Books, movies, media


The Agony of Power

by Jean Baudrillard

Power itself is an embarrassment and there is no one to assume it truly. Power must be abolished and not solely because of a refusal to be dominated, but also in the refusal to dominate. Intelligence cannot ever be in power because it consists of this double refusal.

Modernity can no longer respond to its own values of unlimited progress and growth. All the liberation fights and revolutions against domination only paved the way for hegemony , the reign of general exchange, against which there is no possible revolution, since everything is liberated.

Power cannibalizes itself in the sense that it devours itself, like cannibalizing car for its parts — one cannot drive it, but can make use of its parts. A culture can be cannibalized in the same way with the negotiation and sale of its  values, but the whole will never work again.

For about a century, the West has worked on degradation of its own values, eliminating and abolishing them. this has been a natural consequence of modernity, individualization, emancipation and atomization of society — a logical sequel to renaissance and enlightment. It has abolished everything that gives value to something, someone or a culture.

The West has reached the point of zero degree of symbolic power. It wants to impose the zero degree on everyone. It challenges the rest of the world to annihilate itself symbolically, participate in the generalized exchange. Terrorism, with the death of terrorists confronts the West with a gesture of tremendous symbolic power to which there is no answer.

How Will Capitalism End?

“At the heart of our era’s deepening crisis there lies a touching faith that capitalism, free markets and democracy go hand in hand. Wolfgang Streeck’s new book deconstructs this myth, exposing the deeply illiberal, irrational, anti-humanist tendencies of contemporary capitalism.” (Yanis Varoufakis)

The legitimacy of post-war democracy was based on the premise that states had a  capacity to intervene in markets and correct their outcomes in the interest of citizens. Decades of rising inequality have cast doubts on this, as has the impotence of governments before, during and after the crisis of 2008.

After years of ill health, capitalism is now in a critical condition. Growth has given way to stagnation; inequality is leading to instability; and confidence in the money economy has all but evaporated.

Before capitalism will go to hell, it will for the foreseeable future hang in limbo, dead or about to die from an overdose of itself but still very much around, as nobody will have the power to move its decaying body out of the way.

We are  at the crossroads of human history witnessing unwind of the 500 years of capitalism. Everything we know about the economy and society will change. This is a beginning of an unprecedented social transformation that will take the center stage in the next 50 years.

Extending on the work of Immanuel Wallerstein, Randall Collins, Craig Calhoun and Jeffrey A. Winters, Wolfgang Streeck is taking us on a journey through the post-2016 world of social entropy and post-social society.

24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep

“A polemic as finely concentrated as a line of pure cocaine” – Los Angeles Review of Books

24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep explores some of the ruinous consequences of the expanding non-stop processes of twenty-first-century capitalism. The marketplace now operates through every hour of the clock, pushing us into constant activity and eroding forms of community and political expression, damaging the fabric of everyday life.

Jonathan Crary examines how this interminable non-time blurs any separation between an intensified, ubiquitous consumerism and emerging strategies of control and surveillance. He describes the ongoing management of individual attentiveness and the impairment of perception within the compulsory routines of contemporary technological culture. At the same time, he shows that human sleep, as a restorative withdrawal that is intrinsically incompatible with 24/7 capitalism, points to other more formidable and collective refusals of world-destroying patterns of growth and accumulation.

The Severed Head by Julia Kristeva – review

by Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian                

Kristeva’s purpose in this short but dense meditation is to consider the way in which the severed head pops up in art, literature and real life. In doing so she builds on her earlier work on the corpse, a subject she assigns to a category called “the abject” – a holding pen for objects that disturb categories (is this body actually still a person?) and consequently exert a queasy pull.

The head refines this puzzle of being and not-being even further. Part of its fascination lies in the way it seems to offer a physical location for where our true self resides. Our face is what makes us knowable in the social world, our brain is what tells us who we are, and our speaking mouth is the conduit between the two. Lose our heads and we have lost everything, which is why the fact that we can come apart so easily is terrifying. It also explains a certain morbid fascination with how long a head can go on living after it has been severed.

Kristeva is not too grand to indulge her readers’ desire for a bit of body horror. She retells the story about Charlotte Corday, victim of the revolutionary guillotine, whose face registered disgust when the executioner pinched her cheek post-mortem. From there she proceeds to the cherished anecdote about how a much-reduced Mary Queen of Scots went on mouthing a hopeless prayer minutes after the fatal axe had fallen. And she even indulges us with the well-I-never business of how decapitated cockroaches are able to go on surviving for several weeks after they’ve parted company with their bodies.

Kristeva’s interests, though, range far beyond pest control. She starts her account in pre-history, travelling back to years with so many noughts that your brain starts to whirr. In the Lower Paleolithic age people liked to make sure that everyone in the family pulled their weight: when someone died, it was only being thrifty, and respectful, to turn them into a drinking cup or a musical instrument. You might, if you were Neolithic and especially fond of the departed, scoop out the soft bits of their scalp and put shells where their eyes used to be, turning them into a bony charm to protect the living.

From this proto-art, halfway between home entertainment and cult worship, Kristeva moves into the more familiar terrain of the modern museum, coming to rest on a few key motifs. There is sticky-eyed, snake-haired Medusa, whose decapitation by the valiant Perseus appears in work by everyone from Leonardo to Rubens by way of Bellini. From there we go to multiple representations of the “capital act” as performed by Judith on Holofernes, and Salome, by proxy, on John the Baptist. Decapitation, in the Judeo-Christian tradition at least, turns out to be a surprisingly female way of proceeding, turning on its head the usual platitudes about women preferring to use poison. Kristeva draws particular attention to Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes, which shows the beautiful murderess and her servant going about their bloody business with the calm rigour of practised butchers subduing a frisky pig.

It isn’t always easy to follow Kristeva’s train of thought. The crisp, clean swipe is not her way – or at least not as rendered in this translation from the French by Jody Gladding. Instead, what Kristeva offers is a sinewy meditation that works its way through historical periods and modes of representation, from those early Neolithic skull goblets to the strangely melted faces of Francis Bacon. You don’t need to know your Freud-by-way-of-Lacan to get a great deal of Kristeva’s text, but it would be a good idea to have a laptop to hand to Google the images to which she refers (the eight pages of mono illustrations are woefully inadequate).

Finally, be prepared to keep your inner philistine on a tight leash. Kristeva is fond of declamations such as “decapitation is a privileged space”, to which surely only a very “mediocre and infantile” person would reply: “Not if you’re the one waiting for the axe to fall.”

Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide

What is the relationship between capitalism and mental health? In his most unsettling book to date, Franco “Bifo” Berardi embarks on an exhilarating journey through philosophy, psychoanalysis and current events, searching for the social roots of the mental malaise of our age.

Spanning an array of horrors – the Aurora “Joker” killer; Anders Breivik; American school massacres; the suicide epidemic in Korea and Japan; and the recent spate of “austerity” suicides in Europe – Heroes dares to explore the darkest shadow cast by the contemporary obsession with relentless competition and hyper-connectivity. In a volume that crowns four decades of radical intellectual work, Berardi develops the psychoanalytical insights of his friend Félix Guattari and proposes dystopian irony as a strategy to disentangle ourselves from the deadly embrace of absolute capitalism.

In the Flow

The leading art theorist takes on art in the age of the Internet

In the early twentieth century, art and its institutions came under critique from a new democratic and egalitarian spirit. The notion of works of art as sacred objects was decried and subsequently they would be understood merely as things. This meant an attack on realism, as well as on the traditional preservative mission of the museum. Acclaimed art theorist Boris Groys argues this led to the development of “direct realism”: an art that would not produce objects, but practices (from performance art to relational aesthetics) that would not survive. But for more than a century now, every advance in this direction has been quickly followed by new means of preserving art’s distinction.

In this major new work, Groys charts the paradoxes produced by this tension, and explores art in the age of the thingless medium, the Internet. Groys claims that if the techniques of mechanical reproduction gave us objects without aura, digital production generates aura without objects, transforming all its materials into vanishing markers of the transitory present.