Monday, December 19, 2005

Open society (warning: "subversive" content follows!)

I was just forwarded this article about an undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. Apparently, agents from the US Department of Homeland Security paid him a visit, after he had checked out a copy of Mao's "Little Red Book" through the library's inter-library loan service. Ironically, the student had requested the book so that he could write a paper about the dangers of totalitarianism.

Though I've been aware of US librarians' efforts to safeguard patrons' borrowing information, I hadn't caught wind of the fact that some, clearly, aren't doing so. I'm chilled further by the fact that this occurred through a university library's borrowing program. I happen to work at a university, and I suspect many of you reading D&R do, too.

I read the aforementioned article with a sense that things have changed here in the US--particularly since the coming online of the USA Patriot Act (a painfully laughable name for such a pernicious piece of legislation). It's clear that there's a growing climate of fear here among intellectuals, and no doubt others, too. Yet, I am forced to remind myself how intellectuals have been persecuted for decades, even centuries, around the world for just these kinds of activities, often by more than just a "visit" by local security agents. I also am compelled to reflect on the fact that I came of age at a relatively safe, and thus privileged, time in the US academy, when nobody seemed to care if you checked out a copy of Mao's "Little Red Book," Marx and Engels' "Communist Manifesto," or some other politically charged ("unpatriotic") piece of writing.

I suppose, ultimately, the article I've linked to is very clarifying. It underscores the stakes of doing meaningful, engaged intellectual work at a time when it's unpopular (from the government's standpoint) to dissent. Visits by homeland security for checking out Mao's "Little Red Book?" Those clearly must stop--and the climate of fear and intimidation that goes along with them.

P.S. If you decide to comment, watch what you say. "They" may be reading, too. . . .

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

On beyond Deleuze & Guattari, redux

My November 27th entry, "On beyond Deleuze & Guattari," concerned the dynamic duo and various practices by which to engage their philosophical work. It turns out that Jonathan Sterne picked this piece up on his Blog, "Super Bon!" and extended the discussion into a broader--and very smart--engagement with theory. Check it out.

Jonathan makes several good points, but at least two are worth mentioning within the context of my foregoing discussion. First, he adds a category to my framework, which he calls "commentary." A lot of what passes for "theory," he notes, amounts to little more than one's flatly discussing the theoretical work of others. Second, he notes that what I (ahem, dismissively) refer to as "rhizome spotting" indeed can be an important step in building and extending one's own theoretical work, as in the case of Paul Gilroy's parlaying the notion of a rhizome into a compelling formulation of countermodernity and the Black Atlantic. I couldn't agree more--and thanks, Jonathan, for helping me to fine tune what was, admittedly, a cursory set of musings on philosophy and the politics of doing theory.

On an unrelated note, it's finals time here and the you-know-what's hitting the fan. My posts, as a result, may be fewer and farther between for awhile.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I don't know why-pod

Okay, I'll admit that (a) I'm privileged enough to own an Apple iPod and (b) that I enjoy using it a great deal. I'll also say that I have one of the earlier-generation models--not one of the newer, fancier ones with colors, video screens, and gargantuan hard drives, but a more modest one with room enough for a modest music collection.

I'm intrigued--and disturbed--by Apple's recent decision to start selling television programs for use on iPods for US$1.99. I suppose the price is cheap enough if you have a video-capable iPod, and, besides, it's nice to have an opportunity to view a favorite show on demand. But in my more Orwellian moments, I have this vision of already expensive pay-for television getting even more expensive. I currently pay about US$50/month for basic cable television services. Now imagine a world in which typical television services (off-air, cable, and satellite) have been replaced by subscriptions to iPod/iTunes-distributed TV. Figuring that a typical TV program in the U.S. runs about 22 episodes per season, that would mean an annual subscription to any given program would set you back about US$44 (assuming no subscriber discounts, which would result in commercials getting spliced back into the programs). That's almost the cost of my monthly cable bill, and that's just for the right to download a single season of a single program.

Apple's decision to distribute TV programming through its iPod/iTunes service is genius--in that devilish, capitalist kind of way. Assuming the service catches on, the potential economic windfall for both the TV producers and for Apple could be astonishing. Of course, their astonishing revenue stream very well could mean emptier pockets for those of us on the receiving end of things.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Cap codes...?

A student in my graduate seminar wants to write a paper on cap codes. What's a cap code, you ask? Well, that's the problem. Very few people seem to be talking about them, at least publicly. Here's a link to a short entry on cap codes on Wikipedia.

Apparently cap codes are small, unique, visible sets of symbols that the Hollywood movie studios now encode onto film prints. They're sort of like the flashes that used to indicate upcoming reel changes to projectionists. In this case, however, the codes identify which cinema a specific print has been sent to. The point of cap coding is to forestall movie piracy--or, at the very least, to help the studios identify which exhibition hall is responsible for letting an illicit duplicate leave the theather and thus to track down alleged "pirates."

My student tells me that the phenomenon of cap coding is fairly widespread, but most everyone involved--the theaters, the trade magazines, the studios, etc.--are pretty hush-hush about the practice. Anyone out there know anything about this or have any leads? Conspiracy theorists are, of course, welcome to chime in, too.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Naturalism in Lefebvre

If it's not abundantly clear by now, I'm a big admirer of Henri Lefebvre, particularly his writings on everyday life. Obviously, I'm also taken by his understanding of the relationship of everyday life and repetition, or better yet the relationship of everyday life and two forms of repetition: a deadened repetition of the Same and a more open, vital form of repetition in which the act of repeating holds forth possibilities for creation, improvisation, and change.

I'm struggling, though, with the scant examples he gives of the latter form of repetition. My favorite, which I quoted in my entry, "Why do I write?" concerns the sense of promise and wonderment one might receive from watching the sun rise. This example speaks, I think, to a persistent naturalism in Lefebvre, as though the kind of repetition to which we ought to be striving is a cosmic one that's intimately connected with the heavens and the earth. I wonder if that kind of "return," for lack of a better word, is tenable in (post-)industrial societies? Is there, perhaps, a less naturalistic form of repetition that also might open pathways for change?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

On beyond Deleuze & Guattari

In conjunction with the students in my graduate seminar, and in conversation with my fellow NCA panelists (see my post on Nov. 21, 2005, below), I've been wondering lately what it would mean to take up the writings of Deleuze & Guattari. As far as I can tell, there are or have been five principal modes of engaging their work:

(1) What I like to call, "rhizome spotting." Here, the analyst tries to find evidence of Deleuzoguattarian concepts at work in the world.

(2) Applications. In this case, the analyst takes up one or more Deleuzoguattarian concepts and "applies" them to an empirical object.

(3) Operationalizing/extending Deleuze & Guattari's work. A lot of interesting work operates at this level. Here, the analyst engages the work of Deleuze and Guattari and makes their work resonate with one or more empirical objects. Often this results in some kind of extension or elaboration of Deleuzoguattarian thought.

(4) Reading what Deleuze and Guattari have read and extending their work therefrom. My sense is that Brian Massumi and Greg Seigworth tend to engage in this kind of practice, as in, for example, where Seigworth reads Freud's early texts for evidence of the ways in which he sublimated affect.

(5) Implicit dialogue. I'm most tentative about this category, but I've long felt that people like Giorgio Agamben and Jean-Luc Nancy take up Deleuzoguattarian ideas without mentioning D+G's work explicitly. For example, both Agamben's "The Coming Community" and Nancy's "The Inoperative Community" seem to be responses of sorts to the Deleuzoguattarian insight, "the people are missing."

Obviously these aren't neat and tidy categories, and some very well may disagree with my categorizations or the way in which I've identified the work of specific authors relative to that of D+G. It also should be clear that there's something of a hierarchy here, and that I do not believe that the first few modes of engagement are particularly Deleuzoguattarian--at least in any interesting way. I'd be curious to hear how others feel about this schema.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy (US) Thanksgiving

Though I'm not a vegetarian, I thought, given the US Thanksgiving Holiday, that linking to the Meatrix might be appropriate. Check it out.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Coming soon

I just updated my website with this information, but I figured it would be worthwhile to post the information to D&R as well. Kembrew McLeod, a colleague at the University of Iowa, and I are editing a special issue of the journal "Cultural Studies" on the politics of intellectual properties. It should be coming out either in February or April, 2006, assuming all goes well on the production-end of things. In the meantime, here's the table of contents. It's a fantastic issue.

(1) Ted Striphas & Kembrew McLeod, “Introduction—Strategic Improprieties: Cultural Studies, the Everyday, and Intellectual Property Law"

(2) Adrian Johns, "Intellectual Property and the Nature of Science"

(3) McKenzie Wark, "Information Wants to be Free (But is Everywhere in Chains)"

(4) Andrew Herman, Rosemary J. Coombe, & Lewis Kaye, "Your Second Life? Goodwill and the Performativity of Intellectual Properties in On-Line Games"

(5) Steve Jones, "Reality© and Virtual Reality©: When Virtual and Real Worlds Collide"

(6) Jane Gaines, "Early Cinema, Heyday of Copying: The Too Many Copies of L'’arroseur arose"

(7) Gilbert B. Rodman & Cheyanne Vanderdonckt, "Music for Nothing or, I Want My MP3: The Regulation and Recirculation of Affect"

(8) David Sanjek, "Ridiculing the 'White Bread Original': The Politics of Parody and Preservation of Greatness in Luther Campbell a.k.a. Luke Skyywalker et al. v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc."

(9) Eva Hemmungs Wirten, “Out of Sight and Out of Mind: On the Cultural Hegemony of Intellectual Property (Critique)"

(10) Siva Vaidhyanathan, “Afterword—Critical Information Studies: A Bibliographic Manifesto”

Monday, November 21, 2005

"Media effects without cause & effect"

I just returned from the National Communication Association's (US) annual convention in Boston, Massachusetts. It consisted, as usual, of a wide range of work; most of it was uninteresting, though a few papers and sessions stood out. One panel to which I contributed was called, "Communication in a Deleuze-Guattarian Framework: Image-Event, Deterritorialization, Difference, Assemblage." My piece, "Difference & Repetition in Harry Potter," was on the popular book series' relationship to philosophy and intellectual property law, and is a much-distilled fragment of a chapter I'm working on for my book on book culture, "Equipment for Living." I was joined by co-panelists Gordon Coonfield (Villanova U), session organizer (thank you!) Mehdi Semati (Eastern Illinois U), Greg Wise (Arizona State U-West), and respondent Greg Seigworth (Millersville U).

I have a couple of things to say: first, our session was programmed opposite of Ernesto Laclau talking about Lacan, which meant that a lot of our potential audience (understandably) got siphoned off. On top of that, though, our session was located literally in the hinterlands of one of the conference hotels: at the very end of a long, dark, circuitous hallway near an emergency exit. Perhaps that tells us something about the discipline of communication's relationship to Deleuzoguattarian thought. Sigh.

I enjoyed my co-panelists' presentations immensely, and I'm especially taken with Greg Wise's suggestion that media researchers begin writing about media effects absent the language of cause and effect. I'm not sure what that means, exactly, but it's a provocative idea that I look forward to trying on. Perhaps others of you have thought through this idea a bit and would care to chime in as well.

Monday, November 14, 2005

REQUIRED reading

You may be wondering why I keep mentioning books by Deleuze, Guattari, and by those who've been inspired by their work. Partly this has to do with the ambit of "Differences & Repetitions." I'm also teaching a class this term called "The Problem of the Media in Deleuze & Guattari" (see my webpage under "teaching" for a more complete description), so these texts are very much on my mind. I can't help but think--and think publicly--about them.

I have to say, other than the primary works we've been reading, Brian Massumi's "Parables for the Virtual" easily is the most provocative book I've encountered in the class this term. The book's just too imaginative and broad-ranging for me to provide an adequate summary of it here. Suffice it to say that it's just one of only a handful of works that does more than "spot" Deleuzoguattarian concepts in action. In fact, what's marvelous about the book is the way in which it generates concepts all its own, building on, but moving away from, the work of D+G. This I take to be one of the primary injunctions of a deleuzoguattarian critical practice--to draw a line of flight away from their work. The other thing I'll say is how ecumenical and respectful the work is. In chapter two, for instance, Massumi really *listens* to the autobiography of Ronald Reagan, and from it he extracts concepts that would help to explain the devastating success of Reaganism. Most critics simply would dismiss the book as the meandering recollections of an aging B-grade actor.

I'm moved by a lot of what I read, but there's very little that compels me in the way that this book has. It ought to be absolutely, positively required reading for anyone at work in the humanities--or, for that matter, for anyone who wants to imagine (and enact) the possibility of more ethical ways of life.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Will the future unfold?

I'm bothered. I'm bothered because more people aren't talking about this book.

I'll put my cards on the table: Lawrence Grossberg was (and always will be) my teacher, my mentor. But that's not why I'm disturbed about the generally quiet reception of his important new book, "Caught in the Crossfire: Kids, Politics, and America's Future" (Paradigm Publishers, 2005). What's even more troubling is the minimal amount of attention that his argument seems to be receiving within the culture at large. The growing crackdown on kids--criminalizing, marginalizing, and otherwise mistreating them--is no more and no less than an attack on the future, Grossberg argues, an attack on "American modernity" itself. If we take seriously what Lefebvre says in the quotation atop this blog, then we should be fearful of the implications of America's war on kids. What would it mean to foreclose on the very possibility of the future, to fold it up so tightly that we no longer can find it amid all the twists, turns, pleats, knots, and layers?

Read this book, promote it, review it (not just in academic journals), and do what you can to engage its empirical and theoretical findings. It would be a cliche (is that so wrong?) to say, "do it for the children." If cliches don't get you going, then why not do it for the future?

P.S. Hey, Paradigm Publishers! Why not activate's "search inside" features for "Caught in the Crossfire," so that people can browse the text online?

Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween!

It's funny--I find myself returning to "The Battle for Christmas" (see my post on 9/18, "Tisn't quite the season, but..."), even though it's Halloween. Maybe I'm just unseasonable. But what strikes me about the book's significance to this day--all Hallows Eve--is the remarkable similarity that Halloween used to share with the Christmas holiday. In the 18th and 19th centuries, working class people customarily invaded the homes of elites on or about December 25th, sometimes in costume, demanding sweets and other confections. A failure to produce the goods often resulted in interminable drunken singing, mischief, and even acts of outright vandalism. Christmas was a temporary, carnivalesque reversal of the established social order, the class dynamics of which have been transposed onto the act of children knocking at our doors demanding candy. And in that respect, though I love Halloween, it's hard not to be a little cynical about it. The cutting, critical-edge of many of our most cherished holidays has been blunted by a loss of the historicity of our ways of celebrating (or repeating) them.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Of interest

My good friend Greg Seigworth, who teaches at Millersville and is one of the leading scholars at work on developing a Deleuzoguattarian cultural studies, wrote to me today to let me know about two things. First, he's been reading Differences & Repetitions (thank you!), and second, he sent me a list of some other blogs that might be of interest to D & R readers. Here they are, courtesy of Greg:

Steve Shaviro's Pinochhio Theory

Glen Fuller's auto shop (though it has a different name now)

Jon Beasley-Murray's post-hegemony

Spurious (no idea who this is, but fantastic writing on 'everyday life')

Jodi Dean's I Cite

and Michael Berube's:


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Why do I write?

This question has been vexing me for some time now, in part because it requires me to define something of a purpose for "Differences and Repetitions." I remember struggling with this question when, while setting up this blog, I was prompted to make a short statement on what it was about. I substituted instead a quotation on everyday life from the French Marxist Henri Lefebvre. You can see it right now, near the top of the page.

I realize, however, that I have been grappling with the question, "why do I write?" all along, albeit indirectly. The title "Differences and Repetitions" (which I draw from the work of the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze) and the Lefebvre quotation together define the ambit of this blog. Broadly, I am concerned with the notion of everyday life as both a theoretical category and as a terrain where people live out their lives in complex, modern societies. I am further interested by the two ways in which everyday life can repeat. "Everyday" often refers to what is most prosaic, ordinary, humdrum, and cliched, and indeed these qualities speak to the first way in which everyday life repeats...unwaveringly, incessantly. And yet, as Lefebvre and Catherine Regulier once wrote (in a line I habitually repeat), "there is always something miraculously charming about the rising of the sun"--this despite, or perhaps because of, its occurring every single day. There is, in other words, a sense in which the very repetitiveness of the everyday holds open the possibility for difference, innovation, creativity, wonder, and change. "Differences and Repetitions" is dedicated to exploring this tension intrinsic to everyday life, and I invite others to join me in doing so.

Apropos, to those of you who may be reading, please chime in once and awhile! I've received a few emails and have spoken with some of you about my posts, but I'd prefer if that were all aired publicly rather than in private correspondence. With that said, I want to thank Josh, Todd, Bob, Jonathan, and Kembrew for being my interlocutors and for promoting "Differences and Repetitions." With any luck "D&R" will keep on repeating, differently.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Don't let the sun go down on me...

I just returned from trip to Syracuse, NY, where I had the good fortune of hearing historian James Loewen speak about his new book, "Sundown Towns." In a word, it's fascinating. Loewen documents how the South effectively won the US Civil War (a.k.a., "The War Between the States"), given the propagation of racist ideologies and practices nationwide thereafter. He looks specifically at the flourishing of what he calls "sundown towns," that is, of towns that implemented both implicit and explicit policies to exclude people of color (and sometimes Jewish people, too) from living in their communities. And lest you think this practice was uncommon in the North, think again. Loewen spends a great deal of time documenting more than 400 such towns in Illinois alone (a blue state, no less), and he estimates that as many as 10,000 of them have existed in the US as a whole. Frighteningly, I happen to live about 1/2 hour from one, and to this day the folklore (which seems to be all too true) says that people of color shouldn't stop there after dark. How far, indeed, have we come?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Surrealism & the everyday

Lately I feel like I'm living in a surrealist painting.

The last time I felt like this I was in graduate school, after Hurricane Fran landed full-force on Chapel Hill, NC in autumn 1996. Almost everything stopped, and what little that moved moved very, very slowly. Many roads were flooded, obstructed by trees, or they were impassable for other reasons having to do with the storm. Power was out everywhere for days, as was the TV. Most of the grocery stores were closed, at least for awhile, and because of the power outages their inventory quickly turned rancid. The water was untrustworthy for a time. In short, everyday life downshifted abruptly. There were fits, starts, and jerks; everything--everything--seemed out of sorts.

I'm fortunate not to live on the US Gulf Coast right now, though the images I see and the reports I hear take me back to my time in Chapel Hill--only far worse. The main effects many of us living outside the region feel (other than a continued loss of faith in our government's ability to act and a profound sorrow for those who've lost everything) is the rising price of gas. Rumor has it that it may reach $4/gallon. That, of course, is a deeply everyday concern, given how much petroleum makes the economy--indeed, everyday life itself--go. Everyone living in the US has been touched to greater and lesser degrees by the recent maelstroms.

Lefebvre once said that a breakdown in everyday life's usual routines is precisely that which precipitates fundamental change. Are we indeed living through just such a time? If so, who will direct the change, and to what ends?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Of the cliche

I finished reading Deleuze's "Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation" a few weeks ago. In it, he talks about artistic production as a process, in the case of painting, of ridding one's canvas of cliches. I'm both intrigued and vexed by this argument. On the one hand, it sounds perfectly sensible. Isn't the inventional process of art precisely that--invention--or the artist's more or less deliberate effort to dissociate her or himself from the familiar or cookie-cut? On the other hand, I'm persuaded by the work of Henri Lefebvre, who sees the mundane, the ordinary, the banal, the everyday--the cliched--as precisely the source of the extraordinary within the ordinary. Art or originality, for Lefebvre, consists of repeating the same thing all over again, differently. I wonder, then, if art isn't a process of painting (writing, sculpting, building, etc.) over cliches as much as it is a process of repeating the cliche in a new or novel way. Deleuze's book on Bacon very well may be a case in point. Deleuze sees Bacon as someone who has, in effect, unpainted the generic form of the portrait. But isn't Bacon still, at some level, a portraitist? Perhaps rather than unpainting the portrait, he's repainted the form in a fundamentally new way. The cliche is, I believe, more our friend than Deleuze would care to think it is.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"Socialism for the rich"

What follows is a brief excerpt from an address Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. gave on September 10th, 2005 at the National Sierra Club Summit in San Francisco, CA. It's a compelling and provocative look at contemporary life in the US and the "infrastructural" role the environment plays therein. The transcript is long but worth reading. I cannot recall the last time that I encountered such a savvy, informed, and well-reasoned account of why *everyone* should fight to preserve the environment.

"[T]his is an administration that represents itself as the White House of values, but every value that they claim to represent is just a hollow facade, that marks the one value that they really consider worth fighting for, which is corporate profit-taking. They say that they like free markets, but they despise free-market capitalism.

What they like, if you look at their feet rather than their clever, clever mouths, what they really like is corporate welfare and capitalism for the poor, but socialism for the rich. They say that they like private property, but they don't like private property except when it's the right of a polluter to use his private property to destroy his neighbor's property and to destroy the public property...."

You can read the complete text of the transcript at:

Sunday, September 18, 2005

'Tisn't quite the season, but...

I'm in the process of reading Stephen Nissenbaum's book "The Battle for Christmas." Actually, I've been reading it on and off since last Christmas, though my episodic reading shouldn't be taken as an indictment of its quality. It is, rather, the kind of book that's so richly detailed, textured, and layered that you can read it in one pass or in bits and pieces and benefit either way. More than anything, what's striking about "Battle" is the way in which Nissenbaum reads the 18th and 19th centuries through changes in the Christmas holiday. It's as much a history of those centuries, then, and of the dramatic political-economic and social transformations that took place, as it is a history of Christmas per se. His reading of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is exemplary in this regard, and perhaps the most astute interpretation of the story I've encountered. I may use Nissenbaum's book next time around in my graduate seminar on the theory and history of mass culture in the US. By all means, check it out. It's a lively read and fiercely smart--and did I mention that it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Poisoning the dispossessed

The US Environmental Protection Agency has overhauled its guidelines on pesticide testing making them, in effect, more industry-friendly. Although the agency "regard[s] as unethical and would never conduct, support, require or approve any study involving intentional exposure of pregnant women, infants or children to a pesticide," the new guidelines stipulate several notable exceptions including:

(1) The testing of "abused or neglected" children without permission from parents or guardians.

(2) "Ethically deficient" human research if it is considered crucial to "protect public health."

(3) More than minimal health risk to a subject if there is a "direct benefit" to the child being tested, and the parents or guardians agree.

(4) EPA acceptance of overseas industry studies, which are often performed in countries that have minimal or no ethical standards for testing, as long as the tests are not done directly for the EPA.

Has the EPA forgotten the shame of Tuskegee?

(This post is adapted from an Andrew Schneider article in The National Sun and an email circulated by the Sierra Club.)