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Maurice Nadeau Reviews Surrealist Subversions

Maurice Nadeau, now 90, is one of France’s most esteemed literary critics, noted especially for his pioneering 1945 Histoire du surrealisme (warning: R. Shattuck’s English translation is severely bowdlerized), and his important autobiography. For many years Nadeau has edited La Quinzaine litteraire, a biweekly roughly comparable to the New York Review of Books but much more radical. Although the paper almost never notices books in languages other than French, the issue of 16-31 December (No. 844) devotes a third of a page to Nadeau’s review of the new Autonomedia book Surrealist Subversions. Here is the substance of that review:

Tactical Reality Dictionary:

Cultural Intelligence and Social Control

Konrad Becker, edition selene, Vienna, 2002

(distributed by Autonomedia)

Reviewed by McKenzie Wark

Konrad Becker -- a contributor to nettime since
its earliest incarnations, offers this remarkable
little lexicon as a field manual for constructing
'tactical' realities. These just might be the worm
holes through which to wriggle out of the
consensual hallucination of global corporate
media domination, in this era when the front line
has mutated "from cold war to code war." (11)

Netocracy: The New Power Elite and Life After Capitalism

By Alexander Bard and Jan Söderqvist

Reuters, London, 2002

Reviewed by McKenzie Wark

I wouldn't usually give a second look to yet
another book plopping off the business press
about the 'new economy' -- but this one is a bit
different. I don't know if it is because the authors
are Swedish, or have a strange taste for Deleuzian
philosophy, but this book stands out in dissenting
from the usually hyper-liberal rhetoric of liberation
through technology mixed with markets. While it
has some of the rhetorical excesses of the business
book genre -- 'trends and counter-trends' -- it has
a synthetic power not usually found among the
suit and Powerpoint crowd.

Anonymous Comrade writes:

The Molecular Invasion

By Critical Art Ensemble

Autonomedia, New York, 2002

Reviewed by McKenzie Wark

Percy Schmeiser is a Canadian canola (or rapeseed)
farmer who was sued by Monsanto, the St. Louis
based agribusiness giant, for infringing on its
patents. Monsanto owns a kind of canola seed that
is resistant to its own famous brand of herbicide,
Round Up. Many farmers use Round Up, including
Schmeiser. Usually, you have to spray it on your
fields before planting, as it kills everything. But
with Monsanto's patented seeds, you can spray it
on the crops without killing them.

McKenzie Wark writes:

Alain Joxe, Empire of Disorder,

Semiotext(e), New York, 2002

Reviewed by McKenzie Wark

Alain Joxe, a prominent French expert in international
studies, offers a timely alternative to both a micropolitics
or a politics of the multitudes. Empire of Disorder offers
a restatement of the politics of the citizen in an age in
which globalization brings in its train a global disorder.

For Joxe, the social republic might still be a viable form of
resistance to the military empire. The problem with
empire, which Joxe sees as centered on US military
power, is that it offers the world only power without
protection. As Machiavelli noted, a prudent conqueror
improves the lives of the conquered, thus legitimizing its
rule. But the US does not seek to conquer the world, as
that would mean assuming responsibility for it, only to
manage it by remote control.

The American empire does not create order. There is no
Pax Americana. It merely regulates disorder through
financial norms and occasional military policings. It
mainly operates by threats, which must occasionally be
made good on to remain credible -- as we may
eventually see in the case of Iraq.

Under the reign of President Clinton, empire appeared
in the neo-liberal guise of the economic norms of trade
and sanction. Under President Bush Jr, this economic
offensive is replaced by a military offensive. Why try to
tangle diplomatically with those wily Europeans? Why
not replace a diplomatic strategy, where American
superiority is relative, with a military one, where it is
absolute? Joxe is both alarmed and bemused by
American power, a not atypical European reaction,
perhaps. Observing past American geo-political
blunders, he observes: "They are not competent to rule
the world. Which is a point in their favor. " (p. 56)

The American empire is applying some of the same
norms internally as it applies externally, and this perhaps
is the most alarming development for those living within
the US. The state is reneging on its obligations to protect
its citizens. Joxe is what one might call a non-
denominational social democrat. Politics is supposed to
be about class struggle, and the role of the state is to
moderate the conflict. The state is obliged to protect its
citizens to maintain their consent. But the ruling class can
sometimes escape from its obligations by transforming
class struggle into ethnic struggle; either internally, as in
the case of Rwanda or Serbia, or externally, as in the
case of Bush Jr's war on the 'axis of evil'. This is a
context in which, as Joxe observes, "the notion of class
needs to recreated". (p. 62)

There is a growing intuition about that the economic
system in which we are living is not the same 'capitalism'
as experience by our grandparents. As to what exactly it
has mutated into, nobody yet really knows. Joxe
provides an illuminating glimpse at this problem. For
Joxe, Max Weber had a clearer grasp of the historical
relationship between the economy and violence than
Karl Marx.

In ancient Greece, free labor competed with slave labor.
To the extend that city-states were able to invent a
limited democracy, it rested on the political power of
free labor. In Rome, the balance shifted from free to
slave labor, and with it, the empire emerges. War
becomes a slave hunt. The military mode of violence
determined the mode of production and not the other
way around, as most Marxists hold.

Perhaps this is a relevant historical parallel for our own
times. The factories of the underdeveloped world are
based on forced labor. The ongoing destruction of the
rural way of life in much of the underdeveloped world
provides a steady supply of forced labor, which
challenges the free labor of what I would call the
'overdeveloped' world. Slaves are gathered the old
fashioned way, by violence.

On the one hand, a new global slavery, and on the
other -- a new global slave-owning and slave-trading
nobility. This is what Joxe calls an "imperial counter-
revolution", organized by a transnational corporate class
and its para-state expressions, which are able to force
sovereign states to participate in their own evisceration.

This is not a paranoid view of a new world order,
however. For Joxe, nobody is really in charge.
Globalization is achieved by remote control. The result is
what he calls "fractal chaos". The crisis reaches all levels -
- continents, nations, regions, neighborhoods, families.
As I argued in Virtual Geography (Indiana UP), the
communication vector allows power to be organized
independently of the old hierarchies of scale.

After the cold peace of nuclear standoff, this is an era of
"cruel little wars." Under the stress of global economic
liberalization, some states crack. The ruling class fends
off the anger of the subordinated classes with a divide
and rule strategy, diverting class war into ethnic war.
But what starts as a means of preserving power
becomes the ruins of all contending classes.

Confronted with the crack-up of one stressed state
after another, supra-national powers are paralyzed by
differing world views and calculations of national
interest. For Joxe, there is a difference between the
dominant American view of globalization as the
flattening out of political territories, and the European
view in which the emergence of economic globalization
calls for stronger trans-national forms of sovereignty
and political identity, which might extend some form of
protection to citizens no longer protected by sovereign
states.

This global diplomatic gridlock has replaced the cold war
with a "frozen peace." Either there is a failure to
intervene, as in Rwanda, or a failure of intervention, as
in the Balkans. When tran-national interventions occur,
they are subject to "mission creep". The result is what
Joxe calls "non-Clauswitzian wars". Clausewitz's dictum
that war is the continuation of politics by other means
assumes there is some political calculation of interests
that drive military strategy. In the case of Somalia or
Bosnia, Joxe thinks it may be quite the other way
around. Left rudderless by diplomatic gridlock,
commanders in the field take military actions which
cause irreversible shifts in political calculation and
strategy.

Then there are the so-called 'humanitarian' wars. In his
book Powerless By Design (Duke UP), Michel Feher
argues that the US and EU powers justified their
inaction in the face of local destabilizations of the global
order by presenting them as 'humanitarian' crises -- akin
to natural disasters -- before which they were powerless
to offer anything other than food and bandages.

Joxe is likewise critical of the ideology of humanitarian
aid, a politics wherein "the clean conscience of the
torturers is protected by the bad conscience of
politicians." Humanitarian missions put soldiers in the
paralyzing situation of not being able to defend anyone,
having to watch murder in the name of impartiality.

For different reasons, the cruel little wars and the
humanitarian interventions both end up being irrational
military actions on both sides. Self-destructing states
that descend into genocide are met with directionless
military responses or none at all. "Without political
rationality, war is nothing other than madness." (104)

There may be no ready solution to the new global
disorder, but for the European opinion that Joxe is
mainly addressing, there is the question of choosing
which chaos it prefers. As Joxe says, "In the current
disorder, it is preferable to organize a sphere of political
fraternity with citizens and without states, rather than
sitting back to watch the victory of the transnational
wealthy classes and their smiling neofascism." (111)

Empire of Disorder is not just a stirring and timely
political tract, however. It also offers some theoretical
tools that may outlive the particular issues Joxe chooses
to address. Curiously, Joxe goes back to Hobbes, who
he identifies as a rare enlightenment thinker who
includes chaos and civil war in his political thought as
constitutive categories, rather than as mere
inconveniences. He sees Hobbes' 'archaic' monarchism as
a useful critical tool for analyzing forces that betray
popular sovereignty in the name of constructing it.

Building on Hobbes, Machiavelli and Clausewitz, Joxe
constructs tools for analyzing empire refreshingly free of
wishful thinking, and not colored by current theoretical
fashions. What makes this book so timely is that its
thinking is so untimely. It is a shame that Joxe does not
explore that other geneaology, that runs from Locke to
Smith to Ricardo and Marx. This might yield a
comparable analysis of the abstraction and globalization
of property -- that other kind of abstract
territorialization at work in the world today. Perhaps
the role of the abstraction of property, from land to
capital to 'intellectual property' -- is a topic for another
book.

For Joxe, the empire emerges as the republic betrayed.
Joxe sees a link between expansion of the market and
eruption of cruel little wars. As with Hobbes, in Joxe
violence and civil war are constitutive categories --
globalization cannot be thought without them. This
makes his book a useful challenge to both neo-liberal
ideologues and the various versions of a transnational
anarchic anti-capitalist movement.

For Joxe, the global concentration of wealth can only be
protected by violence. The worldwide repression of the
urban and rural poor is part of the same process as the
WTO's trade regime. Responding to the violence of
empire requires forms of para-state, supra-national
power able to act in the name of protection. Democracy,
since the Greeks, has always required a delimitation of
the city state, to count votes, to manage tensions
between the classes. One can think, with Joxe, of forms
of democracy without the nation, but not without some
kind of spatial delimitation.

The challenge to think through new forms of spatial
inclusion, new forms of sovereignty and protection,
becomes even more pressing as we appear to move from
what Joxe calls a logistical to a predatory empire. In the
logistical empire, economic interest sets some limit to
violence. The empire insinuates itself subtly, bypassing
borders, through the virus of trade. In the predatory
empire, the economic is subordinated to violence.
Damage to the mode of production is offset by a sharing
out internally of the loot. Predatory empires do not
creep into the cracks of the world, they seek
confrontation with the other.

It's hard not to see this as a description of the regime of
Bush Jr. Internally, attention is diverted from a vicious
class struggle against workers and farmers by war talk,
symbolically unifying the citizens against vaguely defined
external threats. Meanwhile, a new police state takes
shape. The economy is in a serious under consumption
crisis, due to the failure of real wages to rise in line with
increasing productivity. So the surplus is to be consumed
through military spending, with the promise of seizing
the nationalized oil reserves of Iraq as a pay off. As Joxe
warns, "Something resembling global structural slavery
has reappeared, leaving us with the prospect of...
totalitarian empires with camps and slavery." (187)

In this context, "Europe should make clear that America
is mistaken in its search for military space without
sovereignty, peace without pacts and economic space
without politics." (215) Make clear to whom? There is no
national media space in the US where Americans can
debate and calculate their interests, and certainly none
where they might hear what Europeans have to say on
the matter.

One can subscribe to the excellent new English language
edition of Le Monde Diplomatique
(mondediplo). Or one can read Joxe's useful
little book. It's a more mainstream, trad-left title than
one usually expects from Semiotexte, which introduced
much of the English speaking world to Deleuze,
Guattari, Baudrillard, Lyotard and Negri. But under the
current geo-political circumstances, Semiotexte have
made a wise tactical decision in bringing Joxe to the
English speaking world.

McKenzie Wark is the author of Virtual Geography and
several other books. He teaches at SUNY Albany and is
a guest scholar at NYU. Email: mw35

New York Times Sunday Book Review (November 17, 2002)


By Marilyn Stasio

There's not a superfluous word or overdone effect in The Prone Gunman(City
Lights Noir, paper, $11.95), one of the last cool, compact and shockingly
original crime novels that Jean-Patrick Manchette left as his legacy to
modern noir fiction when he died in 1995. Its austerity of form heightened
by James Brook's lean translation from the French, this stark account of a
man's professional decline and mental deterioration is all the more chilling
for being the story of a hired killer. Martin Terrier goes about his deadly
business with calm detachment as he prepares to claim the woman he loves and
retire from the trade. His employers would have it otherwise, however, and
before he knows it, Terrier is forced back into his old life (''I have to
work again. . . . I have to work! . . . I must do my job!''). His attempts
to extricate himself begin sensibly enough, but become increasingly
desperate as Manchette turns the screws with consummate control over his
style -- and without a hint of mercy for his victim.

*


The Viallage Voice


The French Connection

by Ben Ehrenreich

November 13-19, 2002

The Prone Gunman

By Jean-Patrick Manchette

City Lights, 155 pp., $11.95

Thirty pages before the finale of Jean-Patrick Manchette's The Prone Gunman,
it's hard not to wonder how the book could possibly end. At that point the
novel's protagonist, hit man Martin Terrier, having left a long trail of
corpses in his path, has lost his few friends, every last centime of his
ill-earned savings, and what little dreams sustained him. He has even lost
his voice. But the book does end, in circumstances far worse than you might
easily imagine, on a note of extraordinary bleakness.

Dr Wooo writes:

"Naomi Klein, No Logo, London: Flamingo, 2001 (pb. £8.99).

Noreena Hertz, The Silent Takeover: Global Capitalism and the Death of
Democracy, London: Random House, 2001 (pb. £12.99).

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2000 (pb. £12.99).

Whatever the merits of Naomi Klein’s politics there can be little doubt that
No Logo was a timely intervention. In the theatre of struggles against the
effects of globalisation, Klein has become like a war correspondent: a Kate
Adie for the liberal left. As its publicity suggests the book became part of
a movement. But which movement? That of young activists devising ingenious
means of publicising their protests against multinationals and
trans-national alliances of political forces? Or the movement within the
media that has sought to mould the collective impression of these protests?


waaibevok writes "Ashwin Desai's "We Are The Poors" is one of the best books yet on globalization and resistance. Its secret is that barely mentions globalization, and instead weaves together richly told local stories that bring this grand and bland subject vividly to life.


Most books on corporate globalization (and I admit that I am a terrible offender) attempt to be global themselves. In the process, they can seem as placeless and generic as their subject: specificity is lost and the analysis can seem as free floating as a currency trade. "We Are The Poors" takes the opposite approach: Desai, a well-known South African activist and academic, lives in the Durban area, and that is where most of this book unfolds, with a few side trips to Cape Town and Johannesburg.

"Politicising or Opting Out?"

Martyn Hudson, Weekly Worker 457 Thursday November 21 2002

Reviewing Harry Cleaver, Reading Capital Politically Leeds 2000, pp183, £8

Without question, the greatest tool Marx gave to the working class movement was Capital. It is almost facile saying this, but -- at a time when the academic study of this work has for all intents and purposes disappeared, and when the left is mired in its inability to transcend transparently outdated doctrines and categories -- we have to re-examine what Capital gave us. The publication of this work was a revolution in human thought. For the first time we had the uncovering of the nature of the historical process of accumulation and the social relations so entwined with it.

Anonymous Comrade writes:

"Take a look at this Mad magazine ad at Gulf Wars"