Monday, August 18, 2014

Extra Credit: Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle



Chapter 2.36: 

The fetishism of the commodity – the domination of society by “imperceptible as well as perceptible things” attains its ultimate fulfillment in the spectacle, where the perceptible world is replaced by a selection of images which is projected above it, yet which at the same time succeeds in making itself regarded as the perceptible par excellence.  


The statement “imperceptible as well as perceptible things” paints on a canvas of what seems to be reality in the fetishism of commodities. The ultimate fulfillment in the spectacle can only be attained by vision and it forges the perceptible things and imperceptible things to in synchronized value when in fact, perceptible things are devalued for its distribution of labor and valued for superficiality and marginalizes the people who earn more wages from the people who earn much less.

Extra Chiasmus

Do I love you because you're beautiful? Or are you beautiful because I love you? - Oscar Hammerstein

This one was just fun so I thought I'd include it. It's pretty self explanatory but is the person and the object we vie for the "apple of our eye" because we deem it so or are they dear to us because others see them that way.

Much like Debords Chiasmus, do we consider them precious because there's a collective desire for our love or do is there a desire for our love because we consider them precious.

Extra Credit - Chiasmus

As long as necessity is socially dreamed, the dream becomes necessary. - Debord

I think of keeping up with the Joneses when I read this Chiasmus, we pursue goals and aim for things we deem necessary not because they are truly necessary but rather because we "collectively" dream of them to be necessary. In reality,  it does not matter how insignificant they really our and how insignificant our pursuits really may be. As long as we all dream of them together, they become a necessity.



Precis 2: Burroughs' Immortality


            William Burroughs’ Immortality serves as a perfect representation of the style of prose that would ultimately serve as a foundation to the beat movement. Burroughs’ blend of satire and dually bombastic and sardonic style of writing lends itself to social critique, serving as a synergistic combination useful in illuminating the irrational and the unjust in society. For example, Burroughs writes “science gives only a tentative answer: the "ego" seems to be located in the mid brain at the top of the head. "Well," he thinks, "couldn't we just scoop it out of a healthy youth, throw his in the garbage where it belongs, and slide in MEEEEEEEE?" So he starts looking for a brain surgeon, a "scrambled egg" man, and he wants the best.” Rhetorically there is a method to Burroughs’ madness. Burroughs calls the credibility of modern science as the pinnacle of consciousness into question.  Effectively he debases empirical science as the answer to all of life’s’ questions by underlining the irrationality and absurdity characteristic of blind faith in the empirically rational. His protagonist a death fearing “trillionaire dedicated to his personal immortality,” serves as a satirical vehicle to shed light on what Burroughs seems to view as childlike motivations of modern captains of industry whose fear and insecurity are projected onto society as greed and social injustice. Effectively Burroughs’ “parable of vampirism gone berserk” seeks first to assert the downfalls of free-market capitalist rule and more importantly to reclaim what he perceives to be a limited concept of immortality.
            This tale of greed and vampirism needs little interpretation as Burroughs asserts “personal immortality in a physical body is impossible,” just as the Buddha defined enlightenment as “the end of suffering” Burroughs overturns the traditional shown to be juvenile and instead lends a negative definition to immortality obligating his audience to redefine immortality beyond the material domain in their own terms. It doesn’t come as much surprise or coincidence then that Burroughs continues on to cite Buddhist literature. Burroughs puts the final nail in the coffin of the traditional definition of immortality when he presents and deconstructs the very ego people wish to preserve with the actualization of their daydreams of immortality. Under the Buddhist school of thought there is “no unchanging ego” as identification with ones’ thoughts means the mind as a tool comes to control its master or as Burroughs calls it “the me machine.” Suggesting disambiguation has occurred, Burroughs makes point to distinguish spirit from ego as he sees the human ego as the identification with ones thoughts, words and actions impeding the emancipation of the spirit prerequisite to his definition of immortality.
            Burroughs goes on to offer his own updated definition of immortality as that of prolonged future, more easily understood as the substitution of preservation of the present for the embrace of evolution. Evolution is to be understood not only on a biological level but also as societal progress from the conditions of today to those better suited to universal human flourishing. Important to this distinction is the introduction of Burroughs’ space narrative whereby he claims “immortality can be found only in space. Space exploration is the only goal worth striving for.” I imagine Burroughs laughing as he introduces such a paradox to a text right as its taking shape, but what I imagine Burroughs to mean here is as space is vacuous, immortality is found in the absence of space and time. Space then is a figurative means of defining the escape from a world of scientificity and material importance and to the arrival of a general unpolluted openness of the consciousness as called for by the states of being and meditations characteristic of Buddhist literature cited earlier in the text.
            It seems then what appears to be a fairly bleak text on a superficial level is actually fairly optimistic. In essence, Burroughs argues if humans can escape the forces that drive their egos and consequently the oppressive forces of society represented and for-shadowed by Mr. Hart who "perpetrates the most basic betrayal of the spirit, reducing all human dreams to his shit,"  then the spirit can be freed, whereby society and the human as vessel of the spirit can be propelled forward towards an evolution more suitable for human flourishing. “I postulate that the human artifact is biologically designed for space travel. So human dreams can be seen as training for space conditions...Art serves the same function as dreams.” Under Burroughs' logic, we humans as biological beings are capable of dreams, which he seems to have identified as the language of the human spirit he wishes to emancipate.  So if humans as biological beings can dream of a utopia just as we learn to walk in our dreams before we walk, our evolution into a new future which welcomes further innovation and consequent immortality as defined by Burroughs is very much possible as we need merely learn from our dreams, the dreams of others displayed through their works of art and conquer the egos which stand in our way. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

2nd Précis - Immortality

Bourroughs’s writing on immortality reminded me of two cinematic adventure, “The Highlander” and “Braveheart”. Both have nothing to do with the piece and in fact have nothing in common with each other besides kilts. 

However, all three pieces call into question the idea of immortality in their own way. I was reminded of the literal immortality of the characters in “The Highlander” and their tagline that is repeated ad nauseam, “There can only be one” while reading about Mr. Rich Parts. I envisioned Mr. Rich Parts and his friends gobbling up resources around them, too scared to do anything but throwing money to abate their fears. With the constant gobbling of resources, soon enough, there can only be one Mr. Rich Parts. Can there even be one at the rate they are going? 

I was reminded of “Braveheart” and the figurative immortality achieved by William Wallace through his battle cry “Alba gu bràth” as he rides into battle and ensures freedom for generations to come. What is the legacy of Mr. Rich Parts besides leaving others maimed and broken? 

The two movies portray the other side of immortality, immortality through bravery, which is in opposition to Bourroughs immortality through cowardice. Does immortality have value if the time one gains is spent only ensuring future self-preservation? 

Man has wanted to go beyond himself since the dawn of civilization. There are plenty of examples of our attempts like The Pyramids and the Taj Mahal. One built to immortalize and emperor and the other to immortalize an emperors love. Given our technological evolution, space is the next frontier for our impetus for immortality. However, if history is any indicator, it begs the question, is immortality really immortal? Can it ever truly be achieved?

The remnants of our existence may survive us but nothing that makes us the individuals we are will exist a few years after our demise. We have managed to scorch the earth in many ways, bombs, nuclear testing, landfills and worse. Some of those effects are starting to wear off and others will be lost to time soon enough after we are.


Yet we tenaciously continue to push that boulder up the hill in hopes of reaching the top only to discover our limitations when we get there, never stopping to truly ask why.

Get 'em while they're young



This very brief commercial says so much with so little. Famous Footwear isn't just selling shoes, they are selling "confidence." To ten-year-olds. I don't even know where to begin. First I thought of Althusser, and the media as a cultural ISA. What kind of ideology is this promoting? Perhaps something like what Debord discusses? What's important is how we appear? But what's really troublesome about this short ad is that it's directly telling kids that the way to be happy and like yourself at school is to make sure the cool kids like you, by having cool clothes. Especially if you're black, because the cool kids are white, and you definitely need their approval. If you win them over, by buying stuff, "victory is yours!" Consumerism, spectacle, racism, and child indoctrination, all in one fun little package.

Precis - The SCUM Manifesto - Valerie Solanas

After publication in 1967, “The SCUM Manifesto” by Valerie Solanas became highly regarded as a radical feminist text. The argument presented is relatively straightforward: due to the corruption of male-dominated society, women must “overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation, and destroy the male sex”. Among an astounding list of grievances against men, Solanas includes some memorable language that relates the causes of war, social and racial inequality, ignorance, disease, death, etc. squarely back onto the shoulders of the male sex. As such, the actual message of the manifesto becomes literalized in Solanas’s attempt to satirize the modern life and to shock both men and women out of complacency with society’s sexism. Regardless of her personal intention (or, I suppose, sanity), the most obvious interpretation of the text is as a forceful challenge of assumptions about gender norms. 

Although I understand what Solanas is trying to accomplish here, I am somewhat uncomfortable with the turn that some of her language takes (but I can’t help thinking that I am meant to). She condemns the male sex by suggesting that the quest to prove manhood results in “an endless amount of mutilation and suffering and an endless number of lives” and yet, she later recommends that women in an ideal society should “act on a mob basis” and “kill all men”. This obvious irony here is that violence becomes both a problem and a solution to what Solanas finds wrong with the world. Beyond this, she characterizes the male and female genders in a way that almost ends up discounting complexities in human nature. She depicts man as “completely egocentric, trapped inside himself, incapable of empathizing or identifying with others, or love, friendship, affection of tenderness.” Although this statement might be taken to work towards a fair overall objection to the patriarchal systems that have kept women constrained since, well, forever -  it definitely unfairly generalizes many members of the male sex. As such, that sentence could more reasonably be applied to both male and female genders (not limited to men, that is) and, even more aptly applied to specific individuals, regardless of sex.  

While some of aforementioned concerns are fairly obvious and perhaps more minor considering the context of the entire piece, I was particularly struck with the way that Solanas refers to females who don’t ascribe to the SCUM Manifesto. She goes so far as to say that the real conflict is between “ SCUM -- dominant, secure, self-confident, nasty, violent, selfish, independent, proud, thrill-seeking, free-wheeling, arrogant females, who consider themselves fit to rule the universe, who have free-wheeled to the limits of this `society' ... and nice, passive, accepting `cultivated', polite, dignified, subdued, dependent, scared, mindless, insecure, approval-seeking Daddy's Girls, who can't cope with the unknown, who want to hang back with the apes, who feel secure only with Big Daddy standing by, with a big strong man to lean on and with a fat, hairy face in the White House …” This incredibly long sentence struck me as particularly harsh because it discounts the strides that “cultivated” and “dignified” women have made in the struggle for equality. The choice doesn’t have to be kill or be killed. Despite the sexism that is embedded into the world we live in, there are a countless number of women who have displayed enormous strength by working within and succeeding in a male-dominated world. I wouldn't characterize these women as “scared” or “mindless”. 

Although I appreciated this text because it's hilarious and apt and Solanas says things that very few people have had the courage for, I do think it's important to consider what approach to feminism will best support gender equality. To the extent that the text is meant to wake society up and make us see through the sexism that has become institutionalized in political, economic, and social spheres, it does its job masterfully. It adds another, admittedly more aggressive voice to the fight for equality - but how effective is this approach? To the extent that some of the language is meant as an honest representation of what is and what ought to be, the text almost does the advance of feminism a disservice because it turns against the very people it seeks to promote. Is Solanas really that opposed to working from within the system? (It certainly seems as if she would have preferred hitting it repeatedly and with a mallet.)

Freud Precis

The basic argument of Freud's essay Fetishism, is that there exists a 

metaphorical substitution by a child for the absence of a penis in its mother. The 

child experiences what Freud calls the castration complex, fear that if the mother 

lost the penis the boy believed was there, he might also run the risk of losing his. 

Therefore the boy substitutes the missing genital with another object, typically a 

penis. The intended audience for this essay seems to exclude women because 

none of Freud’s patients were women and he does not provide a version of the 

fetish for girls. Along with many of the other forms in which Freud hurts his 

credibility. Another way in which his reliability is untrustworthy is his lack of 

evidence for his claims. For example when Freud states, “For obvious reasons 

the details of these cases must be withheld from publication, I cannot therefore, 

show in what way accidental circumstances have contributed to the choice of a 

fetish.” he does not follow with a further explanation of the implications such a 

claim makes. He expects his readers to not question the development of the 

circumstances that led to the fetish. Freud’s argumentative case is not strong 

because of his lack of sources. Although Freud’s claims may not be founded on 

reliable sources, his aim is not entirely to change convictions but to alter conduct. 

Freud sought to treat his patients under the model of the fetish. Nevertheless 

essay underlines Freud’s sexist ideology. 


Bruno Latour: the new Karl Marx?


While working on my second precis, a weird realization struck me. It began to seem as though the piece that I used for my first precis, Marx's "Theses on Feuerbach," and the one I chose for my second precis, Latour's "Plea for Earthly Sciences," were in part actually arguing basically the same thing, and for basically the same reasons!

In "Theses on Feuerbach," Marx argues against an overly simplistic conception of humans and society, claiming that the essence of humanity is not an "abstraction inherent in each single individual" (for instance, something like Feuerbach's "religious sentiment" which is imagined to be contained in each human individual). Instead, he says the human essence is "the ensemble of the social relations."

And the two concluding theses in Marx's piece are as follows:

10) "The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society, the standpoint of the new is human society or social humanity."
11) "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it."

Marx is asking us to get away from a picture of human society that imagines a bunch of isolated, atomic individuals that are assembled together in a thing we call civil society, and instead look at the big picture, and change the terms we use, toward the aim of making the world a better place to live.

This sounds to me like some of what Latour is saying in "A Plea for Earthly Sciences," which I won't go into too much detail about here since I did in my precis just below a few minutes ago. But although the details are different, it seems the basic gist is the same: We've been thinking of humans and society in terms that are too simplistic, and this has resulted in ineffective social science in the face of global problems. We need better tools for making the world better.

So what's with Latour's beef with Marx? In "A Plea for Earthly Science," Latour actually calls Marx out for being himself too simple:

"How ridiculously timid does Karl Marx’s preoccupation with the mere 'appropriation of means of production' seem, when compared against the total metamorphosis of the entire means of production necessary to soon adjust nine Billion people on a livable planet Earth?"

Latour seems to say that Marx was one of these social scientists who were guilty of the oversimplification of the social that has been a major flaw in the tradition of the social sciences -- the sin of not taking enough into account and viewing the "social" as a realm unto itself.

So it seems like there is a progression here, from Marx saying that we need to not think of individuals as isolated, but the social as a whole is its own thing, to Latour saying that we need to not think of the social as an isolated thing either, but that we need to think of all of the things, together, as the varied assembly of all of the things!

Boom. Wait, what? Where then do we go from here? Is there anywhere else to go? What is there, besides: All of the things. Together. In various ways. ??

Precis 2: Latour's "Plea for Earthly Sciences"

          This text was taken from a lecture presented at a meeting of the British Sociological Association. The theme of the day was "social connections: identities, technologies and relationships,” and this is key to understanding where Latour's argument is coming from. He says he is challenging basic assumptions contained in the name of the "social," assumptions which are fundamental in the tradition of social sciences.
          According to Latour, the word "social," in how it has been employed in the social sciences, is embedded within a historical mistake. The mistake lies in the way that the category "social" has been designated as an opposition to the category "natural." This mistake is revealed through the fact that contemporary global environmental-social problems throw into question these very categories that we have been using to define the "social" and the work of social science. This mistake has left contemporary social science ineffective to deal with the pressing global socio-environmental issues we are facing.
          The main culprit in this historical mistake is a version of empiricism, what he calls "First Empiricism," which is the root of modernism and in turn the root of the modernizing of social sciences. But Latour also says that the problem with the social sciences is that they are not empirical enough. How can this make sense? The problem is that even empiricism itself is not empirical enough, because it fails to take into account associations and relationships. It imagines the empirical world as a matter of mere "sensory inputs" and "all relations come from the human mind." Instead of this, Latour suggests a rethinking of empiricism to resemble William James' concept of "Radical Empiricism." The difference with this empiricism is that it takes into account "precisely those modes of connections, or modes of existence that are not depending on the divide, on the bifurcation, between natural and social." If we have a sociology that is rooted in an empiricism that began with an assumption of the divide between the natural and the social, but current developments show that this divide is untenable, then we need a total rethinking that comes down to a redefinition of empiricism itself.
          Sociology's object of study, its techniques and its aims were shaped by the rhetorical environment in which it emerged, a "moment in history" that was concerned with "modernization," and the "emancipation" of "humans." But shifts in contemporary thinking have offered new ways of imagining our situation, and Latour suggests that we instead think of our historical project as one of the "explicitation" of "attachments" among "Earthlings." And if these understandings are to be changed, the perceived object of study, techniques and aims of sociology must be updated to reflect this in order to be effective.
          Instead of thinking of the "social" as some realm or domain that exists independently of other realms such as the biological or the legal, etc, we should think of the social as associations themselves. This was what Latour says was the main contribution of his Actor Network Theory: "the social is not the name of any one link in a chain, nor even that of the chain, but it is that of the chaining itself." The "true object" of the social sciences, Latour claims, is not the study of the social, but of  "shifting attachments."
          For example, when we talk about "globalization," we are not talking about some independently existing phenomenon that can be studied as a thing unto itself. Even to talk about one iconic artifact of this globalization -- the shipping container --  is to talk about a whole host of connections, attachments, between various "domains" or categories of social investigation. "The spread of the container depends just as much on legal litigation, accounting procedures, ship design, labor relations among dock workers unions, harbor redevelopment, and so on. In other words, whenever a technology is considered, it becomes an assemblage of complex heterogeneous threads."
          His choice to draw the distinction between "humans" and "Earthlings" is an interesting and impactful choice. The human has always been used as a way of distinguishing human beings, human animals, from non-human animals. As a way of separating ourselves and elevating our own status. To regard ourselves as Earthlings would be to acknowledge our positioning as vulnerable beings whose fates and interests are tangled up with Earthly systems and Earthly processes and all the other Earthly beings who may also be regarded as Earthlings. To the question: "We have not the faintest idea of what sort of social science is needed for Earthlings buried in the task of explicitating their newly discovered attachments . . . . How can we equip the social sciences for this radical new task?" the conclusion of his lecture seems to offer the following answer: In order to develop a science that is effective at dealing with the concerns of Earthlings, who are fettered with a host of various types of attachments, inhabiting a precarious planet on the verge of total systemic collapse, he asks that, rather than merely "social" science, we engage in "Earthly" science.

Precis: They Live


            While many of the themes and messages in They Live have been covered both in class discussions and in our readings, the role of religion in an oppressive society was never really addressed. Therefore I wanted to cover the religious elements found in the movie and explain them in the context of a Marxian framework. Religion in They Live had a two-fold purpose: 1) to unite the proletariats and 2) to be the agent that wakes the people and shows them the truth.  Leninists will interject here and quote Marx for stating, “Religion is the opium of the people,” but that’s a misconstruction of Marx’s intent. The content of religion, namely the belief in an afterlife for those who suffer in the present world, is a tool used by the ruling class to subject the oppressed. However, the methodology of religion is a legitimate form of protest by the proletariats. It is the form and not the content of religion in They Live that carry out the two aforementioned purposes. There are two clear examples in the movie that support this: the church and the blind preacher.
            The church is the hideout for the rebels; the place unites all the rebels on a literal level. However, the church in the film is only the shell of religion. There is no Christian message. The gospels sung inside the church are merely recordings and the preaching of the Church members are not parables, nor biblical passages, but “Wake up! Wake up!” a message embedded in reality than in the supernatural. The rebels are not evangelists but active combatants, engaging in semiological guerilla warfare and culture jamming to fight back against the oppressors in present-day conditions.
            The blind preacher is a further extension of how the form of religion servers as the unifying factor and the agent that incites change. The preacher is the very character Nada sees in the film although there is no interaction between them in the beginning. Nada sees the preacher surrounded by a group of people who are listening to him. However, the preacher isn’t citing the Bible nor is he talking about redemption in the afterlife. Once again, he’s talking about the present world and about fighting back. He says “They have blinded us to the truth… Outside the limit of our sight they're feeding off us.” The irony behind these statements is not lost on the viewer, but they wouldn’t be ironic if the form of the preacher, a blind man, was not shown to the audience. Of additional importance is social status of a preacher. They are perceived to be exemplary figures, deserving our attention because they have something important to say.  If the blind man was an ordinary man, he’d be dismissed as a lunatic, sort of the like the people you see at Sproul.

            The form of religion in the film plays a pivotal role in establishing authority so that people will listen and join their cause. After all, we saw what happens when Nada tries to use his own personal authority to convince Frank to join. It took a 10-minute brawl to finally convince Frank to look at the truth. At that rate, Nada will never get a revolution going on his own. But the social perceptions of clergy members enable the rebels to expedite their cause.

Précis #2: Foucault's "History of Sexuality"

            Michel Foucault explains discourse as designating both linguistic and non-linguistic forms of representations, signs, and language that produce particular studies and fields of meaning about an object of study. In The History of Sexuality Foucault adapts this conception to present sexuality as an assemblage of a plurality of discourses; these constitutive discourses produce sexuality rather than merely speak of it. Of these discourses, he argues that the repressive hypothesis—that we have been sexually repressed by juridical powers in the form of law—incites the individual to speak of their sex as an innate and totalizing attribute of the body, and has them believe they are working against those repressive powers. Sex demonstrates the stratagems of a productive power that operates through inducing confession, not of a representation of power as a silencing judiciary force. Along with a proliferation of scientific, medical, and educational discourses, this further draws the self as corollary to one’s sex. By the nineteenth century, sexuality had become both an innate and totalizing attribute of the body, from which a furtive understanding of it could be uncovered through confessions of one’s sexual practices, deviations, and desires.
These discursive fields each deploys itself through a suffusion of discourses, though the methodologies and effects of their respective powers function on widely different levels. Scientia sexualis concerns itself with both the individual and the population, regulating its subjects through scientific and medical practices. For Foucault, sex has become the common focus for scientific and medical discourses, and so power affects it by consolidating the individual and the population. By the eighteenth century, the population became a unit by which to measure workforce and control demographics, and so governments had made sex—particularly sexual reproduction—the center of its problems; the body was now under surveillance in “schooling, the politics of housing, public hygiene, institutions of relief and insurance, the general medicalization of the population, in short, an entire administrative and technical machinery made it possible to safely import the deployment of sexuality into the exploited class” (Foucault 127). These variables contain their own discourses and are constitutive of scientia sexualis, and the individual here is tied to them insofar that they do not recognize them as such. Since power operates as a productive force—having produced regulatory institutions that intersect at almost every part of an individual’s life—and for a population both unconscious of and complicit in such power relations, the importance that these institutions may have become to an individual’s life and perceived sexual well-being prevents one from identifying them as being part of an economy of discourses. The effects of power appear objective, and individuals overlook with indifference that it is constitutive of bio-power, an insidious mode of regulation operating on a demographic scale.
            As someone who is interested in post-colonial discourses, I am an avid reader of Edward Said, a writer who often refers to Foucault for support. Just as discourses of sex produce sexuality, and for it its own economy of discursive methodology, so too do discourses of Orientalism produce the Orient/the East and its own set of representations and methodologies. Like sexuality for Foucault, in Said’s Orientalism the Orient and its representations are produced by discourses derived from hegemonic ideologies that posit the “West” as superior to the “East.” While the fields share methods of producing discourse and representation, I think it is more possible for one to disavow Orientalist discourses than to rid oneself of the effects of power behind discourses of sexuality. Still, Foucault characterizes the contemporary discursive practice of sexuality as scientific—aptly named scientia sexualis—made up of an economy of scientific, medical, and technological discourses tied to the body, whereas Orientalism’s economy—comprised primarily of representations of the Orient and techniques thereof—is tied more to the hegemonic ideologies of Western supremacy than to the reality of the people and places that have been consolidated as the Orient.

Précis 2: The jabbering child in Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks

Questions of fixity—the inability to move in certain ways, the restriction on present and future action, and the restriction of the terms under which one can and will be identified—seem to be central to Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks. Fanon constantly grapples with the way that racism works to circumscribe the field of possible action for black men, moving through the ways in which both bodily movement and efforts at signification are overdetermined by colonial domination and white supremacy. In a text filled with beautiful moments, what stood out most to me was Fanon’s meditation on what it might mean to “jabber,” particularly because of what the tension set up between jabbering as “play” and the fixing of black men as children (I use “men” because Fanon used it) might provoke. Fanon writes:
“It is said that the Negro loves to jabber; in my own case, when I think of the word jabber I see a gay group of children calling and shouting for the sake of calling and shouting – children in the midst of play, to the degree to which play can be considered an initiation into life. The Negro loves to jabber, and from this theory it is not a long road that leads to a new proposition: The Negro is just a child.”
The initial statement that “the Negro loves to jabber” does not issue from Fanon himself; “it is said” by others, others who by virtue of Fanon’s use of passive voice are not explicitly stated but rather implicitly known—white people who look down on black men (and black people who look down on other black people), who think them incapable of intelligent conversation, where intelligent means that which is intelligible to the white hearer. To “jabber” might thus mean to be unintelligible in the terms set out by French imperialism and white supremacy.

But Fanon does not stop there, and that is precisely what interests me. He moves on to his personal association with the word—something which might be less restrictive, and which opens up “jabbering” as a space of possibility. For Fanon, “jabbering” is associated with a “gay group of children” who are “calling and shouting for the sake of calling and shouting.” These children are not speaking to be heard by those who prescribe what form speech is supposed to take or how one’s speaking is meant to be heard by others; they are calling and shouting for each other, engaged in a form of play which does not have to serve some kind of final purpose.

This calling and shouting, however, is not only a resistance to certain forms of intelligibility; Fanon categorizes it foremost as “play,” a life-giving, life-sustaining, and worldmaking activity. This play is characterized as an “initiation into life,” which takes on a double meaning in the way that the scene is bracketed by the way in which black men are already always understood as unintelligent children. When I first read the phrase I thought it was absolutely beautiful: an entering into life, where life is not necessarily readily intelligible and might exists without any purposive ends. To "jabber" is thus to become alive, and this life might be the life of play—the being with and for another peer (as opposed to an adult looking in on said play). Another connotation of “initiation,” however, might illuminate the way in which this “play” is later disallowed. Initiation as a bringing into society, as admittance to certain terms under which people are allowed to operate, might work to restrict the “life” of play.

Thus, with a sadness, Fanon writes that “the Negro loves to jabber, and from this theory it is not a long road that leads to a new proposition: The Negro is just a child.” It is interesting that Fanon here simply states that “the Negro loves to jabber” (previously who wrote that "it is said that the Negro loves to jabber"). This seems to signify that the statement, for Fanon too, is true. But it is important to separate the statement that “the Negro loves to jabber” (which might, through the terms under which Fanon has identified “jabbering,” be translated to any person or group of people, signifying any activity which exists to bring people into life) from the “theory” of the black man jabbering, and the “proposition” that the black man is a child. The act of “jabbering” and its life-giving qualities are only restricted when they get translated into theories and propositions used to facilitate racism. What has the possibility for inaugurating life, for making meaning outside of the terms intelligible by power, is turned into evidence used to support racism practices and understandings of the world. This section of the text, then, works through the ways in which what is playful and life-giving can be twisted in order to fix people and restrict their possibilities for movement in the world.

Précis 2: Sigmund Freud's "Fetishim"

The concept of the sexual fetish and its origins are dealt with most directly and comprehensively by Sigmund Freud in his 1927 essay "Fetishism". Surprisingly short in length (only six pages long), the essay's basic assertion is that the sexual fetish, an over-sexualization of a particular object which would usually not be sexually exciting, arises in order to disavow the reality that the female lacks a penis.

One of the first issues Freud grapples with is the word he should use to describe the boy's ignoring the fact that women have no penis. In particular, he debates between the use of the term "scotomization" or "disavowal". Eventually, he decides that disavowal is the more appropriate term, for a scotomization of the lack of a penis would imply that the boy erases this lack from his memory completely, while the reality is that the boy "refuses to confirm the truth of [the] statement" (this quote comes from the definition of disavowal from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In the case of a fetish, rather than accept the lack or intentionally forget that the lack exists, the boy imbues an object with a power to replace the lack of penis; he "refuses to confirm the truth of [the] statement" that women have no penis by instead affirming the truth of the statement that women do have whatever is fetishized (e.g., women do have feet, women do have undergarments, etc.). Thus, the fetish transforms the truth of a lack into the lie of a presence of something that is just as powerful as what the lack would have been.

Freud then moves on to a discussion of the origin of the fetish. He posits that the fetish is not just a simple replacement of the penis as a phallic object, or even always an object that covers up the lack of a penis. Often, Freud says, the fetish takes the form of that which the male saw immediately before realizing the supposedly jarring and frightening fact that the woman lacks a penis. This would be a complete disavowal of the lack. In other cases, the fetish is something which is able to conceal or cover up the genitalia, and thus is neither a complete disavowal nor a complete affirmation of women's lack. Rather, this fetish provides an unsurity as to what is covered up, and could imply a host of possibilities (the woman is castrated, the woman is not castrated, the man is castrated, the man is not castrated, etc.). Finally, Freud observes that if a man has a particularly strong connection with his father, the fetish often takes the form of that which has the ability to castrate, as often the boy believes that his father is that one who does the castrating. This final fetish form is a complete affirmation of the lack and the assumption of power over that lack.

This leads into a review of castration. The reason that the male first fears the female genitalia is because he believes that because the female has no penis and was castrated, then the same frightful attack could happen to him. The fetish is thus formed as a defense mechanism from the notion that the man will be castrated.

With this idea of castration and its relations to the fetish, we can see that the basic argument framing this essay is indeed of male power, or an affirmation and description of the patriarchy confirmed by the supposed power of the penis and the parallel power to usurp the power of the penis through castration. One primary way in which Freud goes about making this argument is through his use of the metaphor. Early on in the piece, Freud compares the fright of seeing the castrated woman to "a similar panic when the cry goes up that Throne and Altar are in danger". This equates the penis to ruling authority and power of government or church. It says that just as the man feels his power and authority questioned when he observes legitimate government bodies being questioned, he feels his penis threatened when he observes the other's castrated penis.

Not only does this empower the penis, but it also gives power to the ability to castrate or overcome castration, for if those attempting to overthrow the "Throne and Altar" had no power, they would not be a threat. Those rebels or castrators have just as much power as the penis does, and thus to fight off those rebels or castrators is also a display of power. This is demonstrated further on in the essay, where Freud uses another metaphor to compare the fetish to "a token of triumph over the threat of castration and protection against it". By rejecting the notion that the woman has been castrated by employing the fetish, the male also rejects the notion that the man who would have castrated her had the ability to, and thus affirms his power to castrate and to resist castration over the power of others who failed to castrate the woman. This patriarchal power is then not only expressed as power over women (whom Freud regards in the essay in an overtly sexist way as having a lack of penis, that is, less than a man, and whom he never assumes as having the power or ability to castrate), but also as a competition among men.

One example Freud uses to explain this competition is in the example of the two boys who lost their father at young ages. Of the two, one of his patients, Freud says, dealt with the death by "oscillat[ing] in every situation in life between two assumptions: the one, that his father was still alive and was hindering his activities; the other, opposite one, that he was entitled to regard himself as his father's successor". In the first case, the boy is competing with his father for power, for he knows that both he and his father, as men, have both penises and the ability to castrate. In the second case, the father's death does not confer grief upon the boy, but rather power as the boy becomes his father's heir.

Finally, Freud ends with the assertion that "the normal prototype of inferior organs is a woman's real small penis, the clitoris". For those heterosexual men who do not concoct a fetish in an attempt to procure power, the clitoris is the place of maintaining power over women. Rather than admit that the woman does not have a penis and thus was castrated by another man and thus that that other man has more power than the self, the man sees the clitoris and says that the woman does have a penis. However, as that penis is smaller, the woman thus does not have as much power as the man. This then maintains the man's power over both women and over other men.

To conclude, Freud's "Fetishism" essay is, in essence, an explanation and justification for patriarchy and the power of the penis. In this case, patriarchy is not only the expression of illogical male superiority over women, but also over homosexual men, for Freud says that gay men don't have the same ability or power as other men to create a fetish or defense against castration. Specifically, Freud uses the idea that both having a penis and being able to take away a penis justifies male superiority.

2nd Précis, on Judith Butler's "Undoing Gender"


In Undoing Gender, Judith Butler shares insight on the complexities and origins of gender constructions. According to the text, we do not “automatically” know from birth what being of a certain gender means; rather, it is taught to us. Butler emphasizes how societal norms formulate the way we interact socially and act as representatives of our gender population in those different interactions. One example that exhibits the clear differentiation between how those of different genders are represented on society occurs in the phenomenon of the baby shower. Color schemes of baby showers often reflect the gender with which the baby is stated to identify with: for girls, it is often pink and for boys, blue (this is almost invariably correlated to female sex and male sex, respectively). Butler concludes that in these daily interactions, we subconsciously or consciously "do" our gender with others, perpetuating norms that dictate how we should behave and what we should like.

The description of gender as being “undone” in title of this text is a form of rhetoric on Butler’s part; the fact that gender needs to be undone entails that gender is similar to a knot or something that restricts or traps a person. Another symbolic aspect of the knot imagery could be the unification aspect of the knot. Knots tie a person together within themselves and with other people. In the context of human interactions, gender functions like a knot to hold social norms in place as they are predetermined. It is necessary part of the personal identification each individual from the moment of birth, but also acts a stifling of the creative expression of the individual outside of what is considered standard within their gender.

Butler’s contemplation of social roles is not limited to gender identity but individual identity in general. From the time of birth, when our identity is just beginning, other people begin to pave the path for who we will become. Butler further examines how identity molds our interactions and connections to to other people for the full extent of our lives. She also discusses desire and how it “unbinds” us in our identity. Desire is formed through and fuels connections with other people, who in turn change our lives and how we see ourselves. These life-changing interactions could be with significant others or simple interactions like a discussion with your classmate in a college class. She says that “in a way, we all live with this particular vulnerability, a vulnerability to the other that is part of bodily life, but this vulnerability becomes highly exacerbated under certain social and political conditions.” One never knows whether one’s opinion or perspective on life will be changed by another. In this sense, our identities can be potentially undone by reading a personal post on a social networking site, collaborating with a team on a creative project, or talking to someone at the grocery store.  As Butler  proposes, “the question of who and what is considered real and true is apparently a question of knowledge. But it is also, as Michel Foucault makes plain, a question of power.” We are constantly related to others beyond our will, which means we are always in a position to be changed by others.

This change in identity and self-consciousness is something Butler uses to explain the process of grieving the loss of a loved one. Her premise is that when one loses someone with whom they have built up part of their world with, that part of their world dies. In that unworlding, one grieves, or tries to build themselves up into a new presence in which the lost loved one no longer lives. To be clear, Butler does not think that surviving mourning means “that one has forgotten the person, or that something 
else comes along to take his or her place,” but that in mourning one “accepts the fact that the loss one undergoes will be one that changes you, changes you pos- 
sibly forever.” Furthermore, one does not know who they will be after and if they go through the process of mourning. It is the unknown and uncontrollable aspect of mourning that scares and redefines us as individuals.

Other people and social norms define, educate, and convince us in ways that render us impressionable and changeable. Ultimately, we are inevitably changed by others, but we may also change others. Butler suggests that the pursuit of a “livable life” is defined by standards that beset us from the start, but in “knowing unknowingness at the core of what we know”, or challenging those deeply-ingrained roles that society has imposed, we approach life with a sense of openness and allow for a deeper understanding that we do not know the future.