Monday, April 30, 2007


PinochetThe turn to neoliberalism that Pinochet’s regime inaugurated has been termed a "silent revolution," as in the book titles both of the apologia written by Joaquín Lavín and the leftist critique written by Duncan Green. But Luis Salinas's The London Clinic shows the benefits of simply listening to the general speak: Salinas aims to explain Pinochet and the Pinochet effect primarily by collecting and presenting the general's own words.

The over-riding impression provided by this collection mostly comprised of quotations (from Pinochet, but also from his collaborators and defenders, plus some press commentary) is of the general's astonishing confidence, his refusal to apologize, but also a certain candor. The most famous example of this attitude is his remark that "burying two corpses in the same grave makes for great economies" (28). He later confirms the bon mot, declaring "That is what I meant. [. . .] I never regret what I say" (107). For Manuel Contreras, former chief of Pinochet's secret service, the DINA, the only regret is "not having been harder on the Marxists" (104).

What becomes clear is that if Pinochet and co. have nothing to regret, they also have nothing to hide. This is why Pinochet's words are so damning: he feels no need for justification and no compunction to persuade us of his methods or his goals. Everything is on the surface. Perhaps there are some details that are not worth exploring, some areas best left unexamined; but these are all rather inconsequential. Thus in a 1984 interview, when asked of the disappeared “Have you ever had any interest in finding out where all those people ended up?” Pinochet responds with condescension: “Señorita, no one knows. Look, if there are right now thirteen million Chileans, let's say twelve million, out of twelve million, two thousand are nothing (he makes a hand gesture to indicate a very small number). [. . .] In this country, señorita, things need to be forgotten” (112-113).

Pinochet produces effects rather than arguments. His ideological deficit reveals itself continually through the quotations collected in The London Clinic. The general has no clothes, but he is happy to parade naked. There is no real pretence that he is anything but guilty. As the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia comments regarding the judicial process in the British courts, aimed at his extradition to Spain, "No-one speaks of Pinochet as if he were innocent" (95). His defense rested instead upon technicalities.

So a transparent neoliberalism employs technocrats rather than ideologues, concerning itself with the economics of burial and the management of populations rather than with the singular victims whom the families of the disappeared hope to uncover.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


Approaching the end of the current chapter, I'm coming to see conatus as a key concept. This is both blindingly obvious and a Eureka moment (and a Eureka moment is always the sudden realization of the obvious): after all, conatus is almost the only term that Deleuze, Bourdieu, and Negri have in common.

Bourdieu adopts the concept quite late on, and never fully develops it. I think, moreover, that it reveals a striking ambiguity in his work. Here is a lengthy passage in which he employs the term in a response to his critics; and note that he is apparently defending himself from the charge of determinism. It's also, incidentally, part of a section on "historicist ontology":
The relation between habitus and the field through and for which it is created is an unmediated, infraconscious, practical relation of illusio, of investment, of interest in the game, which implies a sense of the game and a sense (which the twofold meaning of orientation, direction, and signification) of the history of the game; in short, a practical anticipation or inclination not to be mistaken for a conscious project or a calculated scheme. This investment, realized only in the relation between habitus and field, is the specific libido, the socially constituted and fashioned principle of every action. Both habitus and field (and also the specific form of capital produced and reproduced in this field) are the site of a sort of conatus, of a tendency to perpetuate themselves in their being, to reproduce themselves in that which constitutes their existence and their identity (for instance, in the case of the bourgeois habitus, the system of diferences and distances constitutive of distinction). This I hold against a finalist, utilitarian vision of action which is sometimes attributed to me. It is not true to say that everything that people do or say is aimed at maximizing their social profit; but one may say that they do it to perpetuate or to augment their social being. ("Conclusion" 274; my emphasis)
The first thing to say is that if this is a defence against determinism, then my goodness! For it's a very strong statement of the principle of reproduction, of what elsewhere Bourdieu terms the "specific inertia" of both habitus and field.

But here's the ambiguity: is it not a very different thing to attribute conatus to a habitus rather than to a field?

For in so far as a group or subject struggles "to perpetuate or to augment [its] social being," is is constantly struggling against the countervailing tendency of the field to seek to perpetuate its social being. Precisely because there's always a slippage between habitus and field, there's therefore also a constant struggle between the two, even as habitus is also the means by which a field reproduces itself. (And also vice versa?)

Bourdieu sometimes, as here, recognizes the possibility of a group conatus, a striving distinct from the social field. But too often he considers only the field's self-reproduction, as for instance when he describes habitus as "one of the mediations through which the social order fulfils its tendency to persevere in its being, in a word, its conatus" (Pascalian Meditations 152).

But again, especially in so far as a social subject strives to augment its social being, then that subject is always in conflict with the field in which it expresses that striving.

To put this at its most schematic, borrowing from Marx's formula for the commodity (which may or may not be apposite): one could either consider the interplay between habitus and field from the perspective of the field, and the (differential, historical) reproduction of the social order, viz. Field-Habitus-Field, or F-H-F'. Alternatively, however, from the perspective of the group (and part of the problem is that Bourdieu has no real theory of the group, or rather no immanent theory), the formula would be H-F-H'.

Here, then, is May 1968 explained in almost precisely these terms, and in contrast to any ideological analysis. Against suggestions that the prime cause of the événements was "the diffusion of learned ideologies--such as that of Marcuse," Bourdieu argues that
This semblance of ideological diffusion results in fact from the multiplicity of simultaneous but independent, albeit objectively orchestrated, inventions, realized at different points of the social space, but in similar conditions, by agents endowed with similar systems of dispositions and, so to speak, the same social conatus (by which we mean that combination of dispositions and interests associated with a particular class of social position which inclines agents to strive to reproduce at a constant or an increasing rate the properties constituting their social identity, without even needing to do this deliberately or consciously). (Homo Academicus 176; emphasis in original)
Now, again for all Bourdieu's stress on "inventions" there's a clear reductionism implied here. But it ain't necessarily so. Not if we regard, as Spinoza does, conatus as itself the essence of a body, so that an increase in power is also a change in social identity or state, because it is a change in the power to affect or be affected.

Finally, it's worth pointing out that this struggle, this conflict between habitus and field and their two conatus (conati?) takes place via the encounter, good or bad, positive or negative. In the slippage between habitus and field, either sad or joyful passions can be engendered, leading to a transformation either of habitus or indeed of the field itself. Bourdieu once more:
One can also say, following the same logic, that habitus helps to determine what transforms it. If it is accepted that the principle of the transformation of habitus lies in the gap, experienced as a positive or negative surprise, between expectations and experience, one must suppose that the extent of this gap and the significance attributed to it depend on habitus: one person's disappointment may be another's unexpected satisfaction, with the corresponding effects of reinforcement or inhibition. (Pascalian Meditations 149)
Yes, the functionalist tenor persists. But the "surprise" of the encounter has surely also to be the location of a certain unpredictability--a surprise, if you like, also for the analyst. And equally the field (as well as the habitus) must also be affected variably, by either reinforcement or inhibition.

Either way, however, the segue to the multitude becomes clear.

And I wonder if we could posit a disparity similar to that posited by Negri for the multitude... I.e. whereas the field (and social reproduction) is dependent on habitus, is habitus really dependent on the field in the same way? I'd wager that it isn't.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


Posthegemony, the book, is due to appear with the University of Minnesota Press in September 2010. A translation into Spanish will be published by Paidós.

Here are drafts of the various chapters. Comments are more than welcome.

Introduction: A User's Guide

0.1 definitions
0.2 structure
0.3 Latin America ... and beyond

Prologue: October 10, 1492

00.1 the fiction of hegemony
00.2 affects and habits
00.3 the multitude and the pact

1. Argentina, 1972. Cultural Studies and Populism

1.1 defining cultural studies
1.2 a progressive project: populism
1.3 a theory of hegemony: Laclau
1.4 populism and the state
1.5 beyond cultural studies: habit

2. Ayacucho, 1982. Civil Society Theory and Neoliberalism

2.1 defining civil society
2.2 a progressive project: new social movements
2.3 a theory of civil society: Cohen and Arato
2.4 neoliberalism and the state
2.5 beyond civil society: affect

3. Escalón, 1989. Deleuze and Affect

3.1 the return of affect
3.2 affect as immanence
3.3 terror
3.4 towards habit

4. Chile, 1992. Bourdieu and Habit

4.1 the persistence of habit
4.2 habit as immanence
4.3 life
4.4 towards the multitude

Conclusion: Negri and Multitude

5.1 the multitude as subject
5.2 open
5.3 contiguous
5.4 common
5.5 continuous

Epilogue: April 13, 2002

6.1 the multitude breaks the pact
6.2 habits and affects
6.3 the insistence of posthegemony

Works Cited

Friday, April 27, 2007


The paradigmatic space of contemporary neoliberalism is the shopping mall. Malls constitute a space that is simultaneously local and universal, sited in a particular geographical location yet also hermetically sealed from local context, part of a world of commodities that knows no national borders. Moreover, as Beatriz Sarlo notes, the mall "creates new habits [. . .] familiarizing people with the ways in which they should function in the mall" (Scenes from Postmodern Life 13). In Chile during the dictatorship, a quite distinctive version of the mall flourished in Santiago's upscale neighborhoods such as Providencia: the caracol or "shell," so-called because they are shaped somewhat like seashells, with shops lining a spiral walkway surrounding a central atrium. First to be built was the "Caracol Los Leones," in 1975; other examples include "Dos Caracoles" (1976), "La Rampa de las Flores" (1979), and "Caracol Vips" (1982). Though their popularity has since declined, Cecilia Gutiérrez Ronda recounts that the caracoles were all the rage in the late 1970s: "Everyday Saturday, as was the habit at the time, Providencia was the big draw for shopping" ("Caracoles"). Unlike the typical North American mall, which tends to be no more than two stories high, and to be built to an "L" or "T" plan with major department stores at each extremity, caracoles have no such "anchor" stores, but are rather occupied by up to 200 more or less equally small retail outlets strung out over the equivalent of five or six stories. Moreover, they also lack the meeting points characteristic of other mall architecture. These common areas, usually located at the intersection of the mall's main thoroughfares, are a legacy of the philosophy of pioneering architect Victor Gruen, the so-called "inventor of the shopping mall" who designed Detroit's Northland Mall (the United States' first multifunctional regional shopping center) in 1954, and Minneapolis's Southdale Center Mall (the first fully enclosed, climate-controlled shopping center) in 1956. Gruen, "a fervent socialist" as Jeffery Hardwick notes (Mall Maker 3), hoped that malls would counteract the increasing atomization of 1950s US suburbia, by uniting city center functions and services under a single roof and serving as the modern version of the ancient Greek agora or medieval city square.

But the Chilean malls, by contrast, accentuate atomizing tendencies. In the caracol, even the atrium floor is usually at a basement level, and so bypassed by shoppers. Thus there are no areas of special intensity and no points for downtime to break up the shopping experience; the caracoles construct a smooth space which is relatively undifferentiated along the whole length of its gently sloping gradient. These malls can only be successfully negotiated by very small groups or by individuals: any larger congregation of bodies would cause congestion on the narrow ramps. Shoppers are separated out by the gaping void of the atrium. Processes encouraged elsewhere by the dictatorship, such as the dissolution of group identities, are therefore facilitated in the course of reverent interaction with boutique-packaged commodification. No wonder that the North American building that the caracoles most resemble should be Frank Lloyd Wright's New York Guggenheim museum: both are secular shrines whose centrifugal force draws people away from each other and towards a collection of riches to be venerated. In the malls, however, a state logic of disassociation combines immediately and immanently with the market presentation of seemingly limitless choice lining a prescribed but otherwise aimless path, to generate a cultural practice of anomic consumerism. The endless, spiralling drift up and down that they encourage is a post-ideological disaggregation of potentially subversive bodies; and there is neither outside nor inside, only a moebius strip of commerce winding round a central abyss.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


I went to hear Peter Greenaway talk the other afternoon. As I’ve mentioned before, I used to like his early work very much, and was pleasantly surprised by The Baby of Mâcon.

Peter GreenawayGreenaway's presentation, entitled "Cinema is Dead, Long live Cinema," lasted a couple of hours, and offered what he termed "provocations" on familiar themes: the conservatism of film, the various tyrannies that afflict the cinema (the frame, the text, the actor, the camera, but also the narrative and the director), and his fundamental interest in painting. I say that these themes are "familiar" because many of the same observations can be found, often word for word, in his Cinema Militans Lecture of 2003.

Sometimes he was a little over the top, as in his repeated suggestion that the first act of civilization had been a painting, and the last act would most likely be a painting, too. And not least in his declaration that the cinema died with the introduction of the remote control. Sometimes he was spot on, for instance in his observation about how little the cinema had changed since its invention in the 1890s compared to the many developments in literature and painting over the same period. Even so, he omitted the entire history of avant-garde or experimental film, let alone the non-narrative elements of mainstream cinema. Throughout, he gave the impression that his was a lonely voice heroically standing up to history.

He also talked about some of his ongoing projects, including Stairs, an installation in Geneva that consisted of a hundred small staircases in public places at the top of which which people could view some aspect of the city "framed." This is one of a series of projects that he described as "stripped down cinema." Others, some of which may or may not be realized, focus on projection (in Munich) or the prop (in Trieste).

Finally, he showed a few clips. But these were what was most disappointing.

They included a "son et lumière" installation projected onto Rembrandt's Night Watch. Greenaway didn’t call this a "son et lumière," but really that's all it was. And surprisingly, given his antipathy to text or narrative, the effect of the installation was above all to generate a narrative out of the pictorial image. At the beginning all is dark, cocks then crow to signal dawn, lights reveal figures, steps, a dog barks, and so on. Yes, it revealed aspects of the painting that are not evident at first glance, but no more or less so than any other attempt to enliven a painting for pedagogical purposes. Eve Sussman's 89 Seconds at Alcázar is a much more interesting (and more properly cinematic, in all senses of the term) animation of a classic painting.

Martin Freeman in NightwatchingLikewise the trailer of Greenaway's upcoming film Nightwatching (which can be seen here) hardly raised many expectations that would make me see it once it's out of post-production. As a costume drama dealing with the context of an old master, it's not obvious how different it is from, say, Girl with a Pearl Earring. Except instead of Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson: Martin Freeman, from The Office.

But perhaps Night Watching is merely a bid for commercial (semi-)success to finance what Greenaway really wants to be doing? Well, if that's a project like The Tulse Luper Suitcases, a multimedia work with its own website and video game, then as far as I'm concerned, judging by the clip he showed, he needn't bother. For all Greenaway's talk of the "well-wrought image," the screen was simply busy: with multiple overlays of the same shot from different perspective, chessboards, drawings, images of water, subtitles, and so on. The idea may have been to produce some kind of palimpsest, but the diaphanous quality of each layer suggested an overall insubstantiality. Moreover, it lacked the humor of Greenaway's rather similar first film, The Falls, much of which was a parody of the public information films that Greenaway started out making while in the employ of Britain's Central Office for Information.

I fear that Greenaway now takes himself rather too seriously. No wonder, if he thinks it's his duty single-handedly to save cinema from itself.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


The past few posts have been rather wordy, and not very bloggy. Apologies. As some kind of compensation, here is a photo of a man plotting Bourdieu's downfall, in a Montreal bar.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007



Belief is a matter of the body: "To speak of 'ideologies' is to locate in the realm of representations [. . .] what in fact belongs to the order of belief, that is, to the level of the most profound corporeal dispositions" (Practical Reason 55). It is also therefore immediate. Bourdieu adapts and radicalizes Pascalianism. If for Pascal, belief arises from corporeal dispositions, for Bourdieu it is located in those dispositions themselves, and needs never rise to consciousness. Though praising Pascal's challenge to "all those who insist on seeing belief in terms of representations" (The Logic of Practice 49), Bourdieu argues that Pascal maintains a pre-eminence of consciousness over practice, "as if will and consciousness were the basis of the disposition which 'with no violence, art or argument makes us believe'" (49). For Bourdieu, however, dispositions are always primary: "what is essential goes without saying because it comes without saying" (Outline 157; emphasis in original). There is no prior decision, and so no wager. Institutions work directly on the body; social order produces no rationale so long as it needs none, and "the principles embodied in this way are placed beyond the grasp of consciousness" (94). Everything begins and ends at the level of the corporeal, as we are habituated to subjection. We are steeped in doxa, "the relationship of immediate adherence that is established in practice between a habitus and the field to which it is attuned, the pre-verbal taking-for-granted that flows from practical sense" (The Logic of Practice 68). Despite its immediacy, however, there is always some slippage between habitus and social order. Something always escapes. For as a deposit of the power relations that structure a given social field, habitus is always a residue, an embodied memory of a previous state of that field. And because fields are always in flux, in that their contours are determined only in the course of a permanent struggle between social agents and their continual position-takings, habitus and field are never fully synchronized. Hence the historicity of habitus, or rather what Bourdieu terms its "double historicity" in that it is both the product of history and the force that, by generating practice, produces history (Invitation 139; see also Outline 82). More fundamentally still, habitus generates time itself, for "time is what practical activity produces in the very act whereby it produces itself. [. . .] Time is engendered in the actualization of the act" (Invitation 138). History and time, in short, are also fully immanent: "the theory of practice condensed in the notions of field and habitus allows us to do away with the metaphysical representation of time and history as realities in themselves, external and anterior to practice" (138).

The historicity of habitus secures social reproduction, but also and at the same time allows for the possibility of resistance. It is because the practices it generates express dispositions structured by a previous state of the field, that habitus provides the continuity that ensures that historical structures are reproduced in the present. But the encounter between dispositions shaped by history and the field in its current state, and the inevitable slippage between the two, makes for unpredictable effects and so the possibility of a new history. Habitus ensures resonance, but also leads to dissonance. Hence the "hysteresis effect necessarily implied in the logic of habitus," which means that "practices are always liable to incur negative sanctions when the environment with which they are actually confronted is too distant from that to which they are objectively fitted" (Outline 78). Hysteresis can account for missed opportunities, for clumsy or unsuccessful practices by which an individual or group confirms, despite themselves, their social decline. Equally it can provide an embodied memory that serves as a resource or resistance, just as Paul Gilroy argues that the "structures of feeling which underpin black expressive cultures" derive from embodied memory both of "the once forbidden drum" and of "a terror which has moved beyond the grasp of ideal, grammatical speech" (The Black Atlantic 77, 76, 71). In either case, the gap that arises in the slippage between embodied structures and actual practices opens up a time for strategy. It is the strategic aspect of practice that means we can speak of a social game: though the playing field is never level, structured as it is by symbolic domination and unequal distributions of capital, still the result of each move is always partly in doubt. Time enables strategy, which in turn depends upon timing. As Bourdieu observes in his analysis of gift exchange, what counts is not some transcendent structure or invariable rules, but "the tempo of action" and "the interval between actions," such that a successful outcome is guaranteed only by the skilful management of time, by acting neither too precipitately nor too late (The Logic of Practice 106).

Monday, April 23, 2007


An attempt to explicate some of my earlier thoughts on habitus and field...

Authoritarian regimes ultimately rely neither on persuasion nor on censorship but on the silent harmonization that they establish in everyday routines. Such regimes are often described as "states of exception," a term associated with Carl Schmitt, whose Political Theology defines the sovereign as "he who decides on the exception" (5). For an analysis of states of exception in Latin America, see Brian Loveman's The Constitution of Tyranny. The Chilean constitutions of 1925, 1980, and 1985 (those in force during the Pinochet regime) codified the instances in which states of exception could be enforced, and Pinochet meticulously obeyed the letter of this constitutional authority in his promulgation of states of emergency and states of siege. His regime eventually promulgated its own Law of the States of Exception in 1985, further codifying and regularizing exceptionality. As Snyder observes, the government, using both old and new legislation, "created a complex hierarchy of states of exception, which could be declared by the government in cases of internal disturbance, subversion, or public calamity. These included the state of siege, the most repressive, the state of emergency, and in the wake of the 1980 Constitution, the State of Danger of Disturbance to Internal Peace" ("The Dirty Legal War" 264). But amid this increasingly complex typology and perhaps surprising adherence to the rule of law, what is important is how such exceptionality soon becomes normal: "The states of exception were renewed constantly, with the state of emergency in force from 1973 until 1988 when the plebiscite was held" (264). Exceptionality thus became the norm, as indeed it was throughout much of Latin America during this period: the state of emergency in Paraguay under Stroessner, for instance, was uninterrupted from 1954 to 1988. The exception became routine, while protest became exceptional.

Hence despite the understandable attention paid to the resistance against the Pinochet dictatorship, what should be noted, because it otherwise goes without saying, is how limited it was. Little has been written about "everyday" authoritarianism in Chile, the long periods of relative calm (however uneasy) that predominated in most of the country, most of the time. (Perhaps we could find such accounts in the novel or the chronicle rather than in social scientific studies.) For instance, Samuel Chavkin's Storm over Chile takes its subtitle "The Junta Under Siege" from a chapter describing the protests of 1983-1984, but has nothing at all to say about either the period 1974-1983, from the coup's consolidation to the outbreak of protest, or 1984-1988, from the height of the protests to the plebiscite that eventually brought down Pinochet. Or rather, the entirety of what Chavkin has to say about the period 1984-1988 is the following single sentence: "For yet another four years Pinochet continued to hang on to power by torture and murder of his opponents" (278). Hence Chavkin hardly explains either the quiescence that was the rule or indeed why that quiescence should be broken, however briefly, by the protests that he celebrates. By contrast, Cathy Schneider's fuller account of the protests is more thoughtful about the reason for their abeyance in the mid-1980s. She quotes one activist, Leo, arguing that "people left their homes, were beaten, saw no clear purpose to endure the abuse, grew bored with the protests, and returned to their homes" (Shantytown Protest 187). Leo's comment indicates not simply state-sponsored opposition, but also a fatigue and a boredom that took over even in the most radicalized of barrios, a tiredness echoed elsewhere in Schneider's text: "activists grew weary," she notes, commenting on a 1986 survey that showed the remarkable percentage of Chileans who felt tense, "resigned and disappointed," or "sad" (187-8); she remarks on the "state of numbness" that psychologists diagnosed even among activists (202); and she endorses Aristide Zolberg's argument that "movements of political enthusiasm are followed [. . .] always by the restoration of boredom" (qtd. 211). In this panorama of a movement that has worn itself out, a low-level anxiety comes to the fore as ideological concerns recede. Schneider quotes Duncan Green's observation that the new generation of Chilean workers is "a collection of anxious individualists" who are no longer, now in Schneider's words, "ideologically predisposed" (206). A general state of "physical and mental exhaustion" prevails (206). Tiredness and waiting. In body and mind, Chileans in Schneider's description were, by the end of the dictatorship, afflicted by the affects that Spinoza categorizes as sad passions: the "sadness [that] diminishes or hinders a man's powers of action" (Ethics 3P37 109). In Bourdieu's terms, we see the "resignation to necessity" that, he argues, characterizes the habitus of the dominated classes (Distinction 380).

It is in this context of exhaustion, and against the celebration of popular resistance found for example in Kenneth Aman and Cristián Parker's Popular Culture in Chile, that Ton Salman emphasizes that the explosion of energy and enthusiasm in the revolt of Chile's new social movements was "an exceptional episode" (The Diffident Movement 4). Salman points to the "lengthy periods of 'normalcy'" during which "what is involved are dispositions that do not solely play a role at the level of consciousness" (4). He employs Bourdieu's concept of habitus to explain the delay in the emergence of poblador militancy in terms of a "class unconsciousness" (146) incarnating a "sensitivity to authority" and "a wider and deeper tendency to reject deviancy" (147). The pobladores' dispositions were "fragmentary and pragmatic and not politically articulated" (153). Protest only erupted once "the specific habitual and internalized ways of interpreting and perceiving Chilean reality and one's own position and options within it became inadequate" (207). Even then, the ensuing mobilization was essentially conservative. For instance, women became active in the name of family and community survival, fostering "a practical, non-ideological politicization of the disrupted linkages in the traditional family, and in the traditional poblador strategies" (212). Salman emphasizes habitus as a source of inertia, as the embodied sedimentation of a collective history that structures the present and so "resists change and guarantees the continuity of subjects" (49). Politics, in its traditional conception as a spectacular and articulate attempt to set or change the public agenda through discourse, arises only when there is a breakdown between the expectations incarnated in habitus and the objective conditions of the moment, when traditional (unspoken, unconscious) strategies fail because the field that molded them has changed. Thus the protests' emergence and their decline had the same cause: a radical disenchantment. In the first instance, and especially for women and the young, the call to mobilization in 1983 and 1984 catalyzed a "disillusioned optimism" (193) that arose from the failure of inherited strategies that had enabled survival and the prospect of social betterment for an earlier generation of male workers. But as the protests became routine, they became subject to the same disenchantment: disappointment itself became embodied within the pobladores' habitus. So it is less that the protests "set the stage," as Schneider suggests, "for a negotiated transition to democracy" (Shantytown Protest 194) than that they were the visible symptom of a deeper transition in the regime of affect, from a sense of expectation nurtured by the state to the all-pervasive low-level anxiety that characterizes a postdictatorial order in which the market sets the tone for social interaction. The period of the new social movements, in other words, effected a step-change within the habitus of the majority of Chile's population, habituating them to the order that would come fully into its own only after the end of the dictatorship, with the institutionalization of the state of exception under neoliberalism.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


Jonestown movie posterThe other day I saw the documentary Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, the story of the rise and spectacular fall of Jim Jones and his quasi-socialist experiment in constructing an alterative society first in Northern California, latterly in a remote outpost in Guyana.

An interview with the director and some clips from the film are available on YouTube.

The film features many interviews with former members of the Peoples Temple, not least with some of the few survivors of the events of November 17 and 18, 1978. It also has a wealth of archive footage: of services in San Francisco, and of the visit of Congressman Leo Ryan whose visit to the Jonestown colony precipitated the final crisis and mass suicide.

Ryan, very much a hands-on politician, went down to Guyana to investigate reports of abuses. At first the visit went well from the perspective of Jones and his followers. There's an extraordinary moment in which Ryan addresses a meeting of the community and declares "whatever the [questions and criticisms] are, there are some people here who believe this is the best thing that ever happened to them in their whole life." This statement is followed by thunderous, overwhelming, and evidently spontaneous applause. The tumult of noise simply doesn't stop. Ryan tries to say more, but is evidently taken aback, embarrassed but also somehow pleased, by the sheer force of the affect he has conjured up.

Now imagine being Jim Jones and receiving such a response on a regular basis.

The screening I attended was followed by a discussion led by a particularly clueless psychologist who repeated all the usual clichés about cults and brainwashing. What was striking was the way in which his discourse simply mirrored that of so-called cults: establishing a clear line between "us" and "them," and warning us that "they" might seem superficially attractive and rational, but were in fact deeply dangerous and deceitful.

Watching the documentary itself, however, revealed the continuities between the Peoples Temple experience and the atmosphere of the time. Jim Jones emerged at the intersection of a potent cocktail of political radicalism, religious fervor, racial utopianism, and a general questioning of all norms.

Jones's extraordinarily liberal racial politics were particularly evident, and clearly also long-standing and deep-held. One of the film's interviewees was Jones's adopted son, Jim Jones Jr. (he happened to be away from Jonestown the night of the massacre), who points out that he was the first African American child to be adopted by a white family in the state of Indiana. Other interviewees comment that, as far as they were concerned, Jones was not a white pastor: his empathy and understanding for the African American experience was almost instinctual, innate.

The film was particularly effective in conveying the appeal of the Peoples Temple: the way in which it offered an affective community, a dose of ecstasy, an amalgamation of Freedom Ride and hippie commune and underground cell. No wonder at least one former member comments:
a part of the film made me long to be back there in Peoples Temple. [. . .]

I wish that I could again experience the warmth of that Peoples Temple family and see the look of joy on the faces of my children as they interacted with that great big family. Back then I knew that I was a part of something that was going to make a difference in this world, and I was so happy that my children were going to be a part of it. I knew then that my life had purpose, and that I had done the right thing for me and for my children. I was glad that my mother [. . .] was also a part of this.
(Other responses are here).

But then there is the sense of disappointment, the tragedy that something, somewhere, went wrong. Somehow paranoia took over, the multitude turned bad:
I wanted November 18, 1978, to have been an ordinary day in the life of Peoples Temple, the day after November 17, the day before November 19 and so many days after.

It is all inside my head, too much inside my head. I find myself wanting to scream “Let’s have a do over. Let’s not have anyone die. Let’s not have Jonestown and Peoples Temple be what people say to describe a cult.” But if you have a do-over, where do you start from?

How it hurts to have to remember that it is all gone.
For more, see the film's website, this YouTube montage, as well as Rebecca Moore's indispensable Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


The key to the difference between Bourdieu and Deleuze, and so to the specificity of the concept of habitus, consists in Bourdieu’s introduction of the related concepts of “field” and “symbolic capital.” For Bourdieu, habitus is always embedded in a prior social field, which itself is structured by symbolic power. In some ways Bourdieu takes more seriously than Deleuze, then, the notion encapsulated in Deleuze and Guattari’s affirmation that “politics precedes being” (A Thousand Plateaus 203). For if habitus is a set of “structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures” (The Logic of Practice 53), it is not only generative but also generated. It is the product of a given state of power relations: the social field as a whole, and also distinct subfields (such as the artistic field, the journalistic field, the academic field). Hence, in Loïc Wacquant’s words, the relation between habitus, field, and capital is that “a field consists of a set of objective, historical relations between positions anchored in certain forms of power (or capital), while habitus consists of a set of historical relations ‘deposited’ within individual bodies” (Bourdieu and Wacquant, An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology 16). Hence the dispositions of habitus are also depositions, both in the sense that they constitute a record of the state of the field that formed them and (to use now more Deleuzian terminology) that they are the sediments or deposits that form within a particular landscape of power. They are “conditionings associated with a particular class of conditions of existence” (The Logic of Practice 53). And what they therefore generate or structure in turn tends therefore to reproduce the structures that constituted them, in that they generate practices that seem to call those structures into being, that take them for granted without the need of words or discourse.

Each field is structured by a competition for domination and capital. “The structure of the field,” Bourdieu argues, “is determined by the structure of the distribution of the distinct forms of capital that are active in it” (An Introduction to Reflexive Sociology 108). For there are different forms of capital, each of which has a different weight depending upon the field in question. Broadly, for instance, the field of culture is structured in terms of its differential distribution of cultural capital, while it is financial capital that counts in the market for economic goods. Yet Bourdieu downplays the direct influence of financial capital, and is interested above all in the distinct forms of symbolic capital that are subject to struggle in different subfields, and the ways in which the definition of capital (or what is to be accorded value) is at stake in these struggles, as well as the mechanisms by which one form of capital is converted into another. In the end, the most effective power is symbolic: “symbolic” here does not imply either representation or a power that is “merely” symbolic, but refers a mode of domination that achieves legitimacy in that its arbitrariness is misrecognized, so much so that it goes without saying. Bourdieu and Passeron present this as the fundamental axiom grounding their analysis of social reproduction: “every power which manages to impose meanings and to impose them as legitimate by concealing the power relations which are the basis of its force, adds its own specifically symbolic force to those power relations” (Reproduction 4; emphasis in original). What is reproduced through habitus, habitually, is our corporeal assent to the legitimacy of these power relations, and to the unequal distribution of capital that they secure.

Habitus is reflex and relay, product and producer, assuring social continuity by literally incarnating the principles of social order. In Bourdieu’s words, “it ensures the active presence of past experiences, which, deposited in each organism in the form of schemes and perception, thought and action, tend to guarantee the ‘correctness’ of practices and their constancy over time” (The Logic of Practice 54). It ensures that social agents are attuned to their circumstances. It fosters the self-confidence of the “inheritor” who, rich in cultural capital, exhibits a confidence and flair that is rewarded with further social and cultural capital; and it also ensures that those dispossessed of cultural capital assent to their dispossession by rejecting what is culturally consecrated (be it higher education or high art) with the sentiment that it is not for them. Privilege is naturalized as though it were simply a “gift”; and subordination is taken for granted as though social difference were a question of talent or taste. The dispossessed are often the first to admit that they have only themselves to blame. And all this is legitimated and arbitrated by institutions and officials who have no need to be aware of what they are doing, who can be committed or even (increasingly) entirely cynical about the ideals they are upholding. For ideals are not at stake. Academic diplomas, for instance, attest to “gifts” and “merits,” and can do so objectively with no hint of bias, because the real work has been done in the conversion and so dissimulation of privilege as attitude. The source of these dispositions is concealed, all the more effectively in that the habits they generate are second nature. Hence, Bourdieu and Passeron argue, “the supreme privilege” of the privileged is “not seeing themselves as privileged,” which in turn “manages the more easily to convince the disinherited that they owe their scholastic and social destiny to their lack of gifts and merits, because in matters of culture absolute dispossession excludes awareness of being dispossessed” (Reproduction 210). There is no conspiracy because there is no hidden knowledge: the game’s winners as much as the game’s losers, as well as its arbitrators, can all act in perfectly good faith. The judgments that lead to social promotion or exclusion, such as the feeling that “he’s a good chap” or “she’s not one of us,” can be justified by transcendent principles whose legitimacy is assured by the fact that they resonate with immanent habits.

Friday, April 20, 2007


After many moons of silence, a new post over at Latin American on Screen...

Jesús (Jess) Franco, prolific Spanish-born master of schlock and exploitation, has shot more than his fair share of movies in or about Latin America. Indeed, he has pretty much cornered the market in the genre of women-in-prison-on-unnamed-South-American-island-or-in-unnamed-South-American-jungle films. (See for instance 99 Women, Women in Cellblock 9, Quartier des femmes, or Sadomania).

Girl from Rio posterIn The Girl from Rio (like many of Franco's films, released in various different versions and under different titles, including The Seven Secrets of Sumuru and Rio 70), the women are, at least temporarily, on top.

[. . .]

The film is full of hokey and low-budget special effects, copious soft-core nudity not least in its dream-like pre-credit sequence, bizarre futuristic outfits, bikini-clad lovelies cavorting in swimming pools, torture scenes involving either portable fans or a contraption that looks like a dentist's x-ray machine, and unavoidably a chase scene through the crowds of Rio's Carnival.

Girl from Rio Torture scene

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Something I'm working on, and I thought I'd put it up to see what the various Bourdieusians and Deleuzians make of it...

Bourdieu’s concept of “habitus” is, in the first place, central to his intervention into the ongoing debate about structure and agency, “one of the key faultlines that runs through social theory” (Korczynski, Hodson, and Edwards, “Introduction” 12). On the one hand, there are theorists who stress the ways in which social structures constrain and determine individual or social agency. Marxism and psychoanalysis, for instance, in different ways tend to emphasize the ways in which agency is constrained by structures that are, respectively, material and psychic. On the other hand, other theorists stress the fact that agents can resist or overcome these structural determinants. The tendency of cultural studies, for example, is to point to the slippages by which (say) consumers determine their own responses and eke out a measure of agency even within contemporary capitalism. Or as Anthony Giddens (whose theory of structuration is an alternative bid to resolve the debate) puts it, those for whom “structure (in the divergent senses attributed to that concept) has primacy over action, and the constraining qualities of structure are strongly accentuated” are arrayed against those for whom “action and meaning are accorded primacy in the explication of human conduct; structural concepts are not notably prominent, and there is not much talk of constraint” (The Constitution of Society 2). Giddens goes on to characterize this difference as an “imperialism of the social object” facing “an imperialism of the object” (2). In short, these are two competing claims to transcendence; what is at stake, Giddens argues, is as much ontological as it is epistemological, as much about our models of what society is as about conflicting perspectives regarding the same model (2).

Bourdieu’s intervention is therefore also ontological, substituting immanence for the dueling imperial transcendences of structure and agency. He refuses both “mechanism” (an emphasis on structure) and “finalism” (a stress on agency), arguing that the debate between the two is “a false dilemma” (Outline of a Theory of Practice 72). If “it is necessary to abandon all theories which explicitly or implicitly treat practice as a mechanical reaction” shaped by rules or structures alone, equally “rejection of mechanistic theories in no way implies that [. . .] we should reduce the objective intentions and constituted significations of actions and works to the conscious and deliberate intentions of their authors” (73). Mechanism and finalism, structure and agency, are each as reductionist as the other, seeking causes always elsewhere, in some other dimension, either the “transcendent, permanent existence” of objective social constraints and regulations or the “transcendence of the ego” equipped to make its own rules (27, 75). So Bourdieu turns to habit, or “habitus,” an embodied set of dispositions immanent to practice itself. Habitus is a system “of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles which generate and organize practices and representations” (The Logic of Practice 53). These dispositions are “objectively ‘regulated’ and ‘regular’ without in any way being the product of obedience to rules, objectively adapted to their goals without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends” (Outline 72). Habit, our everyday activity, is therefore the product of a “scheme (or principle) immanent in practice, which [. . .] exists in a practical state in agents’ practice and not in their consciousness, or rather, their discourse” (27; emphasis in original). Regulation and practice are immanent to each other, rather than mediated either by consciousness or by external structures. Habitus is an attitude of the body. It is the unspoken, unspeakable, feel for the social game that generates the positions and actions that agents adopt in given situations, in regular if not fully predictable ways. In short, because it is immanent, habitus is both embedded, and so structured; and it is also generative, an immediate rather than external motor of action.

There are many overlaps between Bourdieu’s habitus and Deleuze’s conception of the “virtual.” Both are immanent and productive, intensive and affective, corporeal and immediate. The relation between habitus and practice is not unlike that between the virtual and the actual: an unfolding or differentiation that takes place in the event of an encounter with other bodies. Habitus and the virtual alike describe an ontology that underlies but is of a different order from the realm of representation, discourse, and ideology. Habitus, Bourdieu tells us, is like the work of art in that it “always contains something ineffable, not by excess [. . .] but by default, something which communicates, so to speak, from body to body, i.e. on the hither side of words and concepts” (Outline 2; emphasis in original), while the virtual, Brian Massumi explains, is “the unsaid of the statement, the unthought of thought” (A User’s Guide 46; emphasis in original). Hence both theorists’ distaste for ideology: for Deleuze and Guattari, “there is no ideology and never has been” (A Thousand Plateaus 4); for Bourdieu, more measured, “I have little by little come to shun the use of the word ‘ideology’” (Pascalian Meditations 181). And yet, despite these manifold similarities, the tenor of Bourdieu’s work differs markedly from Deleuze’s. Where Deleuze emphasizes escape, and a flight towards the immanent virtuality of affect as an empowering realization of what the body can do, for Bourdieu the immanence of habitus is characterized above all by inertia. Bourdieu shows how habit enables social reproduction and works against radical social change, so much so that (as Bourdieu and Wacquant note) some even accuse him of “a politically sterile hyperfunctionalism” (An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology 52). Though his “functionalist tenor” (Lane, Bourdieu’s Politics 116) does not exhaust Bourdieu’s account of habit, the contrast with the voluntarist tenor of Deleuze’s theorization of affect is dramatic. Yet the difference is not, as Massumi claims, that habitus is an “ideological notion” whereas Deleuze’s account “emphasizes that [habit] belongs as much to the organic stratum, to the productive, physiological capacities of the flesh” (“Introduction” xxxvii). Bourdieu’s habitus is fully as corporeal as Deleuze’s affect. Rather, we might almost say that the structure and agency debate is replicated in the difference between Deleuze and Bourdieu, but now as a contest between two immanences.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Though I haven't read anything by him for years, I used to be a huge fan of Kurt Vonnegut's. I met him briefly once, in London, at a book signing for Hocus Pocus. His signature includes the familiar asterisk that was, he said, a representation of his asshole, as seen also in this self-portrait below.

I asked him if he knew there was an indie band called Kilgore Trout from Nottingham. He said he didn't, and mumbled something about royalties.

I'll write more, later.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Here's my brief contribution to a symposium on "What is Literature?" Nothing too surprising, but still...

What is Literature?

Literature can be considered from two perspectives: as part of a system of cultural distinctions; and as a tendency that resists all systematization. These definitions are antagonistic, but their conflictive tension indicates literature’s interest and importance.

good literatureThe notion that literature is part of a larger cultural system is familiar. Literature is one mode of writing opposed to others, and defined by its difference from (say) expository or documentary prose; and also from work that lacks quality or texture. Hence James Estes, Douglas Demaster, and Daniel Doak’s Whales, Whaling, and Ocean Ecosystems, which features chapters such as “Industrial Whaling in the North Pacific Ocean 1952-1978: Spatial Patterns of Harvest and Decline,” is not literature; while Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is. Equally, it would be hard to argue that David A. Carter’s The 12 Bugs of Christmas: A Pop-up Christmas Counting Book is literature; yet Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is generally accepted as part of the canon.

This first definition describes a system that organizes texts according to genre and canonicity. It’s a system that’s generally accepted: I can enter a bookstore and ask for contemporary literature, and expect to be understood, that the bookseller and I are using the term similarly. There are marginal cases (say, Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales), and there are ways of reading literature that ignore generic or canonical differences (researching nineteenth-century maritime culture via Moby Dick, for instance). But on the whole these distinctions are established as common sense, and turn around the way in which literature (as genre and canon) treats language. Literature spotlights language itself, subordinating the uses to which language can be put, above all referentiality. Literature, in other words, pays particular attention to form.

But here things become complicated. For just as literature cannot divorce itself from content altogether, so other texts also are linguistic products (and we could generalize to visual language in the analogous cases of, say, film or visual art) that necessarily employ formal strategies. There is something literary in all texts. And a careful reading (a literary reading) of any text demonstrates the ways in which literary form, language itself, tends to subvert non-literary use, the drive to referentiality and transparency, and undoes attempts to impose order on culture. This is literature in its second definition.

There is much to say about the first definition: literature as system, as a canonical genre that promotes form at the expense of content, which is (for me) best analyzed by sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu on the one hand, and formalist critics such as Victor Shklovsky on the other.

Yet it is the second, which reveals a rebellious, resolutely anti-utilitarian literariness in all texts, that most interests me. Here the prominent theorists are deconstructionists such as Jacques Derrida, but also (if in rather different ways) post-structuralists such as Roland Barthes and Gilles Deleuze. And the challenge that these critics pose is how to actualize the literariness of a range of texts, in the teeth and against the grain of a cultural system that would corral the literary within a relatively restricted cultural domain. And all this without, however, losing sight of the practical and pragmatic effects of accepted distinctions between what is literature and what is not.