The poetry of Fredric Jameson

April 13, 2012

Copying and pasting passages from a PDF produced some interesting line-breaks… These are from “Periodizing the ’60s” (which has some interesting ideas on the proliferation of small affinity groups in that period, via Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason):

The  final  ambiguity  with  which  we  leave  this
is  the
the  60s,  often
imagined  as  a period
in  which
capital  and  first world  power
are  in retreat  all  over  the  globe,  can
just  as
easily  be
conceptualized  as  a
in  which
is  in  full  dynamic  and  innovative  expansion,
equipped  with  a whole  armature  of  fresh  production  techniques  and  new
“means  of  production.”


However  para-
doxical  a  “materialist” philosophy  may  be  in  this  respect,  a “materialist
theory of
language” will clearly
transform the very
function and operation
of  “theory,”
since it opens  up a dynamic
in which  it is no
longer ideas, but
rather texts, material texts, which
struggle with  one  another. Theory  so
defined, (and it will have become  clear that the term now  greatly
what used to be called philosophy  and its
specialized content) conceives  of
its vocation,  not as the discovery  of truth and the repudiation of error, but
rather as a
struggle about purely linguistic formulations, as the attempt
formulate verbal propositions (material language)
in such  a way
are unable to
imply unwanted  or
ideological  consequences.


late capitalism
in general (and the 60s  in particular)
constitute  a process
in which  the last
internal and external zones
of  precapitalism-the
last vestiges  of  noncommodified  or traditional space
within and outside the advanced world-
are  now  ultimately penetrated and
colonized  in their turn. Late capitalism can therefore be  described  as the
moment  in  which  the  last  vestiges  of  Nature  which  survived  on  into
classical capitalism are at
length eliminated: namely
the third world and the

Media Studies vs. Marxism

November 8, 2011

…it is important to point out that however materialistic [Walter Benjamin’s] approach to history may seem, nothing is farther from Marxism than the stress on invention and technique as the primary cause of historical change. Indeed, it seems to me that such theories (of the kind which regard the steam engine as the cause of the Industrial Revolution, and which have recently have been rehearsed yet again, in streamlined modernistic form, in the works of Marshall McLuhan) function as a substitute for Marxist historiography in the way they offer a feeling of concreteness comparable to economic subject matter, at the same time that they dispense with any consideration of the human factors of classes and of the social organization of production.

–Fredric Jameson, Marxism and Form (1971)

McLuhan-esque media studies as a bad kind of historical materialism, one that precisely leaves out class struggle (in other words, real human beings) as the motor of history. Wish social media boosters and Twitter revolutionaries thought about this, but their bromides go down so well! Until they don’t:

The cruel truth of the emerging networked news environment is that reporters [i.e. workers] are as disempowered as they have ever been, writing more often, under more pressure, with less autonomy, about more trivial things than under the previous monopolistic regime. Indeed, if one were looking for ways to undermine reporters in their work, future-of-news ideas would be a good place to start:

• Remind them, as often as possible, that what they do is nothing special and is basically a commodity.

• Require them to spend a portion of their workday marketing and branding themselves and figuring out their business model.

• Require that they keep in touch with you via Twitter and FB constantly instead of reporting and writing.

• Prematurely bury/trash institutional news organizations.

• Promote a vague faith in volunteerism.

• Describe long-form writing as an affectation or even a form of oppression; that way no one will ever have time to lay out evidence gathered during extensive reporting. Great for crooks, too.

Bad historical materialism: great for crooks, too.

Road Tripping with Marcuse

September 16, 2010

Let us take a simple example. A man who travels by automobile to a distant place chooses his route from the highway maps. Towns, lakes and mountains appear as obstacles to be bypassed.

The countryside is shaped and organized by the highway. Numerous signs and posters tell the traveler what to do and think;

they even request his attention to the beauties of nature or the hallmarks of history.

Others have done the thinking for him, and perhaps for the better. Convenient parking spaces have been constructed where the broadest and most surprising view is open.

Giant advertisements tell him when to stop and find the pause that refreshes.

And all this is indeed for his benefit, safety and comfort; he receives what he wants. Business, technics, human needs and nature are wedded together into one rational and expedient mechanism. He will fare best who follows its directions, subordinating his spontaneity to the anonymous wisdom which ordered everything for him.

…All protest is senseless, and the individual who would insist on his freedom of action would become a crank.

–Herbert Marcuse, “Some Social Implications of Modern Technology

M.A. Thesis

July 26, 2010

Finally made my master’s thesis, “‘Straight Up Detroit Shit’: Genre, Authenticity, and Appropriation in Detroit Ghettotech” available on the blog. It’s been floating around the internet for a while, but might as well make this one-stop shopping for all your things me.

M.A. Thesis

You can’t get away with anything while looking punk

June 29, 2010

Identity is like going to the shop. You go to the bins and pick from the merchandise. Being vegan or ‘punk’ or dressing strange is just a reason to be inactive and not actually do anything. These vegans and punks can just sit back and say, ‘Oh, I’m OK,’ and feel gratified with themselves. It’s a way to compartmentalize people into who’s worth talking to, all these surface connections. Punk, with its spikes and Mohawks, is a way to get noticed and caught by the cops. You can’t get away with anything while looking punk.

–Marion of the Tarnac 9

Read more about the ongoing “French tradition of brainy sabotage” here.


June 26, 2010

A product that the poor eat, both because they are accustomed to it and because they have no choice, will be praised by the rich, who will hardly ever eat it.

–Sidney Mintz, The Sweetness and the Power, p. xxii (1985)

Mintz here refers to an unrefined sugar loaf commonly eaten by Jamaican plantation workers; it is small-scale domestic production and consumption using the scraps of the colonial sugar industry. Sugar is grown on colonies — Jamaica, Haiti, Puerto Rico, much of the rest of the Caribbean — but the “last and most profitable step” is carried out on the mainland. Consumers of the British, French, and American empires use refined sugar, a sugar lightened from dark brown to white for no reason other than aesthetics, rooted in racism (whiteness as sign of purity). On the colony they cobble together innovative cultural objects from the scraps the empire leaves behind. The rich praise this, as it de-emphasizes the exploitation that is the crucible of this innovation while emphasizing the ‘cultural’ difference between exploiter and exploited. Yet the fascination is real, and powerful. This is the commodity fetishism of imperialism: the labor extracted from diaspora, dislocation, racism, and brutal working conditions can be tasted, enjoyed, contemplated. It binds disparate parts of empire together phenomenologically.

The parallels to food tourism and exotic eating such as featured on Anthony Bourdain’s television shows are obvious. What does this quotation say about the consumption of other forms of culture? Are there musical sugar loaves? I suspect there are. I don’t want to go there yet. And this rich quotation, from a rich introduction of an excellent book, points, in perhaps an oblique way, at the nexus of pleasure, exoticism, empathy, and imperialism at the heart of cultural tourism, a predominant form of consumption under globalization.

Chicago Scenius

May 18, 2010

Footwork crews battle at a community center in Chicago.

via jeffdenapoli's flickr

There is one thing I can say in this interview…all I got to say is, a lot of people used to come to guitar center when it was on 81st and Cicero. My actual R-70 was a display model. When I bought it, it was the last one there, I didn’t buy it new, I bought it used. So a lot of people in the world already programmed those sounds. You never knew who touched that R-70….but to the time I’d like to thank y’all for putting your work in…but you just couldn’t do what I did!

From Dave Quam’s interview with RP Boo,which is not on his blog at the moment, but was fortunately saved in my RSS reader. Dave’s been doing some sustained excavating of Chicago’s ghetto house/juke/footwork history, and it’s no simple task. Obscure underground releases rub up alongside circuitous oral histories, interwoven with memories of past slights and fantasies of future success. One difficulty I’ve encountered in similar work I’ve done in Detroit is the challenge of breaking scenes down into constitutive individual artists. This is, of course, the typical way music history is told — genius makes breakthrough, alters course of music 4-EVA.

This individualistic hard-working ideology is as pervasive as ever, and there is no doubt important developments in terms of individual records, unique personalities, and lots of thankless time struggling in the studio. But scene histories rooted only in individual artists fail to capture the whole picture. Not only are they inaccurate, but once the myth becomes reality and certain individual artists are cherry-picked by a globalized audience, putting out artist albums, their work often falters. Their genius was never completely their own. RP Boo may be the inventor of the footwork tom skitter, but a lot of people in the world already programmed those sounds.

Me and Rashad have always been cool but a lot of guys get us mixed up. I’m more of an originator when it came to samples. Rashad is the type of person to where I can come up with an idea and he can feed off of it. He can take an idea and turn it into a different version. He’s like a grimy version of what I am. I’ve been quiet for two years, and a lot of these cats out here right now are hungry, they are fucking hungry because they are waiting to see what I’m gonna do. Every time I do something that’s what they feed off of. They’re like pilot fishes, the pilot fishes are the ones that follow the shark and eat up his leftovers.

Inidividualized histories play down this type of collaboration which is often crucial to underground production. Independent artists struggle to make ends meet. They share their resources, material — acid house pioneers literally passing around drum machines — and creative. DJ Assault’s classic work, which helped to crystalize a specific Detroit sound, was really the dialectical tension between Assault (the grimy one) and his collaborator, Ade (the musical one). As increased wealth beckoned (particularly in the form of DJ gigs), Ade was cut out of the partnership. By most accounts from Detroiters, both men’s productions suffered. They fed off each other until they each fed off somewhere else. Music scenes are ecosystems that require the mutuality of shark and pilot fish to last.

Kayne West, I like him, but from what I hear, his style comes from listening to old tapes back in the day. … He studied the style. Basically I would say he studied the style but he didn’t copy me, I just gave him a source of reality. The man was fucking smart! I’m not gonna knock his hustle because it’s nothing to knock! He was just fucking smart. It’s a style of Chicago and that’s all it is. If you can feed off one, you run with it. If you can patent it, OK cool! I have no business about it. But when it comes time to it we still have different styles, and if I went into the rap business I could take a sample, and fuck him off the first one! But what is it? I’m not here to compete. I’m here to let it be known and share what it is.

Kanye, as pop star and celebrity, perhaps the apogee of the autonomous individualism type, is implicated in this. RP Boo gave him a source of reality, and he was fucking smart enough to take it beyond Chicago, a city in which he no longer lives. Boo won’t knock Kanye’s hustle, his ability to take production innovations outside a local scene to global pop artists. But Kanye is no longer part of Chicago — he can exist in a landscape in which Chicago does not register, although the city’s imprint may have influenced his technique (Kanye himself has credited NYC’s RZA and L.A.’s Dr. Dre as influences). Boo works a different register. He is here to let it be known and share what it is, to instantiate the energies and creative force of Chicago’s streets, channel them, to feed and let others feed off of categories labeled, by outsiders, ghetto house, juke, footwork. “The tracks back then didn’t have a name for it…it was just considered local artist’s music….and it never had a name back then.” They aren’t genres, not genres-as-marketing categories. Those reifications come later, when the music and the figures involved become export commodities. “It was just more of a saying of what the dancing or what the atmosphere of the party was like.” The genres are not sounds — they are social worlds themselves, assemblages of DJs, producers, hosts, dance crews, cameramen, promoters, hustlers, partiers formed through local infrastructure, global economics, and idiosyncratic technology. Structures of feeling. Atmospheres. This is the hardest part of writing this history: finding the subject.

My Generation

April 5, 2010

The end of the twentieth century, therefore, will probably see a generation to whom it will not be injurious to read a dozen square yards of newspapers daily, to be constantly called to the telephone, to be thinking simultaneously of the five continents of the world, to live half their time in a railway carriage or in a flying machine, and to satisfy the demands of a circle of ten thousand acquaintances, associates, and friends. It will know how to find its ease in the midst of a city inhabited by millions, and will be able, with nerves of gigantic vigor, to respond without haste or agitation to the almost innumerable claims to existence.

–Max Nordlau, Degeneration (1892)


July 30, 2008

My former department gets a gentle send-up. “Dan” has been known to sleep on my floor when he’s in town, and I don’t recall him pointing quite so much.