October 17th, 2009


Tactics, not skirmishes

My announcement at the end of September that Click Opera would end in February elicited some interesting reactions. The bit that seemed to spark the most empathy with Simon Reynolds and Mark Fisher was my anti-dialectical, anti-democratic point (if by dialectics and democracy we mean OMG WTF Web 2.0 ghost-sparring) that "Click Opera has been a sort of karate course, and its comment facility has taught me to be more dialectical and -- above all -- the skill set of prolepsis, of anticipating reader objections. But is a more moderate, accessible and dialectical me really what the world needs? Doesn't the world need an immoderate, outrageous and concentrated me, just laying out things that only I could think, no matter how wrong they may be?"

Simon Reynolds on his Blissblog responded: "Yeah I agree prolepsis sucks, it seems to have taken a lot of the categorical oomph and thrust out of writing, unless you're just utterly bullheaded you will inevitably find yourself riddling what you do with qualification and nuancing... Strangely, prolepsis rarely seems to afflict comments boxers... but i guess they can shelter under aliases or "anonymous," they don't have to own their utterances in the same way."

Mark Fisher makes a similar point on his K-Punk blog: "For me, the answer is clear - I certainly don't want writers who "respond to criticisms", who patiently deal with "feedback", no matter how hostile and uncomprehending. I want writers who have the courage to pursue their own lines. What's interesting, I suppose, is the libidinal impulses at work in those who don't want that - who would rather have a writer spending their time on discussion boards and in comments boxes defending themselves, nuancing their position into innocuous irrelevance, or effectively abandoning it altogether in the name of some vacuous commitment to "debate".

Fisher relates this to Jodi Dean's book Democracy and other Neoliberal Fantasies, which says "that there is a necessary, not merely contingent, connection between the communicative landscape of Web 2.0 and the neocon and neoliberal right." Dean and Fisher think the right and left use Web 2.0 differently; "the right uses democratic openness to advance clear, divisive positions; the left appeals to the openness first, so that it becomes identified with openness as such rather than a set of determinate policies." To counter this, Fisher thinks the left needs to spend less time answering its critics or celebrating disruption, diversity and nuance, and more time laying out crisp, clear tactical suggestions -- a "new orthodoxy".

I must say I'm enjoying immensely the North Korean films at the Asian Women's Film Festival (ongoing here in Berlin). What I find so refreshing in these films is precisely their propagandistic intent. Rather than disrupting or engaging in dialogue, they lay out as didactically as Brecht's Lehrstücke the ideology of the party. They also transform this ideology into a code of ethics to live by, and a system of family, work and community relations.

This kind of thing generally takes a royal beating at the hands of Anglo-Saxon critics of Brecht. A conversation on BBC Radio 3's Night Waves last week saw one reactionary (but fairly typical) critic say that Brecht's contribution to The Threepenny Opera was dated because communism had been consigned, since 1989, to the pit of oblivion, whereas Weill's pastiches of 1920s jazz music were "timeless". For such a critic, a didactic play like The Measures Taken (in which a young comrade sacrifices himself for the movement and is told "You've helped to disseminate / Marxism's teachings and the / ABC of Communism") would clearly be anathema.

I find such criticism, itself, antique and out-of-touch. It assumes we're still in the American century, and that because Weill did well commercially in America whereas Brecht failed miserably, Weill "won". But communism remains strong as an idea in direct proportion to the degree to which the capitalist system is seen to be failing humanity worldwide. And capitalism is, by most accounts, failing rather badly just now. Just look at two newspaper reports run in the last few days. Dollar may fall to ¥50, lose reserve status: SMBC analyst is a report in yesterday's Japan Times of the predictions of Japanese financial analyst Daisuke Uno, who correctly predicted that the dollar would fall below ¥100 and the Dow Jones industrial average would sink below 7,000 after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. last year:

"We can no longer stop the big wave of dollar weakness... If the U.S. currency breaks through record levels, there will be no downside limit, and even coordinated intervention won't work," he said. China, India, Brazil and Russia called this year for a replacement to the dollar as the main reserve currency. Hossein Ghazavi, Iran's deputy central bank chief, said Sept. 13 the euro has overtaken the dollar as the main currency of Iran's foreign reserves. Uno predicted that after the dollar loses its reserve currency status, the U.S., Europe and Asia will form separate economic blocs."

An ethical angle on the crisis came in reports this week in German papers FAZ (the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) and TAZ (Berlin's Tagezeitung) of the news coming out of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's conference in Rome this week, which stated starkly that the global economic crisis has had a devastating effect on world hunger, leaving one in six people in the world starving. In 2009 1.02 billion people are going hungry, the highest figure since 1970. "While the employees of large U.S. banks and investment firms can expect 140 billion U.S. dollars in salary and bonuses this year, more than one billion people go hungry." Those bonuses alone -- awarded this year for God only knows what -- could wipe out world hunger at a stroke.