Saturday, 27 June 2009

Spinoza mon amour

Some time ago on this blog I wrote I wanted to develop some notes on what I feel are Amsterdam's most intriguing aspects. Among them I listed Spinoza - as this happens to be the city where Spinoza was born in 1632. Quite fortunately a 'spinozian festival' was held until very recently, thus providing the possibility to go back to the previous inspiration and to collect some materials that I share here. First of all, the Spinoza Car (see below):

This is truly a piece of work! The car is completely covered in glasses with the stamp of Spinoza's face, different editions of Spinoza's work and, above all, tributes of love and passionate messages addressed to Spinoza's images.

The kitsch-effect is consciously and tenaciously pursued so the viewer sees the ironic and almost surreal intent. But more than this, I think the excessive-love messages that frame the smiley-sweety face of Spinoza especially infuse a feeling of mirth, which Old Spinoza, defender of the virtue of happiness, not as a reward, would certainly like. In one of the most insightful passages I have ever read, Spinoza defined "true happiness" as "the enjoyment of what is good, not in the pride that" somebody "alone is enjoying it, to the exclusion of others."

He who thinks himself the more blessed because he is enjoying benefits which others are not, or because he is more blessed or more fortunate than his fellows, is ignorant of true happiness and blessedness, and the joy which he feels is either childish or envious and malicious. For instance, a man's true happiness consists only in wisdom, and the knowledge of the truth, not at all in the fact that he is wiser than others, or that others lack such knowledge: such considerations do not increase his wisdom or true happiness. Whoever, therefore, rejoices for such reasons, rejoices in another's misfortune, and is, so far, malicious and bad, knowing neither true happiness nor the peace of the true life. (from the Theologico-Political Treatise).

Spinozian spirit is also fulfilled in one of the funniest installations presented in the Spinoza Exhibition. Here artist Thomas Hirschhorn explains how to dance Spinoza. Like lambada, or tango or salsa, spinoza is a love couple-dance, fully faithful to Spinoza's idea that "love is pleasure" that "may be excessive"... (Book IV, Prop XLIV, Ethics).

One of the greatest moments of the Spinoza Festival, however, was the participation of Toni Negri, the author - among other things - of a book that is considered to be one of the most insightful ever written on Spinoza, i.e. The Savage Anomaly. With his renowned passionate style, Negri presents the "revolutionary force of Spinozian utopia" as follows:

The festival was organised in South-east Amsterdam, finally outside the white-glacé fakely peaceful centre of the city ... I think Spinoza would have felt at home.
The festival ends today but the website with all materials and contacts will be available till mid july (here). Enjoy!

Michael Jackson R.I.P.

This is probably my favourite video, both musically and content-wise (Lyrics here) (info on this controversial clip here). I like remembering him this way.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009


Slavoj Zizek

I have just received this article apparently written by Zizek. Rumors say that it was turned down by the NY Times.

When an authoritarian regime approaches its final crisis, its dissolution as a rule follows two steps. Before its actual collapse, a mysterious rupture takes place: all of a sudden people know that the game is over, they are simply no longer afraid. It is not only that the regime loses its legitimacy, its exercise of power itself is perceived as an impotent panic reaction. We all know the classic scene from cartoons: the cat reaches a precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet; it starts to fall only when it looks down and notices the abyss. When it loses its authority, the regime is like a cat above the precipice: in order to fall, it only has to be reminded to look down… In Shah of Shahs, a classic account of the Khomeini revolution, Ryszard Kapuscinski located the precise moment of this rupture: at a Tehran crossroad, a single demonstrator refused to budge when a policeman shouted at him to move, and the embarrassed policeman simply withdrew; in a couple of hours, all Tehran knew about this incident, and although there were street fights going on for weeks, everyone somehow knew the game is over. Is something similar going on now? There are many versions of the events in Tehran. Some see in the protests the culmination of the pro-Western “reform movement” along the lines of the “orange” revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, etc. – a secular reaction to the Khomeini revolution. They support the protests as the first step towards a new liberal-democratic secular Iran freed of Muslim fundamentalism. They are counteracted by skeptics who think that Ahmadinejad really won: he is the voice of the majority, while the support of Mousavi comes from the middle classes and their gilded youth. In short: let’s drop the illusions and face the fact that, in Ahmadinejad, Iran has a president it deserves. Then there are those who dismiss Mousavi as a member of the cleric establishment with merely cosmetic differences from Ahmadinejad: Mousavi also wants to continue the atomic energy program, he is against recognizing Israel, plus he enjoyed the full support of Khomeini as a prime minister in the years of the war with Iraq. Finally, the saddest of them all are the Leftist supporters of Ahmadinejad: what is really at stake for them is Iranian independence. Ahmadinejad won because he stood up for the country’s independence, exposed elite corruption and used oil wealth to boost the incomes of the poor majority – this is, so we are told, the true Ahmadinejad beneath the Western-media image of a holocaust-denying fanatic. According to this view, what is effectively going on now in Iran is a repetition of the 1953 overthrow of Mossadegh – a West-financed coup against the legitimate president. This view not only ignores facts: the high electoral participation – up from the usual 55% to 85% - can only be explained as a protest vote. It also displays its blindness for a genuine demonstration of popular will, patronizingly assuming that, for the backward Iranians, Ahmadinejad is good enough - they are not yet sufficiently mature to be ruled by a secular Left. Opposed as they are, all these versions read the Iranian protests along the axis of Islamic hardliners versus pro-Western liberal reformists, which is why they find it so difficult to locate Mousavi: is he a Western-backed reformer who wants more personal freedom and market economy, or a member of the cleric establishment whose eventual victory would not affect in any serious way the nature of the regime? Such extreme oscillations demonstrate that they all miss the true nature of the protests. The green color adopted by the Mousavi supporters, the cries of “Allah akbar!” that resonate from the roofs of Tehran in the evening darkness, clearly indicate that they see their activity as the repetition of the 1979 Khomeini revolution, as the return to its roots, the undoing of the revolution’s later corruption. This return to the roots is not only programmatic; it concerns even more the mode of activity of the crowds: the emphatic unity of the people, their all-encompassing solidarity, creative self-organization, improvising of the ways to articulate protest, the unique mixture of spontaneity and discipline, like the ominous march of thousands in complete silence. We are dealing with a genuine popular uprising of the deceived partisans of the Khomeini revolution.

There are a couple of crucial consequences to be drawn from this insight. First, Ahmadinejad is not the hero of the Islamist poor, but a genuine corrupted Islamo-Fascist populist, a kind of Iranian Berlusconi whose mixture of clownish posturing and ruthless power politics is causing unease even among the majority of ayatollahs. His demagogic distributing of crumbs to the poor should not deceive us: behind him are not only organs of police repression and a very Westernized PR apparatus, but also a strong new rich class, the result of the regime’s corruption (Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is not a working class militia, but a mega-corporation, the strongest center of wealth in the country).

Second, one should draw a clear difference between the two main candidates opposed to Ahmadinejad, Mehdi Karroubi and Mousavi. Karroubi effectively is a reformist, basically proposing the Iranian version of identity politics, promising favors to all particular groups. Mousavi is something entirely different: his name stands for the genuine resuscitation of the popular dream which sustained the Khomeini revolution. Even if this dream was a utopia, one should recognize in it the genuine utopia of the revolution itself. What this means is that the 1979 Khomeini revolution cannot be reduced to a hard line Islamist takeover – it was much more. Now is the time to remember the incredible effervescence of the first year after the revolution, with the breath-taking explosion of political and social creativity, organizational experiments and debates among students and ordinary people. The very fact that this explosion had to be stifled demonstrates that the Khomeini revolution was an authentic political event, a momentary opening that unleashed unheard-of forces of social transformation, a moment in which “everything seemed possible.” What followed was a gradual closing through the take-over of political control by the Islam establishment. To put it in Freudian terms, today’s protest movement is the “return of the repressed” of the Khomeini revolution.

And, last but not least, what this means is that there is a genuine liberating potential in Islam – to find a “good” Islam, one doesn’t have to go back to the 10th century, we have it right here, in front of our eyes.

The future is uncertain – in all probability, those in power will contain the popular explosion, and the cat will not fall into the precipice, but regain ground. However, it will no longer be the same regime, but just one corrupted authoritarian rule among others. Whatever the outcome, it is vitally important to keep in mind that we are witnessing a great emancipatory event which doesn’t fit the frame of the struggle between pro-Western liberals and anti-Western fundamentalists. If our cynical pragmatism will make us lose the capacity to recognize this emancipatory dimension, then we in the West are effectively entering a post-democratic era, getting ready for our own Ahmadinejads. Italians already know his name: Berlusconi. Others are waiting in line.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Spinozists united:
Toni Negri in Amsterdam on Friday

Great festival in Amsterdam (programme here) until the 28th of June as part of the project "Open Source Amsterdam". In the next days:

- Wednesday 24th June - 15h
Sebastian Egenhofer / "Hercules Segers: A Spinozian view"

- Friday 26th June - 15h
Toni Negri / "Politiques de l'immanence, politiques de la transcendence: l'enseignement de Spinoza"

- And every day at 17h30:
Lecture by Marcus Steinweg

Monday, 22 June 2009

R.I.P. Giovanni Arrighi

Symposium on Giovanni Arrighi's Adam Smith in Beijing (2008) - Here!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Invertebrate left... but with a nice bum!

New! Free! Mini! Generous! Essential! Surprising! These and other adjectives surround the young female bum portrayed in the image above, but they are not referring to it, no no, do not fall into the trap! The trick is bold and refined, it uses the noble art of rhetorical allegory to alert the reader that the referent is not in the foreground but in the pocket, not on the surface of immediate, uncouth mental connections but in the depth of the audacious association between sensuous femininity and ... an old, communist newspaper. The epithets, indeed, are referring to "L'Unità" (see the pocket), the journal founded by Antonio Gramsci in 1924 and, from then onwards, official mouthpiece of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and, after its end, of its inheritors.
In its incomparable synthesis, the Unità-bum tells us of two major historical defeats: 1) the defeat of the feminist movement (unable to become 'senso-comune') reduced to a bum, as if there was the need to sell even the ex-communist newspaper by means of women's bodies (is there anybody in Italy who does not use boobs and bums to sell a commodity?) 2) and the defeat of the left, swept away from the parliament and, more importantly and despairingly, from the streets and the civil society.
In his article (here), Anderson claims that the snobbish intellectual posturing of the PCI apparatus and intelligentsia towards popular culture, increasingly saturated "with a tidal wave of the crassest idiocies and fantasies" diffused by Berlusconi's mediatic counter-revolution, had been one of the reasons for the left's progressive defeats ... Is the Unità retreating to Berlusconi's bum-marketing style in order to obtain the lost connection? Well, if this is the opinion l'Unità has of popular culture and if Berlusconi's consent is 'threatened' using the same schlock-lobomotising tools, we cannot really hope for a change anytime soon...