The multiplication of traces


Multiplication of traces through the modem administrative apparatus. Balzac draws attention to this: “Do your utmost, hapless Frenchwomen, to remain unknown, to weave the very least little romance in the midst of a civilization which takes note, on public squares, of the hour when every hackney cab comes and goes; which counts every letter and stamps them twice, at the exact time they are posted and at the time they are delivered; which numbers the houses . . . ; which ere long will have every acre of land, down to the smallest holdings . . . , laid down on the broad sheets of a survey – a giant’s task, by command of a giant.” Balzac, Modeste Mignoncited in Regis Messac, Le “Detective Novel” et l’influence de la pensee scientifique (Paris, 1929), p. 461.

– Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (p. 221)


Leave a comment

Capitalism, Gender and Blaxploitation


“The cinematic deceit transmuted liberation into vengeance, the pursuit of a social justice which embraced race, class, and gender into Black racism, and the politics of armed struggle into systematic assassination. The screen impostors occupied a manichaean world in which whites were evil, corrupt and decadent; where Black accomplices to white venality were tainted with a similarly debased nature; and the central Black protagonists were preoccupied with vigilantism. Capitalism, signified at most by skyscraper exteriors, almost entirely disappeared, constituting a normalising space whose interstices lent marginal terrain for the practices of the drug trade and prostitution. The real world of the market, unseen and unremarked upon, hovered above the ghetto streets, the police station, the strip club and the dealer’s locales (storefront, suburban home, high rise apartment, etc.). The world in front of the camera was some sort of twisted, perverted mirror of the normal, the reasoned, the ordered, the safe and unremarkable American landscape. The denizens dwelling in the nether world were as different from real America as gargoyles are from pigeons. The object was to exhibit these bizarre and semi-mythic life-forms while assuring the screen audience that they inhabited a space some safe distance away.” Continue reading

Leave a comment

Energy accounting as cognitive mapping


If we go back to the origins of tires, we will discover which part of its cost must be attributed to energy expenditure. These require a flux of a given climate’s solar energy, physical work in rubber plantations, coal for the railways and ships which transport the raw material from the tropics, as well as for the factories which transform it into tires. The railways and ships, in turn, and all the buildings and implements necessary for their manufacture, as well as the materials used – the iron and the metals, and the coal that must be extracted – are the result of the spending of physical energy.

– Frederick Soddy, Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt (1926), quoted in Luis Fernández-Galiano, Fire and Memory: On Architecture and Energy (p. 198).

Leave a comment

Truth and navigation


From a 1973 talk by Michel Foucault on the history of madness and anti-psychiatry, partly reproduced in Artières and Bert’s stimulating dossier on Histoire de la folie:

[There is] an entire geography, an entire differentiated chronology of truth, in other words truth was not always conceived as the very element of the universal, but in our culture there is – running through the centuries and no doubt yet to be extinguished – this idea that truth is an event that produces itself in certain places and certain moments; one could perhaps say, and indeed I do, in brackets and by way of hypothesis, that the moment in which this idea that truth is an event that is simply produced in certain places, in certain moments, in which this idea started to be seriously shaken up, my impression is that it was with the great techniques of navigation, that is to say when one was compelled to invent instruments such that one could register, discover, define, formulate truth in any place whatever and any moment whatever. The ship, that placeless place, lost in infinite space, which at each instant must take stock of its situation; it is, if you will, the very image, the very problem that is at the heart of our society: how, everywhere and no matter from what point of view, to grasp truth, and, here and there, the great problem of navigation was the great moment of rupture [coupure], I don’t mean in scientific consciousness, but in what I would call the technology of truth. 

Leave a comment

The ’73 oil crisis and capital’s eternal soap opera


An acute observation on the articulation between capital’s representability and the technical composition of labour post-73, from his remarkable 1980 essay ‘The Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse’ (worth revisiting in these Anthropocene-mongering times):

The very image of the worker seems to disintegrate before this recomposition of capital. The burly, “blue collared” line worker seems to blur in the oil crisis, diffracted into the female service worker and the abstracted computer programmer. The large concentrations of factory workers that proved so explosive are dispersed, the specific gravity of the worker’s presence is dramatically reduced. And it all feels so different! Your wages go up but they evaporate before you spend them, you confront your boss but he cries that “he has bills to pay,” and even more deeply, you don’t see your exploitation any more. On the line, you literally could observe the crystallization of your labor power into the commodity, you could see your life vanishing down the line, you could feel the materialization of your alienation. But in the service industries, your surplus labor seems to be non-existent, even “non-productive,” just” a paid form of “housework,” cleaning bedpans, massaging jogger’s muscles, scrambling eggs. While in the “energy/information” sector you seem to be engulfed by the immense fixed capital surrounding you, it feels as if you were not exploited at all, but a servant of the machine, even “privileged” to be part of the “brains of the system.” These feelings disorient struggles. As the vast spatial migrations “to look for a job” disaggregate militant circles, the old bastions are isolated and appear archaic, almost comic.
Continue reading

Leave a comment

Against Fate


[Talk delivered April 20 at the workshop ‘On Justice: Variations on a Theme from Walter Benjamin in 1916 (I)’]

The following remarks are at a slight, but I hope illuminating, tangent from the ‘convolute’ of texts we’ve gathered to discuss. In brief, I want to sketch some thoughts starting from another text of Benjamin’s from 1916, namely the short unpublished reflection on ‘Trauerspiel and Tragedy’, and to do so in part by bringing into relief and into contrast the relation of Benjamin’s early reflections on tragedy to Georg Lukács’s 1910 essay ‘The Metaphysics of Tragedy’ from Soul & Form, a text which, by Scholem’s own recollection, was of considerable significance to his friend. I want to think through how the approach to justice as a concern of tragedy – perhaps as the concern of Attic tragedy, especially in Aeschylus’ Oresteia, an abiding reference for Benjamin – might inflect our considerations of the messianic or political-theological interrogation of justice. Continue reading

Leave a comment

ATM as image


One of the central images that attended this turn [to personal banking], according to La Berge, was the ATM. As they were rolled out around New York, the machines showed up in a series of news stories, most of which reported on the various ways they confused or worried people. In the words of one bank manager, “people are wondering where the bank is.” There’s a not-often-mentioned ATM at the center of White Noise that just might be the proxy-narrator for the entire book. And a whole host of them populate American Psycho, drawing the historical connection elided in other texts—the direct one between high finance and personal banking—with a calculus that was pretty simple to grasp. The trader Patrick Bateman visits them obsessively, often for money he doesn’t need, an activity he likes to follow by randomly killing someone.”

Miranda Trimmier on Leigh Claire La Berge’s Scandals and Abstraction.

Leave a comment

Seeing is believing


Gordan Maslov reviews COTA in the Slovenian journal Sic.

Leave a comment

Kartographie(n) des Kapitalismus


Fabian Namberger reviews COTA in German for

Leave a comment

Images of State and Stásis

[Talk delivered at Historical Materialism 2015, on a panel with Jason E. Smith and Jessica Whyte on The Ends of Homo Sacer]


For fame had rumour’d that a fleet at sea, / Would cause our nation’s catastrophe. / And hereupon it was my mother dear / Did bring forth twins at once, both me and fear.
– Thomas Hobbes, Verse Autobiography


Agamben’s Stásis: Civil War as a Political Paradigm is the slim final volume of the Homo Sacer series, published, with some architectonic confusion (it is listed as II.2, originally the designation for The Kingdom and the Glory) after the compendious The Use of Bodies, which closes if not completes the series. Stásis is composed of two seminar presentations on a theme, civil war, that has coursed in and out of Agamben’s work, and in those of some of his intellectual and political comrades (namely Tiqqun and The Invisible Committee). Here it is dealt with first in a dialogue with the brilliant historian of stásis in Ancient Athens, Nicole Loraux, and then, in the essay from which my remarks today take their cue, in an attempt to excavate, from an analysis of the 1651 frontispiece to Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, a philosophical iconology of civil war.  Continue reading