Thursday, 30 July 2009

On Italian Marxisms by Peter Thomas in the last number of 'New Left Review'

As this blog happens to be particularly sensitive to the Anglo-Italian dialogue and to Marxist and leftist issues more in general, I recommend the reading of the first review essay on Italian Marxisms in the last number of New Left Review. The entire number is worth reading by the way!

New Left Review 58, July-August 2009

Kenneth Pomeranz: The Great Himalayan Watershed

From Asia’s mountainous heart flow rivers on which half the world’s population depends. Pomeranz examines the complex interaction between human water needs, fragile ecology and vast infrastructural projects—and the far-reaching consequences of their conjugation.

Miroslav Hroch: Learning from Small Nations

Leading scholar of national questions discusses his personal trajectory and theoretical development, against the backdrop of the Czech experience. Sociological and historical roots of national feeling, and comparative perspectives on their European destinies.

R. W. Johnson: False Start in South Africa

Disappointments of post-apartheid rule, marred by mass unemployment and corruption, amid the enrichment of a new black elite. Does the arrival of Zuma, and new salience of the SACP within the ruling alliance, portend a lurch to ethnic conflict and capital flight?

Patrick Bond: In Power in Pretoria?

Responding to Johnson, Patrick Bond locates the origins of the ANC’s neoliberal record since 1994 in the compromises of the transition era. Rhetoric versus reality, and the subordination of trade unions and SACP alike to capital’s prerogatives.

Etienne Balibar: Althusser and the Rue d'Ulm

Retrospective look at the life and work of Althusser, seen within the structures—personal, political, institutional—of the École Normale Supérieure. Teaching, thinking and writing at the intersection of private and public realms.

Fredric Jameson: Marx and Montage

The author of Archaeologies of the Future unearths fragments from ‘ideological antiquity’ in Alexander Kluge’s recent film on Capital. Encounters with Eisenstein’s unrealized equivalent, seeking a cinematic transposition of the commodity fetish.


Peter Thomas on Cristina Corradi, Storia dei marxismi in Italia. Multiple inheritances of Labriola, Gramsci, operaismo and other currents. Can a pluralized theoretical tradition aspire to outrun reverses in praxis?.

Tony Wood on Michael Reid, Forgotten Continent: The Battle for Latin America’s Soul. A revised neoliberal gospel for the region, courtesy of the Economist.

Max Gasner on Robert Kagan, The Return of History and the End of Dreams. The 21st century as re-run of the 19th, shaped by the ambitions of ascendant autocratic powers.

Friday, 17 July 2009

For f...'s sake. Leave us alone! Part II

This is one example of the new marketing strategy that the University Alma Mater of Bologna (Italy) has chosen in order to attract more students. I am still collecting some materials. More soon!

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Rethinking Marxism Conference
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Call for Papers

New Marxian Times will be held over four days, beginning on Thursday evening, 5 November 2009 and ending on Sunday afternoon, 8 November 2009. In addition to two plenary sessions and an art exhibition, there will be concurrent panels, workshops, and art/cultural events. We invite the submission of organized sessions that follow traditional or non-traditional formats (such as workshops, roundtables, and dialogue among and between presenters and audience) as well as individual presentations. Since Marxism covers a wide variety of fields, from literature to public health and forms of political practice, from environmental organizing to opposing global inequality and envisioning new economic and social practice, anyone engaging with Marxism in any discipline or form of activism is encouraged to submit paper and panel proposals. We encourage those working in areas that intersect with Marxism, such as critical race theory, feminism, political economy, anarchist studies, cultural and literary studies, queer theory, working-class and labor studies, postcolonial studies, geography and urban studies, psychoanalysis, social and natural sciences, philosophy, and around issues of class, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, and disability, to submit proposals. We also welcome video, poetry, performance, and all other modes of presentation and cultural expression.


Proposals for papers, films, or other formats should include:

  • Paper title
  • Presenter's name and contact information (mail, email, phone, affiliations)
  • Brief abstract (no more than 200 words)
  • Technology needs for presentation

Proposals for panels should include:

  • Panel title
  • Name, contact information, and paper title for each presenter
  • Brief abstract (no more than 200 words) explaining the panel's focus
  • Brief abstract for each paper (no more than 200 words)
  • Names and contact information for any discussant(s) or respondent(s)
  • Technology needs of presenters
  • Title, contact, and address for any sponsoring organization or journal

The appropriate preregistration fee must accompany all proposal submissions. Unfortunately, any proposal not accompanied by the appropriate preregistration fee cannot be considered. Proposals that are not accepted will have their preregistration fees returned in full. If you are submitting a proposal for an entire panel, please make sure you include the preregistration fee for all members of the panel.

The deadline for proposal submission is 1 August 2009.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Subversive sideburns!

We know how Italians are concerned with appearance, to the extent that 'fare una bella figura' marks the sharpest distinction between a gentleman and a lout, a refined and an uncouth lady. On the occasion of the G8 in Abruzzo, therefore, the authorities of L'Aquila encouraged the earth-quacked population of the region - still living in tents and caravans - to show the Vips of the world that a 'bella figura' is a precious concern for the descendants of Dante and the countrymates of Dolce&Gabbana.

Thus they enacted a special ordinance for which "the population (...) must respect precise behavioral and hygienic norms" (see the image above - unfortunately it is not a joke...).
The third 'article' states: "Female citizens must avoid wearing mini-skirts, flip-flops and scanty clothes". Now, the prohibition of flip-flops might appear bizarre. In reality, upon careful consideration, it is perfectly consistent with the ban of mini-skirts and scanty clothes as flip-flops expose the feet to unnecessary male sight and might inelegantly recall a G-string, a thong, and the like. But now I am just wondering why they are not banning dental floss...
The second 'article' urges men "to avoid wearing undershirts, short pants and overalls". Well, at first sight it is not clear why wearing overalls is not decorous. But again, with a surplus of reflection and without losing faith in the rationale governing the intentions of the authors of the ordinance it is possible to find the answer. I think that the ban of overalls in front of Obama, Sarkozy and so on had been dictated by the fear that showing Italian men in working clothes in a country with 30% rate of unemployment and one of the highest rates of workplace deaths would have looked a bit ironical; and the authorities (who happen to have a clown as a commander in chief) want to avoid irony above all things. Well done then! Stop overalls!
However, the third article (listed as first in the ordinance in the picture) is particularly amusing. Here "male citizens" are required "to shave the beard with accuracy on the days of the 8th, 9th and 10th July, as well as sideburns and other decorations".
In front of this, I must admit I am speachless. Are sideburns forbidden because hair is regarded as anti-hygienic? So why did Berlusconi want a hair transplant? Or perhaps they are forbidden because body hair is not sexy? And ok, the malevolent gnome - as my friend Savonarola suggests calling him - prefers women who have not yet developed too much body hair...So, I can get it again. Nonetheless, the matter needs more investigation (try here).
In the meantime, I like thinking of 'subversive sideburns' as a new fashion to be promoted again. Here are some examples:

The example above is very minimalist but immediately usable by the anti-G8 movement on the leaf-lets.

This is also very nice. Perhaps more appropriate for a pluralist movement where each current would like to express its own position on the best way to grow subversive sideburns.

But this is my favourite one. Not only does it give more room for expression of political differences, but it also combines a subversive project with a scientific presentation of the different options available. Terrific!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The essence of Caesarism!

Really worth watching from the beginning to the end. Hysterically funny!

Sunday, 5 July 2009

For f...'s sake, leave us alone!!

Advertising of any kind, of any commodity is always addressed to those who should get it. In the 1950s and 1960s, male bread-winner families were the target; long-time consumption commodities kept industries going and helped the post-war economic boom to grow undisturbed for a while. Men, mostly, were those being exploited outside the household and earning the income, while women inside were the ones busy working for the daily reproduction of their men's labour power; commodity-marketing thus accomodated the division of labour by asking men to make their women happy but running ... in the end, it was not that difficult to do it ... a blender, a new dishwasher and everything was fine.

Despite its obvious gender bias, an advertisement like the one above looks almost cute and innocent compared to the level of sexism that has been reached nowadays. The latter is true especially in Dwarf-land, brought recently to renewed international attention thanks to its prime minister's regular use of public money to visit prostitutes, to host lolita-like private parties in his villas with promises of short TV appearances and, especially, to spend a one-night-stand with young women looking to start up their own enterprises.
Thus, more than anything, the Dwarf Era in Italy has amounted to a dramatic increase of sexism and disrespect for women, which is not only testified by an incredibly widespread soubrette-culture, for which young women's primary aspiration is to become a velina in one of the Dwarf's TV. More than this, the Dwarf's sexist era is progressively marked by a widespread wave of extreme violence, sexual abuses and rapes against women, the nature and role of which are publicly depicted as sexual satisfaction of men appetites. The increasing sexism of the advertising campaigns that can be seen on the walls of the streets are a very eloquent sign of this anti-feminist surge.

"We have the most famous sterns of Italy", is stated in the image on the left, where stern (poppa) in Italian also has the meaning of boob. Thus we see a regiment of young female bums entering the new ferry that promises to sweeten the holidays of all those going from Naples to Catania with a nice stock of young pretty girls.
Female sterns-boobs are used by the same company in the image below, and the advertising strategy does not fail to reassert how sexy it could be to go from Campania to Sicily, which are personified by their respective boobs-volcanos.

Travelling around the country, it is completely normal to run into huge posters - hung up on the most crowded streets of the cities - in which not only women's bodies are used to sell all sorts of commodities, but in which the sexual message becomes increasingly starker.
"Trust me! I will give it to you for free" comes out of the voluptuous woman's mouth in block capitals in the image below ... yet, it is not her sexual services, but the glasses' frame (la montatura) that will be given gratis to the lucky customers - as the undertitle clarifies - though 'montatura', in Italian language, is both the glasses' frame and the sexual position of riding.

It could be thought that what all these double-meaning, schlock-taste advertisements produce is just a smarmy smile on people's face, a bit of arousal to keep up the daily routine. However, instead of innocent excitement, today in Italy there is a daily count of violence and rapes against women. A dramatic growth of male brutality that is certainly not discouraged by an every day platitude that women are nothing but sexual objects waiting for their consumption... even with the brute force. In the image below, for example, a quasi-rape scene is used to promote a new clothes-brand. Yet, the company does not seem to be happy merely to use the image of brutally taking off woman's clothes for this commercial purpose. It aims to do it by also employing the evergreen stereotype of the black raper. The potential rapers, in fact, are blackmen, seemingly police, just to add a fashionable flavour of harsh racism to extreme sexism.

The list of sexist-advertising could go on indefinitely, perhaps even risking to fetishise this miserable southern-European culture as a red-blooded paradise.
Instead of always self-portraying themselves as latin lovers, super-machos and virile horses, Italian men would be better off realising that what the sexy advertising speaks of is their sexual impotence, pathetic insecurity and clumsy incapability of getting laid without a bit of brutality.
It is not by chance that instead of the blender for devoted house-wives, today's marketing strategists sell Italian repressed mummy-boys what they think they cannot easily get for free: thus companies sell them a quick glimpse into the décolleté of a perfect-fake breast, the sexual fantasy of a naked-female-army willing to excite them during terrible trips on rotten non-functioning ferries, the forbidden dream of playing the stereotype of the well-endowed black man trying to abuse a pretty white women.

Fortunately enough, it seems to me that more and more often Italian women (but also many men) are denouncing such barbarism and making it visible in all its shame.
Here is a short list of my Italian girl-friends who fight everyday against sexism and violence. Go, girls, go!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Marx in Amsterdam...this Friday!

Friday, 3 July 2009
20.00 hrs. (Doors open at 19.30)
Venue: IIRE, Timorplein, Lombokstraat 40, Amsterdam

Directed by Michael Fox Kennedy with Jerry Levy as Karl Marx