June 21, 2009

Reading the chapter from Hamid Dabashi’s IRAN a people interrupted

‘The Islamic Republic is a categorical contradiction in terms- it is neither a republic nor Islamic. It is not a republic because it is a theocracy; it is not Islamic because Islam (Shi’ism in particular) cannot be in power without instantly discrediting itself. From its very earliest manifestation, Islam emerged as the religion of protest, and in its long and tumultuous history, both political and doctrinal, it has never lost that initial defining moment of its political potency. The dialectical paradox that has remained textual to Qur’ranic revelation- its Meccan chapters charismatic and revolutionary, its Medinan verses somber and institution building- has never abandoned the long and arduous Islamic
history. In these terms, Shi’ism is the quintessence of Islam as a religion of protest and can only remain valid and legitimate as long as it posits itself as a revolutionary project. The instant that Islam (Shi’ism) becomes a dominant (state) ideology it contradicts itself. This paradox is definitive to Islamic political and doctrinal history. The Islamic Republic, as a result, and ipso facto, has placed Islam in a position of tyranny, which in turn discredits and dismantles Islam itself- in the most basic tenets of its doctrinal principles. From Umayyads (661-750) to the Abbasids (750- 1258) down to all other major and minor Islamic empires and dynasties, there has never been a Islamic form of government that has not been radically challenged and opposed in precisely Islamic terms. As soon as a dynasty has come to power in Islamic terms of legitimacy, a revolutionary movement has arisen to challenge it in precisely in Islamic terms. This paradox is now the central dilemma of the Islamic Republic, in which it is trapped and from which it has no escape, except dismantling itself. A regional integration of the most progressive forces in both the reformist and the conservative camps in Iranian politics is the only way it can at once sustain its domestic legitimacy and pose a highly effective politics of resistance to the predatory demands of globalized capitalism and the empire it engendered. But it cannot do so without radically revisiting its very doctrinal basis- and thus the self defeating paradox that at once animates and contradicts it.

A radical reformulation of ‘Islam’, now incarcerated within the clerically anchored ‘Islamic Republic’, effectively amounts to (1) recognizing its own polyvocality- its jurisprudence historically checked and balanced by its philosophy and mysticism; and (2) allowing the cosmopolitan context of its contemporary anti-colonial modernity to work the dialectic of its polyvocality out- its Islamism placing itself next to to the nationalism and socialism that have historically checked and balanced it. Among the myriad consequences of such an emancipatory reimagining of Islam in its modern and medieval history is the effective abandoning of the faulty Eurocenticity of a singular modernity, by which the rest of humanity must abide. In its contemporary context, this full-bodied version of Islam will posit the terms of an anti-colonial modernity that is worldly in its roots and cosmopolitan in its consequences.’ (217/18)

‘Trapped in the charismatic appeal of that abiding memory [‘the collective sentiment of the earliest nucleus of revolutionary Shi’ism], Ahamdinejad may indeed go to war- with the United States, with Israel, with any of the Persian Gulf states (or perhaps the United States and Israel may hand him the opportunity by invading Iran)- for the fire of war cleanses and purifies the evil that this zealotry sees dominant in the world […] The effective transmutation of a popular vote into populism , its alliance with the militarism will put Ahmadinajad’s presidency on a catastrophic course leading to a frightful fascism. [the book was published in 2007]…The republic of fear..will result [that] will impose draconian limitations on the latitude that has, in the past, been allowed to the social behavior of middle-class Iranians, the flamboyant youth, and the Gucci revolutionaries. [even though, I think, the recent Ahmadinajad’s speeches included talking about relaxing the activity of the ‘moral police’] This will scare and dishearten the middle-class Iranians and force them even more into belligerent secularism, vulgar consumerism, and ultimately escape the claws of the Islamic Republic[..] The impoverished classes will most certainly not be the beneficiaries of this exodus of capital. The Islamic Revolution never had the economic courage of its political imagination, never dared to opt for a socialist economy, even from its very ideological basis in the ideas and principles of ideologues such as Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleqani and Abu al-Hassan Bani Sadr. So called Islamic economics are fundamentally based on a secured niche in global capitalism. But this economics wants to have its cake and eat it too. It needs foreign investment and a robust capitalist economy, but it doesn’t want the Bourgeois International and its preference for tight jeans, loose scarves, and the democratic institutions that go with global capitalism. [although, someone like Chakrabarty would disagree: individual freedom is not a necessary condition for capitalism as it is for Marx] The Iranian economy under Ahmadinejad will thus remain heavily dependent on oil revenues. Jobs will remain scarce unless A. can transmute the oil revenue into a productive, labor-intensive economy- a critical task that all his predecessors have failed to meet. Chances are that he will not succeed, for he is very much at the mercy of the global economy, which allots Iran only a role as an oil producer […] (235)

The hope for the restitution of that cosmopolitan culture, now compromised by a militant Islamism that has no patience or tolerance for anything it deems un-Islamic, can come from an entirely unexpected corner if we consider the flowering relationship between President Hugo Chaves of Venezuela and his Iranian counterpart….Chaves has a categorical admiration for the Islamic Republic, and sees it as a potential ally across the globe. This admiration can extend beyond a mere transcontinental but vacuous camaraderie, with occasional economic benefits for both, only if Chaves uses his leverage with the Islamic Republic to have it open up its medieval gates to political dissent and institutional changes in its theocracy. The relationship is of course reciprocal- namely, if Chavez fails to raise principled questions with the Islamic Republic and thus help restore the Iranian cosmopolitan political culture, then the theocratic disregard for human rights and the mutation of Iranian cosmopolitan political culture into a clerical tribalism of the worst kind, now definitive to the Islamic Republic, will turn around and corrupt the social democratic aspirations of Chaves.’ (237)

What seems to be exciting about the Iraninan movement now is that it got organized precisely without such a benevolent intervention from the outside, but by the people, across the class lines, themselves. Hopefully, it will have implications beyond the conservative reformism of Mousavi and contribute towards the re-articulation of the cosmopolitanism of Islamic anti-colonial modernity again.

the Opening Counterrealism meeting !

May 21, 2009


It was fun and rigorous, with Dipesh Chakrabarty joining us for a Q n A, which put some issues into focus and rather opened a lot more questions then we had time to discuss.

 One of the most interesting things that came only in retrospect to me was Dipesh mentioning his current work on global warming and the postcolonial perspectives on the issue of environment. I don’t know how it happened that we didn’t ask him to talk more about the exciting prospects of the postcolonial philosophy of science, which to my knowledge (and I still feel quite new to the debate, so let me know of any useful literature) is a rather underdeveloped and not widely discussed topic.

 Because of the pre-analytical ready- to-hand breaking into our everyday present-at-hand of the technology (the mic’s batteries ran out) we recorded only around 10 min of Dipesh talking. So, it seems, we’ll have to rely on the tradition of typing. My and Enrique’s thoughts and reflections are on their way and should be up in some time soon.

Anna suggested we do some other session on Chakrobarty again in June to finalize some points. We could read some of his more recent stuff then!


Political Power and the Kings Magic – Graeber and Lacan

April 21, 2009

short passage ( which expands the point of power’s symbolic base in my previous post)


(Tate Britain, Saturday 19 January, 2008)

by David Graeber
It is the peculiar feature of political life that within it, behavior that could only otherwise be considered insane is perfectly effective. If you managed to convince everyone on earth that you can breathe under water, it won’t make any difference: if you try it, you will still drown. On the other hand, if you could convince everyone in the entire world that you were King of France, then you would actually be the King of France. (In fact, it would probably work just to convince a substantial portion of the French civil service and military.)
This is the essence of politics. Politics is that dimension of social life in which things really do become true if enough people believe them. The problem is that in order to play the game effectively, one can never acknowledge its essence. No king would openly admit he is king just because people think he is. Political power has to be constantly recreated by persuading others to recognize one’s power; to do so, one pretty much invariably has to convince them that one’s power has some basis other than their recognition. That basis may be almost anything—
divine grace, character, genealogy, national destiny. But “make me your leader because if you do, I will be your leader” is not in itself a particularly compelling argument.

In this sense politics is very similar to magic, which in most times and places—as I discovered in Madagascar—is simultaneously recognized as something that works because people believe that it works; but also, that only works because people do not believe it works only because people believe it works. For this why magic, whether in ancient Thessaly or the contemporary Trobriand Islands, always seems to dwell in an uncertain territory somewhere between poetic expression and outright fraud. And of course the same can usually be said of politics”


also the Lacan and the Crazy King thing, from  “Everything Politics is, Chomsky is not”  by Henrik Jøker Bjerre

This is why Lacan famously stated that the madman, who thinks that he is a king, is no crazier than the king, who thinks that he is a king. In as far as the king identifies with his symbolic mandate to such a degree that he doesn’t see that that is all it is, or in other words: in as far as he believes that there is no difference between his position of enunciation and the content of what he is (described as), he is as crazy as the madman. Another Lacanian paraphrase of the cogito could thus be: “I don’t think, therefore I am (the king).”

Ranciere 2 – Preface to the new Hindi translation of ‘Nights of Labour’

April 13, 2009

from hydrarchy.blogspot.com


‘Then I read documents in which this same worker described an entire vision of life, an unusual counter-economy which sought ways to reduce the worker’s consumption of everyday goods so that he would be more independent of the market economy, and better able to fight against it. Through these texts, and many others, I realised that workers had never needed others to explain the secrets of domination to them, and that the problem they faced was having to submit themselves, intellectually and materially, to the forms by which it inscribed itself on their bodies, and imposed upon them gestures, modes of perception, attitudes and language. “Be realistic: demand the impossible!” the protesters cried in 1968. But for these workers in 1830, it was not about demanding the impossible but making it happen themselves: of appropriating the time they did not have, either by spying opportunities in the working day or by giving up their own night of rest to discuss or to write, to compose verses or to work out philosophies These hard-won bonuses of time and liberty were not marginal phenomena, they were not diversions from the building of the worker movement and its great ideals. They were a revolution, discreet but radical nonetheless, and they made those other things possible…..’

‘This is also why I am not afraid that this book will suffer too much from distances of time, place and language. For it does not simply tell the story of the working class of a far-off time and place. It tells a form of experience which is not so far away from our own. Contemporary forms of capitalism, the explosion of the labour market,the new precariousness of labour and the destruction of systems of social solidarity, all create forms of life and experiences of work that are possibly closer to those of these artisans than to the universe of hi-tech workers and the global bourgeoisie given over to the frenetic consumption described by so many contemporary sociologists and philosophers. In our world, just as in theirs, the
challenge is to obstruct and subvert the order of time imposed by a system of domination. To oppose the government of capitalist and state elites and their experts with an intelligence that comes from everyone and anyone…’

anti-NATO protests and the politics of joy

April 10, 2009

The last few days were waterfalls of physical, political and imaginative experience. The debates and practical issues of organization and militancy were fusing organically with hippy, vegan consumerism and playful, symbolic gesticulation. It seems, there is a relatively widespread endorsement of thinking about political engagement generally, in terms of what Michael Hardt called the ‘activism based on joy’ i.e. on collective work instead of the sacrificial commitment to a certain economics of guilt towards the other. The reality of the recent anti-NATO protests, however, seems to show, that such affirmative, positivity could also be a comfortable excuse for the gentrification of the anti-capitalist movememtn and can, if taken crudely, occlude important analysis of the role of the dubious political subjectivities within it.

On the one hand, there was all the solidarity and collective action during the recent anti-NATO days, one of the most exciting things was probably the locals and migrants joining the protests and rioting. People cheered us from all over the place: waving from out of the windows or applauding. The workers at the train depots smiled brightly and raised their fists into the air, while the migrant youth danced around the demonstrators on motorbikes and enthusiastically joined the smashing and burning. At some point little girls ran out on the streets and started jumping on the loan chanting: ‘antifa!’, ‘antifa!’ On Thursday, the rioting in the suburbs sparked by the demo seemed to be hardly controlled by the police. The robocops were running around after migrants shooting at them with tear gas and beating some with their rubber clubs. At one point a window opened and a hand threw a metal teapot or something like this on the head of one of the cops, who was violently handcuffing someone. He got really mad and found nothing better to do than to just shoot his teargas grenade into the window!

On the other hand however, there were certain problems with the concatenation between the population in the area and the activists in the camp. Firstly, none of the farmers or the migrants from the suburbs was to my knowledge, present at the plenums. Talking to them there and then would have been important e.g. the organization of the demonstrations and the blockades etc. True, the organizers of the camp were locals, but it seemed that much of the communication with the rest of the people was done through them and not through some kinds of broader meetings or plenums as part of the regular meeting-program in the camp.

Secondly, despite all the self-affection by much of the black blockers about themselves, they were a problem. The rest of the demonstrators often ran into trouble as they pointlessly escalated the situation with the police starting to shoot tear gas almost indiscriminately. Their seeming obsession with ‘marking of space’, ‘territorial control’ and paranoid quest for ‘security’ as well as for the much beloved ‘spontaneity’ (which meant practically smashing things up like: the post office, pharmacy, cars and bus stops etc as well as the quite legitimately hateful targets e.g. the military barracks, old border control building etc). did at many point brought tension into the relationship with the local population.

The prognosis that one sympathizer at the nettime mailing list recently made about the bb movement, actually corresponds quite well to how many ‘militants’ actually seem to want to see themselves: ‘(…in a tendential hyphothesis) as a potentially emerging …european liberation army of sorts’ (my edits) Seeing such a self-organized militarism on the left, which seeks to ‘liberate the oppressed’, is a cause of concern. It seems, to think that you can smash the state and its structures by simply physically destroying buildings and controlling the space with the help of a ‘liberation army’ is to live in a one dimensional dream-world of military strategists. It’s because the bblockers rarely attended any plenums, didn’t really take part in the collective decision and acted mostly ‘autonomously’, that they often separated themselves from the movement and started to act as a sort of caricatured, headless vanguard party, aparantly, mostly interested in doing actions resembling some kind of street ‘outsider art’.

The creative aspect of bblock’s militancy, which was quite revealing about the movement as a whole. Before going to the demo they had actually erected the ‘barricades’ on the streets leading to the village. To see this amazing piece of ‘autonom’, infantile imagination was utterly fascinating. That construction had no utilitarian function whatsoever. It was art and ‘pure’ art, much better then the john bock/hirschhorn sculptures. To believe that it could really stop the movement of a police van or the robocops one would need to do a rather brave leap of faith, like that they would suddenly want to attack the camp barefoot. The ‘defence’ consisted of: the actual barricade made out of furniture looted from the house near by, with something like a Christian cross in the middle, the quite carefully separated rows of broken glass- presumably imitating the spikes that police uses against the vehicles- and the various metal rods, rather aesthetically arranged. Several Antifa Flags were hung from the houses on either side of the barricades so that one got a rather well balanced composition when one was approaching from the direction of the enemy. Here and there you could see groups of shabby teenagers dressed in black holding sticks or stones. On Saturday, the disused, building of the old border control between France and Germany together with a hotel and a pharmacy were smashed and set ablaze. It produced very familiar, majestic images of apocalyptic rioting and discontent, which made it to the media.

To end these notes, I’ll simply ask these questions.

Does the aesthetization of the political by South Park seems to show capitalist contradictions going mad to the extend, that even fashion trends (bb aesthetics of violence) become capable of mobilizing significant numbers of young people to against it?

Or is it simply, that in the absence of the significant power to prevent yourself from being ‘kettled’ by the police, the only way to resist, in this context, is to resist symbolically, meaning sending signals and images to the Other (the imagined people, workers of the world etc.) who might benevolently Answer if enough agitation is made?

If this is the case, then to what extend does it hollows out politics proper as everything is directed at signalling and demonstrating and not at say broad forms of civil disobedience?

What does it then mean to insist that there be a distinction made within the so called ‘joyous machine’ of protest and insurrection between the ‘politics of joy’, which contains aesthetics as the political and the self-indulgent, militant hedonism, which aesthetisizes politics and directs its seeking eyes towards the Other?


NOTES: Chakrabarty – When and What was Postcolonialism

April 8, 2009

Intro by Archeologist…
The title of his book ‘Provincializing Europe’ is so good that it is
sufficient to just read the title.

I’ll strart with the ‘When’ of the question, then move onto the What, and
hopefully there isnt’t enough time left for me to discuss the controversial
‘was’ of the title.

$B”# A good historian messes up Periodization & Chronology

●Anti-Colonialism and Decolonization movements of the post WWII were stuck
in a binary, what Bhabha called Difference without Hybridity. This was the
Pan-Africanism period, where ‘race’ played such a crucial part, in for
example the writings coming out of the Carribean
●Postcolonialism – emerged as a critique to make liberal-capitalism (or in
todays terms Globalisation) more democratic, include the hitherto excluded
and marginalized subjects,
●Latin American post-colonial theorist (Mignolo) have raised important
questions, such as what are the implications, that countries in Latin
America gained independence in the early 19th century, for seeing
postcolonialism as part of recent globalisation narratives.

Ill start with the Asia and Afrika Conference of 1955, or what is called
Bandung Conference.
●Richard Wright, African American Author who attended the confernce, wrote
that the “elites are more Western than the West”, partly because they took
European idealism to literally.
●The conference managed to create a “shared anti-imperialism” even though an
“alliance” was spurious. China was not allowed to join until the last
minute, and lots of countries were rather por-American.
●The desire to catch-up. The Engineer emerged as the eroticized image of
developmentalism. The new national hero and symbol.
●Leaders, Sukarno, Naseer, Nyere, Nehru, were all Pedagogical rather than
Dialogical, but I dont have time now to pursue this distinction.

The Nation

●During colonialism , the nation was made through street mobs, through
songs, rituals and poetry (except for collaborator-buerocrats in the British
Empire). After Independence, the nation became administrative and
●After Charisma – After the death of leadership figures was dissilussionment
●In the 60s, the elite emigration, “brain drain”, signal of disillusionment
with the State
●Working-Class Migrations existed since the 19th century, but
Post-Colonialism impossible without the “chattering classes”, a
●=> Emergence of Post-colonialism
●The circulation of anti-imperialism: For example how the figure of Ghandi
travelled, in USA in the 60s and during Anti-Apartheid struggle.

Post-Colonialism emerges
●Why was Vietnam rather Kurdistan the focus of international solidarity.
Because Kurdistan was a national issue.
●Issac Julian (made film on Fanon), with Stuart Hall and Homi Bhabha in the
70s, organized a Conference on Fanon
●Also this was when writings of someone like Charles Taylor were emerging
around the issue of recognition. Its not co-incidental.
●Stuart Hall, at the Birmingham Cultural Studies, emerged 1st as a critique
of E.P. Thomposon & the History Workshop Journal

Recognization of Post-colonialism
●Anti-essentialist (not “white & black”)
●Suspicion – That the Man of the Universal is “white” (Fanon)
●The Man of the Universal does not know how to deal with difference
●Post-cololianlist went to look in the colonial archives, and developed a
critique of sameness (the sammeness of the catch-up impulse of
●But writings were no only about asserting difference
●Differences as Real, but not stable enough to stabilize into Disciplines
●((How to reproduce market functions, without its institutions))
●Theorized difference, after post-structuralist thinkers- Derrida, Irigaray,
for example Bhabha in his concept of mimicry
●=> But this doesnt mean that Post-colonialism is simply indebted to
European Thought, as critics such as Arif Dirlik like to point out.
●The alternative i’m proposing is that Post-colonialism is more influenced
by anti-colonialism.

Q: What is Dialogical you mentioned?
●What I meant by Dialogical in terms of Pedagogical. Dialogical is basically
without imperialism. e.g. Enligh becomes Kreole through appropiation
●Quote from Cesaire “I am not a prisoner of French Language, Language is
arbitrary, I use the language to express my ideas” vs. Language of Empire as
Imperialism – Anticipates Debates on Globalization
● Leopolod Senghor vs. Hardt and Negri. For Senghor man is incarnate, always
already, positioned. Hardt and Negri use words like “placelessness and
nomadic” and emphasize the free movement of people

Q: What about the WAS of your title, is post-colonialism over?
The WAS of my Title (hope ive answered the when and what)
● Latin American Post-colonialism is based on the Renaissance (e.g. Octavio
●Indian Post-coloanilism is more based on the Enlightenment
●West Remains Post-colonial. As Etienne Balibar has tried to address –
“Question of cultural and historical difference and how to respond”
theoretically. e.g. The police in Paris riots 2005 was a colonial police

●Fanons gesture of Double-Conscioussness in 1961, where he says Marxism is
indispensable, but simultaneuolsy reaffirms that we need to scrap Marxist

Q: You haven’t mentioned Said
● Said, mh, he was quite different from people like Spivak and Bhabha. First
he signals that he’s influenced by French post-structuralism, by mentioning
Michel Foucault, but he does not remain very loyal to Foucaults notion of
“Discourse”. Also he does not intersect this with “Difference”. This is the
opposite of Bhabha. Also Said, who was older than Bhabha and Spivak, often
looked down upon them, seeing them as the children, dabbling with French

● There is a difference between post-colonialism done in history Departments
and in Literary Departments. In the first, theres the need for specifictiy
and context. Also theres the underlying idea that Language does not mediate
the past, the task of the historian is to represent the past. The Literature
branch of post-colonialism centeres upon the ‘singularity in poetry’. They
see language as the event. The play with Language and do all sorts of
wonderfull things with it. This is not accepted at History Departments, for
the better, since my prose is only capable of being that of the Historian

● In the 70s USA – Identitiy Politics
UK – anti-rascism and activism (Fanon big in France)
● Post-colonialism came from the left, but now moving to the right,
possibly… The 80s was the Right moving into the White House, and the Left
moving into English Departments
●My friend Sandro Mezzadra has been writing about Post-colonialism and

Q: On Palestine, and whether it is a colonized place.
A: Post-colonialism can be 2 things. One a metaphoric level, so to say,
which links different countries in History, Palestine can be said to be
colonized, thereby tracing some continuity with past expriences of
colonialism. But Post-Colonialism is also much more specific, in its
configuration as emerging in the 70s from an expirience of the British
Empire. Here context is more important.

Q: About Marxism, Post-colonialism an effect of economics of colonialism.
● If we relinquish Universality it leads to political paralysis, the
breaking down…black feminisits, 3rd world feminists… Leads to a politics
of Suspicion. This did not produce a poltics of dialogue
● vs. Zizek though, who thinks the Universal is only European
●Marxist Historiography failed in India, because it did not realize what
kind of politics caste gave rise to
● You can have difference, without having to essentialize it
● The Historian Ginzburg argue against expirience, such as Biographies, this
was challenged by feminsits in the 70s.
● Now the recent bestseller the US, is called “The trouble with diversity”,
which moves from a discussion from race to class.
● Intellectual Tradition, comes alive, when you debate as if they were
alive. Marx is still relevant, not consigned, or contained within the 19th
century context. Marxism needs to be renewed from & for the margins. Marxism
might be exhausted, but it is not invalidated
● Transfer- My intellectual trajectory as combination, for a non-eurocentric
Universalism, that is how to recombine, re-engage in contemporary
intellectual deadlock

In progress

March 10, 2009