“In the same way we moved into the frontiers of this planet and lived off of the land, fished and hunted, and built log cabins and all kinds of things using local resources, that is really what we are looking to repeat in space,” says Chris Lewicki, the CEO of Planetary Resources. The company, which last year launched a test craft from the International Space Station, believes it could be excavating asteroids before the decade is out. Its competitor, Deep Space Industries, has a similarly grand vision of the future. “In 30 years’ time, the vision is to be building cities in space,” says CEO Daniel Faber.
*Image via NASA
Hieronymous Bosch belongs to the rare breed of timeworn painters who delight and confound both the public and art historians alike. Given that so little is known about Bosch 500 years after his life, we are continually mystified by the artist's idiosyncratically weird work. Ingrid D. Rowland writes about the mystery of Bosch as so many catalogs have been published celebrating his fifth centenary. Read Rowland in partial below, or in full via New York Review of Books.
Because the records regarding Bosch are so scant and the surviving works are so few and so strange, every aspect of his career is debated and debatable. The curators of the Prado and the Noordbrabants Museum do not entirely agree on what is by Bosch and what is not, or on when he created the drawings and paintings they have put on display, or for whom, let alone what they mean. On one point, though, everyone is delighted to concur, from scholars and curators to the visitors who have come to Den Bosch and Madrid in droves. Jheronimus Bosch is a master.
The Noordbrabants Museum, which owns no works by Bosch, nonetheless managed to assemble an impressive array of them: nineteen of twenty-five known drawings, including The Wood Has Ears, the Field Has Eyes and The Owl’s Nest, as well as most of the panel paintings: twenty of the twenty-five autograph works accepted by the Bosch Research and Conservation Project. The Prado, which boasts the largest collection of Bosch paintings in the world, is displaying its treasures until September on cleverly designed curving platforms that allow viewers all-around views of triptychs like its own Garden of Earthly Delights, The Haywain, and The Temptations of Saint Anthony from Lisbon, as well as choice drawings like Tree-man from Vienna’s Albertina and, once again, The Owl’s Nest.
The wild, imaginative detail of Bosch calls for close inspection, but an implacable logic governs the phantasmagoria. Bosch’s visions of Hell, with their minutely observed flames and slimy, mephitic pools, are more chaotic than Dante’s, but a similarly stern moral sense ensures that every crime receives its own excruciating punishment. By exposing the consequences of bad conduct, Bosch urges his viewers to behave themselves, and they do: in Den Bosch and Madrid, expectant crowds waited patiently for a moment of intimate scrutiny, a forest of pointing fingers suggesting how many of them were rewarded in the end by some secret insight.
Both museums issued their own catalogs, and several other excellent books have appeared in this centenary year to introduce Bosch and his work to the general public. Nils Büttner’s Hieronymus Bosch: Visions and Nightmares is an attractive little hardbound book with good color illustrations providing an inviting, judicious overview of Bosch in his historical environment. In a larger format with lavish illustrations, Jheronimus Bosch: The Road to Heaven and Hell by Gary Schwartz devotes a two-page spread to each of Bosch’s major panels, allowing the reader, guided by Schwartz’s sensible suggestions, to develop a personal interpretation of the great artist’s painted puzzles.
Both volumes are ideal companions to Bosch. The catalog for the Noordbrabants Museum’s exhibition also addresses the general reader engagingly. Specialists will want to consult the two dense, beautifully illustrated volumes published by the members of the Bosch Research and Conservation Project, presenting the results of their scientific analyses and their conclusions about the dating and attribution of the artist’s works. (For example, because Bosch painted on panels of Baltic oak, analyzing the sequence of tree rings allows them to determine when the individual trees were felled, sometimes connecting particular paintings to a single tree, sometimes showing that a panel could only have been painted after Bosch’s death.) The Prado catalog is twice as large as the Noordbrabants’s, with more detailed entries on the individual works, but it also has wonderful essays for the general reader.
In preparation for the centenary year of 2016, a Dutch documentary team followed the Conservation Project’s art historians and scientists as they moved around Europe. Released in 2015, the film Jheronimus Bosch: Touched by the Devil records some memorable moments in Venice and some lively meetings at the Prado and the Escorial with Pilar Silva Maroto, the formidable curator of the Prado’s exhibition, and former deputy director Gabriele Finaldi, who became head of London’s National Gallery shortly after filming. The encounter between the earnest young Dutch team and the mighty museum is not quite the auto-da-fé scene from Verdi’s Don Carlo, but at five hundred years’ remove we can still sense the contrast between the courtly culture of imperial Spain and the merchant culture of a trading town in the Low Countries. “After all, we have the paintings,” Silva Maroto says matter-of-factly, and of course the Prado also has an in-house conservation department fully worthy of the museum’s stature in the world.
We can also imagine the sparks of excitement that flew when the fantastic imagery of a middle-class painter from ’s-Hertogenbosch entered the ethereal haunts of the Hapsburgs at the turn of the sixteenth century, two societies inhabiting the same times and the same places, maintaining entirely distinct modes of dress and behavior, but united in their fascination with this strange genius. Silva Maroto confides to the film crew that her own house caught fire when she was a child. She knows all about how the flames that devoured ’s-Hertogenbosch in 1463 might have etched their way into the memory of young Joen van Aken.
The exhibition in Den Bosch emphasized Bosch as a local artist, albeit an artist of rare accomplishment. The Prado emphasized the remarkable history of its collection, created by King Philip II, who loved the weird Netherlandish painter as much as he loved Titian. Philip also warmed to the uptight Christian morality of a northern painter who conveniently died the year before Martin Luther unleashed the Protestant Reformation. The courtly patronage of this decidedly bourgeois artist therefore emerged as a dominant theme in the Spanish venue, along with the two stern varieties of Christian faith that linked the aristocracy with the middle class.
*Image: Hieronymus Bosch: The Wayfarer, circa 1500–1510, via Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
So it turns out, Hillary won the Democratic Party’s nomination. Most people are mad or disappointed and a majority of them think it’s important to support Clinton against Trump. The argument is that in this historic election, a worse-than-Reagan character is intending not only to further privatize the US government operations and infrastructure but undo the great cultural march forward undertaken by the leftist liberals in America during the last three decades. On the other hand, the social media is filled with disdain for Hillary by radicals and Bernie Sanders supporters. Those who passionately supported democratic scialism in the last 12 months are vowing to never vote for her and instead support a third party candidate or, worse, stay home altogether and boycott the elections.
These are all valid and important debates, however, nobody is ready yet to look critically at Sanders and his campaign, to see if there was anything from his side that could have contributed to his defeat. It is important to address this question because in doing so, we might be able to better answer the classic leftist question of What Needs to be Done in regards to the November elections. Here are the points that come to mind as to why Sanders lost the Democratic primaries.
Early on, Sanders was not ready or confident about winning. This psychologically self-made glass ceiling was fundamental to his other errors, some of which are listed below. When one is not convinced of having any chance of winning a battle, sticking to the original arguments and hoping to make a symbolic impact hinders the flexibility needed to navigate towards victory.
Sanders should have chastised Clinton for a number of issues which either were never part of the original Sanders arsenal or entered when it was way too late. To start, Sanders should have gone after her for setting up a private email server. He should have linked this breach of procedure to her disastrous foreign policy around the world. Clinton should have been ethically and politically indicted throughout the campaign for destabilizing the US relationship with Russia and for “geopoliticizing” the Arab Spring (making it an instrument of the US hegemonic war with Russia and China), a cardinal sin which resulted in the chaotification of Egypt and destruction of two other Arab countries, namely Libya and Syria.
Sanders never went after Obama and instead pretended to be his true heir. This was a flawed strategy with fatal consequences. One can argue that besides a few small differences, there were and continue to be no real positions taken by Clinton on a number of key issues that were fundamentally different than how Obama had acted all throughout his presidency. Sanders should have drawn similarities between the two and advocated for true change away from the Obama policies and their Clintonian consequences.
On the epistemological level our time is marked by a new understanding of the functional aspect of democracy not as a fair and ethical system but a process that needs to be gamed if not hacked. Sanders unfortunately based his campaign on a return to true democracy rather than strategically using his resources to take advantage of the possibilities that this flawed system offered him in he 21st century. Thus, instead of complaining about Clinton subverting the system, he should have also sought to subvert the system himself.
Sanders’ team had no real plan to combat let alone halt voter suppression and other manipulation of primary elections colluded on by Clinton and the DNC. Having no plans prior into entering a battle with a shrewd politician who already had learned many lessons from the 2008 primaries was more tragic than wishful thinking.
Sanders underestimated the power of minorities in diverting attention away from his universal, class-based message. He did not pay enough attention to more local and human rights-level grievances. This should have been clear to his team right after their first encounter with #BLM. Unfortunately, staying the course with his class-based politics and reluctance to incorporate intersectionality into the campaign’s message haunted him until it was too late for him to overturn the general perception about his attitude towards and popularity amongst visible minorities particularly the African American community.
Waiting for endorsement from Elizabeth Warren was a fatal mistake. Warren was predisposed to enter the scene as a Hillary supporter. Sanders should have nominated a strong and experienced woman of color like Nina Turner as his running mate earlier on to double his own celebrity power and show that he really meant business when it came to being serious about anti establishment political change and the plight of African Americans.
Instead of only critiquing the criminal justice system and its racist biases, Sanders should have called for an amnesty for all those who had been incarcerated for drug-related and non violent crimes. The conservative response to such a bold move from Clinton would have exposed the conservative core of her campaign, making her vulnerable amongst African American voters.
It was clear from the day 1 that that Sanders never had the mainstream media. The place of mass media in subverting the primaries should have been part and parcel of his campaign not just a “radical” point pushed on social media by the fringe elements from his side. Equally, the energy spent on seeking fair treatment from mainstream media should have been spent on endorsing one or two outlets as semi-official platforms for his message and side of the news, in order to combat Hillary’s full-spectrum media dominance.
The amount of art, graffiti and political murals, memes and other kind of digital and non digital graphics created in support of Sanders during his campaign was phenomenal. However, there wasn’t an effort made by his campaign to use this power to full advantage. These distributed efforts remained localized and hardly connected with his campaign advertising. Sanders was supported by a great number of artists, famous or otherwise, as reflected on his web site. He never really found a way to flaunt these actors, musicians, writers, poets and visual artists and make a point about being a pro-art & -creativity candidate.
Reviving democratic socialism in America was a noble cause but the campaign remained focused on America and had little to say about the exercise of USA as the only global superpower. Sanders should have more assertively structured his campaign as not only the revival of class struggle but a much needed anti-war movement to internally pressure the largest military hegemon in world history to abandon the use of military for settling its political and economic disputes.
Bernie Sanders presented himself as the uncompromising candidate but realpolitik operates in the field of compromise. Like Obama, he could have hedged “his soul” quite a bit earlier on with Hillary’s backers by highlighting her vulnerabilities to Trump, without watering down his message. His puritan notion of ethical standards alienated superdelegates and softer capitalists. If he was going to end his campaign with the grand compromise with Clinton, why not do some amount of this earlier on?
Sanders promised people a contested convention and prepared his delegates for a real democratic showdown in the style of Chantal Mouffe’s and Ernesto Laclau’s concept of Radical Democracy. Then he totally changed posture and endorsed Hillary on the eve of the convention. This sudden shift was damaging both to his own credibility and his supporters as well as the DNC, who had to deal with disgruntled delegates that for months had been preparing for a real political struggle inside the party. In addition, his contestation of the primary probably would have not changed the course of the nomination but could have provided the possibility for substantial compromises with Clinton during the convention.
Sanders was essentially a leftist reactionary candidate unfamiliar with new tendencies within the leftist thought. He could have benefitted from encouraging his team to do more research on the ideas side of things. He could have taken up issues of privacy and the emergence of artificial intelligence, automation and universal basic income to his heart and crafted a totally new leftist campaign appropriate for the 21st century. But instead he stuck to the Fordist social democratic values of the 20th century, hoping to convince people that a return to the past is not only possible but necessary.
Sanders and his team were lucky they had millions of young digital natives at their disposal to update and modernize their communication strategy, but the campaign itself was completely old school. He could have benefited from taking a page or two from Trump’s playbook concerning how one can use a changing and precarious personality online to attack an opponent, making over the top demands and comments to expand his media coverage’ Like Trump he should have exercised running towards his enemy and encouraging controversy, rather than remaining on the defensive for the duration of his campaign.
We are a long way from being enslaved by robot overlords, at least according to Paul Taylor, who has published an article on the history and present of machine learning in the London Review of Books. Taylor outlines the many complex (and expensive) approaches that scientists have used in recent decades to get computers to learn and think like humans. While they have made great strides in developing machines that can perform rule-based tasks—like playing chess or driving a car—Taylor says they have a long way to go before they can duplicate the brilliance of the human mind. Here's an excerpt from Taylor's article:
The solving of problems that until recently seemed insuperable might give the impression that these machines are acquiring capacities usually thought distinctively human. But although what happens in a large recurrent neural network better resembles what takes place in a brain than conventional software does, the similarity is still limited. There is no close analogy between the way neural networks are trained and what we know about the way human learning takes place. It is too early to say whether scaling up networks like Inception will enable computers to identify not only a cat’s face but also the general concept ‘cat’, or even more abstract ideas such as ‘two’ or ‘authenticity’. And powerful though Google’s networks are, the features they derive from sequences of words are not built from the experience of human interaction in the way our use of language is: we don’t know whether or not they will eventually be able to use language as humans do.
In 2006 Ray Kurzweil wrote a book about what he called the Singularity, the idea that once computers are able to generate improvements to their own intelligence, the rate at which their intelligence improves will accelerate exponentially. Others have aired similar anxieties. The philosopher Nick Bostrom wrote a bestseller, Superintelligence (2014), examining the risks associated with uncontrolled artificial intelligence. Stephen Hawking has suggested that building machines more intelligent than we are could lead to the end of the human race. Elon Musk has said much the same. But such dystopian fantasies aren’t worth worrying about yet. If there is something to be worried about today, it is the social consequences of the economic transformation computers might bring about – that, and the growing dominance of the small number of corporations that have access to the mammoth quantities of computing power and data the technology requires.
Two months after a narrow majority of Britons voted to leave the European Union, Andrea Mammone, an Italian expat living in London, writes in the Boston Review about how the climate has changed for foreigners. Apart from racist attacks against "foreign-looking" people, the UK has also witnessed distressing government rhetoric about the immigration status of longtime residents from other countries. Here's an excerpt:
Since the vote, I have found myself contemplating what for me—a seasoned émigré—is a quite uncustomary question: I cannot help but wonder, “Do they really want me here?” In this I finally have an inkling of how refugees must feel, constantly barraged by the likes of Marine Le Pen and Viktor Orbán, Donald Trump and Geert Wilders, being told over and over you are not wanted here, you are a potential subversive, a radical Islamist, a welfare-state parasite—in sum, you are not and will never be “us.” The experience contains echoes of when some Western governments of the early 1900s fretted about “alien immigration”—by which they meant Eastern European Jews—and of course the ensuing fascists with their scapegoating of Slavs, Roma, and, once more, of Jews. After studying the history of European far-right and nationalist politics for about a decade, I find that I am now living it...
My own job sector, education, is now in a state of absolute confusion. Before the vote, leading conservative Eurosceptic Daniel Hannan had fantasized wildly about a post-Brexit utopia in which British schools would thrive: “Our universities [will be] flourishing, taking the world’s brightest students and charging accordingly. Their revenues are rising, while they continue to collaborate with research centers in Europe and around the world.” So far the reality has, once more, been very different. As the Times Higher Education reported on June 29, “UK academics could face dwindling chances of winning European research grants following the vote to leave the European Union . . . with some European researchers saying that they would now no longer launch joint applications” for the EU Horizon 2020 funding program (worth €70 billion). An online survey of 167 scientists showed that 51 “had general concerns about the future of science in the UK, 33 said they were planning to leave the country, 20 cited worries about xenophobia, 16 said they had encountered disruption in Horizon 2020 applications and nine were foreign scientists who had decided not to take up UK job offers.” Considering that the Leave campaign’s promises of increased funding for the National Health Services proved ludicrously mendacious, one can safely anticipate that lost EU education funding will never be replaced by any post-Brexit government. Unsurprisingly some of my European/EU colleagues are already receiving job offers from the best European institutions and, I am sure, North American universities will soon follow. The exodus is likely to include British scholars worried about the climate of anti-intellectualism following Brexit, setting up the potential for a British brain drain.
Image via Boston Review.
David Cole writes about Obama's track record with drone warfare for the New York Review of Books. While Obama is an antiwar president, his record shows a surprising affinity for drone strikes in his first term, though he has cooled off in his second. Cole writes about the various journalists holding the president accountable for this seemingly hypocritical stance on drones, defending and explaining Obama's position. Read Cole in partial below, or the full version via NYRB.
So what is Obama’s record? If it is to be a guide for future conduct, it is important to understand precisely what he has and has not asserted and done. And as Obama looks to the end of his tenure, the critical question is, what can and should he do now to mitigate the risks that a world armed with drones will become a place in which lethal force is a first rather than a last resort?
Some critics equate Obama’s drone record with the war crimes of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Glenn Greenwald, for example, charges in his afterword to The Assassination Complex that Obama’s drone policy “embodies the worst of what made the Bush-Cheney ‘war on terror’ approach so destructive.” Fordham Law School professor Karen Greenberg maintains, in the collection Drones and the Future of Armed Conflict, that Obama’s drone war “is but a refocused and incrementally more legally rationalized version of standards and assumptions that have persisted since the beginning of the War on Terror.”1
Greenwald summarizes Obama’s approach to drones as follows:
The centerpiece of his drone assassination program is that he, and he alone, has the power to target people, including American citizens, anywhere they are found in the world and order them executed on his unilateral command, based on his determination that the person to be killed is a terrorist.
If this were indeed Obama’s policy, the charges leveled by Greenwald and Greenberg and echoed by many other critics would be justified. But it is not accurate. First, Obama has not claimed the power to kill “terrorists,” but only those fighting on the other side in an armed conflict authorized by Congress against al-Qaeda and organizations allied with it. The power to kill the enemy in an armed conflict is as old as war itself.
Second, Obama has not asserted the power to use lethal force “anywhere…in the world,” but only in war zones—where drones are just another weapon—and, outside war zones, only where an enemy fighter poses an imminent threat that cannot otherwise be addressed, usually because the host country is incapable of capturing the fighter. When the host country is capable of arrest and prosecution, according to the administration, killing is not an option. Thus, under Obama, hundreds of persons suspected of engaging in or supporting terrorism have been arrested—in the US, the UK, and many other nations—and brought to trial for their alleged crimes. Obama has never claimed the authority to kill individuals who are outside a war zone and subject to capture.
Third, multiple sources, including Greenwald’s own website The Intercept, have reported that Obama hardly chooses targets on his own, but has set up an elaborate process that involves the review and input of many high-level military and government officials before any targeted killing is approved. Obama has insisted on taking ultimate responsibility, as he should, but it is hardly “he, and he alone,” who makes the decision.
It is also important to note that Obama’s policy and practice of using drones have evolved significantly over the course of his presidency. His initial years in office were marked by an aggressive expansion of the drone program. In Pakistan, for example, according to the New America Foundation, President Bush oversaw forty-eight drone strikes, killing between 377 and 558 people, whereas President Obama has overseen 355 strikes, killing between 1,907 and 3,067 people. But the number of drone strikes in Pakistan under Obama peaked at 122 in 2010, and has dropped every year since then. There were only ten strikes in Pakistan in 2015, and thus far only three in 2016. The number of strikes has also dropped in Yemen, from a high of forty-seven in 2012 to twenty-four in 2015 and nine thus far this year. In short, President Obama has shown significantly less proclivity to rely on drones in his second term than in his first.
*Image of Obama via pjmedia.com
The good ol' lawmakers in Texas have outdone themselves: in 2004, Judge Cathy Cochran of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals wrote that execution of Lennie Small, the mentally handicapped murderer from John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" should set a legal precedent. It turns out that legitimizing execution with literature is kinda unconstitutional, as evidenced by the case of Bobby J. Moore, whose capital punishment for killing a grocery store clerk during a robbery in 1980 was recently upheld by the Texas Court of Criminal appeals using the so-called "Lennie standard" and is now being challenged. Adam Liptak has the story on the Lennie standard, its history and opponents, for the New York Times in partial below and in full here.
In 2002, the Supreme Court barred the execution of the intellectually disabled. But it gave states a lot of leeway to decide just who was, in the language of the day, “mentally retarded.”
Texas took a creative approach, adopting what one judge there later called “the Lennie standard.” That sounds like a reference to an august precedent, but it is not. The Lennie in question is Lennie Small, the dim, hulking farmhand in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”
The Lennie in question is fictional.
Still, Judge Cathy Cochran of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals wrote in 2004 that Lennie should be a legal touchstone.
“Most Texas citizens might agree that Steinbeck’s Lennie should, by virtue of his lack of reasoning ability and adaptive skills, be exempt” from the death penalty, she wrote. “But, does a consensus of Texas citizens agree that all persons who might legitimately qualify for assistance under the social services definition of mental retardation be exempt from an otherwise constitutional penalty?”
Judge Cochran, who later said she had reread “all of Steinbeck” in the 1960s while living above Cannery Row in Monterey, Calif., listed seven factors that could spare someone like Lennie, whose rash killing of a young woman was seemingly accidental.
For instance: “Has the person formulated plans and carried them through, or is his conduct impulsive?”
And: “Can the person hide facts or lie effectively?”
This fall, in Moore v. Texas, No. 15-797, the United States Supreme Court will consider whether the Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas’ highest court for criminal matters, went astray last year in upholding the death sentence of Bobby J. Moore based in part on outdated medical criteria and in part on the Lennie standard.
Mr. Moore killed James McCarble, a 70-year-old grocery clerk, during a robbery in 1980 in Houston.
No one disputes that Mr. Moore is at least mentally challenged or, as a psychologist testifying for the prosecution put it at a 2014 hearing, that he most likely “suffers from borderline intellectual functioning.”
Mr. Moore reached his teenage years without understanding how to tell time, the days of the week or the relationship between subtraction and addition. His I.Q. has been measured as high as 78 and as low as 57, averaging around 70. On the other hand, the psychologist testified, the young Bobby Moore had shown skill at mowing lawns and playing pool.
The state judge who heard this evidence, relying on current medical standards on intellectual disability, concluded that executing Mr. Moore would violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
*Image of Lennie Small via bloggersbug.com
Writing in Motherboard, Alex Pasternack reflects on Werner Herzog's new ten-part, two-hour documentary in the internet, Lo and Behold: Reveries Of A Connected World. In vintage Herzog fashion, the film eschews any straightforward documentary or journalistic examination of the internet's history and social impact. Instead, Pasternack calls it a "poetic," impressionistic exploration of a handful of people who have shaped and been shaped by the internet. Here's an excerpt from the article:
The movie's many characters (mostly older white males), sit and recount and prognosticate in front of the camera about a lot of interesting things: this also somehow feels of the internet. Herzog is not so interested in what these people have done specifically or their business or political interests—we are mostly left to intuit or google that, or seek out films like Adam Curtis's All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace. Herzog is more interested in engaging people in a conversation, and in the sometimes Herzogian things they say and think. After the legendary hacker Kevin Mitnick regales the director with the story of one of his masterful computer thefts—his tool little more than "the gift of gab," Herzog blurts out, "but you didn't sell it— it was curiosity, it was sport!" Mitnick concurs. "No! Trophy!" Hacking is like filmmaking is like the internet. It's about fun, lulz, fascination, curiosity, adventure. The internet is people.
It was a visit to Ted Nelson on his houseboat that reportedly convinced Herzog this was more than a piece of sponsored content and was deserving of a full length film about this human dimension. Nelson, who is credited with coining the term hypertext (as well as hypermedia, transclusion, virtuality, and intertwingularity), was an early dreamer with an alternate model for the web's architecture, Project Xanadu, in which the links between webpages are far more visible. But as the web took off instead, Nelson's pursuit of the idea led some to dismiss him as crazy. "To us," Herzog insists on camera, "you appear to be the only one around who is clinically sane."
Nelson is so relieved to hear this that he collapses into his chair. "No one has ever said that to me before," he says with a big grin. Herzog thanks him and shakes his hand. Nelson pulls out his camera and snaps a photo.
Point being, the internet didn’t have to be the way it is. Too easy to forget that about all technology really. For all of the cloud and water metaphors, the internet is not actually fluid or free: it's physical, often with a heavy carbon and monetary footprint, and based on decisions made mostly by white men working with significant government funding, or venture capital funding, with good and sometimes gracious motives, and sometimes not necessarily good ones. In principle it's an un-owned entity, but there were moments there, for instance, where the internet or parts of it could have been patented or owned. (Imagine if the world wide web had been founded not by a researcher at a big government physics lab but by a precocious kid in his Harvard dorm room?) Think about that, and then remember that these days, the big companies that didn't get to invent the internet are still grabbing, consolidating, and walling in pieces of it.
The Verso blog has an interview, originally published by Revue de la Régulation, with distinguished German "socio-economist" Wolfgang Streeck. Streeck discusses his intellectual formation, the intersections between sociology and economics, and the "variety of capitalisms" theory that he helped develop. Read an excerpt from the interview below or the full text here.
RR: You are one of the founding fathers of the Variety of capitalisms [VoC] approach. Yet you are critical of what has become presently the VoC mainstream and its increasingly static-functionalist-economistic outlook. Could you tell us a few things both about the genesis of this approach and the critics to this new mainstream?
Wolfgang Streeck: VoC theory originated in the 1980s when nonliberal political economies like Japan and Germany were flourishing while the Anglo-American economies appeared to be in decline. We were looking for institutional explanations for the difference, in particular because what came to be called “the German model”, but to an extent also Japan, promised to combine competitiveness with social equity and egalitarianism. The idea was that the right sort of politics could force capitalism to modify its operation and outcomes, without having to pay a price in terms of prosperity. In this sense VoC was also a theory of non-convergence: there was no “need” for a capitalist political economy to become like the United States or Britain at the time. In my view of the world, the crucial factor was the right kind of power balance in a society, combined with the right kind of productivity institutions exercising a “beneficial constraint” on capital. I was convinced early on that if that balance was to shift, let’s say as a result of increasing international mobility of capital, the game would change. This premise was not shared by what soon became the VoC mainstream; there the idea was that there were two alternative equilibria in capitalism, one resulting in a “liberal market economy” and the other, in a “coordinated market economy”, both driven by rational interests of capitalist firms in profitability (“firm-centered approach”). I always believed that capital had to be made captive – forced for its own good – for nonliberal capitalism to be possible. This is why I began sharply to criticize the functionalist, economistic, rational choice version of VoC, to bring back the political and politicized variant...
RR: Your current work is much more focused on the general dynamics of capitalism. In your acclaimed book Buying Time. The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism3, you trace the transformation of the tax state into a debt state, and from there into the consolidation state of today. Doing this, you oppose the Staatsvolk (the citizens, the people) to the Marktvolk (those of the markets) and you show that governments became more accountable to the market than to the people. Hence, markets became increasingly immune to the demand of the citizens. You develop an impressive macro-sociological view on the influence of “those from the markets” and the way it undermines democratic capitalism. In this broad perspective, you don’t detail the sociological composition of the Marktvolk. Who are they? What are the social groups and subgroups that fall into this category?
Wolfgang Streeck: That question is often asked, and behind it is mostly the issue of pension funds etc. which, it is suggested, connect ordinary people to the capital market and make them part of the Marktvolk as well. There is of course to this, but it needs to be heavily qualified. For example, private pensions or returns on invested capital typically make up only a small share of the income of most people, so they mostly and overwhelmingly remain dependent on their wages and on public provision. Moreover, as Thomas Piketty has rightly pointed out, returns on capital are the higher the more capital you have. Today, in the zero-interest rate environment, it is the small investors who suffer most while the oligarchs are doing fine thank you. The more important members of the Marktvolk today are large global corporations and their leading managers, who have very effective and at the same time highly impenetrable (for outsiders) methods of making money even if interest rates are low. Incidentally, we know very little about the superrich and what they do all day, when they don’t happen to be buying letter boxes in Panama or Luxembourg, or passports of low-tax or no-tax countries. It is my impression, and indeed a veritable nightmare, that today’s oligarchs have made themselves and their families independent from the fate of the societies out of which they extract their wealth, so they don’t care anymore what happens to what used to be their countries.
Former Gawker Editor-in-Chief Max Read suggests one of five entities killed Gawker, which stops publishing today: himself; Gawker founder Nick Denton; his Gawker-outed arch enemy Peter Thiel; or wrestling legend Hulk Hogan, whose sex tape Gawker published and the court case over which was supported by Thiel and bankrupted the company; or, more generally, the internet. Read is in partial below, or in full via New York Magazine.
It feels a bit strange to say this now, but in the spring of 2014 there was no better place to work than Gawker. For a certain kind of person, at any rate — ambitious, rebellious, and eager for attention, all of which I was. Just over a decade old, Gawker still thought of itself as a pirate ship, but a very big pirate ship, ballasted by semi-respectable journalism, and much less prone to setting itself on fire than in its early days, when its writers had a tendency to make loud and famous enemies and when its staff was subjected to near-annual purges — unless they were able to dramatically quit first. It managed to be, in a way it never had been, the kind of place about which you could say, “I could see myself being here in ten years.” Which I did often enough for it to seem funny now, since I myself would end up dramatically quitting in the summer of 2015, a little more than a year after being promoted to editor-in-chief and a little less than a year before the company would declare bankruptcy and auction itself off to the highest bidder.
What Gawker was depends a lot on whom you ask, but at the start it was a media-gossip blog; Elizabeth Spiers, its first editor, covered the people and politics of the still-powerful institutions of New York media — Condé Nast and the Times in particular — with equal parts obsession and skepticism. But the “media” qualifier was always secondary to the gossip core. The noblest version of Gawker’s premise was — as its founder, Nick Denton, repeated many times — that the version of a story journalists would tell each other over drinks was always more interesting than whatever was actually in the paper.
Gawker wasn’t the first publication to treat gossip as an intellectual pursuit. But it was the first to do so in the format that now seems completely natural for it: an endlessly scrolling, eternally accessible record of prattle and wit and venom that felt less like a publication than like a place. In this sense, the hook of Nick’s “barroom story” elevator pitch wasn’t the story but the barroom: a loud, sociable space for people to gossip, argue, joke, and whisper, a place where decorum and politeness were not only unnecessary but actively objectionable.
To what Vanessa Grigoriadis called in New York Magazine, in 2007, “the creative underclass,” this was a revelation. Gawker was as obsessed with, and scornful of, the powerful as the editorial assistants, interns, freelancers, and other young and precariously employed people at the bottom of a rapidly deteriorating ladder were. As an intern at the Daily Beast in 2009, I read Gawker precisely because it had such gleeful disdain for the social rituals (“kindness”) that propped up the lame, the stupid, and the fraudulent. When I was given the opportunity to “audition” for a blogging job in 2010, the only thing that gave me pause was fear of Gawker’s reputation for instability and pressure.
That pressure had, however, produced a phenomenally successful publication: By 2014, Gawker was the anchor site of Gawker Media, a blog network with eight publications, some 300 employees, millions of readers, and countless imitators. I was told, my first week as editor-in-chief, to increase the size of the staff from 13 to 25; at the same time, the endless hunt for a new office was ending with a Fifth Avenue building in our sights. (It violated the primary edict of being in walking distance from Nick’s apartment, but we’d been rejected from the Puck Building, we were told, after Oscar Health founder and Ivanka Trump brother-in-law Josh Kushner, who held offices there, learned we were interested.)
Gawker, and its seven sister sites, had been so successful that we were even looking beyond the blog and into the future with a project Nick had dubbed Kinja. Practically, Kinja was just the proprietary publishing software and commenting system that had been introduced on the blogs in early 2013. But Nick had Facebook-size aspirations for it. In the future, it would be a public platform, designed to give anyone the ability to publish useful information — gossip, news, context — in an infinitely modular format: a stand-alone piece of writing that might also be a comment on another stand-alone post or embedded in a third. Over emails, Nick imagined “at least a decade” of building Kinja — at the end of which, if done right, “we’ll be the ones doing the acquiring.”
In August 2014, the editors-in-chief of Gawker Media’s sites and their deputies were flown to Budapest with the entire tech department and top advertising and operations employees for a lavish off-site meeting. Nick rented out the newly constructed Budapest Music Center, where the tech and product teams spent their days working out Kinja’s kinks while the editorial staff met to vision-board the future of Gawker Media’s editorial properties. The whole trip had the air of a coming-out party: a moment to recognize that a company launched in an apartment with no outside funding was now a sustainable, cash-rich institution. We were meant to revel in Gawker’s success — to go out drinking, to eat roast pig, to gamble at low-rent casinos, to retire to nice hotels in a European capital.
Within two years, Kinja would be abandoned, along with Nick’s world-conquering ambitions, and ultimately the entire company would declare bankruptcy and be sold at auction to the media conglomerate Univision for $135 million. Gawker Media will likely turn out to be a good investment. Its six other sites — Gizmodo (tech), Jezebel (women), Deadspin (sports), Lifehacker (life-hacking), Kotaku (video games), and Jalopnik (cars) — are large and widely popular. (An eighth site, io9, covering “the future,” had already been folded into Gizmodo.) The parent company is on pace to earn more than $50 million in revenue this year. As much as a third of that revenue comes from the lucrative e-commerce department, which makes money from links to Amazon and other retailers.
But Gawker itself was deemed too toxic to keep open. Within days of the sale, Univision announced it would shut down the site. It makes sense; no sane corporate owner would ever give Gawker the same kind of long leash that it had under Nick. And without that absolute editorial freedom —especially the freedom to shoot itself in the foot, while its foot is in its mouth — there is no Gawker. Gawker had “died” a dozen times before. But it’s never died like this.
The question remains, who killed it?
IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT FOR #AGI ROUNDTABLE ATTENDEESFor all those planning to attend the #AGI Accelerate General Intellect Plenary session at e-flux New York on Friday afternoon: due to unforeseen circumstances, we are cancelling this event. We will be hosting the conversation in an internal format in the near future, and further announcements will provide information for those interested as soon as it becomes available. We apologize for any inconvenience, and thank everyone for their continued interest in the #AGI residency.
The New Centre for Research & Practice is thrilled to announce its New York Summer Residency, entitled "#AGI Accelerate General Intellect." The residency takes place July 18–22, 2016 at various venues around New York City. On July 20, we will host a panel during the Future of Mind Symposium as part of a collaboration with the New School’s Center for Transformative Media and Humanity+.
Please join us for a week of seminars, workshops, and panel discussions at Pratt Institute, The New School for Social Research, and e-flux, as our resident artists, thinkers, and writers speculate about the future implications of collective thought and cognition on philosophical, political, and technological developments. Many of the week's events will be live-blogged here at e-flux conversations, starting Monday, July 18.
What does it mean to accelerate the general intellect in the age of artificial intelligence? #AGI begins from the investigation of distributed networks from which thought assembles and into which it disperses. Unlike in the past, general intelligence, algorithms, and networks are together becoming as irreducible to the efforts of “universal” intellectuals as cultural and political movements have become to “universal” leaders. Will the future enable a more radical, integrated, but also more complex mode of cultural and political engagement? One predicated upon what Marx describes as, “the conditions of the process of social life itself… under the control of the general intellect” (1).
July 18 at Pratt Institute /// Moderated by Tony Yanick 09:00 – 09:30, Coffee09:30 – 10:00, Introductory Remarks 10:00 – 12:00, Pete Wolfendale12:00 – 13:00, Discussion 13:00 – 14:00, Lunch14:00 – 14:30, Ahmed El Hady14:30 – 15:00, Discussion 15:00 – 16:00, Katarina Kolozova /// Video Conference from Macedonia16:00 – 16:30, Discussion
July 19 at Pratt Institute /// Moderated by Mohammad Salemy09:00 – 09:30, Coffee09:30 – 10:00, Introductory Remarks 10:00 – 11:00, Matteo Pasquinelli /// Video Conference from Berlin11:00 – 11:30, Discussion 11:30 – 11:45, Break11:45 – 12:30, Amy Ireland12:30 – 13:00, Discussion13:00 – 14:00, Lunch 14:00 – 15:00, Joshua Johnson & Keith Tilford15:00 – 15:15, Break15:15 – 17:00, Nick Land17:00 – 18:00, Discussion July 20th: Future of Mind at The New School (2)15:30 – 16:45, The New Centre Panel Discussion with Reza Negarestani Patricia Reed, & Peter Wolfendale
July 21 at The New School /// Moderated by Jason Adams09:00 – 09:30, Coffee09:30 – 10:00, Introductory Remarks 10:00 – 11:00, Patricia Reed11:00 – 11:30, Discussion11:30 – 11:45, Break11:45 – 14:30, Lunch 14:00 – 14:30, Eden Medina /// Video Link from Indiana14:30 – 15:00, Discussion 15:00 – 15:15, Break15:15 – 17:00, Reza Negarestani17:00 – 18:00, Discussion
CANCELLED /////// July 22 at e-flux 18:00 – 21:30pm Audio-acoustic intervention by Jason BroganPlenary session with Amy Ireland / Nick Land /Reza Negarestani / Patricia Reed / Pete Wolfendale /// Moderated by Jason Adams, Mohammad Salemy & Tony Yanick ////////
The Residency is free for The New Centre Friends and Members (to become a member, please visit: http://thenewcentre.org/membership/member/). General admission is by donation. Space for each location has specific limits, to secure seats please register for #AGI: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1W-ocorcQ41Tv-isTZRuu6hKTEa-019FsurepjpdwADs/viewform
(1) Karl Marx, Grundrisse (London: Penguin Books, 1973), 706.(2) Please visit the website for the Future of Mind conference (https://futureofmind.wordpress.com/) for information on registeration to attend this event separately.
Writing for the Jacket Copy blog of the LA Times, Carolina A. Miranda traces the resurgent interest in expensive, heavy, lavishly illustrated art catalogues. This trend has been accompanied by solid revenue for independent book stores in recent years, after they seemed to be heading towards extinction. Apparently the pervasive digitization of media in all its forms has led to a counter-desire for old-fashioned tactile objects. Here's an excerpt from Miranda's article:
According to Publisher Alley, an industry trade group that analyzes sales data, glossy art books devoted to museum exhibitions and permanent collections have kept pace with, and occasionally bested, the growth rate of print publishing sales over the last four years. It’s impressive for an area of publishing that produces books that are expensive, impractical and very heavy.
A short stack of catalogs for the Hammer Museum exhibition “Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933-1957,” San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s upcoming photographic show “Anthony Hernandez,” and “Three Centuries of American Prints,” from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., weighs in at more than 15 pounds — about the equivalent of a bowling ball.
This excess is partly due to the fact that the medium of print works exceedingly well for the message of art — which in many cases is all about the aesthetics.
Glossy, oversize pages allow for the presentation of lush imagery in ways that are sharper and more engaging than the pixelated sameness of the Web, says Sharon Gallagher, founder of Artbook/D.A.P., a publisher and distributor.
“If you want to linger at a page, read a bit of text, turn back and look at the image again — if you want to look at something multiple times,” says Gallagher, “if you want to bring in design elements that structure visuals and texts in ways that speak to the subject at hand, so far, the e-book hasn’t gotten there.
“The best of the museum publications are ones where a very talented staff member, or perhaps an outside designer, spend six months studying the works and come up with a range of graphic treatments to offer an interpretation,” she adds. “It’s not just throwing everything into an HTML template.”
For Vox, Jenée Desmond-Harris writes about a new Pew Research Center report that sheds light on how we speak about race online--or namely, who and from which race speaks about race online. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the report found that 60% of white people said that their social media updates never touch on race ever. Read Desmond-Harris in partial below, in full via Vox here.
There’s an ongoing conversation about race and racism on social media — but white people are missing most of it.
A Pew Research Center report released Monday asked Americans who identified as black, white, and Hispanic about how much they post about race, and how much content they see about it.
Pew studied “social media users” (those who answered “yes” to the question, “Do you ever use a social networking site like Facebook or Twitter?”) and found that, overall, only four in 10 people surveyed said “at least a few” of the posts they personally share are about race or “race relations.” Sixty percent said none of their social media postings ever touch the subject.
That seems unsurprising. After all, for many, race is a topic that is too sensitive and controversial to discuss publicly. Some people would rather not know what their online “friends” think. Others likely want to avoid a confrontation in the comments, and go silent on this topic as well as on things like politics and religion that could bring out clashing opinions.
But according to this new report, the degree of a user’s avoidance is itself related to his or her race.
Not everyone is choosing animal videos and vacation pictures over commentary about race and racism. Pew found that black social media users are more likely than white or Hispanic users to use social media to discuss race. Twenty-eight percent of black social media users say at least some of the things they share or post on social networking sites are about race or race relations. One in five Hispanic respondents say the same.
Meanwhile, only 8 percent of white social media users say that at least some of things they share or post are about race relations, with a large majority (67 percent) saying they don’t venture into this area.
And it looks like black social media users who opt out of sharing their own race-related posts are still much more likely to see this content in their feed than their white counterparts. “Even among black social media users who say they rarely or never discuss race relations or racial inequality, a majority (55 percent) state that most or some of the posts they see on social media pertain to race or race relations. That share drops to 23 percent for their white counterparts,” according to Pew.
That means many white users are missing out on the important debates, analysis, and awareness-raising content that Pew found, in another part of the study, is often responsive to breaking news about racial injustice and draws attention to concerns about things like diversity and representation. For example, the researchers found that six in 10 race-related tweets were tied to current events, and that Twitter’s most active days for discussing race were inspired by topics like a white supremacist’s attack on a Charleston church, deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police, and related demonstrations.
Joshua Rothman writes about the references to 1980s horror and adventure genres in Netflix's standout new series Stranger Things. He writes that although the show's references stem mainly from the '80s, you can see some that reach all the way back to H.P. Lovecraft. Rothman is in partial below, in full via the New Yorker.
Last month brought sad news in the ongoing story of the passage of time: Funai, a Japanese electronics firm, announced the shutdown of the world’s only remaining VCR production line. For those of us on the threshold of middle age, this was a cruel blow. The VCR was our smartphone; it gave rhythm and texture to our childhoods. Luckily, we’ve received a compensatory gift: “Stranger Things,” the new sci-fi series on Netflix (which my colleague Emily Nussbaum has reviewed, enthusiastically, in this week’s magazine). The show is a love letter to the VCR era—a satisfying mash-up of all the scary and speculative movies you loved when you were twelve. You watched them over and over again, on VHS. Now you can stream them to your laptop in condensed, purified form.
“Stranger Things” is set in 1983, in a Spielbergian small town called Hawkins, Indiana. It follows a group of ordinary people who discover that a gateway to another dimension has opened in the woods, and that a terrifying creature has crawled through it and abducted a little boy. The people of Hawkins respond to this development in age-appropriate ways. The kids glide around the neighborhood on bikes and befriend a girl who turns out to have telekinetic powers (as in “E.T.” or “The Goonies”); the teen-agers throw parties, make out, and are hunted by the monster (as in “A Nightmare on Elm Street”); the adults uncover a government conspiracy—the inter-dimensional gateway was part of a Cold War experiment—before venturing, space-suited, into the terrifying alternate world (as in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” or “Alien”). Strictly speaking, nothing in “Stranger Things” is all that strange. You really have seen it all before; the scares are so familiar as to be comforting. All the same, the show is so absorbing that you’ll have no trouble watching all of it in a single feigned sick day (and, afterward, dancing to DJ Yoda’s “Stranger Things” party mix).
The show succeeds, in part, because of its spot-on look and feel. If “The Americans” captures the way nineteen-eighties suburbia really was, then “Stranger Things” captures the way it appeared onscreen: Hawkins, Indiana, comes across as an enchanted and uncanny pocket universe in which barely supervised children enjoy freedoms (and confront terrors) from which they’d be insulated in our helicopter-parenting age. The show’s gifted and charismatic young actors convincingly embody eighties kids who, having never seen an iPhone, are accustomed to using their imaginations; once they join forces with the show’s older stars (including Winona Ryder, as the mother of the missing boy, and David Harbour, as the town’s open-minded sheriff), they form a satisfying “Breakfast Club”-style team of emboldened misfits.
Like the movies that inspire it, moreover, “Stranger Things” hails from the slightly drunk, “just roll with it” school of nineteen-eighties speculative screenwriting. Today, we expect speculative tales to at least gesture toward rationality; we fetishize the “origin story.” But, in “Stranger Things,” the psychic girl—her name is Eleven, and she’s played by a show-stealing Millie Bobby Brown—explains where the missing boy has gone by grabbing a handy Dungeons & Dragons game board, flipping it over, and pointing to its all-black reverse side, where, she says, he is “hiding.” From that point on, the kids and adults simply refer to the alternate dimension as “the Upside Down”—that’s all they know, and all they need to know. The show careens onward, happily unburdened by detailed explanations.
Even the scares have an eighties flavor. In many of today’s horror stories, human nature is the source of terror—unleashed, perhaps, by a zombie virus, or by the latitudes afforded by wealth, as in “Hostel” or “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” In “Stranger Things,” by contrast, it’s the non-human that’s scary, and, when evil reveals itself, it does so through displays of senseless, alien incongruity. In one of the best scenes in this first season, the voice of the missing boy seems to be coming from within the walls of his house. When his mother pulls away the wallpaper, she uncovers only a gelatinous membrane of cartilage and muscle where the wall should be. The membrane looks sticky, warm, and biological, and yet her son, whose face is barely visible on its other side, screams that “it’s dark and it’s cold!” This madcap, counterintuitive mixing of biological and physical metaphors is reminiscent of John Carpenter’s “The Thing”; a poster for that film hangs on one kid’s wall. Not since “Poltergeist” has a house been so artfully deranged.
In the wake of the rise of Trump in the US and the Brexit vote in the UK, many in commentariat are declaring that we have too much democracy in the West. The aggrieved working and middle classes, goes the argument, are voting their countries into economic ruin and political irrelevance. But as Astra Taylor writes in the New Republic, this is the exact reverse of the real problem. It's the lack of popular influence over economic and political policies that is driving voters into the hands of demagogues. Here's an excerpt from the piece:
The argument that Trump, Sanders, and their respective constituencies are two sides of the same benighted coin gained currency, in part, because it lets elites off the hook. It’s a way to rationalize clinging even more vehemently to a ruinous, oligarchic status quo—democracy be damned. But here again, it gets things backward. Protests and populist political movements, after all, are signs that people have been locked out of structures of governance, not that they have successfully “hijacked” the system. Elitists plead for more reason in political life—and who can disagree with that, in principle? But their position itself is not entirely rational.
In a widely circulated cover story in The Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch rallied to the defense of those in power. “Our most pressing political problem today is that the country abandoned the establishment, not the other way around,” he complained. “Neurotic hatred of the political class is the country’s last acceptable form of bigotry.” Mass discontent, he concluded, is a “virus” that must be quarantined.
But mass discontent has already been quarantined. That’s why voters on both the right and left are so pissed off. The real challenge facing America today is the near-absence in civic life of democratic channels that run deeper than a sporadic visit to the voting booth, or the fleeting euphoria of a street protest...
There’s no quick fix for this mess. If Hillary Clinton wins in November, it will be tempting to view the ballot-box refutation of Trumpism as a restoration of political sanity. But a Clinton presidency won’t fundamentally change the conditions that led millions of Americans to turn to Trump or Sanders. The only way out is the hard way—building democratic outlets for change patiently, on the ground. We have to build durable movements that support and advance the twin causes of racial and economic justice in a lasting and meaningful manner. And we have to acknowledge that protests are a necessary but insufficient ingredient for social change: They can be galvanizing and clarifying, but, just like political campaigns, they tend to be short-lived and don’t always translate into the sustained, strategic organizing efforts we need.
Image via the New Republic.
Speaking at the Left Forum, Slavoj Žižek talks about Donald Trump, racism, morality and Wikileaks. He strangely opens with the admission that "Trump makes him a racist"--not sure where he was going with that--but he progresses to talk about the evolving role of morality and decency among the left and right:
Did you notice, if you are old enough (and I am) that in the 1960s and that upheaval, usually the radical protestors were using dirty words to shock the establishment. Now it's almost the opposite, the more you go to the right, the more they are vulgar. I think we should proudly accept and shamelessly exploit this fact. No, we the Left--whatever remains of it--are the only true defenders of simple common decency. We are the moral majority in practice.
Here's the video in full below:
It's rare that a useful, non-annoying neologism comes around--particularly one that starts with "zombie"--however Jonny Aspen has coined one that gives a face to a particular breed of urban planning plaguing urban centers throughout the globe: zombie urbanism. The term describes the homogenizing quality that makes it look like all new urban environments look like shiny adult playgrounds (i.e. New York's High Line and Times Square). Read Aspen in conversation with Jeremiah Moss of Jeremiah's Vanishing New York in partial below, in full here.
Jonny Aspen, Associate Professor at the Institute of Urbanism and Landscape in Oslo, Norway, coined the term "Zombie Urbanism" in 2013 to describe the way many urban environments are being designed today. I like the term, so I got in touch with Aspen and asked him about it--and how it applies to the redesigning of New York City, including the High Line, Hudson Yards, Times Square, and the new Astor Place.
Q: Can you give a definition of what you call "zombie urbanism"?
A: I’ve coined the concept in order to encircle what seems to be an increasingly more prevalent, and increasingly more worrying, phenomenon in contemporary urban development, namely the cliché-like way that many developers and designers talk about and deal with urban environments in general and public areas and places more specifically.
On the one hand I use it as a reference to what seems to have developed into an increasingly more homogeneous discourse, globally speaking, on what is believed to be important features of the so-called “creative city.” It’s a discourse that highlights the importance of cultural institutions, state-of-the-art architecture, and well-designed public places.
The concepts in use remind me of what the famous German sociologist Ulrich Beck has labeled “zombie concepts,” with reference to the social sciences. They are concepts that still are very much in use, but actually no longer fit the reality they intend to describe. As such the concepts are like the living dead, they are alive in our heads and our language, but not any longer useful for making precise propositions about the reality of the city.
On the other hand I use the concept of “zombie-urbanism” as a reference to how I experience many of the urban environments that come out from such a discourse, as built environments. What we can see is a kind of staged urbanism in which there is no room for irregularity and the unexpected, a well-designed, neat, and tedious urbanism based on a simplified understanding of the urban combined with more ideal aspirations about creating “living” and “people friendly” cities. You can see it in quite many urban redevelopment projects all over the world. Other examples can be found in strategies for remaking public places and plazas, such as for instance the recent developments of Times Square in New York.
Q: What do you think is allowing zombie urbanism to spread across western cities today?
A: In general, the phenomenon is related to the current regime of neoliberal urban development and planning. This is a regime in which both developers and urban politicians quite shamelessly use urban features such as public squares and plazas as means for selling, marketing and branding. As such quite many aspects of “urbanism” have become subject to strategies of commercialization and capital manipulation. This development is of course also related to the seemingly never-ending spread of gentrification, or to what Neil Smith calls “generalized gentrification.”
The same goes, of course, for tourism, as an increasingly more important global industry.
Another important aspect, if not a cause in itself, is that quite many planners, architects, and designers seem to profit from such a development. They seem to have found themselves a new niche in designing urban tableaus of various kinds.
Q: Where did you see these developments during your time in New York City?
A: I saw such developments most clearly in newly built areas, and especially in ones that contain public spaces and facilities. One such development is the Hunter’s Point South Park in Queens. I am particularly thinking about the promenade along the East River. Everything here looks clean, tidy, and civilized. The promenade is also equipped with well-designed chairs and benches. So everything seems in order, everything seems to make for a lively urban area. But even though the scenery is outstanding, especially the view towards Manhattan, the whole area feels dull and boring.
This is what I mean by zombie urbanism. Everything looks nice and urban, but in terms of social life, it’s rather sterile and dead.
A similar example can be found a bit further down the river, on the Manhattan side--the East River Waterfront Esplanade, especially the new Pier 15 that opened in 2011. The whole development is imbued with a well-meant rhetoric of making the waterfront accessible for all people, improving qualities of life, sustainability, and community programming. But again, the end result seems rather lackluster and limited. My impression is that most of the esplanade primarily is made to attract conventional recreational interest of tourists and middle-class groups that now seem to have taken over most of Manhattan.
Much of what’s here said also goes for the High Line and the Times Square redevelopment, though those stories probably are a bit more complex.
Besides such examples, the most obvious features of what I call zombie urbanism can be seen in many plans and prospects for future buildings and developments, especially when it comes to visualizing all the splendid qualities that the project allegedly will bring to the area when completed. Visualizations of public space qualities seem to have become increasingly important in this respect. In this way planners and developers deliberately use public space qualities as a way of both legitimizing and branding a future project. By highlighting all the fantastic urban qualities a development will bring to the neighborhood or to the city as such, any objections and criticisms that people might have towards the project are also curbed. Because who could really be against the planning of a new public space or a playground?
This has become a global trend. Just take a look at the plans for the new development at South Street Seaport or Hudson Yards in Manhattan.
For Ocula, Mo Salemy writes about the 9th Berlin Biennale and the many varied responses it got from the press. Read Salemy in partial below, or in full via Ocula.
When I walked into the Akademie der Künste to attend the press conference of the 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art—titled The Present in Drag and curated by the online collective, DIS—I wondered if it would be possible to locate a grounded position from which to take a pragmatic look at the exhibition. The difficulty of reviewing a large exhibition in which your friends are participating and its curators are people you know is not something to look forward to, in today’s global contemporary artplex, where everybody knows everybody. Nowadays, when people are aware of a critic’s personal connection to their subject, they will dismiss any pretence to objectivity: their praise will be considered a favour, and their objections a sign of envy.
In the past, both Artur Żmijewski's Occupy-inspired iteration of the Berlin Biennale in 2012 and Juan Gaitán’s 2014 foray into museological critique had their own friends and enemies, provoking positive and negative responses from a wide range of expected and unexpected positions. Having read most of the reviews of the current Berlin Biennale, I would like to chart a modest position in regards to the latest edition. But rather than repeat claims and opinions, I will try to fill in the gaps surrounding the critiques of this Biennale instead.
When the Berlin Biennale selection committee—headed by Gabriele Horn, the Director of both KW Institute for Contemporary Art and Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art—picked DIS as the curators for the 2016 edition, it was clear to those of us familiar with the collective that the exhibition, both in form and content, would deviate from expected norms. In choosing DIS, the committee took a risk: they entrusted the Biennale to a band of outsiders who don’t owe their reputation to the art world's own industrialised system, but are instead known for their accomplishments at forging connections between advertising, fashion, communication and popular culture via the Internet. Given the ideological and professional distance separating DIS from the regular art world apparatchiks, grandiose dismissals of the show by the art press are misdirected if not unfair. Expressing shock or approaching the show as a usual biennale, a position that most critics so far have taken, does not get to the heart of what this Biennale both accomplishes and signifies.
In my opinion, the 9th Berlin Biennale is the first large scale institutional attempt to integrate contemporary art, not only materially—this was achieved decades ago by the total industrialisation of the production and dissemination of art—but also philosophically into the larger frames of creative design, commerce and popular culture. (A similar integration occurred with New York's MoMA PS1 under the direction of its chief curator Klaus Biesenbach, who also happens to be the co-founder of both KW and the Berlin Biennale). Certainly, DIS has created an exhibition version of what they do best online in their eponymous magazine where they blur, if not all together remove, the distinctions between art, theory, advertising, fashion and start-up commerce. But while DIS is often misunderstood to be an ambassador of ‘post-internet art’, given the central role new communication technologies play in the violent insertion of real life into art, their exhibition does little to dismiss such a misunderstanding. The Present in Drag both indexes Post Internet art and applies the logic of digital immanence to the organisation of the exhibition by offering a contemporary history of the rise of the Internet aesthetics through its artist selection. This ranges from Ryan Trecartin, Timur Si Quin to Jon Rafman, and Cecile B. Evans, Guan Xiao and Juan Sebastián Peláez.
*Image: Speculative Ambience, 2016. Video Still, produced by Iconoclast. Courtesy Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art.