Statement to #CopsoffCampus
Last week, months of careful organization and mobilization came to a head as students at ten universities occupied their campuses in support of the HE strike. The last of these occupations, at Senate House in Bloomsbury, was met with violent repression: UoL management called in the police, and…
3:44 pm • 9 December 2013 • 28 notes
On the Passage of a Few Persons Through a Rather Brief Unity of Time: Two Films Reflecting on the Soviet Experiment
6pm, Dziga Vertov, Man With a Movie Camera, 1929, 68 mins
7.15pm, Chantal Akerman, From the East, 1993, 107 mins
Tuesday 5th November 2013
Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Sq, London, WC1H 0PD
Two films exploring the implications of Communist rule through the documentation of urban life, shot at radically different historical moments.
Dziga Vertov’s A Man With A Movie Camera was filmed on the cusp of the Stalinist ‘great break’, just 12 years after the October Revolution. The frenetic montage sequences and heady city scapes of Vertov’s seminal documentary brim with future-oriented optimism about the fledgling Communist regime. This giddy dynamism is a stark contrast to the meditative tracking shots employed by Akerman, who trained her camera on ordinary people in Moscow in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Viewed together, these films reflect the historical and ideological shifts that occurred in the period separating them.
8:57 am • 27 October 2013 • 3 notes
Virno on Mirror Neurons
Paulo Virno’s Multitude: Between Innovation and Negation concludes with a strange discussion of mirror neurons and the capacity for empathy. Virno cites Vittorio Gallese’s work on mirror neurons to make the claim that humans originally inhabit a utopian ‘we-space’. This attitude to human nature is reminiscent of Catherine Malabou’s claims about the radical possibilities of neuronal plasticity - she similarly argues that the naturally radical brain is constrained by repressive society. For Virno, our biological impulse for collectivity is undermined and eroded by our entry into language: ‘propositional thought eats away at the original certainty of co-feeling.’ (p. 188) Humans are uniquely capable of not recognising their fellow humans’ humanity. Without this capacity, Virno claims, Auschwitz would not have been possible.
Virno draws a comparison between the work of early twentieth century psychologists like DW Winnicott and Lev Vygotsky and mirror neuron theory, in that these writers also see humans as originally collective but gradually individuated. But as a psychoanalyst, Winnicott’s work was founded on the idea that humans are characterised by conflicting and violent forces from birth. Vygotsky’s cultural-historical approach similarly precluded making assumptions about biology distinct from social context. The human is born into the world. There is no magical pre-linguistic baby utopia preceding this. Indeed, for Vygotsky it was precisely the capacity to use language and differentiate that allowed humans to consciously transform their environments. Vygotsky insisted that the human ability to think abstractly had an emancipatory potential.
An obvious (or at least linguistically neat) counterpoint to mirror neuron theory would be Jacques Lacan’s ‘mirror stage’. For Lacan, the moment the baby first recognises itself in the mirror is the first moment in which the individual differentiates itself from the world. But crucially the recognition of the contours of the self glimpsed in the looking glass is a contortion and is thus founded in misrecognition. We are thus from the earliest stages of infancy not only alienated from those around us but also from ourselves.
But my intention is not to test different psychological theories against one another. Instead I want to challenge any political philosophy that attempts to found itself on the basis of assumptions about human nature.
Virno does not suggest returning to the imagined original harmony of existence. Instead, he proposes negating the negation: breaking through or redirecting the role of language so as to convert non-recognition into a radical force that might spring humans lose from the current political configuration (here he introduces the concept of katechon borrowed from St Paul, as a paradoxically radical ‘force that restrains’). His seductive if specious argument is that we should embrace the ‘dangerousness’ of human nature that succeeds the harmony described by mirror neuron theory. Quite how this might be achieved remains obscure. Although Virno might accept the impossibility of going back to our original moment of natural co-feeling, his insistence that the capacity to recognise the other lies at our biological foundations still suggests that people are predisposed to collective modes of thought. His use of the Hegelian formulation ensures that this original stage of empathy, though transformed and submerged, is preserved. It is still a thoroughly biologised argument that fails to adequately account for the catastrophes of history.
Perhaps it is a symptom of a moment of political torpor that theories advocating radical emancipatory political action appeal to soothing biological explanations about human nature rather than acknowledging that humans cannot be neatly extricated from the fucked up world of their creating. Instead of uncritically citing neurological arguments to bolster their arguments, philosophers should be challenging current scientific paradigms and questioning how they are complicit in upholding coercive power structures.
10:12 am • 7 October 2013 • 9 notes
Protest of Corpses - 1848
The barricade Saint Antoine was monstrous; it was three stories high and seven hundred feet long. It barred from one corner to the other the vast mouth of the Faubourg, that is to say, three streets;… buttressed with mounds which were themselves bastions, pushing out capes here and there, strongly supported by the two great promontories of houses of the Faubourg, it rose like a cyclopean embankment at the foot of the terrible square … Nineteen barricades stood at intervals along the streets in the rear of this mother barricades.
Merely from seeing it, you felt in the Faubourg an immense agonising suffering which had reached that extreme moment when distress rushes to catastrophe. Of what was the barricade made? Of the ruins of three six-story houses, torn down for the purpose, said some. Of the prodigy of all passions said others. It had the woeful aspect of all the works of hatred: Ruin. You might say: who built that? You might also say: who destroyed that? It was the improvisation of ebullition. Here! that door! that grating! that shed! that casement! that broken furnace! that cracked pot! Bring all! throw all on! push, roll, dig, dismantle, overturn, tear down all! It was the collaboration of the pavement, the pebble, the timber, the iron bar, the chip, the broken square, the stripped chair, the cabbage stub, the scrap, the rag, and the malediction.
It was great and it was little. It was the bottomless pit parodied upon the spot by chaos come again … Upon the whole, terrible. It was the acropolis of the ragamuffins. Carts overturned, roughened slope; … an omnibus, cheerily hoisted by main strength to the very top of the pile, as if the architects of that savagery would add saucisness to terror, presented its unharnessed pole to unkown horses of the air… The fury of the flood was imprinted upon that misshapen obstruction. What flood? The multitude. You would have thought you saw uproar petrified … You saw there, in chaos full of despair, rafters from roofs, patches from garrets with their wall paper, window sashes with all their glass planted in the rubbish, awaiting artillery, chimneys torn down, wardrobes, tables, benches, a howling topsy-turvy, and those thousand beggarly things, the refuse even of the mendicant, which contain at once fury and nothingness … The barricade of Saint Antoine made a weapon of everything; all that civil war can throw at the head of society came from it …
This barricade was furious; it threw up to the clouds an inexpressible clamour; at certain moments defying the army, it covered itself with multitude and with tempest; a mob of flaming heads crowned it; a swarming filled it; its crest was thorny with muskets, with swords, with clubs, with axes, with pikes, and with bayonets; a huge red flag fluttered in the wind; there were heard cries of command, songs of attacks, the roll of the drum, the sobs of women, and the dark wild laughter of the starving. It was huge and living; and, as from the back of an electric beast there came from it a cackling of thunders. The spirit of revolution covered with its cloud that summit whereon growled this voice of the peoplewhich is lke the voice of God; a strange majesty emanated from the titanic hodful of refuse. It was a garbage heap and it was Sinai.
Victor Hugo - Les Misérables
12:45 pm • 23 September 2013 • 1 note
Our earth is littered with innumerable useless and harmful plants that parasitically exhaust the vital juices of earth. These plants should be destroyed. Spontaneous forces of nature produce masses of parasites and our rational will should not put up with this; because of rats, mice, ground-squirrels we lose, perhaps, hundred of millions of rubles. It is unacceptable and ridiculous when people’s energy is spent on rats. Eliminated two-leg, human-like parasites are not to be replaced by bugs feeding themselves on the workers’ blood. A blind desire of nature to multiply totally useless or definitely harmful litter must be stopped, must be eliminated from our life.
9:35 am • 23 September 2013