tirado/thrown


Notes on Stacy Peralta’s Crips and Bloods: Made in America

While caught onto relatively late here at tirado/thrown, we were moved by Baron Davis’s and Stacy Peralta’s astounding documentary Crips and Bloods: Made in America.  What we first thought to be a historical reappraisal of urban unrest in Los Angeles unfolded into as comprehensive a survey of L.A. gang violence in South Central that a two-hour documentary could offer.  

Immediately, the film took us back to the Los Angeles that we grew up beside and had a tangential relationship to:  Sundays with family at the Slauson Swap Meet, occasional forays into South Central to visit friends, the sensationalized coverage of gang life that frightened the affluent but did not do any justice to the daily tales of suffering, tragedy, and strife in afflicted neighborhoods.  The civil disturbances in 1992 in the wake of the Rodney King acquittals were pivotal events that could not escape the attention of any Angeleno living there at the time.  Crips and Bloods captured the parts of the southland that at times felt so removed from the San Fernando Valley or even Hollywood.

Part of what makes this film noteworthy was that Peralta, the creator of Dogtown and Z-Boys and the Bones Brigade videos, stepped outside of making lifestyle films about surfing or skating to produce what is probably the most profound treatment on the creation of the most noted street gangs in contemporary American life.  

Or is it that much of a stretch?  If the 80s and 90s showed us anything, it was that gang bangers in the city and skater kids in the suburbs, beaches, and valleys were near-simultaneous occurrences of group cultures at the margins of institutional life: the family, education, workforce, church, and state.  While the stakes of their activities could not be any more disparate, they would each have a profound impact on American cultural expression in late capitalism. **

Peralta’s documentary potently cites racism (institutional and otherwise), post-war demographic shifts, police brutality, economic stagnation, geographic isolation, and outright state repression as the sources of social arrangements that have wrought uncounted amounts of human tragedy.

The film’s most lucid insight grasped the relationship of gang violence to a hegemonic state, one where those who stand to most to lose from oppression perform the work of oppression, acting out and generating an exponentially vacuous cycle.  Multiple commentators in the documentary noted how the disruption of community building and self-determination on the part of authorities, the introduction of a cheap and highly addictive narcotic, mass incarceration, and a social climate bereft of economic opportunity generated the perfect environment for a self-destruction that folded very readily with hegemony’s maintenance of social immobility.  It performed a task more effectively than state repression was able to perform, since it did not require the National Guard to perform the violence it did in quelling the Watts rebellion.   Bloods and Crips shows how these broader lines and vectors intersect in the existence of gang members themselves, their families, and community activists.  It deftly demonstrates the human toll exacted by a complex interaction of personal actions, social situations, and psychological exigence.

Among the documentary’s most distressing scenes were aerial shots of the L.A. basin, with its districts, neighborhoods, and development tracts- not so much for the scattering and dispersion of peoples it implied, but for the way that those distributions of space resembled camps organizing life into some form.  If anything, the helicopter shots give occasion to reflect on the thesis that the camp is the biopolitical law of modernity.   They lead to ask how similar or different are cities than concentration camps?  In certain parts of LA, simply responding the question of where one is from can easily be the cipher encoding one’s life or death.

Peralta’s film left us wondering, however: who will tell the stories of the Latino gangs that have developed since the 1930s?    Who will tell of how clicks and maras such as 18th Street, White Fence, Florencia, and the Mara Salvatrucha were born and mutated in response to multiple waves of immigration, how they continue to be shaped by the forces of globalization and political upheaval in Mexico, Central America, and the United States?   Such a sequel would be worth the wait.

 

**Strangely enough, The Serach for Animal Chin takes up as leitmotifs the creation narrative of skateboarding, its co-opting by commercial interests, and a marginalized community whose members are bound by their affinity for skateboarding’s originary ethos.

 

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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.

calderon-latam-herald-trib

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.

alex-mascara

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.



A Rare Autobiographical Anecdote

zizek

A comment of Slavoj Žižek’s at his talk in Cambridge a few weeks ago brought to mind a harrowing memory.

In an aside during a meandering, though no less interesting lecture (tangentially related to his new book The Monstrosity of Christ), Žižek mentioned CIA documents from Latin America noting that liberation theology was perceived as a greater threat than communism.

On the one hand, such an assertion seems entirely unsurprising.  Liberation theology threatened the legitimacy of Empire, Church, and State alike, to the point that officials at the highest levels of the Catholic Church ardently labored to suppress it, in an apparent collusion with neo-liberal and authoritarian interests (with a few exceptions).  The State, with imperial support, did the less savory work, carrying out the infamous atrocities on laity and clergy alike.  That much is well-known.

On the other hand, his comment brought to mind a discussion with my stepfather during Christmas of 1998. In the 70s and early 80s he had spent time in Guatemala as an officer, training and fighting alongside the most lethal of Latin America’s elite forces: the Kaibiles.**  To note his fervent anti-communist almost goes without saying.  To his mind, a liberationist eucharist would probably have resembled the scene below.

last-supper

During my last year of undergraduate education and my first years of graduate stuidies in philosophy, I was enthralled by Catholicism and struggled with the idea of becoming a Jesuit. That I attended Jesuit institutions during those years only made my questioning more palpable and immediate to me at the time.

On my first night back from Boston for winter break, my step-father and I stood by the Christmas tree in the modest Calabasas apartment he and my mother shared with my younger brother. Within five minutes of our conversation he asked me, “So, are you still thinking about becoming a Jesuit priest?”

“Well, I’m still not sure. I’ve thought about it, but…”

“You know, some of those Jesuits died with AK-47s in their hands…”

I couldn’t adequately, nor quickly, respond at the time. From what I knew about my stepfather, I could only sense that he would not have hesitated to deal a fatal shot were I a cleric at the other end of his rifle muzzle.  Žižek’s comment only made that episode almost eleven years ago that much more vivid- and chilling. Perhaps the most monstrous fantasy of Christ an authoritarian could imagine was one whose wrath was directed at the oppressors of the poor or the abusers of power who did a shabby job of justice.

jesus1

**  Since the end of the nearly four-decade civil war in Guatemala, the Kaibil have come upon relatively slim times.  Still in existence, their numbers have been curtailed to some extent, but their fate has mirrored the fortunes of post-dictatorial Latin America.  Active Kaibil continue to work in various capacities: mired in the fight against drug trafficking, taking on projects against “juvenile delinquency”, and taking part in UN peacekeeping and combat missions. Some ex-Kaibiles have found work leveraging their skills as security or muscle for narco cartels, recruited into groups such as Los Zetas.  Still others have entered into private security industry as mercenaries.  Spanish-language video reportage of the Kaibil are available here, here, and here.



From the Dead Letter Office: Agamben in Inverno

 

 

[Ed note:  This post was initially meant to publish sometime in the dead of winter, around January of 2009.  For a variety of reasons (procrastination, laziness, business, preoccupation with other matters, reservations, etc.) the post has sat around in a mostly-completed state in the ‘Drafts’ folder for a long time.  Maybe the post has its own schedule, or its publication is not really meant to come out in quite this fashion.  (In retrospect, there were probably three or four separate blog posts just waiting to be made out of the compendium below.)  At any rate, they are words coming from an exigence that was ultimately frustrated and arrested, leaving you with a post whose timeliness is at best ambiguous.]

 

The last couple of months of 2008 have been busy on news regarding Giorgio Agamben and work being done on his thought.  Usually some piece of information ocasionally drifts in, or a new, nearly inaudible video on YouTube of Agamben’s lectures catches my attention.  But I don’t remember there being such a relative volume of Agamben-related news since he protested the U.S.’s policy of ‘biopolitical tattooing’ under provisions of the US-Visit act  and consequently turned down an appointment at NYU.  Maybe it’s just that my antennae are more finely tuned to pick these kind of things up now than they were before. Be that as it may, though, the news is welcome. Some bits follow:

sacramento-del-linguaggio

  • In May 2009, Stanford University Press will be publishing a very short collection of Agamben’s essays under the title, What is an Apparatus?  and Other Essays.  consisting of the title essay, and works on friendship and contemporaenity rounding out the tiny, 80 page book.  Frankly, I’m a little disappointed, as seeing a relatively larger text like Il Regno e la Gloria come out in translation before such a short collection of texts would be more desirable.  But it’s a trivial complaint.  Jason Adams’ translation of the title essay (which will not appear in the collection, David Kishik’s translation will), originally entitled Qui est une dispositif?  What is a Dispositor?  is a good place to start for a glimpse of what the book will offer. [Stanford University Press/Notes for the Coming Community]

apparatu

  • Lacan.com and Notes for the Coming Community have published translations of a recent editorial that Agamben wrote for France’s Liberation, calling for the release of Julien Coupat* and the Tarnac 9.  In the process he challenges a significant feature political life in our time: the concentration of state power that has made dissent a suspect activity by appealing to security (whether real or perceived) as a basis for governance.  A outstanding blog with updates and documents on the Tarnac 9 situation is can be found here. [Lacan.com/Notes for the Coming Community/Support the Tarnac 9] 
  • Leyland de la Durantaye’s recent work on Agamben, “Homo Profanus: Giorgo Agamben’s Profane Philosophy” appears in the most recent edition of the journal boundary.  At a cursory glance, it appears to be an in-depth treatment bringing ideas developed in Profanations to bear as part of Agamben’s philosophical and political projects.  Namely he places Profanations in proxmity to works outside of the Homo Sacer series- The Coming Community, Means Without End, The Idea of Prose, and The Time That Remains.  The article holds out the possibility of reading Agamben’s work systemtically to present some possible prospects and directions for Agamben’s thought, especially in relation to ideas discussed in Walter Benjamin’s work.  Interestingly, he alludes to the Flamen Diale as an example of a profane figure.  Could this counterpart to the sacred [hu]man be a hint pointing towards the next phase of Agamben’s thinking?  Next May, Stanford University Press will be publishing de la Durantaye’s text Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction. [Duke Journals/Stanford University Press]
  • Infinite Thought, a tirado/thrown favorite, posted this little item with a link on “How to Write Like Agamben”** from a blog that is the latest addition to the blogroll, No Useless Leniency.   Worth checking out is a commentary on Agamben’s essay “In Praise of Profanation”, in the style of another of Agamben’s essays, Notes on Gesture.  It’s called Notes on the Image.  [Infinite Thought/No Useless Leniency] 

*As it happens, Coupat is the editor of the French-based journal TiqqunFor a sample of work featured in the journal, Soft Targets published some excerpts from a piece entitled Introduction to Civil War.  Very Roughly speaking, these fragments throw situationism, Agambenian philosophy, and samplings of Hardt-Negri’s autonomism into the mix, offer offer a response to neo-liberal imperialism and preventive counter-revolutionary politics.  The Support the Tarnac 9 site also has additional texts from Tiqqun and the Inoperative Collective available. [Soft Targets Journal/Support the Tarnac 9]

**As a rejoinder to IT, another possible way to score a Warburg Institute fellowship is to write like Richard Rodriguez, whatever the Chicanada may think of him. This here one finds Rodriguez to be essential reading on the dynamics of mestizaje and subject formation.

Image Credit: Reiner Gahnal, Seminar/Lecture, Giorgio Agamben, Filosofia teoretica,istituto universitario di architettura di Venezia, 6/5/2007, 20 x 24 inches. 51 x 61 cm



Work Cloud

work-cloud

The image above is from artist Micheal Lewy’s City of Work tumblr.  (His website is well worth paying a visit.)  It caught my attention in light of some reflections at ICite that I’ve been following at a distance concerning the phenomena of word clouds and their relation to language, poetry, politics, psyche, and symbolic efficiency.  It started with this post, and has so far continued here and here.  Juxtaposing the blog posts and Lewy’s work raised more questions than answers.

First, some questions regarding the relationship of Lewy’s piece to language, its social use, and the piece’s orientation as an artwork.  If, as ICite argues, word clouds flatten sense and the possibilities of meaning (through ‘marking a moment’, or being a form of secondary orality, a trace of chatter, or a positionless marker of intensity, etc.), does Lewy’s rendering of office lingo serve to pit this terminology against itself?   In effect, the piece seems to expose the terminology’s flatness, its lack of tonality, and its reliance on the frequency and intensity of its use in our working lives.  Could it be argued that Lewy’s piece is a parody of technical applications of language upon the seemingly neutral language of work?

A second group of questions arise with respect to discourse, psyche, ontology, and politics.  Is workplace jargon an apparatus of master discourse reliant upon biopolitical coersion to acheive its politcal-economic ends?  Does it not reveal that the language of work is not merely natural, but vulnerable to a decline in symbolic efficiency? 

It would seem that Lewy’s ‘work cloud’ brings to sharper relief the contingent properties of social relations, capitalism included.



Last Week’s Links: January 5-10, 2009
zigzagsmall
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.



Varnelis on the Closure of Post-Critical Architecture
November 24, 2008, 11:38 pm
Filed under: Aesthetics, Ideas, Politics | Tags: , , , , ,

db-berlin-ghery

Goodbye marketechture, um I mean, starchitechture: many hardly knew ye. 

At his blog, architecture theorist Kazys Varnelis shares some thoughts and questions on the post-critical moment in architecture, that lavish marriage of private wealth, tidal infusions of capital, technology, building, and design.  This movement might be mercifully on the wane, at least for the time being.  Varnelis summarizes:

Now that architecture has allied itself with a failed theory of the market, what will become of it? This isn’t an idle question. As society and culture reconfigure, an architecture that has little to offer except a direct representation of capital flows is unlikely to succeed. Moreover, the fascination that post-critical architects had with producing designs through software parallels the reduction of architecture to complex financial instruments that existed primarily in the network. This has already been called into question in the market. Architecture is, as usual, just a little behind.

The failure of markets to justly dispense goods and resources not only re-poses the question of a just political economy, but also with respect to the political significance of architecture.  Will we begin witnessing the dethronement of the starchitect as the paradigmatic figure of building and design in culture?  Can more critical perspectives on these relationships gain serious traction in architecture education, urban design, philosophy, and aesthetics?  I would like to believe so, and in the process make amends for fawning over the overwhelming and nearly stultifying triumphs of Gehry, Mirer, Koolhaas, and the market-driven architecture that defined my adolescence and early adulthood. [kazys.varnelis.net]

Image: The Frank Ghery designed Deutsche Bank building in Berlin.  As of this post, DB’s US stock closed today at $30.68 a share, down from a 52-week high of $135.49. Image source, Paw89, Flickr; stock source, Google Finance.