Sunday, November 30, 2008


A couple more weeks and things will start easing up. (I will get around to discussions left unpursued, as well.) In the meantime, here's a clip:

Monday, November 10, 2008

Stepping Stone

"The modern prince, the myth-prince, cannot be a real person, a concrete individual. It can only be an organism, a complex element of society in which a collective will, which has already been recognised and has to some extent asserted itself in action, begins to take concrete form. History has already provided this organism, and it is the political party—the first cell in which there come together germs of a collective will tending to become universal and total. In the modern world, only those historico-political actions which are immediate and imminent, characterised by the necessity for lightning speed, can be incarnated mythically by a concrete individual. Such speed can only be made necessary by a great and imminent danger, a great danger which precisely fans passion and fanaticism suddenly to a white heat, and annihilates the critical sense and the corrosive irony which are able to destroy the "charismatic" character of the condottiere (as happened in the Boulanger adventure). But an improvised action of such a kind, by its very nature, cannot have a long-term and organic character. It will in almost all cases be appropriate to restoration and reorganisation, but not to the founding of new States or new national and social structures (as was at issue in Machiavelli's Prince, in which the theme of restoration was merely a rhetorical element, linked to the literary concept of an Italy descended from Rome and destined to restore the order and the power of Rome). It will be defensive rather than capable of original creation. Its underlying assumption will be that a collective will, already in existence, has become nerveless and dispersed, has suffered a collapse which is dangerous and threatening but not definitive and catastrophic, and that it is necessary to reconcentrate and reinforce it—rather than that a new collective will must be created from scratch, to be directed towards goals which are concrete and rational, but whose concreteness and rationality have not yet been put to the critical test by a real and universally known historical experience."

—from Gramsci, trans. Hoare & Nowell-Smith, "The Modern Prince."

More will follow as I find time for it.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Mirror and Vortex

I saw this poster graffiti for the upcoming (romantic?) comedy Four Christmases this morning in the subway. I had to whip out my cellphone and take a few pictures.

"Don't you want to walk into the mirror?"
"I'm alone in this vortex."

See. I didn't know the song until I googled the lines. I like it much more thinking of these as random lines some jokester marked on their own.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

People Get Ready

So do we now refer to ourselves as the United States of Anti-America? The United States of Arugula? For eight years I patiently waited for my moment of schadenfreude as the right-wingers who talked about mandates and country first would simply have to face up to a demographic "pwning." Like with the losers at the end of Revenge of the Nerds, it becomes apparent ultimately that there are more of us than there are of you.

Obama's name is the sign under which popular sentiment has crystallized, and in exercising agencies we must use these signs as they come to us. Long planning to vote for Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente, stumping for McKinney to numerous friends and acquaintances, I nevertheless wavered near the end. I admit with some reluctance that I am not a robot, I bend and change. I do not believe Obama is our political messiah. Yet, the energy and sense of community around his candidacy were there in addition to the regular establishment partisanship I can't stomach. I ended up casting my vote for Obama/Biden on the Working Families line because I realized that during the day, it would be around Obama that speculation and aspiration would cohere. People were talking about him in the bodega where I got coffee before voting. (Queens went 75% Obama, last I looked, which actually made it the most McCain-friendly borough after Staten Island.) The point is not him, he is the focal point projected by us. But in recognizing this fact it is vital that we do not establish a program of mere narcissism, which is what Palin offered her base. ("She's like us, she's normal like us!") Obama could offer something very similar to his supporters, and this we must avoid. We have to acknowledge the nature of our symbolic actions and movements. Obama will be a respectable president only if we ensure that he is one. I think his election is one step, an important landmark step of significant symbolic value and potentially significant policy value. But we must ensure our direction. Obama will almost definitely be a miserable president if we continue to cede him, ever more profoundly, to the owners of capital and the disseminators of images. He's already within their clutches. The only reason Americans do, and can, feel like we exercise any efficacy at all is simply because his ascendant star (so to speak) had not been completely preordained and overdetermined before even arriving on the scene. The fact that people worry about his inexperience is precisely why we can extend a measure of hope.

And I do not use that last word liberally.

I always enjoy reading Ran Prieur, who frequently comes up with angles I hadn't quite considered. Still, he's lamenting what he interprets as the "dodged bullet" nature of the election, which should have been a progressive landslide but wasn't. I, on the other hand, wonder if Prieur is being untrue to some of his more deeply-held principles—such as that change is best when it comes gradually. We should not invest too much in the feel-good symbolic value of this election, not unless we're just party hacks. Which is why we should not be too disappointed if the landslide (including more of that sweet, sweet schadenfreude) didn't come. If we're being serious, this should be the first part of a long-haul sort of move, and Obama will be succeeded by more progressive candidates, and federal government will find as a competitor more and more serious popular/grassroots threats to its power insofar as it is aligned with national and transnational corporate interests.

Let it break! We will figure out where to house the refugees of George W. Bush.

According to Thomas Friedman, the breaking of the modern Republican Party is more along the lines of being the long end to the Civil War. I know, I know—picking on Friedman is like shooting fish in a barrel. No serious person takes him seriously. He thinks that the election of Barack Obama is proof that, finally, "the American Civil War [has] ended." Unable to conceive of history outside of these sixth-grade storybook terms, Friedman dutifully hews to the liberal-capitalist party line, where the Civil War was "about" slavery, and the march of progress and the Union. But because the Southern states have dragged their feet with regard to Union "progress," with Jim Crow, segregation, and all that, the Civil War (i.e., "racism") has still had hot embers up until 11pm EST last night. What's offensive is that he says this: "the Civil War could never truly be said to have ended until America’s white majority actually elected an African-American as president." Come on, Friedman! Give it a few more generations, and America's white majority may no longer even exist. We wouldn't be so incredibly central to the project of his beloved white liberal history. Do you all hear this? White folks did this, they ended the War Between the States, they finally put a closing chapter on the long novel of racial strife that has divided our great nation. Sojourner Truth didn't do it. Martin Luther King, Jr., didn't do it. Malcolm X surely didn't do it. It didn't take black people. It didn't take Barack Obama, even, really. It took white people electing a black man to let us know that the (trumpets please!) Civil War is finally over.
Stellar. We white folks ultimately elected a black person, even though the majority of us voted for his white opponent. I would be happier, and more surprised, if the news stories about Obama's historic victory were not explained in terms of what it means for white people and what great things we've finally done. If there is a job for the intellectual class over the next few years, it will be in exposing, correcting, and focusing the way our history is being written and peddled to us before our very eyes. How we understand popular or progressive history, especially, is how we understand our own history. This is too important to let textbooks, newspapers, movies tell it to us first. Their way. We will insist on ours.

At any rate ... now another stage begins. The other party's back is broken, and we the electorate should make the Democrats aware that we could do the same to them if they do not heed us. Now should be when the gloves come off.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Eat, Sleep, Breathe, Write, Etc.

I wish I could exercise my right to be lazy. I'm currently undergoing the busiest period I've ever had in my life. So ... I wanted to jot down a few words to indicate something about my relative absence. (Especially now that, I see below, Alex has demanded new material.) This may also explain, if not excuse, why I may be out-of-touch for long periods of time. Things like sleep, blog writing, and blog reading have had to take a backseat. Movies themselves have had to take a backseat, although this past week or two have seen a slight bump in the film-watching department: yesterday, my first glimpses of Jean-Daniel Pollet's work outside of Paris vu par... (Pourvu quo'on ait l'ivresse and L'Amour c'est gai, l'amour c'est triste), and also recently some Aki Kaurismäki (Girish once cited him as his most repeated-viewing-friendly director), some more Anna Faris, some Rossellini (side note: by coincidence, this was posted on my birthday!). At any rate, EL was created as a public notebook for me to jot down whatever I'm thinking, especially when it's superfluous to more official intellectual requirements, but I just don't have the necessary amount of time/energy/attention to provide adequately for this notebook at the moment. I'm not calling a hiatus or sabbatical because I want the freedom to post a blog entry or two if I get the time and the urge. But if little shows up ... know that it's just Life yanking me along.

Despite the hectic schedule, one must always eat, so let me say a few words about two excellent restaurants in my beloved borough that I had dinner at this past weekend. Mombar is an Egyptian place on Steinway; I have wanted to go here since I moved to the borough in 2005. My fiancée and I—yes, I've also gotten myself betrothed this season—went here on Halloween, as we decided not to celebrate the holiday this year on account of being generally exhausted. It made for one of the emptier restaurant experiences I've had on a Friday night in New York: there was one couple already in the restaurant when we arrived, they left, and a second couple came in as we were finishing up. Given how good the food was, however, this had to have been a fluke because of Halloween. We ordered a spinach & chickpea appetizer (delicious, garlicky), a "Sahara mix" appetizer dish (pita chips with things like hummus + green apple slice on top), a mombar entree (spiced sausage in sauce), and the lamb tajeen. The kitchen gave us a complimentary order of Egyptian fried bread. Himalayan Yak is a recently re-opened Nepali/Tibetan/Indian joint on Roosevelt. We ordered ~9 dishes for 6 people, my favorite of which was the sizzling lamb. But there were also a few fantastic potato-based veg dishes, a solid boar leg appetizer, some quite good steamed beef momos (though Tangra Masala's are still my favorite ever). Should you venture into Jackson Heights and wonder if this place is BYOB, we found out the hard way that it is not, but the management were nice and allowed us to drink our shiraz anyway.

As an addendum, there is Poodam's, which is in my immediate neighborhood and which I ate from for probably the sixth time recently. For years this corner was notorious because it hosted a string of horrible Thai restaurants. (I had the worst Thai food I've ever had there once.) But the current incarnation is a fairly solid establishment, and for this I am thankful. (Though I wanted to move to Queens largely because of the food options, the neighborhood in which actually I live is unfortunately skimpy on good restaurants, especially since Le Sans souci closed.) If you happen to go there, I would recommend sticking to their Isaan specialties and the appetizers. Don't bother with curries or their chicken dishes, which are an improvement on what I tried at the same location previously, but still merely average. Anything with duck, pork, sausage, or seafood, any kind of "salad," or the chive dumplings ... those seem to be the smart choices. OK.

More will come to EL at some point in the next month or two, but I can't say how frequently. And finally: let's enjoy these elections tomorrow ...