Saturday, 14 February 2009

Dutch mysteries...

Walking around Amsterdam to buy a printer today I realised how little I understand of Dutch culture and people. Coming from an under-developed (according to Western criteria) European country more than an year ago, the first thing that strucked me was the 'apparent' efficiency of the city. Trams are on time, car drivers are disciplined, people are not too loud, banks and public services are not too crowded. Excitement! Moreover, the city is truly beautiful. Its little houses, stuck one to the other to the level of exploding, appear as chocolate cakes decorated with cream on top (my sister described them like this). Parks, green spaces, bikes and ducks.

The centre of Amsterdam is really gorgeous and I have been lucky enough to live always there.
Yet, things start appearing less clear when one goes to the supermarket (Albert Heijn - the only brand in town, a sort of huge omnivorous octopus that has bought really every corner) or to the local 'soaps shop' (Kruidvaat).

Everything appears immediately less 'rational' than one could expect. The criterion that organises the allocation of commodities on the shelves of these places is still unclear to me, so you find biscuits and toilet paper in the same sector; though some biscuits have certainly a laxative effect to justify this choice. The pharmacy (apotheek) is also a mystery to me. Whenever you go there you have the strange experience of waiting at least 45 minutes while watching 20 people working on the back room and only one in the cash desk. I used to think that people get days off when they need an aspirin, but then I realised that most common medicins here can be found in a normal shop, near the vegetables and the kitchen cleaning sponges.
After these startling experiences I have decided to track records of them and to investigate further into the main bizarre aspects of Legoland (having lived for years in the monumental Rome, Amsterdam's buildings and monuments appear to me like cute constructions made of Lego).

So, here are the aspects:

1) Water (quite a dominant element in the landscape);

2) Food (interesting subject: like the English one, Dutch food is not famous for being great but it also seems to play a less important role in life);

3) Spinoza (this is the city of Spinoza!!! Yet, I cannot see signs of him left...)

4) Calvinism (I started to understand truly Max Weber when I came here)

5) Money (more important than food)

6) Politics (this is the city where Anton Pannekoek taught!!!! No traces left of him, whatsoever!!)

7) Tolerance (have a trip with the metro and you start doubting of it...)

And let's see what else develops out of it.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Cornel West and Mos Def - Great and Hilarious!!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

The Heimat of bio-power

I guess you follow a bit what happens in Italy at the moment. The baleful dwarf (alias Berlusconi) is not satisfied to have finally shown the farcical security of the Rechtsstaat, to have brought into light the smarmy level of decadence of more than a half of the Italian people and the criminal hypocrisy of Vatican land. These are quite important achievements, but he is not happy yet. What the dwarf seems to desire more than anything is the Foucaldian nightmare of bio-power. A law has just been made according to which only the Pope and the State (i.e. Berlusconi-Bonaparte) have the right to decide over the life and death of a young woman, who is in a vegetative state since 1992 ( Yet, this is not the bottom line. In the same week, the Italian Senate approved a law that obliges doctors to denounce “illegal” migrants if they ask for medical help. In other words, migrants have the choice either to die on the streets or in a jail.

The feeling of nausea is reaching unbearable levels. It is hard to comment on these events with a lucid analysis and without a profound distrust in humankind.
However, it is important to understand and bear in mind how strongly these epiphenomena are related to the present historical conjuncture, on the one hand, and to the intrinsic violence of capitalism on the other.
Foucault grasped well the ‘conjunctural’ level when, in The History of Sexuality, he described Biopower as the power over other bodies, “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations”. In Foucault’s account, the level of biopower is a step of sophistication of State power under the dominance of the capitalist mode of production (as I understand it).
Now, this level of ‘institutional’ violence over unarmed bodies, the constituent cruelty of capital, reminds me of what Marx writes at the very end of the second part of Capital Volume one. These words have always rumbled in my head as the most lucid portrayal of violence over a body, as the most tragic visual representation of De profundis.

“When we leave the sphere of simple circulation or of exchange of commodities, which provides the “Free-trader vulgaris” with his views, his concepts and the standard by which he judges the society of capital and wage-labour, a certain change takes place, or so it appears, in the physiognomy of our dramatis personae. He who was previously the money-owner now strides out in front as a capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his worker. The one smirks self-importantly and is intent on business; the other is timid and holds back, like someone who has brought his own hide to market and now has nothing to expect but — a tanning” (p. 280).

Capitalist society, in the end, is a tannery!!