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September 2006

I've suggested that it might be useful and interesting for us to broach `the global' as a Theory Cluster discussion topic and that, to that end, we could focus on Samuel Weber's `Globality, Organization, Class', which appears in Diacritics 31.3 (Fall 2001).

While Weber's excellent article could get a discussion going from scratch it might also work as a kind of supplement to the article on Benjamin that was the focus of the cluster discussion led by Melissa on 25/09/06 (Scott McCracken, `The Completion of Old Work: Walter Benjamin and the Everyday')

Some random remarks...

McCracken emphasises

Benjamin's elaboration of two different kinds of `experience': (1) Erlebnis, immediate or shock experience, and (2) Erfahrung, a fuller and more reflective state of consciousness... It is the dialectic between Erlebnis and Erfahrung that offers the possibility of the preservation of modern experience and its transformation.
The `context of Erlebnis' is
the city, which offers the boundaries and thresholds that fracture modern experience, disrupting any sense of it as homogeneous.
The threshold of the experiential dialectic - Erlebnis/Erfahrung - is akin to that of dreaming/awakening.

Can globalisation be understood as the becoming-worldwide of that `city' which, for Benjamin, is the `context of Erlebnis'? If so, how does the condition of fractured experience involve a reckoning with the globe as such, i.e. with the earth as a whole, whose planetary spatiality becomes `everyday' technologically and via the media? Is the threshold Erlebnis/Erfahrung implied, for example, in that difference in theoretical tenor which separates the following two evocations of the `global' (which I cite here without further comment). In the first, Spivak says that the globe as such is `inaccessible to experience' while, in the second, Virilio posits the global as `precisely what we are experiencing today':

The `globe' is counterintuitive. You walk from one end of the earth to the other and it remains flat. It is a scientific abstraction inaccessible to experience. No one lives in the global village. The only relationship accessible to the globe so far is that of the gaze. Both the Greek and the Sanskrit words for transcendental knowledge or theory - theoria and darsana - relate to seeing. Culture at work or at play, on the other hand, is not a problem of knowledge, but a regulator of relations. My question, therefore: In what interest, to regulate what sort of relationships, is the globe evoked?

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, `Cultural Talks in the Hot Peace: Revisiting the `Global Village,'' in Cheah and Robbins (eds.) Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1998), 329

Now, the thing is, with globalization, what we are experiencing today is the finiteness of the world, of a planet confronted by its ultimate exterior, the void of outer space. Whence the sudden foreclosure of a world that is globally finished, confronted by its `extermination,' that is, by the perfect rotundity of its terrestrial substance.

Paul Virilio, City of Panic, trans. Julie Rose (Oxford: Berg, 2005), 63-64

This event notice might interest Theory Cluster readers...

a r t s p a c e
43 - 51 Cowper Wharf Road
Woolloomooloo NSW 2011 Australia
t: +61 2 9368 1899

Re-Framing Art: The Conditions of Theory

2 - 5pm Saturday 9 September
$8/$5 concession

In 2003 the editorial board of the Chicago-based journal Critical Inquiry in 2003 asked invited participants a series of questions as part of their symposium "Critical Inquiry in the 21st Century". Question 1: It has been suggested that the great era of theory is now behind us and that we have entered a period of timidity, backfilling, and (at best) empirical accumulation. True?

Pronouncements of the irrelevance and consequential demise of critical and cultural theory are now commonplace. Re-Framing Art: The Conditions of Theory brings together a group of artists, writers and theorists to address the question of whether we really are now living 'after theory'? What is it we are talking about when we cite 'theory'? Is it now simply shorthand for irrelevant intellectual pursuit displaced by the hegemony of market and cultural individualism salved by new claims to humanism? How did theory become the pejorative of thought? Why the divides between theory and practice, theory and direct action, theory and life? Can it be true that the new urgencies of the 'age of terror' preclude critical reflection? What are the implications of the shift in modus operandi of art writing in Australia from critical exegesis to PR copy? Or of the emphasis upon 'professional practice' modules rather than critical theory within art colleges?

Speakers include: Nicole Anderson, David Brooks, Gordon Bull, Blair French, Alex Gawronski, Adam Geczy, Elspeth Probyn, Cameron Tonkinwise, Ruth Watson

Billy Stevenson recently sent me his review of Edelman's book No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. He's agreed to me posting it here. I found it interesting, particularly given my own recent forays into the realms of "untidy" children. So here it is:


I have given this book five stars on the basis of Lee Edelman's
textual analysis, which is truly brilliant. Nevertheless, I have
reservations about his thesis: that the most politically subversive
quality of queer people is their failure to breed. As a theoretical
political point, this seems to make beautiful sense: failure to
reproduce existing physical order equals failure to reproduce existing
political order. However, the disparity between the theoretical and
the actual (or, alternatively, between the political and the personal)
which underlies a great deal of theory seems particularly noticeable
here – all the more so since queer theory is a discipline which lays
particular stress on breaking down these dichotomies.

Many queer people want to breed – and this isn't simply because of their
indoctrination into an existing political order. In fact, I would say
that queer men have a particular proclivity to parenthood, just
because they often (though by no means always) possess certain
effeminate traits which enable those maternal qualities which, in the
heterosexual world are often (tthough by no means always) stronger, or
at least more primal, than paternal ones. This explains why an
inordinate number of queer men end up in positions such as teaching,
nursing etc. However, leaving aside the personal/political problem,
and addressing Edelman's text on a purely political level (or,
alternatively, his central connection between queer people and
anti-reproductivity as a purely figurative image), problems remain.
There is a fine line between renouncing children and destroying
children – and Edelman chooses texts which blur this line, most
notably Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. Read in the wrong way – or even
read in a manner slightly different from that which Edelman has
intended (in a word, read with the same provisional disregard for
established authorial intention that he shows for the texts he
critiques) – Edelman figuratively equates queerness with the
destruction of children. This is extremely unfortunate, given the
popular equation of queerness and paedophilia.

It seems to me that Edelman's use of his queerness to articulate a space
diametrically opposed to the current political status quo is mirrored, fictionally,
in the novels of Dennis Cooper – and I wouldn't want Cooper's novels
invested with the same political momentum – or at least the same
queer-oriented political momentum – as Edelman's theory. The
comparison is doubly instructive because I feel that, in both cases,
political subversiveness (ironically) doesn't spring from any
convincingly articulated political statement, but from an inordinate
prioritisation of the aesthetic above the political (which I take as a
cipher for the ethical, the philosophical etc). I am aware that
Cooper's dead teenages are often connected, figuratively, to the
marketed, mannequinised postmodern bodies we are all trying to escape.
However, I feel that trying to find a "moral" per se in Cooper is just
as erroneous as trying to find a "moral" in de Sade – and perhaps just
as erroneous as trying to find any practical (or convincing) "moral"
in Edelman.

Like Cooper, Edelman transforms the most morally
transgressive image available – a dead, tortured child – into an
aesthetic consideration and, in doing so, promotes literature as a
value-free space in exactly the same way as Cooper. The political
ramifications of this are obvious: Proust, for example, could only
discuss homosexuality openly at all (and therefore bring it into the
public domain in the manner in which he did) because the decadents had
established literature as a radically value-free space (and the legacy
is apparent in the opening chapter of "Sodom and Gomorrah", in which
Proust asks us to place our ethical revulsion at bay by considering
homosexuals as aesthetic spectacles). However, the theoretical
ramifications are less clear. What seems to be happening here – and in
other areas of contemporary criticism – is a conflation of theory and
the texts it supposedly critiques. Ironically, or perhaps
intentionally, the very schools which recommend this conflation are
increasingly producing literary, or artistic artefacts, rather than
works of criticism (cf. my discussion of Jane Campion's The Piano as
a recommendation that French feminism be understood primarily as an
aesthetic, dream-like experience, rather than a practical position).

If any 'master theory' underlines this aestheticisation of theory,
then it seems to be Kant's Critique of Judgment, which similarly (and
similarly indirectly) underlay the decadence that informed Proust. For
all its critique of "disinterestedness", contemporary critical theory
asks us to suspend our attitude to literature – and to itself – as
never before. Is this neo-Kantianism a good thing – and would Kant
himself have approved of it? I am inclined to answer yes to the first
question, and no to the second. That Edelman would answer no to the
second seems subconsciously inscribed in the title of his book, which
connotes the very death of queer theory that such a conflation with
the texts it critiques would produce. But your reaction depends upon
the moment at which you first encounter that dead child.

Kate Lilley is one of ten poets commissioned to write a poem for "The Poetry Picture Show," an event put together by the Red Room Company. The poets were asked to write a poem inspired by the them of the "picture show," and over the next little while the poems will be podcast from the website, along with ten short films inspired by the poems. There's also a blog. Recent entries have pondered, among other things, "the idea of oddness in a pram."