tirado/thrown


Bidding the Summer Farewell: Revisiting Some of Its Finer Reads

Link dumps occupy an odd place in the blogging universe, and are to be treated alternately with curiosity, suspicion, and a modicum of heightened alertness.   For one, they are points of reference that fully haven’t been taken in by the poster of said links.  Had the person posting the link truly made the works they reference his/her own, then the poster could just as well dispense with the reference altogether and have the reference return as some artifact or remnant within another work the poster provides (preferably with a link if it’s online).

As with practically everything that is done here at tirado/thrown, the bullet points that follow are not meatballs, but barbecue: charred, gristly, messy, and nearly-indigestible.  However, as a way to look back at the summer that will have just passed on September 22, here are some links to short pieces to that helped make it worthwhile:

  • Boston’s master of experience, James Parker, dwells in the marrow of the MBTA’s scorned jewel, the Orange Line.  Incidentally, the line passes through our beloved Jamaica Plain, where tirado/thrown calls home. [Boston Globe]
  • Though tangled in the throes of a post-racial America (whatever that means), the term “Racism” has some words to offer the kind folks at We Are Respectable Negroes on its use and abuse.  [W.A.R.N]
  • Theory spares us from disasters:  A brilliant interview with Sylvere Lotringer, co-founder of that most abrasive and alluring of publishers, semiotext(e)  .  He speaks with Nina Power on art, the academy, thought, and theory’s ongoing relevance.  [frieze]
  • Our favorite blogs are the ones we are entirely jealous of when we come across them, leaving us wishing that this blog were only as good.  Planomenology is in fact one of those blogs that belong in the class ‘aspirational peers’. The posts can be lenghty at parts, but there’s some visceral and fascinating stuff going on there- not to be missed.  [Planomenology]
  • Another philosophy blog worth paying attention to:  The Inhumanities launches with a discussion of Matthew Callarco’s book, Zoographies, which is sitting on the shelf waiting to be read.  We wish we were better readers, as much as we value our idleness.  However, work towards an articulation of being that includes the world of animals and tilts its spears towards unseating anthropocentrism as a philosophical paradigm is an admirable and necessary task. [Inhumanities]
  • Having just mentioned in passing an outstanding blog with vegan links, we continue with a nod to our ethical impotence.   The New York Times discusses the Sonorense, the Chicano/Mexican contribution to the American hot dog landscape. How could something so wrong just be so good?  For our money, though, Daniel Hernandez’s LA Weekly piece on danger dogs from early 2008 remains the best treatment on the bacon-wrapped hot dog thus far. [NYT]
  • Over at Buddyhead (when was the last we read that???), Chris Checkman offers readers a passionate, bile-laced appraisal of James Carr, whose rendition of “Dark End of the Street” lets us know the Flying Burrito Brothers could conjure up the soul, but not like Carr.  Checkman (aka Papa John, the former host of KXLUs infamous Blues Hotel) should be read with Carr’s music playing loud.  Conveniently, the article has samples of Carr’s output to allow readers just that pleasure. [Buddyhead]
  • Our closer: What if Fantasy Island were actually set on Beirut’s Riviera instead of some tropical island?  We think that visitors would have been welcomed with the sounds in video Filastine Frequencies posted at his blog. There he invites us to imagine a Middle East not besmirched by crackpots, fanatics, and imperialists alike, and witness hybridity at its finest.  The video for the Bendaly Family’s “Do You Love Me?” also leads this post.  [Filastine Frequencies, with a big nod to WayneandWax]


Porcine Biopolitics
May 18, 2009, 10:10 pm
Filed under: Mexico, Philosophy, Politics | Tags: , , , , , ,

The recent eruption of swine flu that ignited in Mexico has provoked a massive global response on the part of governments. In turn, it has prompted reflection here at tirado/thrown on biopolitics. The surrepetituiously unfolding events afforded an object lesson in how biopolitics, state power, government, and everyday life intersect. The phenomenon’s global scale makes this is an interesting case to examine how the administration of biopower effects social and political life.

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Governments and public health ministries the world over are mobilizing at a frenzied clip. Mexico, Spain, the United States, New Zealand, Germany, China were at the vanguard of a growing list. At least in Mexico, the epidemiological situation was (and remains to be) treated as a state of exception. There, President Felipe Calderon issued a decree giving government expanded powers defined only by a vague reference to the epidemiological emergency. Surrounded by relativlely anodyne general public health policy directives, the decree’s second article grants the government powers to:

  • isolate and limit the movements and activities of infected people,
  • inspect passengers who “may be viral carriers”,
  • enter “all type of place or dwelling house for the fulfillment of activities directed to controlling and combatting the epidemic”,
  • regulate maritime, air, and ground transport, as well as giving government free use the means of transport and exchange, including, roads, telecommunications, and the mail.

Moreover, the terms of the decree are indefinite. The decree offers no criteria for defining what resolves the crisis other than a tautological one. That is, only the government could declare the crisis resolved, without stating (or even having to state) what a return to a non-exceptional situation would entail.

Legal scholar John Ackerman of Mexico City’s Universidad Autonoma Nacional de Mexico (UNAM) has already pointed out how the government of Felipe Calderon is resorting to the state of exception as an unconstitutional means to strengthen his grip on power and to extend his capacity to declare a state of emergency without legislative consent. Ackerman writes that “[Calderon’s] response to the flu epidemic only exacerbates” the “authoritarian tendencies” he has shown in Mexico’s current campaign against the narcotics cartels.**

In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security (which controls immigration and customs agencies), the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been at the forefront of the American response to the outbreaks, highlighting the biopolitical nexus between governmental power, national security, and public health. As of yet, no generalized state of emergency in the United States has been invoked for the government’s assumption of extraordinary powers.

In Mexico City, Daniel Hernandez notes how the drastic, seemingly sudden change in conditions has activated a generalized state of fear and suspicion that he describes thus:

…the fear is changing our lives in dramatic ways.

Mexico City prides itself on holding strongly to its social customs, despite the arrival of American-style Wal-Marts and Starbucks. But suddenly, Mass was canceled. Soccer matches were played to empty stadiums. Suddenly, the bars and clubs shut down. And suddenly, that warm customary greeting of a handshake and a kiss on the check was replaced with a friendly yet uneasy nod.

A culture built on physical contact has become a culture muted by fear, by suspicion, a distrust of others and even ourselves.

What has changed, and we will wait to find out how permanently, are the gestures which are our unmarketable political currency bearing the truth of our lives together. In their being gagged, arrested, and halted, we also notice how now (temporarily) absent gestures shaped a form of life, politics is now suspended by decree.

Just as interesting, and perhaps no less coincidental in this case, has been the general public response to the outbreak: the donning of surgical masks. While not an unusual device to use when airborne pathogens proliferate, the surgical masks’ rapid and widespread use alongside the state’s alacrity in regulating life on a mass scale for public safety gives an occasion to reflect on the ties binding a sovereign authority to the citizens it subjects to its power.

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Masks render faces opaque and impenetrable. The swatches of sterile fabric covering the nose and mouth make expressions more inscrutable, more difficult to decode. They also inhibit the act of communication. Fear and distrust are further heightened by ambiguously peering eyes that show the absence of otherwise more full and radiant expressions. The masquerade seems to make our presence to each all the more obscure. In the manner of a photographic negative or an x-ray, the masks illuminate the how the faces they cover are the locus of the truth of ourselves. Giorgio Agamben notes in Means Without End,

Language…transforms nature into face… The face is at once the irreparable being-exposed of humans and the very opening in which they hide and stay hidden. The face is the only location of community, the only possible city. And that is because that which in single individuals opens up to the political is the tragicomedy of truth, in which they always already fall and out of which they have to find a way…

We may call tragicomedy of appearance the fact that the face uncovers only and precisely inasmuch as it hides, and hides to the extent to which it uncovers… Precisely because the face is solely the location of truth, it is also and immediately the location of simulation and of an irreducible impropriety. This does not mean, however, that appearance dissimulates what it uncovers by making it look lke what in reality it is not: rather, what human beings truly are is nothing other than this dissimuliation and this disquietude within the appearance…

State power today is no longer grounded on the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence…rather it is founded above all on the control of appearance (of doxa).

The state’s issuing of masks to cover faces becomes, then, an accidental, though no less important, metaphor for the glory of state’s reign: the de-politicization of citizens and the production of bare life by quaratine and separation. Gestures and faces alike are blocked; politics and truth are potentially suppressed, in part through the control of their appearances. These are among the political dimensions of the crisis worth adverting to.

xinhua-de-la-paz-mask-handout

Images: Felipe Calderon speaking at hospital opening, April 25, 2009, photo by Alfredo Guerrero, Latin American Herald Tribune; Our dear Citoyen du Monde riding the first wave out in DF; David De la Paz, Xinhua.

**tirado/thrown highly recommends the near-daily coverage of the swine flu crisis over at Daniel Hernandez’s blog, Intersections for reflections and analysis.



Last Week’s Links: January 5-10, 2009
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What follows is the first shot at what is largely an attempt at offering frequent updates on some of the more interesting links making their way to the tirado/thrown desk.  Any suggestions for good links come to mind?  Please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Image: Screenshot of zigzagphilosophy.com, (2009).  Digital work by Angelo Plessas, found at Rhizome.



How do you say ‘mestizo’ in Russian?

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Above is one of many images of Soviet playing cards bearing Maya-inspired illustrations from a post on EnglishRussia.com, as referred to tirado/thrown through a special informant.  

Aside from being visual delights, you are initially left trying to ask questions about their provenance, much less making the attempt to decipher them.  They merely rest taciturn, sphinx-like, callado, to whatever you attempt to ask yourself, because they are quite fascinating.  Whatever inspired the workers at the Soviet state enterprise responsible for producing these magnificent artifacts, they generated a pretty exquisite group of cards; they’re imaginative and downright noteworthy.   Who knows? Perhaps a bored KGB officer doing slop-work in 1950s Mexico City came across a deck of Aztec playing cards from Baraja Cuauhtemoc and passed over the naipes to an acquaintance at the state playing card factory in an act of camaraderie. 

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The magic of cards like these is that they are portable pictograms giving the the gamepiece something more interesting to look  at and wonder about than a regular stack of casino cards.  Seriously, they beat the Grateful Dead Aztec-Inspired playing cards.  Want to get a sense for Mayan language and culture during a few hours off?  Take your card to the library and check it against a codex and lexicon!  To think that gambling implements could have the potential to be edifying!

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Modernist flourishes on the Soviet cards such as the cats the queens hold in her hands speak of a mixture of ancient imagery and contemporary adaptation.   The distinct configurations of each of the two jokers in the deck speaks to the confluence of Mesoamerican and European at work in the deck.  The blue card seems to be rendered with a more appearance, while the red one seems almost Medieval European in a Mayan style, but I leave that up to experts to decide.

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However, the images on the face cards are quite faithful to the drawings in codices: with respect to gestures, facial expressions, postures, decoration, and detail, which makes them all the more interesting to discover.

Still, the cards leave me with more questions than answers.  Is the existence of these cards a trace of a mestizaje in the USSR in the form of a curiously made instruments for everyday entertainment, or is it just a fluke of historical detritus washed ashore?  What do these items say about the way Soviets conceived the work of producing items for everyday life?  Why the odd reaction of being surprised at the discovery that Soviets (of all people-gasp!) produced these cards for everyday use when in the US typically has largely uniform face cards from a number of different companies, and when decorated cards would be only for serious gamers and sold as speciality items?  When will we see Mexican and Central-American takes on the matryoshka doll?  Or perhaps more symmetrically, could we find a Latin-American toy, like a balero, trompo, or loteria game festooned with Russian-style decorations? 

At some point, it would be great to give those Cuauhtemoc cards the kind of critical treatment they, as well as these Soviet ones, rightfully deserve.  For now, I am of mixed emotions.  At once I am unexplainably melancholy at seeing items produced by a now-lost regime bearing images from a destroyed civilization.  At the same time, I’m quietly joyful for their existence.

 

Image Credits- Maya Cards: Picdit, English Russia;Barajas Cuahtemoc: World of Trading Cards; Transcription of the Dresden Codex: FAMSI



Citacion del Dia: Solitude Makes You a Charlatan

From Juan Villoro’s Artaud Prize-winning collection of short stories, Los Culpables (The Guilty Ones), which made for excellent subway reading:

“La soledad te vuelva charlatán.”

Roughly translated, it means, “Solitude turns you into a charlatan.”  Taken alone, the quote uttered by the narrator of Villoro’s title story efficiently sheds light on the work of Octavio Paz, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Giorgio Agamben.  With Villoro as an heir to Paz’s cultural project in El Laberinto de la Soledad, his narrator’s thought expresses the non-knowledge gained at the very limits of social and ontological isolation.  It is the point where Paz notes that solitude renders human existence to getting on day by day with little but one’s wits and no pre-existing knowledge, “al dia”.    

Paz’s post-revolutionary Mexico is an ur-post-modern space from which Mexico can contribute to a universal philosophy acutely attuned to a situation that persists in varied forms. This situation is marked by heightened social alienation and the evacuation of meaning in the face of devastating traumatic encounters that influence the trajectories of our moods and thoughts inwards, and our disposition to the existence of others problematic at best.  Agamben refers to this situation in various forms in The Coming Community, Means Without End, Homo Sacer, and Profanations.  In The Coming Community he introduces us to the characters in the limbic* world where politics, culture, and religion can only react against and unsuccessfully make its own: ‘toons, fakes, assistants, tricksters.  Charlatans, thugs, con-men**, swindlers, and similar figures dwell in this area at the borders of identity, nationality, language, culture, and class. They are left to themselves, abandoned to one another (an idea that Nancy pursues in Being Singular Plural under the term co-appearance or compearance, which Agamben uses in his discussion of the sovereign ban in Homo Sacer.)  Which is all to say, we are all charlatans of a sort or another, most especially when we are at our most earnest or seeking out the authenticity’s perverse thrills. 

As to how tricksterism and solitude come into play in Nancy’s philosophy, I can only pose the question.  Though a discussion devoted to solitude in a portion of Being Singular Plural entitled “The Measure of the ‘With'” may offer some clue.

Admittedly, in light of this pochista musing concerning things Mexican I’m much more partial to the more colorful and morbid cover art for the book’s Argentine edition over the domestic version in Mexico.  But a bright, a lime-green silouhette of an iguana set against a black background on the cover of the Mexican edition shouldn’t deter a good translator from making the book available to an Anglophone reading public.

*Interestingly enough, the brain’s limbic system plays a key role in non-verbal communication, including the generation and regulation of gestures, a topic that Agamben attends to in Means Without End.

**Having started Melville’s The Confidence Man: His Masquerade a couple of days ago has got me on an uncanny path asking about the significance of these figures and types in philosophy and politics more than usual.

Photo credit: Juan Villoro at a reading and book signing in Puebla, MX, 2007; Source: Colorpardo on Flickr.