Benjamin Geer on Tue, 14 Nov 2006 06:23:59 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Immaterial Civil War

On 12/11/06, Matteo Pasquinelli <> wrote:

> The brand of Barcelona is a "consensual hallucination" produced
> by many but exploited by few. [...]
> "The rise of Barcelona to prominence within the European system of
> cities has in part been based on its steady amassing of symbolic
> capital and its accumulating marks of distinction. [...]"
> "It is a matter of determining which segments of the population are
> to benefit most from the collective symbolic capital to which
> everyone has, in their own distinctive ways, contributed both now and
> in the past. [...]"
> The crucial question is: how to develop a symbolic capital of
> resistance that can not be exploited as another mark of distinction?

Can collective symbolic capital function as an insurance policy
against invasion?  The question might seem bizarre, but I mean it
seriously.  Does the collective symbolic capital accumulated by Latin
America in the past few decades help explain why US hasn't overthrown
any of the leftist governments that have come to power there in recent
years?  Is it more difficult for the US government to get away with,
say, organising a coup in Venezuela or Bolivia now that a generation
of young Americans have grown up with positive associations with Latin
America (Che Guevara, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Octavio
Paz, Carlos Fuentes, Paulo Coelho, Frida Kahlo, Chico Mendes, Paulo
Freire, The Official Story, Nine Queens, Man Facing Southeast, Carlos
Santana, Buena Vista Social Club, bossa nova, samba, Diego Maradona,
Ronaldo, and so on, not to mention Subcommandante Marcos and the World
Social Forum)?

Jacqueline Salloum's mock movie trailer, "Planet of the Arabs"[1], a
"montage spectacle of Hollywood's relentless vilification and
dehumanization of Arabs and Muslims", gives an indication of how far
the Middle East is from having any positive associations for most

I think solidarity isn't something that just happens; it's at least
partly constructed out of collective symbolic capital.  For example,
for the average person in the Middle East, Lebanon has many positive
associations, not least because Lebanon's formidable culture industry
is the source of much of the music listened to in the region.  It
seems to me that, for a long time, the strongest and best-loved symbol
of Lebanon has been the singer Fairouz, who long ago attained the
status of Arab cultural treasure while remaining strongly associated
with her home country.  During the outpouring of solidarity with
Lebanon that swept across the region during the recent war, there was
a deluge of Fairouz songs on satellite television, in concerts and in
theatre.  Fairouz was presented as the soul of Lebanon: poetic,
vulnerable and imbued with dignity.

I'll never forget the surprised, disoriented and amused expression on
the faces of some educated young people in London a few years ago when
I tried to explain Fairouz to them ("a bit like Celine Dion...").  I
suppose their surprise was the result of cognitive dissonance between
their image of Arabs (the Hollywood image exemplified by Jacqueline
Salloum's film) and the concept of the adored and respected female

A lot of work surely went into giving the West positive associations
with Latin America.  Perhaps literature professors helped by getting
their students to read Latin American writers.  Surely a lot of
capital went into projects like Buena Vista Social Club.  Perhaps
someone here knows more about the history of that process.  Is it
worth trying something something similar for the Middle East, a region
crushed under the weight of authoritarian states and American
intervention, a bit like Latin America in the 1970s?


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