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Archive for the ‘Ideology’ Category

The Meaning of David Cameron by Richard Seymour

In Anti-capitalism, Books, Ideology, Reviews on June 6, 2010 at 10:55 pm

“Cameron is of little interest, except as a cipher, a sort of nonentity who channels the prevailing geist”

So goes the introduction of Richard Seymour’s excellent new book, The Meaning of David Cameron. Indeed, David Cameron has been portrayed as something of a nonentity elsewhere. Amando Iannucci’s Time Trumpet, for example, made light of the vacuous nature of David Cameron’s leadership. His presentational style, mimicking Blair, a simulacrum of an already image obsessed hollowed out political shell.

It argues, then, what ‘Cameron’ stands for, or rather represents  is very much a continuation of Blair. In other words, a re-hash of the Thatcher imposed, now status-quo, neo-liberal model of government and public services, and the anti-democratic rule by financiers, business and technicians which this brings with it.

What I have been, particularly impressed with when reading The Meaning of David Cameron, is Seymour’s close reading of the ideological co-ordinates that make up this ‘prevailing geist’. Of course, he draws our attention to the crayola-broad-brush-stroke ideological idealisations that DC and his tory chums try to pass off as our future Arcadia. Like Blair used ‘commutarianism’ or ‘the third-way’ as window dressing to what was basically an oath of allegiance to Thatcher, Cameron of course has brought with him ‘Red Toryism’ and ‘Big Society’. Yet Seymour, importantly, also points to a deeper level of ideological mystification on which both New Labour and David Cameron’s party have relied on. This is their appeals to Meritocracy.

If there is one thing that Seymour wants to underline in his book it is how the language of Meriotcracy is merely the smoke and mirrors to hide class rule and hierarchy. Whilst meritocracy may intuitively seem to imply fairness or a common-sensical approach for the organisation of difference in society, it is in fact for nothing other than the validation of ‘a principle of inequality’. This is the books greatest triumph. It shows that where ‘meritocracy’ was considered in any substantive and logically rigorous way it was universally rejected by politicians. The hackneyed political cliché that we have got instead has done nothing but reinterpreted privilege as merit, legitimized ‘the actually existing class system’ and encouraged people to blame individuals for social problems.

Here Seymour, importantly, carves open a space in political discourse in to which we must force our critical powers.

Meritocracy “as applied to the present state of affairs, is a kind of collective insult on humankind. To imply that those currently at the top – the Warren Buffets and Roman Abramoviches of this world – are the very best, the nec plus ultra of humanity, is a kind of hate speech toward the species. Dignity demands that we refute it.”
There is a series of arguments that could state that the book is already somewhat out of date: The weird CONLIB coalition and some of the policies it looks like it could throw up, it could be said, requires a different reading to the one offered by Seymour here. Similarly, some of the predictions Seymour makes (for the book was written before the election) are a little off target. Yet what these criticisms miss is the more speculative, and ambitious, nature of the book. In its critique of the lurid PR and the accompanying empty vernacular of ‘change’, ‘progress’ and ‘newness’ which saturates all party political discussion, Richard Seymour reveals far more and goes far deeper than most critical accounts of politics today. In examining David Cameron, Seymour finds the virus of neo-liberalism. It is as if, David Cameron has already been devoured. He is undead, a neo-liberal Zombie. Seymour’s argument is that this isn’t unique to Cameron. Whilst certain symptoms may differ from those we saw in Thatcherism and New Labour the same insatiable, debilitating virus remains. The book confirms that Nick Clegg, those Orange Book liberals and the ConLib coalition, are, merely, the viruses new host.

A Round-up: Ideology and Film

In Anti-capitalism, Film, Ideology, Uncategorized, Zizek on March 28, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Maybe it’s because we have just been through Oscar season, but there has been some fantastic writing on film over the last few weeks.  First up, Slavoj Zizek has written on the two big films of the season: James Cameron’s Avatar (here in the New Stateman) and Catherine Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (from the LRB blog).

In the latter, Zizek draws our attention to the apparent invisibility of liberal ideology when it shun politics to offer a ‘human’ narrative. As he has argued similarly elsewhere, when “the focus on the perpetrator’s traumatic experience enables us to obliterate the entire ethico-political background of the conflict”, “in its very invisibility, ideology is here, more than ever”.

Zizek’s reading of Avatar (which he also elaborated on in his lecture at Cardiff) on the other hand illustrates how the link between Fantasy and Reality, is an inherent political one which designates the terrain of ideology. Ultimately concluding that behind Avatar’s spectacular visual and technological prowess the role of ideological fantasy remains a rather traditional one. Zizek points to how “the film enables us to practise a typical ideological division: sympathising with the idealised aborigines while rejecting their actual struggle.” In this way, drawing a comparison to the Maoist/peasant struggles in rural india, Zizek argues that “the true avatar is thus Avatar itself – the film substituting for reality.”

If I was being critical, in both Zizek’s plays it rather safe and offers little in addition to his writings elsewhere.  This is especially disappointing in relation to the fact, in terms of Avatar at least, that there has also been much interesting discussion about what the politics of the film which is left unmined.  This Times article (‘the love story that started a thinker’s war’) illustrates this nicely as well as, albeit inadvertently, raising a question about whether Avatar is merely a Symptom or if it was also something of a Master-Signifier.

K-punk’s contribution is similarly pertinent for its attempt, not to merely disregard the films technological aspects as merely a screen to hide an all too common idealised narrative. Whilst he reaffirms the insight from his discussion of Capitalist Realism regarding Hollywood’s corporate anti-capitalism, he also suggests that “what is foreclosed in the opposition between a predatory technologised capitalism and a primitive organicism … is the possibility of a modern, technologised anti-capitalism.” In this sense, he argues that Avatar points to a question of “how modern technological civilization can be organised in a different way.”

Moving away from Avatar, K-Punk has also written on Alice in Wonderland on his blog as well as The Road in the latest issue of the journal Film Quarterly. As I’ve got a post on it in the works, I won’t say much about his discussion of The Road here apart from he argues that it demonstrates how capitalism and commodities have become, even at the end of the world, something of a untranscendable horizon of thought.

His post on Alice in Wonderland entitled Infantilizing Children raises a somewhat different question about whether the dumbing down of the narrative into a simple binary between good and evil betrays the subversive edge of Lewis Carrols original text. Fisher here draws a line between this infantilization and neo-liberal culture which also elucidated upon in Capitalist Realism and in other blog posts.  He also makes the somewhat interesting suggestion that Alice in Wonderland is something of a precursor to Kafka, in the sense that they both offer “Nonsense world, incomprehensibly inconsistent, arbitrary and authoritarian, full of bizarre rituals”.

To finish, just a couple of other things that I’ve read in the last couple of weeks. Firstly Evan Calder Williams’ article on catastrophe cinema in Mute is a fantastic overview of Hollywood’s current obsession of apocalypse. He also has a very nice blog of his own here and apparently a book on its way with the imprint Zero. Secondly, another blog certainly worth checking out is Kim DOT Dammit’s which is right here. Her post on Up in the Air is particularly worth reading.

the love story that’s started a thinkers’ war

Audio from Zizek’s Lecture – Cardiff 3rd March

In Film, Ideology, Lectures, Marx, Podcasts, Zizek on March 7, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Introduction – Heiko Feldner and Fabio Vighi

Zizek’s Lecture

Questions and Discussion