Exploring the intersections of ecology, technology, and ideology: Marx, machines, Gibson, and Shanghai.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

This message has been brought to you by the Shimato Dominguez Corporation

Anticipatory contemplations over the forthcoming re-opening of the Tannhauser Gate via the release to DVD of Blade Runner: The Final Cut have prompted me to recall the strain of Corporation-suspicion that appears in a number of the most prominent and definitive Generation-X SF films. The title quote comes, though only introduced in the Director’s Cut version, at the conclusion of the blimp-like public advertisement vehicle floating through the decayed grey skies near the opening of the film as Deckard is securing his Japanese street food: the ad that prompts listeners to continue starting again in the Off-World Colonies. Off-World Colonies, of course, containing a self-reflexive reference to this future-of-LA, in which the mediatronic skyscrapers are advertising either Coke or Japanese nibbles, and in which Gaff, the Latino cop, haunts Deckard. The Shimato Dominguez Corporation in its name, therefore, embodies the global synthesis of a then Japan rising and of Latino population, cultural, trade infusions into the US. But Blade Runner is not a simple case of xenophobia (cyber-orientalism). The Rand Corporation, center of suspicions in this narrative, is fully American and is the corporation explicitly linked with a return to slavery and exploritation of foreign places. Strange how the American corporation and the socially dominant project in which it participates is the one represented as old-school imperialist, while the less violent presences of off-nation corporations articulates more approximately what Hardt and Negri have termed “Empire.”

Then, recall also the Corporate orders in Alien, a corporation with whom the laws regarding mining, travel, and assistance seem to be in collusion, that lead to Ripley’s ship becoming infected. And the far more overt anti-corporatism in Aliens: Weyland-Yutani Group “Building Better Worlds”: again the Japanese connotation. And I must admit that I find it difficult to remember what the mid-80s pov was when corporate insidiousness could be embodied by Paul Reiser! (Why not Gary Shandling?).

Or the broadcasting corporation in Videodrome? The list goes on…

But what piques my interest in this topic is how relevant Blade Runner still seems today. Whereas I’ve expressed difficulties in finding the timeliness of The Invasion, and I’m wondering if similar will be true of the pending Keanu Reeves remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, Blade Runner’s questions of what makes the human human and can a human be made are still critical. (This is why we still see references to Frankenstein everywhere we turn as well!!). And yet, do films, literature, and tv shows that engage these posthuman questions right now still contain this Corporate-suspicion strain? Whether remaining or disappeared, why? Have these narratives lost that moment in history and morphed into foci on the individual within/against society, and/or suspicion of government?

Addendum: the Five-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition of Blade Runner is rumored to contain an alternate full-length version of the film entitled Runner O’ the Blade, in which Conan O’Brien has replaced Rutger Hauer as Roy Baty.

The Fountain (Pen)

A Grand Inquisitor, conquistadors, brain-surgery experiments in primate labs, the Tree of Life, loinclothed Mayans, floating golden space pods for Buddhanauts: The Fountain is something of a meta-Keanu Reeves film, but without Keanu (substitute Hugh Jackman). What I find most engaging about this film is the subtle way it represents the potency of literature as an almost invisible presence behind the more dramatically rendered Science vs. Spirituality discourse that plays out through Jackman’s character, who is a leading neuroscientist on the path toward a Buddhistic enlightenment. The spectator becomes absorbed in his intense lab scenes and the multiple scenes of near-mortal interior conflict in which he must decide whether to spend more time in the lab seeking the cure for his wife’s terminal brain tumor or with his wife while she’s still alive. And yet, Rachel Weisz, the female lead, achieves her own peace with her impending death at such a young age by writing a novel. Furthermore, she purposefully leaves the ultimate chapter unwritten and makes a deathbed request that her husband “finish it.” Through reading her literary production, he perceives the repetition of this necessity of death and the constant desire for more life—in this he sees both points of view. And by finishing the novel, he has begun to work through the trauma. So, in a provocative way, the film suggests that it is not the contemplative highs of golden Buddhahood nor the prospects of advanced scientific capacities in-themselves that enable new modes of being and being human: rather, it is the synthesis of human activities in the form of a narrative, perhaps overlapping narratives, that helps us make meaning and work through the traumas of history.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Fire in the sky(scraper)

Check out the article and links at Shanghai Daily concerning the recent fire in yet another high-rise of controversy that is reshaping the Shanghai skyline, or rather skylines, as there is an aquatic bifurcation that splits both already pastiche composites of architexture.

This time, the building in question is the Shanghai World Financial Center.


Recent scholarship on Climate and M.Shelley's Frankenstein


Good Old Humanism, A New Cold War, or A Cheap Shot at Tom Cruise and L. Ron Hubbard?

The Invasion, the recently released re-make of the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, is another example of the trend I’ve noticed in the sf shift from technophobia that fears machines of our own creation will rise up against us to what I am calling a biophobia—a fear that has turned its gaze away from externality and focused on life itself—specifically human life. These 2 phobias were actually synthesized in a complicated way in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—the sf text that not only inaugurated a genre but anticipated perhaps its core dialectic. Much more on this later--look for separate entries on Frankenstein and on Bruce Sterling's "Cyberpunk" preface to Mirrorshades.

One could easily glean from even the trailers for The Invasion that this would be a biophobia film. But what the trailers left utterly blank, and what I found most intriguing as I watched the film in the theatre, is the ideological position on humanity that is meant to stand up against the invasion of this dreadfully collective alien life form—the reason for us to adopt Nicole Kidman’s character as our avatar in the film, our heroine, and the representative of an ideological stance we could agree with, even if cautiously or only partially. In the original 1956 version, the Cold War atmosphere, with widespread public rhetoric of Communists (especially the many millions of Chinese) living as insects—emotionally blank, devoid of identity, and with an indefatigable drive to convert all other humans to their insect-like mode of un-living organisms comprising a hive. On a relatively wide global scale, Communism/Socialism posed a genuine alternative to Capitalism, and thus the film spoke to the genuine concern of the day.

Now, however, unless one wants to overvalue (unless this is where I’m severely misled or underinformed) George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin’s posturings over the anti-missile defense shields, with Eastern Europe as the membranous geography being fought over, the anti-Communist Cold War sentiments are almost wholly absent from public discourse on any significant level. Moreover, news footage features prominently in The Invasion, narrating via the multi-media global network the transition as the virus spreads from a state of constant and uncountable world conflicts toward a peaceful coexistence. (As the film proceeds, we see/hear in the background newscasts about Bush forging relations with Hugo Chavez as well as the end to the Iraq occupation). Earth is being transformed into a planet of peaceful coexistence amongst all the human beings who’ve been transformed by the bio-invasion.

So, what is Kidman’s character fighting for? The only moment in the film that articulates her position takes place when she attends the Czech ambassador’s dinner with her boyfriend/best friend, Ben. The Russian and Czech ambassadors (perhaps I am off the mark about this W.Bush/Putin material) are debating humanity and civilization. Kidman’s character argues that while conflicts such as those mentioned by the Russian ambassador (Iraq, Darfur…) are terrible, the human being is still evolving. She says, “500 years ago postmodern feminists didn’t exist, yet here you sit next to one tonight.” Thus, her value system resides in evolution, though with a po-mo position, which means a position structurally enmeshed in late capitalism, as the chief positive example meant to thwart the Russian’s utopian vision. In response to her, the Russian ambassador remarks that we would cease to be human in a world without constant conflicts, and yet this line is delivered as well as formally coded without a hint of terror, disgust, or even irony. It’s a matter of fact statement, and it is indeed the situation unfolding as the narrative progresses.

My point is that I could not read the code, if one is really present, in which this pivotal declaration is communicated. This radical blankness in the delivery of the labeling of non-human, or what would be called the posthuman, is the most telling and significant part of the film’s ideology. Even more important than the shadow-biographical moment in which the now-invaded Ben confronts Kidman’s character (barely veiled overtones of Tom Cruise’s Scientological position against prescription medications for psychiatric/psychological illnesses—in fact, if this were a David Lynch film, we might read the entire narrative as the fantasy of Nicole Kidman reclaiming the perfect family life she was part of and with a Tom Cruise free of the Scientology invasion) regarding her role as a psychiatrist in prescribing synthetic chemicals to try remedying human conflicts. In the end of the film, we return from the alien invasion, the motive of which was never addressed, to the representation of comfortable white upper-class heterosexual family life (complete with that contemporary fashion accessory, the adopted East Asian orphan), inhabiting a world that is finding its way back to mass conflicts. A people who have learned nothing—those infected literally have no memory of their dalliance with collectivity because it was all linked to their REM sleep brain functions—and those handful of individuals that saw the face of the human drawn in sand at the edge of the sea being erased and somehow managed to reinforce it, at least until another alien tide arrives.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Consciousness and the Market-Stomach of Capital

In an oft-quoted yet deeply unanalyzed moment in Capital, Vol. I, Marx writes the following:

We presuppose labour in a form in which it is an exclusively human characteristic. A spider conducts operations which resemble those of the weaver, and a bee would put many a human architect to shame by the construction of its honeycomb cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is that the architect builds the cell in his mind before he constructs it in wax. At the end of every labour process, a result emerges which had already been conceived by the worker at the beginning, hence already existed ideally…Man not only effects change of form in the materials of nature; he also realizes his own purpose in those materials. And this is a purpose he is conscious of…Apart from the exertion of the working organs, a purposeful will is required for the entire duration of work. This means close attention.

---Capital, Vol. I. Karl Marx (1867) p.283-4.

Read on its own, this passage provokes responses primarily relating to Marx’s attitudes toward animals specifically, or also toward the environment more broadly. But what endows this passage with significant complexity is its contextual placement near the beginning of Marx’s historical description of how people in England transformed their social production from primarily agriculture to one of industry. Within the experience of reading, this foray into the question of the animal can easily be forgotten, lost amidst the whirring of differentiating tools from machines and watching English individuals collected together into the organisms of workshops where they will move from knowledge and skills in a complete craft to the manufacture of pieces only. Only when unpacking the narrative of industrialization from Marx’s end backward toward its start within this volume, did the distinction of humans from spiders and bees strike me as especially odd.

Consciousness is the dividing line Marx offers here; that and the ability to design in the mind what forms will be brought about through labour. I would not fault Marx for using the biological knowledge of bees and spiders available to him at the time which present some difficulties today, though these are important vectors for consideration at another time—perhaps especially with reference to Kevin Kelly’s theorization of vivisystems and all of its prospects for social systems and revolutionary re-thinking of humans in relation to animals and the communal possibilities. Within the scope at hand, I am trying to get my head around consciousness as the dividing line because so very much of Capital demonstrates the profound inability for most (all?) human beings residing within the capitalism-dominant world to be conscious of capitalism: of its forms and structures. The capitalist brain is often depicted by Marx as incapable of grasping, much less of sustaining, the contradictions that come with capitalist practice. Through the commodity, “It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things” (165). Even the accumulation of capital is effaced through narratives of utopic, fictive pasts. Thus, capital is a social product that with astonishing and most dangerous efficacy erases its history even as it pursues a trajectory that seems unplanned. Capital becomes a being unto itself—a monster birthed by human cooperation and collusion. A vampire; a werewolf; an animated monster. And yet even those who accumulate most from the driving machinations of capital are not conscious of its form: the bourgeoisie produces, above all, Marx says, its own gravediggers (930).

So where has consciousness gone? Is the bee actually the more accurate model for capital, since it belongs to a hive and a hive-mind: a social consciousness like that which seems to have been brought about through the growth of capital: through, to borrow William Gibson’s definition of cyberspace before it even existed, “A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions” (Neuromancer 51)? Perhaps the bee actually does serve the function here, if we turn to a study using honey-bees, significant for von Uexküll and later Heidegger as accounted in Agamben’s The Open. In this experiment, honey-bees who have begun to suck from a cup full of honey have the ends of their abdomens cut away. Without a complete internally integral system, the honey-bees have no source of feedback to know when to stop consuming. They continue without stop as the honey comes in and goes right through them.

I see the parallel between these honey-bees and Marx’s representations of capital through the common use of the stomach/metabolism as symbol for consciousness in response to input from outside the closed system. Rather than turning to invisible appendages (Smith’s Invisible Hand), Marx frequently describes the market in terms of metabolism/of a stomach. Capital is the substitution of a vampire for the honey-bee and of labour—of blood and dirt—for the cup full of honey. Not only a vampire, but one that is not conscious of limits; in fact, one that must continue to suck until all is drained empty. Capital is a form of “captivation” in the Heideggerian-Agambenian sense.

And yet Marx writes to bring into the light the hidden mysteries of capital—to present to human consciousness what has heretofore been occluded, almost lost. Perhaps what he is striving for is not a break from captivation, but, rather, an openness to that very captivation—a perspective from which human beings can perceive the structures/forms of capital within which we live, not from some imaginary distance but by sensing the structure through its vibrations and patterns traveling along its vectors that intersect us and our lives.

A germane example:

During 1999-2000 I was a corporate training consultant in Shanghai. My work took me weekly to international joint-venture companies throughout the city and the surrounding production zones; while details were negotiated primarily with Chinese HR administrators, I almost always met with GMs or HR managers from the US, UK, Sweden, Finland, or elsewhere in the West. When I look back over notes from that period, the most pervasive sentiments expressed by these global corporate expats were the desire to flood the 1.3-billion person market with their companies’ products and/or to collect as many Chinese labourers as possible into factories in places like Waigaoqiao to produce commodities like mad to ship and sell all over the globe outside of China. A massive and virtually untapped market, China: a hungry stomach that hadn’t yet tasted the capital-gastric delights of Western-styled commodities. A teeming population ready to work for a pittance to feed the outside world’s voracious appetite. UTOPIA for all the business people I talked with!!

Now, 2007, we are bombarded weekly if not on a daily basis with anti-China rhetoric. China is portrayed as an environmental threat that is endangering the globe. Too much oil and coal! Too much steel! And yet, the Chinese people and government have never really questioned the science of global warming—they comprehend the collectivity inherent in the interconnectedness that global warming demonstrates. Perhaps of greater importance here though, China is made a culprit without any reference to the ideological position of international/transnational capital—the ideology that has been driving and driving China to open that hungry market, to make the market hungrier and hungrier, and to make its people available for surplus labour to feed the other markets in the world. Where else have the Chinese appetites for petroleum, coal, and steel among other raw materials come from? From transnational capital, which includes myself, and its seemingly limitless stomach.

Perhaps consciousness within capital is available through close attention, to use Marx’s words, to such transitional moments when the image of a capital utopia becomes effectively not what was imagined before hand by its architects, but erects a form that puts toxic lead paint in the stomachs of children at play.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I can feel it, Dave.

HAL 9000, Nexus 6, Skynet, the Construct and its Architect and Agents: each of these fictional technological entities and their myriad counterparts in popular cinema and literature embodies a mode of near-contemporary technophobia. In each of these narratives, human technological innovations are over-extended to the point at which the machinery comes to inhabit a superior position. Humans become at best the working appendages of these machines; at worst, humans become the target of the machines’ genocidal plans. And I invoke the language of appendage to the machines here because it serves as a historical-theoretical joint, linking Marx’s analysis of technology in Capital, Vol. I with late twentieth and early twenty-first century discourse on the posthuman. That said, these films predominantly present technophobia in only its most recent incarnations, leaving underexamined the historical roots of this powerful fear, especially the socio-economic components of this history. What we see in The Matrix and The Terminator trilogies in particular is the fantasy of a clearly isolatable and identifiable moment of catastrophe when our technology will assault and destroy humanity. The dystopian break, in these renditions, will be concise and spectacular. This ideological position of disaster just over the horizon is a compelling one—compelling for ecological consciousness/environmentalism among other commitments. But we must reconsider this ideological position by juxtaposing Marx’s analysis of technological development and technophobia with the current popular modes that shape our current approach.

Being accustomed to technophobia represented as instant speciecide against humanity, Marx’s version of the ‘rise of the machines’ can seem quite absurd. Marx’s powerful declaration “The hour of the machine had struck” refers to none other than the sewing-machine (601). He goes on to explain: “The overpowering competition crushes the weakest manual workers. The fearful increase in death from starvation during the last ten years in London runs parallel with the extension of the sewing-machine” (601). At first glance, this declaration that factory floors full of sewing-machines and not global nuclear warfare or species-wide virtual-reality is a historical moment of technological crisis, may look absurd—hyperbolical. Yet the only reason this seems so hyperbolical is the constitution of the subjects who perish in the wake of this new technology. All of today’s technophobic texts feed into an ideology that imagines the survival and the integrity of the human race as the core concern. Even the laudably critically challenging updated version of Battlestar Galactica, with its complex representations of terrorism, torture, and humanity, emphasizes the ultimate matter of human existence and extinction. In effect, this all-or-nothing approach that is common to our tales of technophobia enables business as usual extraction of surplus labour, and very often surplus labour that is extracted in part via physically endangering working conditions, to continue. These narratives invite us to inhabit subject positions of power, with the only marginal figures often appearing as lumpenproletariat who are either sacrificed as action-fodder or as temporary provocateurs for the power figures who are ultimately the protagonists.

What we are able to focus on by reading Marx, however, is the class-specific genocides perpetrated by the implementation of technology by capital control. The sewing-machine did not morph into a Kafkaesque nightmare machine and terrorize the human species; rather, it facilitated a revolution in the means of production that produced not only the textile commodities sent off to sale, but, perhaps more importantly, it produced the surplus human population that made labour even cheaper by making human life even cheaper. The two-fold function of such a technological innovation is to make rapid and regulated production possible while reducing the required human input. With less required labour, England became increasingly full of people desperate to get any piece of labour they could find. Thus, the rise of the sewing-machine meant the literal annihilation of an increased population of England’s proletariat as they starved while queuing up in hopes of work. Thus, the pragmatic contemplation of technological developments in history must be focused in part on its consequences to the proletariat. And this is precisely the point that is completely obscured by the brand of technophobia that considers only the fate of the entire human race. As such, the social narratives of human hospitality and cosmopolitanism in the form of fighting for the survival of the species function in precisely the opposite way, undermining the prospects of perceiving the implementations of technology at present that endanger and destroy human life.

To approach this from another vector in Marx, the following is a particularly complex passage in which he addresses social perceptions of technology:

It is an undoubted fact that machinery is not as such responsible for ‘setting free’ the worker from the means of subsistence…Therefore, since machinery in itself shortens the hours of labour, but when employed by capital it lengthens them; since in itself if lightens labour, but when employed by capital it heightens its intensity; since in itself it is a victory of man over the forces of nature but in the hands of capital it makes man the slave of those forces; since in itself it increases the wealth of the producers, but in the hands of capital it makes them into paupers, the bourgeois economist simply states that the contemplation of machinery in itself demonstrates with exactitude that all these evident contradictions are a mere semblance, present in everyday reality, but not existing in themselves, and therefore having no theoretical existence either. Thus he manages to avoid racking his brains any more, and in addition implies that his opponent is guilty of the stupidity of contending, not against the capitalist application of machinery, but against machinery itself.

---Capital, Vol. I. Karl Marx (1867) p.568-9

Finding passage through this rhetorical labyrinth is far from simple; one must reread this several times, and I’m still not sure whether I’m penetrating its meaning or increasingly glancing off its shiny surface. Through the parataxis, Marx appears to be saying that technology in itself holds massive power, and power that does not necessarily lead down the path to exploitation of labouring human beings. Furthermore, the parataxis isolates capital control as the single factor that shifts machinery to the exploitation of humans. And yet, this parataxis exists within the text both as Marx’s perception of a social perception as well as the acknowledged perception of the ‘bourgeois economist apologists.’ So, not only does the reader get to absorb and process the repetition of capital control as the target that should attract the attention of contemplations on technology, but we simultaneously hear the apologists for capitalism articulating these propositions as indeed circulating through public discourse. But then Marx makes a complicated move, representing the apologists’ rhetorical maneuvering to dismiss the parataxis in a condensed phrasing that does not in itself clarify the logic of the apologists’ argument. Immediately following this moment of obscurity, Marx remarks, “Thus he manages to avoid racking his brains any more, and in addition implies that his opponent is guilty of the stupidity of contending, not against the capitalist application of machinery, but against machinery itself” (569).
The machinations of the apologist brain (“racking”) come to an abrupt and clunky halt. The brain of the capitalist, it seems, is itself incapable of perceiving the extreme contradictions within the fabric of thought it weaves. The physiological, psychological machinic organs of human intelligence, especially of those most wholly within control of capital, have themselves become such appendages to the machinations of Capitalism that they have ceased to function up to speed with the system. They stop and attempt to rationalize the world-system they inhabit in spite of their processing errors. And this effort is articulated as an indictment of the anti-progress stupidity of capital’s critics that enables them to rage against the machinery itself.

This wringing out the complexities of technological innovation to leave only a grossly oversimplified and ultimately fantasist question of technology in itself appears the product of the capitalist/capitalist apologist who’s reached his/her cognitive capacities of perception and theorization. But, as Marx points out, the real issue at hand is the impossibility at work here to imagine means of control and utilization of technological developments—of machinery, other than those conceived within the existing capitalist order and logic. The assessment of social perceptions of and discourse on technology therefore becomes one important vector of assessing the structures and forms of capitalism.

Representations of technology and machinery generally help to occlude these forms and structures, but a sustained, historical analysis synthesized with the sidelong glance away from just the technology/machinery, opens different vista points.

Hence, my keen interest in critiquing narratives of technology and technophobia.

Two cinematic examples that may fit with a Marxian historical, class-conscious perception of technology and technophobia would be Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and Jennifer Baichwal’s Edward Burtynsky Manufactured Landscapes. Both films do something quite rare for films from inside Hollywood and out: they focalize the manufacturing sites where humans and machinery interface, where they learn to move like and with the other, and share the same atmosphere. But more on these in a later entry…

Friday, August 10, 2007

Marxist hotdoggin'

Marxist hotdoggin’

A micro-chapter of sheer genius and zaniness in Spook Country. From reading interviews with him, William Gibson’s background in literary theory and criticism is clear, though more often than not he emphasizes ideas on Interpretation, reveling in the multiplicity generated by every reader interface as well as his own writerly interfaces through writings and revisings. In the documentary film about him, No Maps for These Territories, he references Fredric Jameson, but only as a glancing mention of postmodernism. In Pattern Recognition, Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, Lacan, Jameson, and Habermas make a somewhat superficial appearance, and in such a context that one cannot ascertain Gibson’s relationship with literary and critical theories (67). Not surprising in itself as Gibson seems to cultivate an authorial presence constituted by the absence of positions/commitments.

The appearance of critical theory in Spook Country, while still without disclosing an authorial position, is absolutely yet subtly hilarious. In Chapter 26, entitled “Gray’s Papaya,” the NSA-like figure known only as Brown takes his hostage-translator, Milgrim, for a Recession Special at the famous hotdog stand in New York City, for which the chapter is named. This is the one place where Brown relaxes enough to talk to Milgrim about matters other than barked demands for translation services:

“He’d have the nonalcoholic pina colada with his franks and lay out the origins of cultural Marxism in America. Cultural Marxism was what other people called political correctness, according to Brown, but it was really cultural Marxism, and had come to the United States from Germany, after World War II, in the cunning skulls of a clutch of young professors from Frankfurt. The Frankfurt School, as they’d called themselves, had wasted no time in plunging their intellectual ovipositors repeatedly into the unsuspecting body of old-school American academia. Milgrim always enjoyed this part; it had an appealing vintage sci-fi campiness to it, staccato and exciting, with grainy monochrome Eurocommie star-spawn in tweed jackets and knit ties, breeding like Starbucks.” ---p.126

What could be more brilliant than a right-wing American ranting about the dreadful invasion of the benignly capitalist America by the Frankfurt School with his mouth full of frankfurter, that German-born sausage which migrated from similar origins as Adorno and colleagues to become a primary food synecdoche for Americanness in its hotdog avatar! As such, the passage bears a complex resonance of global cultural (in)fusions, of dubious claims to origin, authenticity, and signification. The character Brown stands in for the debilitating blindness that accompanies a total readiness to simplify history, to simplify processes and the formations of subcultures. As a lateral thought here—one could easily hold up John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath as a highly influential literary sample of, albeit naively conceptualized, cultural Marxism arising from sites other than the Frankfurt School; not only that, but it intersects with the recession-element of the Spook Country passage as well as offering myriad detailed scenes of food preparation—flipping burgers was the equivalent to erotica in literature and film for early works during and immediately following as reflections on the Depression. Further out on the lateral vector--don't forget Pink's in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. Back from that lateral, within a novel by the foremost contemporary speculative-fiction theorizer of the formation of subcultures, this depiction of a rightist conceptualization of cultural Marxism in America is a brilliantly twisted reflexive moment that causes a spatio-temporal pause within Spook Country—what might at first seem a throwaway chapter of perhaps ‘found’ dialogue becomes a node for interpreting the novel itself, and one with fantastic imagery and a hearty laugh!

Dissertation Prospect--

Critical Hotdogs: Significant Wieners in 20th Century American Literature and Film

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

China/p.920/Reversing the Gears of Capital

China/p.920/Reversing the Gears of Capital

Along with the national debt there arose an international credit system, which often conceals one of the sources of primitive accumulation in this or that people. Thus the villainies of the Venetian system of robbery formed one of the secret foundations of Holland’s wealth in capital, for Venice in her years of decadence lent large sums of money to Holland. There is a similar relationship between Holland and England. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, Holland’s manufactures had been far outstripped. It had ceased to be the nation preponderant in commerce and industry. One of its main lines of business, therefore, from 1701 to 1776, was the lending out of enormous amounts of capital, especially to its great rival England. The same thing is going on today between England and the United States. A great deal of capital, which appears today in the United States without any birth-certificate, was yesterday, in England, the capitalized blood of children.

---Capital, Vol. I. Karl Marx (1867) p.920

This vector of Marx’s astoundingly capacious research maps the flow of capital from Venice to Holland to England to the United States as each territory rises—predominantly through massive industrialization—and declines in global production preeminence. Once beyond the peak of mass-production, each has successively loaned out the capital gleaned from surplus labor to the emerging next-big-industrialization. One hundred forty years ago Marx stopped with the United States on the rise. Now we’re inhabiting a United States whose industrial production has climaxed; a US that has long since finished with the post-industrial pillow-talk, has tried to escape into what amounted to only a couple hours of ragged sleep, and is waking up to a horrific hangover, only to realize that no quantity of Starbucks (“Geography is a flavor”) can cure.

But what is China doing—taking the one-way flow of international credit transfer from the US to establish its place industrial-capitalist-apparent in this genealogy? Actually, China has been maneuvering into a position in relation to the US through investments and trade deficits that controverts, or at least complicates, this historical flow. On the one hand, this might signal genius at work (perhaps, at guess) in Beijing that will only be realized at a horizon yet to manifest. One wonders if the PhDs in the various Engineerings in the ’08 Olympics city underlined p.920 during their college days. On the other hand, the multiplicity of vectors regarding international credit at this moment may signal something still pre-emergent has more to do with the formal/structural unfoldings of transnational late capitalism than with The Cultural Revolution 2.0 as theorized in Beijing (or more likely, Shanghai).

What is clear is that some of the gears of Capital are being spun in reverse. Also clear is that any pastoral nostalgia in response to this—any hope for simpler better times would be absurdly and irresponsibly naïve. What is less clear is how the machine of Capital’s technological-biological-ecological interface is morphing.

Theorizing the techno-bio-ecological interface is why I’m initiating this blog, but with the understanding that, as William Gibson writes in his latest, “But when you look at blogs, where you’re most likely to find the real info is in the links. It’s contextual, and not only who the blog’s linked to, but who’s linked to the blog” (Spook Country p.65).