New to nonsite
This is not a matter of rejecting electoral politics—winning a majority of citizens to radical change through democratic means is fundamental. But coming to governance without a solid social base while the powerful centrifugal influences of capitalism remain in place leads to the disappointments we and others abroad have repeatedly experienced. Without the ability to monitor, check, support, and pressure governments to stay the course, government promises fade. Elections alone become largely irrelevant. Participation in elections may have a tactical role in reaching people, but building the base for social transformation is what is so overwhelmingly central today. Only that will make elections truly relevant down the road.
Our three authors are all, in very different ways, possibilists. They assume that socialism in some extremely general sense is desirable; but then frame their “what is to be done” entirely by what looks practical in the very short term. But the result in all three cases is practical unrealism: none of these prescriptions are likely to produce anything other than “more of the same” – meaning a labour movement dominated by the right and a left splintered into little pieces, each of which pursues its own “possible” tactics.
The causes of this relatively bleak state of affairs is, as Reed and Macnair show, that at the level of civil society the dominant political institutions, parties, or NGO-like formations like BLM only allow citizens with a means of engaging in political life by assuming a standpoint reliant on confused and obfuscatory concepts which preclude an understanding of society in class terms.
The present paper is devoted to addressing the basic asymmetry of a move from what can be called “passive metaphysics” to “active metaphysics,” the overcoming of formalism, structuralism, and semiotics by post-structuralism and its hasty replacement with new forms of thought that presume matter that is alive or animate transparently makes itself available to experiencing subjects, who are affected by it immediately, without mediation, directly. For various reasons, the various forms of thought I will review—historiography, affect, metaphysics—have not cashed out this active metaphysics. But the general orientation remains there, ready to be abused at any time. If postmodernism turned swords into ploughshares, we have recently turned ploughshares into swords.
Rustin saw politics through a concrete, strategic lens, which provided a perspective that has become increasingly remote from both academic and activist experience. Indeed, as demonstrated in the essays selected here, he explicitly rejected the moralistic discourse that he saw undergirding much of Black Power and New Left politics, as well as the tendency to reduce the sources of inequality to psychologistic factors like prejudice, discrimination, or a generic racism.
While much has since been written about the relation of mental happenings to outward criteria, that work tends to follow the problem into various kinds of skepticism. Here I want to look at Murdoch’s differently attuned understanding of how inner experience is compatible with Ryle on the ghost and Wittgenstein on public criteria, as well as her occasional interlocutor Elizabeth Anscombe’s account of the relation of intention and action and, in a last section, Hugh Kenner’s elaboration of what T.S. Eliot called the “objective correlative”. In such examples the outer (observable) structure of concepts doesn’t so much block or occlude access to the inner, as invite us to consider what it would mean to think that experience, intention, emotion—to use the words of Murdoch, Anscombe, and Eliot respectively—have an outside structure.
All of Cézanne’s “theory” seems to come down to what he calls “realization,” an operation of conversion that he was the first modern painter to attempt. Critics had a premonition of it, condemning his “too exclusive love of yellow” and warning the public: “If you visit the exhibition with a woman in an interesting position, pass quickly by the portrait of a man by Mr. Cézanne… That strange-looking head, the color of boot cuffs, could make too vivid an impression on her and give her fruit yellow fever before its entry into the world.”
Together with the sharp-edged quality of the shapes, the intensity of the color-juxtapositions, and the interplay between the shapes with minimal thickness and the ones backed by PVC, the layering adds a note of enhanced plasticity to the ensemble. Put another way, the “Shards” are at once intensely “pictorial,” for reasons already given, and intensely tactile, which is to say that one’s perception of the “Shards” veers continually between a sense of their strength as compositions—as if in the flat—and their presence as a special sort of material artifact, their character as an entirely new variety of relief.
Only rarely does the plan survive the making; more often the sculpture takes over, establishing its own rules, its own reality. Each shape goes down on the paper as an expanse of uninflected, transparent color, the shapes are determined by stencils prepared beforehand. As other shapes are added, the overlapping hues create new densities and new colors. Changing the sequence can further alter these tonal and chromatic relationships, creating new spatial suggestions, so that we read each of these unique images differently.
That larger, more insidious effort and its objectives—which boil down to elimination of avenues for expression of popular democratic oversight in service to consolidation of unmediated capitalist class power—constitute the gravest danger that confronts us. And centering on the racial dimension of stratagems like the Cantrell recall plays into the hands of the architects of that agenda and the scapegoating politics on which they depend by focusing exclusively on an aspect of the tactic and not the goal. From the perspective of that greater danger, whether the recall effort was motivated by racism is quite beside the point. The same applies to any of the many other racially inflected, de-democratizing initiatives the right wing has been pushing. With or without conscious intent, and no matter what shockingly ugly and frightening expressions it may take rhetorically, the racial dimension of the right wing’s not-so-stealth offensive is a smokescreen. The pedophile cannibals, predatory transgender subversives, and proponents of abortion on demand up to birth join familiar significations attached to blacks and a generically threatening nonwhite other in melding a singular, interchangeable, even contradictory—the Jew as banker and Bolshevik—phantasmagorical enemy.
So if it is the case that, as Anscombe says, “I do what happens,” then Kenner’s project is to explore a mode of artistic production that hinges precisely on the point where what happens purposefully occludes what someone is doing. Kenner describes the “principal component” of Eliot’s dramatic method as “his unemphatic use of a structure of incidents in which one is not really expected to believe.” In other words, he builds a counterfeit world for his characters. When we come to categorically not believe what is happening, we begin to think about what they might be doing, “thus throwing attention on to the invisible drama of volition and vocation. The plot provides, almost playfully, external and stageable points of reference for this essentially interior drama.”
This is what Kenner calls the Gulliver game, embodied in its purest form in the Turing game, which identifies what it is to be human with the ability to produce the Goodmanian letters and spaces that would look just like the letters and spaces a human would produce, thereby making the computer indistinguishable from the human. The computer (and here he anticipates John Searle’s Chinese Room argument, which makes sense since Goodman’s idea of a text is a syntax independent of any semantics) is the most advanced player in the you’re not allowed to understand what you’re talking about game.
This essay traces the political development of black urban professionals and managers from the urban renewal era to the early period of federal devolution and privatization in the 1970s and 1980s. These periods are the foundation by which “generations” of black urban regimes have been generated. The staying power of black political entrepreneurs results from their capacity for populating, activating, and contracting black-led organizations in the nonprofit sector, which has allowed them to adjust to fiscal retrenchment and subsequent privatization. Black mayors have channeled demands for investment in public goods into contracts for black-led nonprofits and bootstrap social programs. In particular, the housing and community development field has allowed black political aspirants to cement ties to the real estate industry which plays an outsize role in postindustrial urban economies.