nettime's hypocrite on Mon, 28 Apr 2003 13:27:45 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> hypocritical theory [2x]

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   Re: <nettime> hypocritical theory                                               
     "Eduardo Navas" <>                                           

   RE: <nettime> hypocritical theory                                               
     "Kermit Snelson" <>                                    


Date: Thu, 24 Apr 2003 02:42:52 -0600
From: "Eduardo Navas" <>
Subject: Re: <nettime> hypocritical theory

- ----- Original Message -----
From: "McKenzie Wark" <>
To: <>
Sent: Wednesday, April 23, 2003 10:39 PM
Subject: <nettime> hypocritical theory

> Note that its muffled squarks take two forms: bad faith (Bhabba) and pure
> bourgeois ideology (Fish). Who says the latter is not to be preferred to
> the former?

 New York Times
> April 19, 2003
> The Latest Theory Is That Theory Doesn't  Matter
> These are uncertain times for literary scholars. The era of big theory is
> over. The grand paradigms that swept through humanities departments in the
> 20th century - psychoanalysis, structuralism, Marxism, deconstruction,
> post-colonialism - have lost favor or been abandoned. Money is tight. And
> the leftist politics with which literary theorists have traditionally been
> associated have taken a beating.
> In the latest sign of mounting crisis, on April 11 the editors of Critical
> Inquiry, academe's most prestigious theory journal, convened the scholarly
> equivalent of an Afghan-style loya jirga. They invited more than two dozen
> of America's professorial elite, including Henry Louis Gates Jr., Homi
> Bhabha, Stanley Fish and Fredric Jameson, to the University of Chicago for
> what they called "an unprecedented meeting of the minds," an unusual
> two-hour public symposium on the future of theory.

This article is obviously biased.  It's hard to believe that someone like
Jameson would drastically shift his 'collective unconscious' drive in recent
times.  Babha commented as would be expected of him.  I think Edward Said
would have been a good endorser of Babha's comment --especially with his
position on representation of intellectualism as an important cultural
activity.  There was probably a reason why Said was not invited to the

I take the article with a grain of salt. It's obviously pushing what the
media claims to be the norm right now.  Mentioning the war with Iraq so
emphatically at the end of the article only makes such agenda even more

Eduardo Navas


Date: Fri, 25 Apr 2003 15:38:54 -0700
From: "Kermit Snelson" <>
Subject: RE: <nettime> hypocritical theory

Ken Wark:

> Thus, critical theory fails in the moment it 'succeeds'
> as an institutional discourse. Or in other words, once
> you can get an endowed chair at Harvard in it, it has
> ceased to exist.

A statement like this one is often intended as a signal to look for a
deeper meaning behind the superficial absurdity.

With this in mind, the following deeper meanings occurred to me:

1) Ken might simply be aligning himself with the prestigious tradition
of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, both of whom despised "academic
philosophy" and the "learned cattle" of the faculties.  Which isn't a
bad strategy, since (for instance) Nietzsche's professionally much more
successful early rival Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff is known today
only to professional classical philologists, while Nietzsche's own name
is today on the lips of every schoolgirl.

2) Another possibility is that Ken might be pointing to a profound
paradox at the heart of critical theory, an analogy for which might be
Negri and Hardt's observation in _Empire_ concerning national liberation
struggles: "As soon as the nation begins to form as a sovereign state,
its progressive functions all but vanish".  As evidence, they quote Jean
Genet's statement concerning his support for the cause of Palestinian
self-determination: "'The day when the Palestinians are institution-
alized,' he said, 'I will no longer be at their side.  The day the
Palestinians become a nation like the other nations, I will no longer be
there.'" [1]  Again, not a bad professional strategy, as Negri and
Hardt's own professional and commercial successes with such baffling
(and worse) propositions convincingly demonstrate.

3) Finally, Ken might be aligning himself with the great tradition of
Platonism, as I have suggested here before in another context.  Alfred
North Whitehead contended, after all, that Western philosophy is but a
footnote to Plato.  It has also been claimed that all the Platonic
dialogues are but an extended comment on the _Apology_.

Taking the progression one step further, I'd contend that the heart of
the _Apology_ is the famous "Penalty of the Prytaneum," where Socrates
argues that rather than a death sentence for his relentless critique of
Athenian beliefs and institutions, the state should provide him with a
lifetime of free meals at the expense of the public treasury. Thus
would the necessarily adversarial relationship between all institutions
and the thinker, or between "poetry and philosophy," be resolved.

I'd advise the intellectuals here who are looking for a way to "get with
the program" following the recent triumph of the "Anglosphere," or the
"American Commonwealth of Nations," or whatever the neoconservatives
will eventually adopt as the official moniker for their thousand-year
empire, to consider this option seriously.  Leo Strauss, the spiritual
godfather of the current war in Iraq, took the lesson of Socrates's
execution very, very seriously.  It formed the basis of his philosophy,
politics, and personal vocation.

Believe it or not, what is being waged by Strauss's disciples today is a
world war to make Socrates's "Penalty of the Prytaneum" a reality for
the first time.  In other words, it is to create a world in which "the
nations" feed the hand that bites them.  As Strauss's leading disciple,
Allan Bloom, put it, the noblest task of politics is to create a "haven
for useless people."  By "useless people," he meant the thinking and
critical minority, or the philosophers, who should be supported by the
philosopher's chief target and meal ticket: the non-thinking majority.
If you want to know the secret of the relationship between the
Pentagon's intellectual Paul Wolfowitz, personal student of Allan Bloom,
and George W. Bush, Non-Thinker-in-Chief, there it is.

This modest proposal would in no way mean a departure from the cause of
"critical Internet culture" here at nettime.  Take, for instance, the
figure who is in many ways nettime's own spiritual godfather: Marshall
McLuhan. Well, McLuhan's lifetime oeuvre was really only a footnote to
that of his personal friend and primary influence, the artist and author
Wyndham Lewis.  And it is possible to understand Lewis's two major
works of criticism, _The Art of Being Ruled_ (1926) and _Time and
Western Man_ (1927), as nettime's founding documents.  In the first
place, on the exoteric level, it is difficult to see "critical Internet
culture" as anything except a cut-and-paste, search-and-replace knock-
off of Lewis's 20s-era plea for a critical theory of the new media of
his day, radio:

   Such an invention as wireless, for example, which, in the first years
of its appearance, runs wild, left to its own devices, as it were, will
certainly in the end be subjected to critical discipline, for the good
of all of us. [2]

But more fundamentally, it is also apparent that Wyndham Lewis's agenda
was also that of Leo Strauss: to create a political and economic system
in which intellectuals are maintained at the expense of those they
hector and badger.  And this while providing absolutely nothing in
return, not even attending to the responsibilities of their influence or
the defense of their arguments, except that hectoring and badgering
itself.  Is this not also the secret key, as I have suggested before, to
books like "Dark Fiber"?

What I am modestly proposing, in other words, is a perspective on ideas
and events that may help to cheer up nettime's presently anguished and
obviously irritable community. Having embraced at its founding (perhaps
without knowing it) the political cause of Wyndham Lewis, embracing now
the recently victorious neoconservative cause of Leo Strauss may not be
so repugnant and perhaps even profitable.

For the rest of us, this proposal may help contribute, in these days of
anguish, some perspective on the always-problematic and even deadly
relationship (sometimes a deadly embrace) between institutions and
thinkers.  And, by an obvious extension, also on Ken Wark's seemingly
paradoxical observations concerning critical theory, itself never
anything but a very characteristic product of "tenured radicals."

Kermit Snelson

[1] Hardt and Negri, _Empire_, p.109
[2] Lewis, Wyndham, _Time and Western Man_, Santa Rosa, 1993, p.xii


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