Monthly Archives: April 2010

Sock Crime

Syed Hashmi pled guilty to once count of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization today. According to the NYT:

Judge Loretta A. Preska asked whether he was pleading “because you are in fact guilty?”

“Alhamdulillah,” he said, or Praise be to God, and then added, “Yes.”

He acknowledged, under questioning by Mr. Ruhnke, that in 2004, while he was a graduate student in London, he knew that a man staying with him was planning to deliver outdoor gear like ponchos, sleeping bags and waterproof socks to Al Qaeda for use in Afghanistan.

Continue reading

Knowing (HUM415)

Here’s a post I wrote some time ago on The Calcutta Chromosome:

One of the things we could emphasize about Ghosh’s novel is its insistence on the presence of a secret history, a category of historiography (history writing) that continues to exert a gravitational pull on the public imagination. Conspiracy-thinking is a seductive activity because it seems to offer a total account of any given situation. Theories about the assassination of JFK, for example, seem to offer a final answer to the ambiguities of that event, an answer shorn of loose threads. Today the so-called Truther movement (which I understand to be a pejorative term) claims to possess hard evidence about the collapse of the World Trade Center towers which indicates that it was “an inside job.” None of this evidence has been submitted to a credible, peer-reviewed journal– usually the first step in any effort to establish the scientific veracity of a claim– but the absence of ordinary protocols such as this has not stopped a cluster of factoids, speculations and paranoid invective from going viral. Given that the US government’s inquiry into 9/11 was partial, possibly incompetent, and incontestably designed to maximize the Bush administration’s political capital, on the other hand, it’s easy to see how suspicion becomes certainty.

Still, the conspiracy theory as a genre of history— as a way of thinking about what it means to know and what the consequences of knowing might be– would be useful to consider with respect to The Calcutta Chromosome.

Carl Levin Will Save Capitalism!

Sen. Carl Levin goes for the South Park record:

For those who read Baudrillard’s “Simulacra and Simulations” consider the above in light of Baudrillard’s contention that

Watergate is not a scandal: this is what must be said at all cost, for this is what everyone is concerned to conceal, this dissimulation masking a strengthening of morality, a moral panic as we approach the primal (mise-en-)scene of capital: its instantaneous cruelty; its incomprehensible ferocity; its fundamental immorality – these are what are scandalous, unaccountable for…. Capital doesn’t give a damn about the idea of the contract which is imputed to it: it is a monstrous unprincipled undertaking, nothing more. Rather, it is “enlightened” thought which seeks to control capital by imposing rules on it. And all that recrimination which replaced revolutionary thought today comes down to reproaching capital for not following the rules of the game. “Power is unjust; its justice is a class justice; capital exploits us; etc.” – as if capital were linked by a contract to the society it rules.

Capital in fact has never been linked by a contract to the society it dominates. It is a sorcery of the social relation, it is a challenge to society and should be responded to as such. It is not a scandal to be denounced according to moral and economic rationality, but a challenge to take up according to symbolic law.

Full Text: S&S (AMS179)

Jean Baudrillard

Simulacra and Simulations

from Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster (Stanford; Stanford University Press, 1988), pp.166-184.

The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth–it is the truth which conceals that there is none.

The simulacrum is true.


If we were able to take as the finest allegory of simulation the Borges tale where the cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up exactly covering the territory (but where, with the decline of the Empire this map becomes frayed and finally ruined, a few shreds still discernible in the deserts – the metaphysical beauty of this ruined abstraction, bearing witness to an imperial pride and rotting like a carcass, returning to the substance of the soil, rather as an aging double ends up being confused with the real thing), this fable would then have come full circle for us, and now has nothing but the discrete charm of second-order simulacra.l

Continue reading

Simulacra and Simulations (AMS179)

What is ideology? What is ideology criticism?

What the relationship of Baudrillard’s essay “Simulacra and Simulations” to ideology/ideology criticism?

Can we use “S&S” as a means of explicating and understanding William Gibson’s Neuromancer and the Wachowsky Brothers’ The Matrix?

“Ideology only corresponds to a betrayal of reality by signs; simulation corresponds to a short-circuit of reality and to its reduplication by signs. It is always the aim of ideological analysis to restore the objective process; it is always a false problem to want to restore the truth beneath the simulacrum.”

Continue reading

The Sign… (AMS179)

… consists of the signifier and the signified. The signifier is the sound/image/word, the form. The signified is the concept. Take “dog”: the word itself is the signifier, the idea that the word represents is the signified. Together these parts make up the sign. An actual dog– a real dog– is the sign’s referent, its material correlative in time and space. (For a good introduction to the sign– and, more generally, semiotics– go to David Chandler’s webpage, Semiotics for Beginners.)

One of the things Baudrillard argues in “Simulacra and Simulations” is that the sign has been de-linked from its referent. That we live in a hyper-mediated environment in which we are 24-7 inundated with signs (images, sounds, language) lacking context. A whirlpool of signification which is so ubiquitous and overwhelming that we are effectively deprived of referents, the material realities which signs are supposed to stand in for. This results in a vast confusion, a hyperreal world of appearances produced by the “precession of the simulacra.”

Very roughly speaking, this situation mirrors Plato’s famous Cave Allegory from The Republic:

We have to adapt Plato’s words to our own purposes because in formulating the allegory of the cave he was above all concerned with proving the ultimate reality of the forms (εἶδοἰ)– an effort which we can categorize as idealist. In fact, for Plato the physical world has the character of a copy, so it’s easy to see how his ideas are, in a sense, directly opposed to the scenario described in The Matrix and Neuromancer.

Deepening (HUM470)

The differences between Mai’s America and Gangster are manifest in terms of genre, medium, immediate historical context, etc. BUT the continuities between these two (inter)texts might deepen our understanding of the category “American Autobiography.”

In an interview, film maker Marlo Poras observed that anyone in front of a camera is prone to performing, especially when the character they represent is themselves. In one sense that’s The Social in a nutshell: we enact our personae, attempt to accrue status, wear masks. Does this mean social life is a kind of masquerade? Consider that over the course of the Modern Era (in the long view from ca. late 14th Century onward, in a narrower sense since the Second Industrial Revolution) people have increasingly identified themselves with their activity– what they do. What’s one of the first questions we ask a new acquaintance?  “What do you do?” (“What’s your major?”)

Usually in this scenario, however, the question is taken to be a prelude to some more intimate knowledge. We assume, ideologically, that the face we present to the world is only one aspect of a truer, deeper self. Yes I may sell dialysis machines for a living but when I’m at home I lead an incomparably more gratifying life as a collector of exotic insects. Or, I know I may look conservative– always wearing a tie and with a clean business cut– but underneath this crisp blue oxford cloth shirt I’m sporting an elaborate chest tattoo and a pair of doorknocker-sized nipple rings. The real me is hidden beneath the veil I put on when I walk out of my apartment into the world.

But we should ask: is this really the case? Consider this passage from Slavoj Zizek’s First as Tragedy, Then as Farce:

“Our most elementary experience of subjectivity is that of the ‘richness of my inner life’: this is what I ‘really am,’ in contrast to the symbolic determinations and responsibilities I assume in public life (as father, professor, etc.). The first lesson of psychoanalysis here is that this ‘richness of inner life’ is fundamentally fake: it is a screen, a false distance, whose function is, as it were, to save my appearance, to render palpable (accessible to my imaginary narcissism) my true social-symbolic identity. One of the ways to practise the critique of ideology is therefore to invent strategies for unmasking this hypocrisy of the ‘inner life’ and its ‘sincere’ emotions. The experience we have of our lives from within, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves in order to account for what we are doing, is thus a lie– the truth lies rather outside, in what we do” (40).