Return to Left Curve no. 24 Table of Contents
LEFT CURVE No. 24 EDITORIAL
That it is difficult to fathom the complexity of today's world is a truism that seems too banal to even mention. Our lives are as if tossed around haphazardly by some mysterious whirlwind whose source or direction are unfathomable. The French theorist, Paul Virilio has commented as follows:
"We are at the threshold of our tolerance-limit. Globalization... also means the end of one entire world: the world of the particular and of the localized. (...) History is simply smashing into the wall of time. This is an extraordinary occurrence! On one hand, it is a very positive thing because it enables humanity to be brought together. But at the same time, it represents a totalitarian experience of the prime order! Totalitarianism is latent in technology. It was not merely Hitler or Mussolini who were totalitarian, or the Pharaohs, as far as I am concerned. Totalitarianism is already present in the technical object. So, just as we had a mythical fundamentalism in the past, today we are confronted with a 'techno-fundamentalism' of a very similar nature. This is because information itself has become an absolute power with totalitarian features. (...) We face a duplication of reality. The virtual reality and the "real" reality double the relationship to the real, something that, to the best of my knowledge, results in clear pathological consequences. For this I use the French words le tele-, in the sense of tele-action, action-at- a-distance. Action-at-a-distance is a phenomenon of absolute disorientation. We now have the possibility of seeing at a distance, of hearing at a distance, and of acting at a distance, and this results in a process of de-localization, of the unrooting of the being. 'To be' used to mean to be somewhere, to be situated, in the here and now, but the 'situation' of the essence of being is undermined by the instantaneity, the immediacy, and the ubiquity which are characteristic of our epoch."*
A corollary to this fundamental erasure of a "sense of place" is the all-pervasive monopolization and recoding of all cultural (& life) experience into a spectacular uniformity, a momentary (yet constant) stimulation of base human senses harnessed to facilitate as rapid an exchange of physical and emotional commodities as is possible within the whirling digitalized network whose tendrils reach into all possible pores of our lives---from the genetic manipulation of the most fundamental molecules of life to the vast multiplex industry of "entertainment." As Manuel Castells, another among the few astute observers of our times, notes, "the multimedia hypertext, with its recombining capacity, constitutes the dominant culture, because it permeates all our representations and sources of information. It is our collective, spontaneous frame of reference." And, "because it is a culture without meaning, just made out of codes, it is extremely versatile, and can include anything, literally anything, and transform it into a bit of the hypertext, thus ultimately changing the meaning once it is incorporated into the new semantic system. That is why cultural autonomy is so difficult, except by breaking the mirror and escaping from the hypertext. But the price to pay is either marginality, or the long march to reconstruct general meaning from individual experience."**
This journal can readily identify with this last sentence, as that is precisely what we have tried to do through the years. And the price has been paid for refusing to be part of the dominant "hypertext"---be it in the commercial, state or academic sectors. With this issue, we continue this project by offering more examples of "breaking the mirror."
The opening article by Peter Laska takes on one of the most fundamental myths used to justify the ways in which our society functions: Modernity's myth of "progress." Despite all the current delusory verbiage about the dawning of the glowing new millennium in which human inequities, disease, aging and death itself will be surmounted through scientific and technical progress, Laska points out that all this talk of "progress" has been and is still but a smoke screen to cover up the privilege status of the world's elites. It is an ideology constructed to legitimize the dominant system and was built in large part through the denigration of the historically evolved egalitarian folk-utopian aspirations of self-sufficient communities. In place of the "primitive" ethics of self-sufficiency, environmental balance and equitable distribution of life's necessities, the dominant elites of "civilizationÓ erected an accumulationist ethic of constant economic expansion and unlimited growth; which, in effect, gave the ruling elite their own "utopia" of power, abundant wealth, leisure and "high" culture---built through the destruction of peoples' autonomy and subsequent control and exploitation of their resources and labor. This control has now extended into the most intimate aspects of individual life: our mental and emotional states through the ever-expanding use of "professional counselorsÓ and psychotropic drugs (as illustrated by the alarming recent news item that one out of six pre-school children in the U.S. are given drugs by school officials to control their behavior). In the search for alternatives to modernity's "Accumulationist Ethic," Laska stresses the critical need to re-invision the core values of the "primitive" Sufficiency Ethic of "... diversity, egalitarianism, mutual aid, and the cultural and ethical control of needs in the interest of mental, physical and ecological well-being."
The Kosov@ conflict of 1999 was the most recent bloody chapter in the continuing disintegration of post-communist Yugoslavia. I find it impossible to come up with any meaningful conclusions about the whole conflict and NATO's intervention. Nothing here is just black and white. The U. S. left, by and large, had its usual knee-jerk response: "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" or military intervention by the U. S. government is simply imperialist aggression. (Ramsey Clark even traveled to Belgrade to show his solidarity with Milosevic). That the conflict involved the usual game of power politics is undeniable. And, as usual, it is ordinary people who are victimized. Rather than (an inadequate) analytic summation, we offer in this issue some examples of poetic responses to the Kosov@ war: individual poems written in response to the conflict in the West, as well as poetic expressions of Kosovar Albanians and work by Serbian artists.
This issue also contains work on some of the main problems that exist in the U. S. The collage art works of Theodore Harris are sensitive examples of the pain and alienation that are still a significant part of the lives of so many African-Americans. One of the major scandals of American society is the exponential growth of prisons, incarceration and execution as prime means to control "undesirable elements." The moving poetic exegesis of Pauline Craig's, The Silence of Horace Edward Kelly, well documents the horrific personal suffering that takes place daily in unrecorded nooks and crannies of U. S. society which will never be eliminated by "lethal injection." Stephen Hartnett's poem-text is also a good expose of the booming "prison industry", which has an economic value About the Same As Commercial Fishing to the state of California. The article by E. San Juan, "From Chinatown to Gunga Din Highway, Reflections on Frank Chin and the Representation of Chinese America" give us a good historical account of the contradictory cultural responses of Asian-Americans, specifically Chinese Americans, to the still operative racist legacy of U.S. history. Despite all the rhetoric of "diversity" and "multiculturalism" in the U. S. San Juan argues that it is necessary to grasp "...the larger history of the socio-political formation of the U. S. as a complex overdetermined totality of social relations." At the same time, it is important to understand the contemporary globalizing wave of migrant deterritorialization, by which "Anything has value so long as it can be exchanged ...so long as it enters into market circulation."
One of the purposes of this journal is to provide space for creative expression for individuals who might have a hard time finding outlets for their work in more "official" venues. This includes the usually thought-of "excluded" groups such as ethnic minorities, people from a working-class background and artists who struggle for substance outside of the protective walls of academia or the commodified "art world." But within this "excluded" category, we also include young people, whose fresh insights into life has revelatory potential that is often (self)censored out by writers and artists whose sensibilities have become compromised by the demands of "making it." As such, we are pleased to publish the work of a fifteen-year old writer, Ashley Chambers, in this issue. Her writing, while displaying a structural maturity far in advance from what one would expect from her numerical years, also provides another example of an unfortunately not-that-infrequent pathology present in contemporary American life, that of child abuseÑwithout the sick-o fetishization that the topic so frequently receives in the media ("mainstream" or "alternative").
The section on "Globalization & Cultural Nationalism in Central-East Europe" continues our coverage of cultural developments in post-communist societies---in this case focusing on Hungarian culture. Though to Western sensibilities the "populist/urbanist debate" may sound somewhat archaic, in fact it is a manifestation of a conflict that has been playing itself out throughout the world in this post-Cold War, "new world order" era: various responses to the threat that local, indigenous traditions face from neo-liberal globalization. Our selection also points to the unique aspects of the Central-East European region, with its history of incomplete, thwarted "nation-building", that is very different from that of the countries of the imperialist centers of the Euro-Atlantic region, or from that of their (former) Third World colonies. The inability or lack of desire to understand such differences has a lot to do with the confused response to the region on the part of Western power centers, as well as from Western leftistsÑas exemplified by the woefully inappropriate reactions to the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.
Lastly I wish to draw the reader's attention to the major piece of theoretical writing in this issue, the article by Michael Eldred, "Capital and Technology: Marx and Heidegger." This meticulously argued treatise brings head to head the work of two thinkers who are usually, reductivelyÑboth on the Right (Marx = Stalinism) and the Left (Heidegger = Nazism), dismissed as antithetical. Yet, in the current atmosphere of the world-wide domination of neo-liberalism, it is a vital task to rethink these two thinkers' assessments of the modern epoch: the epoch of the bourgeois-capitalist form of society (Marx) and the technical age (Heidegger). Eldred executes this task by "comparing the language of the set-up (Gestell) with that of capital, and closely and persistently investigating both these languages (and the thoughts they express) in their relatedness as well as their essential difference." The author finds "remarkable resemblances, despite all their profound differences." All in all, the text is a rare (these days) example of non-pre-judgmental thinking that combines conceptual rigour and a remaining true to the inherent revelations of the object(s) under scrutiny.
This issue also has a lot of good poetry to offer, which we hope the reader will find rewarding. All in all, I hope that we have been able to put out here work that does manage to knock some cracks into the "mirrorÓ of the "hypertextÓ and will encourage others to do likewise. None of this work comes easy and, if you find agreement with our efforts, please contact us, let us know what you think, send us your contributions and help out financially by ordering a subscription. Ñthe Editor
* From an interview by Carlos Oliveira originally published in German by Frankfurter Rundschau, September 2, 1995. Translated by Patrice Riemens and posted on "NettimeÓ in August, 1999 as "The Silence of the Lambs: Paul Virilio in Conversation."
**From Manual Castells, "A Rejoiner: On Power, Identities and Culture in the Netword Society"; New Political Economy, November 1998.
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