Friday, January 11, 2013


For years I've been telling myself I'd move this site to Wordpress. Well, now I've finally done it.

Posthegemony can now be found here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Here is my contribution to a recent workshop on "Beyond Walls: Teaching and Learning in the Open." This was part of UBC's Open Access week.

I start from a brief discussion of my Wikipedia project from a few years ago, Murder, Madness, and Mayhem. I go on, however, to a more general discussion of the role of the university at a time when there is both increasing production of the common and ever new attempts to construct new enclosures that would restrict and commodify our common knowledge and intellect.

In particular, I talk about the possibilities for a program I'm teaching on at the moment, Arts One. More on this soon...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


It's been too long since I last posted... I hope to tend to this blog a little more in the new year.

In the meantime, this is simply to point to another review of Posthegemony, by José Ramón Ruisánchez Serra in the Revista de Estudios Hispánicos (46.3 [October 2012]: 577-78).

Ruisánchez's strikes me as a fair assessment. He concludes:

En parte gracias a Posthegemony resulta inaplazable pensar las implicaciones entre estudios culturales y populismo, así como la alianza entre la teoría de la sociedad civil y el status quo neoliberal. Pero no creo que mediante un abandono total de sus aportaciones anteriores. Acaso allí se muestra la ansiedad del primer libro. El uso de la tríada afecto/hábito/multitud está lejos de llenar el espacio que se genera con la demolición de la alianza hegemonía/teoría de la sociedad civil/estudios culturales; hay que saber usar las ruinas. Su abandono total es el producto más obvio del capitalismo académico, acaso más temible y aliado de la hegemonía neoliberal que otras prácticas que se critican en el libro. Si finalmente es difícil discernir entre multitud e imperio o entre buena y mala multitud (257), ¿qué las vuelve un horizonte deseable para la teoría y la práctica actuales?

Friday, October 26, 2012


Beyond the fact that they make for a rather more attractive package, the many illustrations in the Norton edition of Seamus Heaney's Beowulf translation rightly turn our attention to the poem's obsession with things, with physical objects.

On every other page, facing the text itself, are bowls, ships, goblets, shields, arrows, helmets, jewelry, chainmail and the like, all lovingly photographed for our visual pleasure. The pictures neatly reflect and resonate with the poem's own concern with objects that are sometimes so distinctive that they even earn a name for themselves--such as Hrunting, the weapon lent to Beowulf before his fateful encounter with the monster Grendel's frightful mother. Hrunting is described as "a rare and ancient sword," an "iron blade" whose "ill-boding patterns had been tempered in blood" (1458, 1459-60). It fits well with the warrior's "mighty, hand-forged, fine-webbed mail" and his "glittering helmet [. . .] of beaten gold, / princely headgear hooped and hasped / by a weapon-smith who had worked wonders" (1444, 1448, and 1150-52).

In the gift-exchange economy of Dark Ages Europe, heroic deeds and political alliances lead to the accumulation of still more stuff. Once Beowulf has slain the monster and his mother, a grateful King Hrothgar promises that "for as long as I rule this far-flung land / treasures will change hands and each side will treat / the other with gifts" (1859-61). And good as his word, he showers the young prince and his men with artifacts of the highest quality so that by the time Beowulf heads for home he is "glorious in his gold regalia" and their ship is "cargoed with treasure, horses and war-gear" (1881, 1897).

Beowulf has already himself presented Hrothgar with a thing of considerable value: not merely the service he rendered in ridding the land of its demons, but also the hilt from a sword that he had grabbed during the melée in the mother's watery refuge. If anything this "relic of old times" is even more impressive and fascinating than Hrunting, with its "rare smithwork" and its "rune-marking correctly incised" and its engravings in gold that tell the story of "how war first came into the world / and the flood destroyed the tribe of giants" (1688, 1679, 1695, 1689-90). This is an object that can be read to reveal something of days long gone by. The weapon's adornment is more than mere decoration or ostentatious display; it recounts the history that makes the weapon necessary in the first place.

Likewise the hoard guarded by the dragon in the later sections of the poem also comes from an epoch long before the time when the action the narrative describes takes place. It is buried by the last survivor of a once-great civilization who realizes that, with the community that gives it meaning gone, "his joy / in the treasure would be brief" (2240-41). Interring "all the goods and golden ware / worth preserving" this last survivor consigns them to the earth, from which the raw material had originally been taken: "It was mined from you first / [. . .] I am left with nobody / to bear a sword or burnish plated goblets, / put a sheen on the cup" (2248, 2252-54).

In pre-capitalist societies, treasure is not fully fungible. It doesn't circulate with ease--only as the result of either heroic action or as pillage of war. When the community founders, the meaning it confers wavers and is soon lost. Indeed, when Beowulf in turn dies, he has nobody to whom he can bequeath his armour. With his funeral, his treasure will be consumed as "his royal pyre / will melt no small amount of gold: / heaped there in a hoard" (3010-12).

All that is left is the rather more precarious medium of speech and song, the lament of the woman mourner who cries out in "a wild litany of nightmare and lament" (3152-53). And of course the poem, Beowulf: passed down orally for a couple of centuries before it is transcribed somewhere around 1000AD, whose one manuscript copy is almost itself consumed by fire in 1731, and which now survives, a precious object in its own right, in the British Museum. As the Museum website explains, "the manuscript remains incredibly fragile, and can be handled only with the utmost care."

Fortunately, mass production and the publishing industry ensure that the text and this beautiful book now circulate freely, if at a fairly hefty price. A New York Times bestseller and sumptuously illustrated edition, this is a coffee-table book of distinction. No doubt more displayed and admired than read, it shows that cultural capital and presumed status still adhere to and are conveyed by objects as stubbornly today as in feudal Britain.

Monday, October 22, 2012


If Oedipus has a tragic flaw, then it’s surely beside the point to talk of “pride” or the like. Or at best it’s incidental.

For what’s striking about Oedipus’s predicament is how hard he has tried to avoid it. It’s not as though he ends up killing his father and sleeping with his mother by accident, out of some negligence or lapse. Rather, he’s spent the better part of his life trying to ensure that he never sees his parents again. All from the very best of intentions.

Oedipus is in every sense of the term (except the one that counts) a “good guy.” He works ardently for both public and private good, and is loved by all for his efforts. He wears his heart on his sleeve and never shirks responsibility: “Here I am myself [. . .] I am Oedipus” (7, 8). Called upon to resolve the trauma Thebes is suffering, to rid the city of the plague, he pledges to do his best in every way, and to put all of his formidable energy to work. He feels his people’s pain: “I have wept through the nights, you must know that, / groping, laboring over many paths of thought” (78-9). He’s no distant tyrant, savoring the delights of power and luxury. He feels personally invested in the search for the old king Laius’s murderer, even though it happened before he arrived in the city, even though it would be easy enough simply to blame the people who were there then for burying the trauma at the time.

In short, Oedipus is the very model of the ideal modern politician. Would that there were more like him. And not only because at the end he (almost literally) falls on his sword for something that was not really his fault, assuming responsibility for a disaster he never intended to bring about and circumstances that he could never have avoided.

Except that the irony is that if it weren’t for his impeccably good intentions, everything would undoubtedly have turned out very differently. It was only because he fled Corinth, seeking to avoid his fate, that he met Laius at the crossroads. And it was only because he solved the Sphinx’s riddle, so freeing Thebes from the monster’s malevolent presence, that he can marry Jocasta and taint her, too, with the blot of incestuous union.

In other words, it’s not just that his good intentions don’t save him. They are what get him into all this trouble in the first place. They are his tragic flaw.

All too often over the past decade or so, politicians have tried to cloak themselves in the defence of good intentions. Some years back David Runciman wrote a marvelous article about Tony Blair, who appealed always to his own high-minded humanitarianism and sense of conscience as exculpation for the disasters that ensued on his watch. Indeed, in part this was precisely his justification (for example) for the war on Iraq: yes, the people in their hundreds of thousands demonstrated in the streets against military action on such a shaky foundation. But the Prime Minister argued that the fact that he went to war anyway (whether or not he "sexed up" dodgy dossiers and the like en route) showed that he was not some populist swayed by the views of the many. He was a principled man who followed his own sense of right and wrong.

My colleague and friend Max Cameron at the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions would no doubt applaud this concern for morality and ethics amid--and against--the tumult of democratic politics.

There's no need to doubt the intentions. We might even be prepared to admit that Blair was and is a "good" man. Precisely the kind of good person that some want to see more of in politics. But if Blair's example alone isn't enough, then Oedipus the King reminds us of the bad that good men do.

Or to put it another way: this is a further argument against meritocracy, our contemporary form of what the Greeks themselves called "aristocracy."

Monday, October 15, 2012


[This is a response to Timothy Brennan's keynote presentation, "The Problem of Unevenness: Peripheral Aesthetics and Imperial Form," presented at the "Negative Cosmopolitanisms: Abjection, Power, and Biopolitics" conference, Edmonton, Alberta, October 2012.]

“Peripheral Modernism. A Response to Tim Brennan”

Tim Brennan provides us with a provocative, forthright, and challenging presentation. Indeed, though one hesitates to call it “ironic,” given the rather critical things that Brennan himself has to say about irony (which he claims “is based on the subject setting itself up as supreme”), it is notable that a paper that opens by excoriating a “combat mode” of theory is itself strikingly combative. Brennan takes shots at entire swathes of the contemporary Humanities: at the “graduate students and young professors” who mistake theory for combat, but also at those who prefer a “radical indecisionism” that is either complementary to or indistinguishable from (or perhaps merely “athwart”) the pseudo-radicalism of their colleagues. He goes on to argue that “a kind of neo-Socratic position [...] is everywhere around us today in the academy,” a stance that is in fact not a stance but is rather designed only to “establish [the speaker’s] superiority over the supposedly rough, impetuous, and naïve adherents to actual positions.”

Everywhere Brennan sees what he terms “louche” theorizing: “an intentionally cloudy, squint-eyed perspective [...] secretive writing, words intended for initiates and hidden from the vulgar public.” No names are provided, but apparently Cornell’s School of Criticism and Theory is a hotbed for this stuff: a mere “simulacrum of revolution”; “a romance with death”; Humanists who are “against humans”; “conservatives of modernist literary cast.” It’s worth unpacking this last very condensed series of epithets: it’s not enough to say that they (we?) are (secretly, unbeknownst even to ourselves) conservatives; we are also unoriginally “cast” from a single mold whose deformity can be traced back to the pernicious influence of both modernism and literature. By contrast, then, Brennan offers us idiosyncrasy and originality (“it has not generally been recognized [...] it has gone completely unremarked”) that is saved from quirkiness or the pernicious conformity of mere novelty by its steadfast refusal of both modernism and the literary “double-entendre.” Brennan calls on distinguished forbears--the Marxist intellectuals of the interwar period, above all--in order to break free from the “irony” that, he alleges, “inhibit[s] our ability to make sense of the imperialist common sense of the present.” He proposes instead an anti-imperialist common sense that has no truck with the “effeteness of literary modernism.” In brief, I don’t think that an “anti-imperialist” common sense is much improvement on an imperialist one; and I’m suspicious of all homilies, and suggest that you should be, too. But back to Brennan’s project: naturally enough, cosmopolitanism is out (being merely the “literary ethos” appropriate to “the imperial aspects of globalization”). Again, however, it is surely ironic that he marshals in support of this anti-cosmopolitan, anti-literary, anti-elitism a “who’s who” of third-world literary intellectuals, practically all of whom are male, middle-class, and ethnically privileged, from Chinua Achebe to César Vallejo, Alejo Carpentier to Mo Yan.

Read more... (pdf file)

Monday, September 24, 2012


As Rodgers and Hammerstein might have put it: How do you solve a problem like Medea? But of course if Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music turns out to be not such a problem at all, in that her carefree ways make her a bad novice nun but a terrific governess and mother, in Euripides's Medea the title character is the very image of a "bad mother" and in significant ways the problem that she represents is never fully resolved to anyone's satisfaction.

But what is Medea's problem? Is it that she is an outsider in Corinth, to which she has fled with her husband Jason and their small children, unable to fit in or be accepted? Is it indeed that she is a non-Greek, a barbarian, who has to be expelled for the sake of social order and collective harmony? Is it that she is a woman, whom Jason feels he can drop in favour of a rather more advantageous match with the Corinthian King's daughter? Or is it that she is not enough of a woman, that she doesn't know that her role should be submissive and accepting in the face of Jason's pragmatic actions to maintain his fame and his legacy? Is she too emotional, too hysterical and so allows herself to be carried away by her anger and desire for vengeance, enough so as to commit the terrible act of murdering the King, the princess, and worst of all her two young offspring? Is she a monster? Is she crazy?

Or is her problem, by contrast, that she is too rational, too clever even for her own good? That far from turning away from or refusing the conventions of Greek democracy, she takes them to their limit, to the point at which the social contract is itself shown to be insane, unnatural, and monstrous?

In essence, Medea's complaint is that Jason has broken his contract with her. She insisted he make a promise to "love / and honor" her because, aware of the fickleness of familial and affective ties (having herself betrayed her father and killed her brother), she "thought only great oaths would keep / him bound" to her (163-66). Medea believes in such contracts, and believes that the Greeks do, too. Hence she also presses the Athenian King, Aegeus, to "restate [his] promise" that he will give her shelter in his city "as an oath. Only then will I feel secure. [. . .] An oath / Will keep your promises safe against / [her enemies'] powerful inducements to give me up" (725-26; 729-31). And indeed, despite what she has done, at the end Aegeus does provide her sanctuary in Athens. An oath is a solemn thing; the Corinthian Chorus agrees that, with Jason's (literal) disavowal of his bond to Medea "the spell of trust is broken" (444). The danger is that as a result everyone sees that trust is "merely" a spell, a form of words with no power over reality. If Jason's betrayal goes unpunished, then the putative basis of social order, the entire framework of civic incantations and declarations, may come to seem null and void.

Medea, in short, kills her children (and so ruins Jason and destroys his lineage) in order to uphold the social contract. Her claim is that our actions should not be guided either by passing whims or short-term pragmatism. The spell of trust must be maintained by insisting on the harshest of consequences for those who break it. And if Medea is an outsider, this only proves that those who most insist that society keeps its promises are those who have only the promise to depend on. Medea can't make any claims otherwise on affect, habit, or the connections that she could count on if she had grown up in the Greek polis, rubbing shoulders with neighbours and citizens.

But by insisting on the point, Medea inadvertently reveals that the contract is not fundamentally the basis of Greek sociability at all. The Corinthians are aghast: they admit that Medea is consistently in the right, that she has indeed made her case and invoked all the logic and reason that is on her side. Her clever use of argument bears out her threat that her "words / will pin [Jason] to the mat" (592-93). Yet the Chorus protests that her "justice [is] too harsh / for Jason's heartless crimes" (973-74). They plead for mercy, for the suspension of the law rather than Medea's single-minded determination to see the proper consequences follow Jason's precipitating actions.

To put this another way: the Chorus argues for the logic of exception, for the sovereign decision that comes not from following the law but from suspending it. They also thereby reveal the dirty little secret of Greek democracy (and perhaps democracy tout court): that in the end its promises are always at least potentially worthless; that the struggle for hegemony, for consensus, is but a distraction; and that those in power will always ignore the rules if it suits them. In the end, this is the problem of Medea.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


The Odyssey is structured around repeated dramas of (mis)recognition: who is he? what is this? who am I? But no recognition scene is more crucial than the one in which Odysseus finally reveals himself to his son Telemachus. For this is always more a story about fathers and sons than it is about husbands and wives.

Penelope is at best a foil: her task is to keep a place open for the rightful head of the household, and therefore to fend off the suitors' attempt to fill the void left by her husband's long absence. But by the time that Odysseus returns, Telemachus finally has a claim to that spot, as is shown by his curt treatment of his mother in Book One: "So mother, / go back to your quarters. Tend to your own tasks, / the distaff and the loom [. . .] As for giving orders / me will see to that, but I most of all: / I hold the reins of power in this house" (1:409-414). The irony, of course, is that it is precisely by tending to "the distaff and the loom" that, in the long span during which Telemachus has been growing up, Penelope has in fact surreptitiously been holding the reins of power--or rather, preventing anyone else from taking them up.

But by Book Sixteen, Odysseus is back and ready (or as ready as he will ever be) to take his place and reassert order in what has become a household turned upside down, in which the guests have abused the code of hospitality by which Greek society is shown to cohere. The suitors have to be killed because they have confused the roles of host and guest. Odysseus will be the unwanted guest, the beggar at the threshold, who asserts his right to host--and to deny hospitality.

Telemachus, however, takes some persuading that his father has returned. Though Athena returns Odysseus to his former appearance (perhaps making him look still more like the younger man who originally embarked to war against Troy: "taller, supple, young" [16:197]), the son assumes that his transformation indicates divinity: "this must be some god [. . .] surely you are some god who rules the vaulting skies!" (16:202, 206). Even after "long-enduring" Odysseus clarifies twice--"No, I am not a god [. . .] No, I am your father" (16:209, 212)--his son continues to be skeptical. "No, you're not Odysseus! Not my father! / Just some spirit spellbinding me now [. . .] you seem like a god who rules the skies up there!" (16:220-21, 228). It is only after our hero repeats himself once more that Telemachus finally accepts that his father has finally returned.

What then? How does one treat a man, as opposed to a god? If the poem repeatedly confuses the distinction between divinity and humanity (if a son cannot recognize his father, who can be sure who is what?), then what is the key difference?

The answer is simple: you ask a man to tell you his story.

As soon as Telemachus has it clear in his mind that he is dealing with his father rather than a god, he comes out with all sorts of questions: "What sort of ship, dear father, brought you here?-- / Ithaca, at last. Who did the sailors say they are? / I hardly think you came back home on foot!" (16:252-54). And these questions echo the queries put to Odysseus by the loyal swineherd, who never doubted that the man before him (even if he didn't recognize him) was a mortal like himself: "Who are you? where are you from? your city? your parents? / What sort of vessel brought you? Why did the sailors / land you here in Ithaca? Who did they say they are? / I hardly think you came this way on foot" (14:215-19). In turn, these questions also echo the myriad queries made of any guest throughout the epic. Nestor to Telemachus: "Strangers--friends, who are you? / Where did you sail from, over the running sea-lanes?" (3:79-80); the queen of the Phaeacians to Odysseus: "Who are you? Where are you from? / Who gave you the clothes you're wearing now? / Didn't you say you reached us roving on the sea?" (7:274-76). And so on and so forth.

Men tell stories. They tell stories about themselves, their ships, their crewmates, their clothes. And of course they also tell stories about their exploits, their families, their gods. This is how they reward the hospitality they receive. More importantly, this is what makes them human. And there is nothing more human, then, than the Odyssey itself: one long story about men, ships, crewmates, clothes, exploits, families, and gods.

The gods themselves do not tell stories. The appropriate reaction to a god is not to elicit narrative, but (as Telemachus makes clear) to make them promises of gifts and sacrifices: "Oh be kind, and we will give you offerings, / gifts of hammered gold to warm your heart" (16:207-8). Men tell stories about gods; the gods accept sacrifices from men.

So stories--discourse, narrative--are essential to human intercourse. No wonder every guest is asked to tell his tale. And in an oral culture, he tale told is all the more important: it is the performance of narrative that assures our humanity. But at the same time, the recognition that performance can also be "only" an act, a tall tale, a means of deception, provokes great distrust and ambivalence. Odysseus, after all, tells great stories. But even after insisting to the swineherd that he "hate[s] that man like the very Gates of Death who, / ground down by poverty, stoops to peddling lies" (14:182-83), he goes on to tell the most elaborate of whopping falsehoods about "hail[ing] from Crete's broad land" (14:228).

Tale-telling is what makes us human, and how we relate to each other as humans, but it is also inherently unreliable, untrustworthy.

It is no surprise then that the only two characters who recognize Odysseus on their own account are either strangers to language (the master's loyal dog; 17: 330-31) or do so by reading some rather more material sign. The old nurse, Eurycleia, is washing her former charge down when "in a flash, she knew the scar" (19:445) left on his knee by a boar many years earlier. Eurycleia reads Odysseus's body directly, and as such is the only human to sound out the truth before the king himself makes himself known to them.

The mark on the body, a sort of primitive writing of injury and affect, shows up the precarious humanity of the tall tale that is The Odyssey itself.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


The Wednesday quotation, part XVIII: More on TED, from a quite damning review of Parag Khanna and Ayesha Khanna, Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization:
I take no pleasure in declaring what has been obvious for some time: that TED is no longer a responsible curator of ideas “worth spreading.” Instead it has become something ludicrous, and a little sinister.

Today TED is an insatiable kingpin of international meme laundering—a place where ideas, regardless of their quality, go to seek celebrity, to live in the form of videos, tweets, and now e-books. In the world of TED—or, to use their argot, in the TED “ecosystem”—books become talks, talks become memes, memes become projects, projects become talks, talks become books—and so it goes ad infinitum in the sizzling Stakhanovite cycle of memetics, until any shade of depth or nuance disappears into the virtual void. Richard Dawkins, the father of memetics, should be very proud. Perhaps he can explain how “ideas worth spreading” become “ideas no footnotes can support.”

[. . .]

Since any meaningful discussion of politics is off limits at TED, the solutions advocated by TED’s techno-humanitarians cannot go beyond the toolkit available to the scientist, the coder, and the engineer. This leaves Silicon Valley entrepreneurs positioned as TED’s preferred redeemers. In TED world, tech entrepreneurs are in the business of solving the world’s most pressing problems. This is what makes TED stand out from other globalist shindigs, and makes its intellectual performances increasingly irrelevant to genuine thought and serious action. (Evgeny Morozov, "The Naked and the TED ". The New Republic [August 2, 2012].)

Wednesday, September 05, 2012


Watching this footage (which I've just come across) gives me goosebumps.

It comes from a pro-Sandinista solidarity concert held in Nicaragua in 1983, billed as a "concierto por la paz centroamericana." The soundtrack was released as "April in Managua." I used to own the cassette version, which I was given in Honduras sometime around 1988. I practically wore it out listening to it.

Wikipedia tells me that Alí Primera, the singer here, died a couple of years later, at the age of 42, which only adds further poignancy to this video.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012


Guy de Maupassant's "Toine" is (much like "The Little Cask") something of a parable of economic theory.

Toine, the eponymous innkeeper, is the very model of productive consumption. He is the biggest fan of his own product: the cognac that he calls "extra-special," which he declares to be "the best in France." His zealous praise of his own produce gives him his nickname, "Toine-My-Extra-Special," and his loquacity and cheeriness draw customers from miles around, "for fat Toine would make a tombstone laugh."

But what makes him special (and presumably what makes him cheery) is also his prodigious appetite, which is itself a marvel for visitors to this out-of-the-way hamlet, sheltered in a ravine from the ocean winds: "merely to see him drink was a curiosity. He drank everything that was offered him."

This consumption, however, is not simply wasteful or a drain on his resources. It is in fact what makes his business profitable. Consumption and acquisition are happily mixed in Toine's gregarious nature: "His was a double pleasure: first, that of drinking; and second, that of piling up the cash."

Toine is a poster boy for profitable sybaritism. He is a living rejoinder to miserliness on the one hand, and the Protestant work ethic on the other.

And this is surely what irks his wife. She is angered by the fact that her husband "earned his money without working." The story's narrative, then, is devoted to her efforts to turn him into something more like a laborer: to reap profit not from his consumption but from a more stringent (and more morally acceptable) program of regimentation and discipline.

So she makes Toine into a broody hen.

Laid up after an apoplectic fit (the fruit of his excessive enjoyment, though it hardly slows him down: he sets up a regular domino game by his bedside and he would still "have made the devil himself laugh"), Toine is forced to keep his wife's chickens' eggs warm. For the long, anxious gestation season, his movements are even more radically restricted: he can no longer turn to left or right, for fear of "plunging him[self] into the midst of an omelette."

As time goes by, Toine, whom his wife has long regarded as more beast than man ("You'd be better in the sty with along with the pigs!") comes more and more to identify with the animal kingdom. There's something almost Kafkaesque about his gradual metamorphosis, if not into a pestilent cockroach but into a mother hen. His arms become like wings, under which his precious charges shelter.

And becoming animal is also (here at least) a becoming feminine: he manifests "the anguish of a woman who is about to become a mother." No wonder that his is an "unusual sort of paternity" as he is transformed into "a remarkable specimen of humanity."

But the story is not so much about Toine's gradual animalization, and more about simply his increasing recognition of his animal status. For Maupassant treats all his characters as, frankly, beasts: Toine's wife "walked with long steps like a stork, and had a head resembling that of a screech-owl"; his friend Prosper, whose idea the entire stratagem is, has "a ferret nose" and is "cunning as a fox." Another friend is if anything less human still: he is "somewhat gnarled, like the trunk of an apple-tree."

So perhaps Maupassant's final word is that, whichever economic regime they favour, and whether they choose the moral virtue of restraint or the sybaritic pleasures of unlicensed consumption, in the end all of his characters are animals. Either way, what you have are simply various modalities of affective labor. It's just that some are more in tune with this realization than others.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


The Wednesday quotation, part XVII: Nathan Heller on TED:
TED may present itself as an ideas conference, but most people seem to watch the lectures not so much for the information as for how they make them feel. ("Listen and Learn: The TED Talk Phenomenon". New Yorker [July 9 and 16, 2012]: 73.)
I really dislike TED. For what it's worth, there's nothing I dislike more about it than the cult of the nauseous Sir Ken Robinson. But that's just a symptom, one among many. We could put it this way, rewriting TED's trademark slogan: they're not ideas, and they're not worth spreading. They're merely balm for the neoliberal soul, a cynical veneer of supposed intellectualism to leaven the effects of the market.

Friday, August 17, 2012


On a weeknight last year, my friend Alec and I found ourselves at the bar of Vancouver's newly renovated Hotel Georgia. This small bar, in an out of the way corner, is quiet at the best of times and downright sleepy on a Tuesday night. It is a good place to talk and hear yourself think; it has no televisions, no piped music. We had some cocktails and vowed we would be back.

A week or so later we did indeed return, and once again sat up at the bar where we briefly chatted to the bartender about the cocktail scene in Vancouver, asking him for suggestions of any other places he thought we might like in the city. He mentioned a couple of names and we went back to our own conversation. But just as we were leaving, the barman presented us with a sheet of hotel notepaper. This turned out to be a list of fifteen bars and restaurants titled, with something of a flourish, “Derek's Top Picks.” We thanked him and knew we had a mission.

Over the following months, we gradually made our way around all the establishments listed. When I proposed one of Derek's picks as a place to meet, I would explain that “It's on the list.”

We discovered that the list was fairly eclectic. Some places were high-end restaurants, others were dedicated cocktail lounges, while still others had few if any pretensions. Some were busy and full of hipsters; others were quiet and laid-back. Some specialized in classic cocktails, others advertised their creativeness with new recipes and bold combinations of flavours. But they all, without exception, made us some great drinks.

We often sat up at the bar and chatted to the barstaff. At first, we'd try to explain our mission and the fact that Derek had recommended them; everyone knew him, and bartenders often said they felt honoured to be included among his top picks. But we soon discovered we had no need to offer excuses. Cocktails are back in fashion these days, and a city like Vancouver has a vibrant community of increasingly knowledgeable mixers and consumers.

Finally, we finished our mission. We had tried all fifteen of Derek's top picks. We had a hard time ranking them, but some favourites included The Diamond (all wood and brick on a second-floor in Gastown), the Clough Club (which we went past a couple of times before noticing its understated façade), and the Keefer Bar (if it weren’t for the live music that chased us away). But it was time to report back.

We made our way to the Hotel Georgia and asked after Derek. The guy serving at the bar said that Derek had moved on; he was no longer with the hotel. He was not exactly sure where he was now. We exchanged a few words about this somewhat strange circumstance, but left it at that. It was only when the bartender had to go elsewhere for a minute or two that the other punter sitting at the bar turned to us and said “They don’t want to say it, but Derek is dead. Nobody knows exactly how or why, but some say it was suicide.”

And so it turns out. Derek Vanderheide, the 36-year old bar manager at the 1927 Lobby Lounge, had died back in March, while we were still following the route set out in Derek's Top Picks.

Naturally enough, there is now a cocktail in his honour: a mix of bourbon, rum, orgeat syrup, bitters, and Herbsaint anise liquor. But for Alec and myself, the legacy of our very brief encounter with Derek is his list, his knowledge of the local bar scene, and his passion for cocktails, which prompted us to experience the city in new ways.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012


I also rather like this review, which is a pretty astute synthesis and translation of the book's main concerns. It ends:
La importancia de una propuesta co- mo Posthegemony ha sido reconocida, por ejemplo, en el hecho de haber alcanzado la única mención de honor que otorga el Katherine Sin- ger Kovacs Prize del MLA para las publicaciones del 2010. Pero sobre todo porque, en las múltiples cues- tiones que despierta, deja abierta la puerta para caminos que aún que- dan por transitar.
Francisco Angeles, Reseña. Revista de Crítica literaria latinoamericana 75 (2012): 510-514.

Monday, July 23, 2012


“We will never ask what a book means, as signified or signifier: we will not look for anything to understand in it. We will ask what it functions with, in connection with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities, in which other multiplicities its own are inserted and metamorphosed” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 4).