The struggle for Palestinian rights is central to radical politics today. The fight for BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanctions)’ is the sharp end of this. The fury seen in the media and by most politicians as well as the huge sums spent by the Israeli state in countering BDS suggests a movement gaining in momentum
As sexism – pure, naked sexism and misogyny – rears its ugly ahead in the liberal democratic public sphere, it appears ever more appropriate to look back for insight to the feminist 1970s: a time oft-mythologized1 and (at times) faithfully portrayed as the era of very angry women. The 1970s are a complex moment in North American feminism’s past. The way we re-visit this so-called ‘foundational’ era of the Women’s Liberation Movement, it seems, will play a role in how we can imagine the horizons of feminism’s futures.
When Anselm Jappe wrote Guy Debord in 1993, it was widely hailed as the first serious intellectual biography of the principal figure of the Situationist International (SI). Six years later, when the University of California Press published an English translation, Stewart Home1 declared it “both the most boring and by far and away the most stupid book to be written about a situationist to date.” On the other hand, Ken Knabb2 praises Jappe’s effort as “the only book on Debord in either French or English that can be unreservedly recommended.”
Two works sit before me. One, a non-descript jet-black Verso book, containing a controversial and often misunderstood thought experiment from the dialectical philosopher Frederic Jameson. The other is a record album by the great humanist songwriter David Byrne. Both are titled American Utopia. Both attempt to find countertendencies in the social whole in the 21st century, “late-late capitalism”, if you will, countertendencies that perhaps we can cognitively map, if not concretely perceive as utopian, as going beyond the semblance of time and place, a place where nothing ever happens, as “happening” implies going back to the dualism of fact and value that dialectical art and philosophy attempt to transcend. Byrne’s music, both literally and figuratively, provides a soundtrack to what Jameson called postmodernity – a concept about which one can hold agnosticism with regards to hard periodization, but still use to demarcate an aesthetic sensibility.
There’s an inscription on a wall in Scotland’s parliament: Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.
In his new novel Walkaway, the Canadian-British writer and activist Cory Doctorow imagines what it would mean to do exactly that in a world ravaged by capitalist inequality and climate change. Set in Toronto about a century in the future, this intricately crafted thriller uses deft linguistic innovation (more on that in a moment) and political extrapolation to envision the tension and conflict of an all-too-familiar dystopia existing side by side with a counter-utopia of freedom and possibility.
Come with me into the hidden abode of literary production. Here, behind the comings of age amidst tragedy, the journeys of self-discovery traveled through existential crises, and the excavations of rotting family ties, lies a darker secret: the coal heart of the modern novel.
For Amitav Ghosh, himself the author of many novels including The Hungry Tide and Sea of Poppies, the idea that fossil fuels are at the heart of the modern novel is no metaphor, but rather historical fact. The assumptions of literary narration, he reminds us, are based on a second background assumption — “the orderly expectations of bourgeois life.”
Capitalism is an irrational system which refuses to see itself for what it is. Like an obnoxious trust fund kid slumming it at a dive bar, it cannot help but loudly declare how ingenious and deserving it is. Accepting its arguments for how things are and how they change is to accept the argument that there is some method underneath the layers of madness, that its opulence can somehow be separated from its exploitation, that it has something other than an ever-deepening inhumanity in its future. While our dreams are deemed irrational, capitalism’s degradations are justified as science.
To grasp the significance of Sorry to Bother You is, on some level, to grasp this truth about capitalism. Boots Riley has written and directed a film that is being celebrated by the far-left and mainstream critics alike. Those familiar with Riley’s musical and lyrical work with the Coup know that he is adept at combining his unabashed revolutionary politics with a skewed, cartoon-like worldview.
Karl Marx, born in Trier, Germany and buried in London’s Highgate Cemetery, never visited the U.S. himself. Nearly a third of the 38 artists included in the Marx@200 Show in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are from outside the U.S. This provides powerful global context to a show that was born from a hunch that the 2008 global financial crisis had turned many artists toward Marx in a concentrated way. Curators Kathy Newman and Susanne Slavick – Carnegie Mellon University professors of literature and art, respectively – have brought together an impressive array of visual artworks themed around the figure of Marx, his writings, and capitalism’s depredations.
In Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Homo Sapiens (2016) the first and last shots of the film are of the Buzludzha monument in Bulgaria – constructed by the Communist state to commemorate the secret formation of its forerunner, Bulgarian Social Democratic Party, in 1891. After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in 1989, it was abandoned. Today its vast chambers, statues and mosaics are crumbling.
Geyrhalter’s 90 minute film is composed entirely of stationary shots of human-made buildings that have been abandoned to the elements. Shopping centers in Fukushima, abandoned theatres in Detroit, nondescript hospitals, office buildings, shoreline amusements parks flooded by the tides.
Artists, radicals and radical artists have always looked at the future, the horizon, and seen a telos of emancipation. From modern-day left-accelerationism to 90s anarcho-cybernetic to prog-rock’s discovery of the synthesizer, the future has been an emancipatory muse. Owen Hatherley’s Chaplin Machine engages what could be termed an early example of left-accelerationism: the Soviet avant-garde’s absolute fascination with America. Indeed, going with Hatherley’s beautifully written and sometimes cheeky account with this fascination that, to be frank, sometimes borders on mystification, one can even reverse the aphorism of Earl Browder, the old social-patriotic leader of the American Communist Party, “Communism is 20th century Americanism.” This is to say that to those in the early Soviet avant-garde, and indeed cultural producers in general, Americanism was 20th century communism.