War as a happening thing

rc-am rcollins at netlink.com.au
Sat Jan 22 21:17:58 PST 2000

> >Given the definition of pomo seems increasingly to hinge on whether one
> thinks the world today is the same as that of the 1930s, . . .

Justin asked:

> Wha?

I've argued a number of times that postmodernism is another way -- an aestheticised and/or idealistic way -- of talking about changes to the mode of production, for which we might look to concepts such as real and formal subsumption as a way of indicating and talking about those changes. Those who bemoan 'pomos' really enact a similar aestheticisation by rendering it as a cultural choice, philosophical brand-name, or job competitor in litcrit depts -- ie., whilst some folks complain that 'pomo' is not marxism, they can't manage to deliver a marxist analysis of what this might be. Implicit here is the assertion that nothing has _really_ hanged (by which 'really' is taken to mean actual practices, the ways in which life is produced and reproduced, etc), and hence that 'pomo' comes from the skies, someone's head, the world of ideas -- merely (!) ideas.

> > Does Baudrillard mean to confer validity on this perspective
> from in front of the American TV? I'm not convinced that he does;
> but I am convinced that his displacement of critique by ironic immersion
> does not work. Routine references to the phrase "the gulf war did not
> happen" in discussions, sans deadpan irony, proves that >>

Justin also wrote:

> Well, who knows about B. But I once did engage in a public debate with a
> pomit at a panel on Marxism and pomo where she (no one famous, a prof at
> Kenyon) really did admit that the assassination of the Archbisop Romero
> just a text and it was not so that at the back of all the texts there was
> man in his blood on the cathedral floor. She was not being ironic.

Well, we do know about Baudrillard: either he is completely crazy and asserting that the gulf war did not happen, or he is remarking on the experience of that war for most Americans. When Carrol says of the practice of the death penalty that it's entertainment, a spectacle, as he often has, is he saying that it is entertaining or spectacular, or that this is the way many Americans experience it? I don't have the passage from Baudrillard at hand, so I'm going from the dimmest of recollections.

What are the changes, for instance, that create a situation where, for the consumption of American audiences, the spectacle of the Gulf War is presented as one wherein there are no deaths? Massumi argues that this has precisely to do with the politics of the dead (the body-bags) in the US post-Viet Nam. Isn't that more intersting and pertinent a matter for discussion?

Moreover, I've seen people cite clearly ironic sections of Marx sans irony. Does that suggest something about Marx, or something about the limitations of irony amongst the earnest? The point about Baudrillard being, that it's not this regularly cited piece of provocation that should be at issue, but instead his decision that critique (and all that this might imply about knowledge, ideology, etc) is impossible and all that remains is ironic immersion. Which is the reason I don't like Baudrillard; but I wouldn't cite his remark that "the gulf war did not happen" as the scene of his dastardliness unless it was accompanied by a sense of why the hell he would make such a remark, in that way, in the first place.

There are important things to say about the Gulf War and subsequent wars that the phrase "it did not happen" would, I think, be important to note, as does Massumi. But where Massumi and Baudrillard diverge is in their responses to the practice of critique as bequeathed by enlightenment conceptions: Massumi replies by affirming affect and the experiences of the body as inseperable from reason, knowledge, etc. His writing shows this. I think it clearly works much better. Baudrillard wants to push a complicity with the given order to its absurd and unbearable limits: hence phrases like "the Gulf War did not happen." Perhaps it does work. Perhaps the responses to this statement which invariably take the form of insisting that the Gulf War did happen for (against) Iraqis means, in a circuitous way, that Baudrillard allows this to be thought more clearly. But I'm just hypothesising... and granting, of course, that no one even remotely serious about politics would take this statement as simply an occassion for some pomo-bashing rather than the cessation of thought.


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