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The First Privilege Walk
How Herbert Marcuse’s widow used a Scientology-linked cult’s methodology to gamify Identity Politics and thus helped steer the U.S. Left down the dead-end path of identitarian psychobabble.
Sculpture as Labor and Sign
None of David Smith’s constructions is ever truly virtualized, truly vaporized, but still, at serendipitous moments, their surfaces spark and crackle with light, and the sculpture’s body is banished, replaced by a scribble, a cipher, a flash. Meanwhile, back in the studio, yet another sculpture is nudged into shape on a much-stained concrete floor.
White-Collar Blues: Allan Sekula Casts an Eye Over the Professional-Managerial Class
During the 1970s and early 1980s, Sekula built a theory and practice of photography on his understanding of the aporias inherent to the theory of the PMC, paying particular attention to the figure of the engineer whose task is not confined to the reproduction of capitalist ideology, but plays a central role in the realisation of value.
The Whole Country is the Reichstag
A crucial characteristic of the current situation is that the antagonism between the pragmatic and the visionary that liberals have often used as a cudgel against left aspirations and programs—the ubiquitous “now is not the time” or “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”—is passé. The way forward, both to avert the most dangerous possibilities and to begin working seriously to change the terms of political debate, is to push for and propagate a public good framework for government.
Against Theory, now with bots! On the Persistent Fallacy of Intentionless Speech
Arguing for the First Amendment rights of computer content, recent legal scholars Ronald Collins and David Skover have adapted Reader Response literary criticism from the 1970s, as well as related debates about literary meaning from the 1980s, to develop the idea of “intentionless free speech.” This essay examines and challenges these ideas. To think that intention can be meaningfully severed from free speech is to fundamentally misunderstand both speech and language. Siraganian situates and contextualizes this legal scholarly development in relation to both literary theory (Steven Knapp, Walter Benn Michaels, Stanley Fish, Toril Moi) and legal theory (Leslie Kendrick).
Plea Bargaining in the Shadow of Narrative
Plea bargaining is a vital element of the criminal justice system, and it deserves more attention from scholars interested in law and culture. Legal scholars have proposed reforms to curb the more extreme abuses of the plea-bargaining system in the U.S. To these recommendations, I add the suggestion that we think of plea bargaining as occurring “in the shadow of narrative.” By looking beyond the trial, the paradigmatic narrative form that has engaged scholars of law and literature, we might appreciate the significance of legal processes that conform less easily to conventional narrative representation, while also revising our understanding of what legal narrative includes.
Checking Your Privilege? Perspectives on the Politics of White Identity
Undoubtedly, economic inequality is an enormous problem in a democratic society where citizens claim to value egalitarian norms. But this puzzling juxtaposition misses some fundamental points. The first is that racial identity is not merely a “celebration of difference,” nor is it a distraction from efforts to achieve economic inequality. Suggesting that attending to identity politics is what keeps us from fighting growing inequality is just barking up the wrong tree.
Why Black Lives Matter Can’t be Co-opted
We absolutely do not need to figure out how to make anti-racism anti-capitalist. We need to figure out how to start trying to build a mass movement around appealing to the material needs of the broad working-class.
Maurizio Cattelan’s Managerial Spirit
Maurizio Cattelan couches his artworks as clever, if cynical, escapes from labor. But in truth, he rarely gets out of work. Instead, his art enacts a Euro-Atlantic shift from “productive labor” to “creative management,” a shift that he traces (counterintuitively) to the legacy of Marxian theory in Italy.
Bret Harte’s Birtherism: Dialect Literature and the Fiction of Native-Born Citizenship
Most constitutional scholars dismiss birther conspiracies by pointing to the birthright citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Yet birthright citizenship in the United States was founded on a case of exception (“excluding Indians not taxed”), leaving the relationship between American soil and American citizenship ambiguous. It was American literature, not American law, that defined who gets to count as “born American” in this country, because only in the literary realm could the language of the soil manage to spell inclusion and exclusion at the same time. Specifically, Bret Harte’s 1868 Western frontier tale “The Luck of Roaring Camp” (called “new and fresh and spirited” by none other than Mark Twain) teaches readers just why it is that Native Americans could never count as native-born Americans, and why, as a result, the question of who gets to count as “born American” has not been laid to rest, and likely won’t be anytime soon.
Some Comments on the Claims Made For and Against Painting
Experiences of world-disclosure are accomplished by achievements in certain long-tested forms of art—what we can call the canonical forms. These forms, like easel painting or lyric poetry, have proven over long periods of time to be the appropriate sites for this activity; but, more than that, they were practices through which the value of world-disclosure had been invented and developed through history. It was on this basis that they constituted a canon not just of exemplary works in each art, but a canon of the forms of art themselves. As such, they embodied criteria that could be effective in deciding if an activity was or was not “art.” Although the existence of the canon gave no conceptual guarantee or definition of art, it was accepted as one, de facto, based on its own history, or histories.
Marxism and Criticism
What all this comes down to, then, is that Berger accepts a priori a militant and often staggeringly vulgarized brand of Marxism from which all his judgments about art derive, in language anyway. … My fundamental objection is not that Berger begins from a position of accepting Marxist theory. In the world we live in more and more critics of art may be expected to start from similar political premises. But what is imperative is that the critic define his terms; that he show with sensitivity and logical rigor the usefulness and, if possible, the necessity of employing Marxist concepts and terminology. Unless he can do this his judgments will reveal nothing more than the strength of his bias and the slovenliness of his mind: they can say nothing about the works of art in question.