EssaysThe Left

Shifting Geographies Rather Than Defections

The debate on feminists and the Left continues

We share Zaretsky’s desire to understand the trajectory of the Left past, present, and future. We disagree with him over the nature of the Left itself and with his account of the dynamics of political change. Where Zaretsky looks to the long duree and to political breaks as sources of current decline, we argue that the Left was always a more protean political formation in which lines of affiliation and disagreement were porous and changing. Finally, we insist, that if we are to understand the fate of the Left we must put it in dynamic relation with the actions of capital. Without expanding the political field, we mis-specify the geographies of political action — then and now. …

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionThe Left

The War on Fascism

By my title,“The War on Fascism,” I do not mean the war between the US, the Soviet Union and Great Britain, on the one hand, and Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and imperial Japan on the other, the war that took place between 1939 and 1945. Rather I mean an unspoken war on the concept of fascism that increasingly characterizes our understanding of World War Two and informs discussion of contemporary problems, such as Ukraine. Although the term “fascism” is still in use today, it generally refers to real or supposed dictatorships, such as those of Saddam Hussein or Vladimir Putin, and has lost its original connotation, that of an authoritarian but still capitalist state. Because the original meaning of “fascism” was aimed not at dictatorship, but at the relation between dictatorship and private property and market power, the term had a critical or self-reflective character. Understanding the loss of this character can help us understand the history by which present political discussions, for example those concerning Putin, have become impoverished. …

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EssaysMedia/Publics

Jonathan Schell Remembered

Letters from The New School for Social Research

Here are two remembrances of a distinguished colleague, Jonathan Schell, who died last Tuesday. Miller wrote his as a letter to the members of the Committee on Liberal Studies, where Schell once taught. Matynia’s is a remembrance of Schell’s public engagements as a writer and public actor, often contributing to the work of the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies.

Dear colleagues,

I learned today of the death of Jonathan Schell, a friend and former colleague.

It is not widely known, but Jonathan was instrumental in the transformation of liberal studies at the NSSR in the 1990s.

Over lunch one day in 1994, Jonathan expressed his interest in teaching — and also expressed his frustration that most veteran journalists are able only to teach in journalism schools. …

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EssaysMedia/Publics

Technology R’ Us

Sherry Turkle and our relationship to the digital

“Where are the sensitive machines … ?” So goes part of a tweet reproduced on the flyleaf to Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together. The lament is not new. Over 30 years ago the designer and design theorist John Chris Jones pointed to the low sensitivity of technical systems to humans and contrasted this with extreme adaptations that technical systems demanded of their human subjects. Adorno, in 1942, had already thought something of the same. Rejecting the common idea that technology is somehow “outside” of us, he insisted on the contrary that “the new human type” as he put it, “cannot be understood without awareness of what he is continually exposed to from the world of things about him, even in his most secret innervations.” And he added for good measure: “Technology is making gestures precise and brutal and with them men.” …

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CapitalismEssaysTheory & Practice

The Creative Class Rises Again

When first published in 2002, The Rise of the Creative Class quickly established its author Richard Florida as an urban policy and business management guru. The Rise of the Creative Class heralded the emergence of a new class of worker who promised to lead the economy, and along with it the rest of society, to unprecedented levels of prosperity. The creative class, according to Florida, included scientists, engineers, artists, designers, media producers, and others whose primary function is “to create new ideas, new technology and/or creative content.” They are abetted in this endeavor by a whole host of high-level information workers—doctors, lawyers, accountants, educators, and the like—who draw upon complex bodies of knowledge to solve difficult problems that require high degrees of autonomy. To mark a decade of influence, the book was re-released in 2012 in a substantially updated version, The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisitednow out in paperback. …

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Arts & DesignEssays

Big Data, Little Music

Established musicians are speaking up about the state of the music world, and they are not happy. They report that there’s no money available to make music, and no money to be made from it. Some have blamed fans for killing the business, by insisting on getting music for free. Others decry the fact that now that everyone is making music, there’s an abundance of dreadful stuff around because the technology that’s used to make music sounds so cheap, and because real musicianship and original musical ideas no longer seem to matter. The complaint that the magic of human performance is lost as music is more often programmed than made by people actually playing together, has only picked up steam since it emerged in the 1980s. Readers and viewers have responded to statements such as these in various ways, but the majority seem to dismiss these viewpoints as out of touch with current reality, and say good riddance to the music world of the past. …

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Sleepwalking into the Future? II

Is there a European memory creating a sense of belonging and encouraging civic participation?

This is the prepared text of a contribution to a conference of the Europe for Citizens Forum in Brussels on January 28th, 2014.

The title of this discussion employs the metaphors that describe walking into the calamity of WWI, as framing both the ways Europeans remember the 20th century, and even more alarming, as reflecting a mode of uncritical observation which may lead to other calamities, wittingly or unwittingly, in the 21st.

Before we mark the “will to memory” by disasters past and present, informed by a version of a quote from Primo Levi, which one encounters upon entering the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin: “it happened, and therefore it can happen again. This is the core of what we have to say”; before this, I say, we ought to take a step back, to the division between remembrance as a form of thinking, and remembrance as warning (In German: gedenken, mahnen). …

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CapitalismEssaysThe Left

John Dewey’s Encounter with Leon Trotsky

The 1930s was one of the one eventful and productive decades in Dewey’s life. He published more than a half dozen books including Logic: The Theory of Inquiry. It was during this decade that he sharpened his understanding of radical democracy and a renascent liberalism. He interrupted his scholarly work to travel to Mexico as the Chair of the Trotsky Commission — or to give its full title, “The Commission of Inquiry into the Charges Made against Leon Trotsky in the Moscow Trials.” …

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EssaysPsyche

Don’t Worry… Be Happy!

The dark underside of positive psychology

Over the last decade the field of positive psychology has become a burgeoning area of research within academic psychology. Well known figures in positive psychology include Martin Seligman (developer of the well known learned helplessness model of depression and past president of the American Psychological Association), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (creator of the construct of flow), and Daniel Gilbert (author of the widely acclaimed Stumbling on Happiness). The field of positive psychology focuses on developing a scientific understanding of positive human experiences and virtues. Important research areas include happiness, optimism, fulfillment, compassion, and gratitude. The field positions itself in contrast to traditional approaches to mental health, which focus on psychopathology and treating mental illness. The roots of positive psychology can be traced to the field of humanistic psychology, which peaked in popularity during the 1960s. Well known pioneers of humanistic psychology included Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Fritz Perls. …

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EssaysMedia/PublicsTheory & Practice

On Media Monstration and the Politics of Small Things

An ongoing discussion with Jeffrey Goldfarb

This post is the first of two making a series of points: Here I answer Jeff Goldfarb’s points in the post he devoted to our common classes. In the second, I will stress a couple of issues that have to do with my central concern: the role of media as “showing.”

On media power and resistance:

Goldfarb writes, “Dayan thinks the media set the agenda more thoroughly than I think actually happens. I see not only the possibility, but also the reality of resistance, even when it doesn’t prevail… The power of big media is great, but it is something else completely if it faces persistent resistance.”

In answer to these two points, let me answer that I am less interested in quantifying power than qualifying power.

In my view, the power of the media lies not only in the consequences of what they show, but in the very fact of showing it. …

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