Thursday, 30 July 2009

Obama DIY

Heads of state are not normally informed by the avant garde. When charged with the task of maintaining whatever seemingly exists, the oppositional bent of subversive art is not quite conducive to survival. Creativity in politics can only ultimately lead to one of two dire endpoints – trace your line too far right and you’re left atop Ichigaya Camp imploring the masses to loosen their Runaway Horses into the beautiful void of ritual suicide, trace your line too far left, a la Mao, and the enemy of your murdered friend becomes your murdered friend.

So why with all this historical knowledge at his disposal, does President Obama insist on employing the language of America’s last musical avant garde?

Most people hate the 80s. Like the Dude’s distaste for the ‘fucking Eagles,’ the 80s represent the destruction of all that was made sacred before; the inordinate amount of possibilities that the 60s seemingly opened up. With post-modernist conservatives manning the helms of the not-so free world, seeking ‘peace through strength’ and art and music becoming an empty shell of signification and commodification, many read only hopelessness in that dreaded decade. Yet out of the figurative and literal apocalypse of dialectical suburban and urban life, came forth something briefly hopeful. Narrators Greil Marcus, Michael Azerrad and Jeff Chang tell the best tall tales of this period.

The world had been laid to waste. The division of labour and the division of any vestige of community had manufactured a hopeless individualism. In an inverse of the narratives of the oppressive GDR, the residents of the free world had no future. Freedom wasn’t free. And what was worse, there was Nothing to do. And nothing anyone could do. Of course, where there’s youth, there’s profligacy. Seeking an end to their impotence, the youth decided to move. Do it Yourself! was the imperative. With boundless energy, discipline and hard work, young people ‘became what they were’ constructing transcontinental communities around the do-it-yourself art and tenets of ‘we, togetherness.’ (The Century) Kevin Seconds said it best,

We Live In Constant War
Destroy All That Tradition
And Live Before You Die
Lets Rock Together From Now On
And Never Be Denied

It was all very Nietzsche.

But like every moment of becoming, the event was crushed like a Hungarian spring. MTV and Margaret Thatcher were perfect symbols of the structural impediments of reactionary government and capital. The wall tumbled down.

On the African continent, this same DIY ethic sent ruptures through the oppressive sameness of colonialism. Woodrow Wilson called it self-determination. But do it yourself was the imperative. Some scholars tended to see the movements as copycat nationalism, enveloped in a childish jealousy for sameness. Despite choosing to make themselves within the boundaries of the colonial state, there seemed to be a vast diversity of creativity. Of course, destroying ‘all that tradition’ was not without it’s share of Sartrean violence. It was all very hard work. Though something went terribly wrong. Counterrevolution and Structural Adjustment embodied the same closure as MTV and Margaret Thatcher. RENAMO was the symbol of this return.

Yet there our gentle President stood on a fine summer’s day in Accra urging Africans to Do it Yourself! “We must start from the simple premise that Africa’s future is up to Africans.”

“For just as it is important to emerge from the control of another nation, it is even more important to build one’s own.”

Moving calmly and sympathetically over the history of the continent, the next words signaled a subtle shift in meaning.

“This progress may lack the drama of the 20th century’s liberation struggles, but make no mistake: it will ultimately be more significant.”

It seemed his DIY was very different.

The Hegelian twin of our DIY was the mantra of enormo-home improvement corporation, Home Depot. Housing endless building supplies, bored consumers could channel their creativity, empowering themselves, within established bounds. This was grown-up DIY. Obama’s DIY.

And so for the duration of his speech he sat Africa on his fatherly knee, employing the rhetoric of good governance and entrepreneurship, urging Africa to temper its past creativity and move forward with his plan. Like Home Depot, liberal democracy is the state ordained method of political creativity. It is all there. You have no one to blame but yourself.

Do it yourself is also a great source of freedom. Africans are still subject to the tyrannical outcomes of their previous childish choices. “No country is going to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top…that is not democracy, that is tyranny, and now it is time to end.”

Shifting again, Obama continued,

“The people of Africa are ready to claim that future. In my country, African-Americans – including so many recent immigrants – have thrived in every sector of society. We have done so despite our difficult past”

“Freedom is your inheritance. Now, it is your responsibility to build upon freedom’s foundation.”

Feeling creative? Visit Home Depot.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Thersites' Interjection

It is always Act I, Scene I. The hero, his uniform draped over his hulking frame, clumsily yet effectively pressing down upon the two hundred plus years of blue and green warrior rags hidden underneath, strolls solemnly across centre stage. His voice even in tone yet stern and masculine recalls the story of his Father’s life, injecting an unequivocal moral certitude in every enunciated syllable. Though pensive and fair, he slays his foes with terrible accuracy and furtive hatred. Wave after wave of tribulation besets him in this ritual re-staging of his biblical forebears’ epic footsteps. His most vicious appendage, wearing a cold hue of rusted grey, imbues the blood of each enemy, once impure with foreign bodies, with this same story. The mothers and sons of the fallen, expected to lash out in revenge at the loss of their Father, instead cast their arms up in glorious acquiescence. The hero happily accepts their surrender, adopting each as his own under the condition that they never recast the story of this bloody scene. Unsettled by this magnanimity and benevolence, they swear against their former tyrants and slowly melt into the Hero’s body.

The miscegenation is complete.

Appearing gradually in the background the chorus speaks, composed not of the typical unrecognisable mass, but of individuals with a voice each their own. They bear witness to the countless massacres, slowly over time growing evermore oblivious to the violence before them. As the scene reaches its conclusion, the once erupting fountain of blood ceases, leaving only the Hero and his tale. While the audience in its ignorant wisdom remains privy to the shrieks and gasps of the dead and dying, the chorus grows deaf, only recalling the narrative earlier uttered.

Here our Thersites begins to speak. Aware of the contradictions before him, he moves in and out of the scene as a madman - provoking disdain from the characters within, proving wise to the audience without. He and the audience, growing ever impatient at the amassing of transparent myth before them, attempt to interject. But their actions fall in flat folly in the thick forest of semblance.


The Impossibility of Race

We are told it is the era of the post-Race; an era evincing the tying off of another antagonistic thread; a time, moreover, for the Nation to reclaim its ethical destiny, casting the blight of the Bush regime into the same grand burial plot of Richard Nixon and other exceptional imposters of national spirit; an era finally of the return of importance, of the central issues of economic stability and personal wealth, to John Stuart Mill and Horatio Alger, of happiness maximization and the adage that hard work makes us free.

Though convincing as this narrative may seem, the Thersites in many of us is hampered by the slightest sense of intuitive unease. Despite the repetition of Act 1, Scene 1, Race is exploding.

It is exploding Everywhere for some, Nowhere for others.

For the believers of Everywhere, racism is not simply felt. It is a suffocatingly ubiquitous assault on all our senses. For our memory, the countless Obama caricatures, Freudian images recalling the outrageously hateful spirit of 19th Century Punch. For our sense of history, Obama, the NAACP, and a segregated Philadelphia swimming pool. For our entertainment, the endless creation of black criminals on the evening news. For our sense of geography, the mad races of the Sudan and Afghanistan killing each other over abstractions or the chance to rule completely.

For the asserters of Nowhere, there is no sense. The persistence of such things is simply a vestige of a dead past, the death rattle of a historic time made null by the repetition of our very first Act. For them, the real problem lies in the remonstrations of every little Thersites, every agitator, every agonistic madman finding pleasure in archaeology, in the digging up of the dead past, in the disturbance of our suburban tranquility.

It is here where we must return to our scene above. Race, in this sense antagonism, is only found in two places - one, in the direct scenes of violence where our Hero viciously smites his prey and two, in the recurrent shrieks and gasps of the dead and dying.

The direct violence – the slavery and brutality, the transformation of trees with human limbs and strange fruit, sharecropping and the feudal face of early Southern capitalism, economic discrimination - has come and gone from the American stage. For the asserters of Nowhere, this going was reached through agreement like democracy itself. While signed in blood on the floor of some Appomattox replica, the settlement was seemingly an equal agreement between two former foes. For them it is America who is the wisest. During the Civil War, He fought for his soul and the soul of those He devoured. In the middle half of the 20th century, his courts of justice and his president’s acts made the move for desegregation. Now in his final move, his citizens have voted in droves for a man of mixed blood.

But this score has not been settled simply from above. The vanquished too have agreed, choosing America as their adopted Father and heeding his belief in the value of work. For the Nowheremen, there is no need to revisit this scene

It is the Everywheremen that keep persisting. To them, the indirect violence, the shrieks and gasps of the dead and dying still lay un dealt with, like the heart ever pumping in Poe’s rotten walls. It is the chorus who is crazy, deaf, dumb, and blind. At this the believers in Everywhere grow increasingly frustrated. But the more they flail about, the more insane to the chorus they appear. It is they who are treated as the problem, not the problem itself.

It is through this process that Race becomes impossible.

Saturday, 18 July 2009


To survive, the first step is to transform this peace-loving wolf into a bloodthirsty lamb.

The Belly of the Flock

Monday, 13 July 2009

The Chicken's Egg

Which came first? The caricature or the ad?

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

My name is Josef K or Reading Badiou on the Way to Work

Britain is a frightening place.

I say this not as a student of those great British thinkers ever fearful of the erosion of beautiful British tradition by the continual explosion and proliferation of terroristic modern violence. I can no more be Lord Acton wary of the despotic tendency of democracy than Martin Amis disgusted at the victory of Islamism over Islam - as if the two independently exist independently.

Nor do I express my fear as a global North American - no, the irony of delusional Islanders posing as global citizens is not at all lost in that statement - appalled at the otherness posing as pure similarity that We (the people) find in most European social democracies. I cite here, as an empiricist, a recent Facebook posting of one of my high school friends giddy at the thought of tackling a British visitor and forcing them to imbibe American sand. Freedom through consumption, how novel!

I speak neither as the Big Other - the opaque émigré hulking malevolently in crates, boxes, and other plague infested vestibules perpetually kneeling to the guards of tolerance who gleefully round them up into virtual Palestines around the globe.

And finally I do not twist my lips in painstaking mimicry of British liberals, independent guardians of rights - namely women’s rights in totalitarian nowheres. I am incapable here of deploring the destruction of the idyllic Tolkeinian countryside – having recently escaped to that last bastion with the aid of Kirstie Allsopp – while simultaneously and masochistically accepting the inevitability of the friendliest of enemies, David Cameron.

I do however speak as someone. Someone endowed with the dual dead values of Enlightenment modernity, impossibility and base ethics. Someone fairly universal in my rote civility, my conception of wider consequence, and my understanding of ends as ends without end.

I speak therefore as a criminal.

Stricken, as I am, with an insidious fear that courses through my veins when the Boss, in whatever form the Boss may take, appears unexpected.

Compelled, as I am, to act without knowledge of the root of my compulsion or the form of my action.

Plagued, as I am, by the absurdity of assimilating into a social order that is neither social nor orderly.

Fearful, as I am, at the growing suspicion that this State that makes its most innocuous residents criminals, is the prototype for the impending state of things.

We have made Britain, we must now make criminals.