2008 Issue

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The “Real” in Resistance: Transgression of Law as Ethical Act

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By Kambiz Behi

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Western philosophical literature on domination and resistance—from Hegel’s portrayal of the slave’s “unhappy unconsciousness” in the Phenomenology of the Spirit, through Nietzsche’s accounts of how bad conscience becomes the essential component of subjectivity, to Gramsci’s hegemony and “false  consciousness”—cast a Manichean view of the world. Studies of domination and resistance across the social sciences suffer from this metaphoric division between res cogitas and res extensa: mind and body, persuading and coercing, colonizer and colonized. Mitchell (1990:573) has raised this critique against recent works on domination and resistance—particularly Scott’s Weapons of the Weak (1985) and Domination and the Arts of Resistance (1990)—for casting a binary worldview that, far from bringing to light analyses of resistance, “works itself into the very vocabulary with which we speak of power.” According to Mitchell, approaching the question of “domination in terms of essential distinction between physical coercion and ideological persuasion” fails to address the issues of power and only “represents a way of writing in which such two-dimensionality is merely reproduced” (1990:573).

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Does Knowing Matter? U.S. Congressional Records and the Arming of Iraq

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By Irene Gendzier

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Does having an informed public, aware of the nature of U.S. policy in Iraq, make a difference? Would Congress and the public have responded differently to official deception concerning U.S. policies in Iraq had they known the record of previous U.S. policies, including the export of weapons of mass destruction to the Saddam Hussein regime prior to the Gulf War? In the absence of any meaningful public inquiry on the origins of recent U.S. policy toward Iraq, this and more have been missing from public debate.

Yet the record of U.S. support for Saddam Hussein, and for U.S. arms exports to Baghdad, is not hidden. It has not been subjected to formal censorship or classification. It is part of the rich public record of Congressional hearings held over a number of years with considerable publicity then and later. But to judge by the nature of public discussion on U.S. policy, the content of this record remains largely unexamined, its meaning an  unasked question. How can one explain this apparent paradox of critical evidence that is both present and invisible? What accounts for its marginalization?

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The American Empire: Triumph of Triumphalism

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By Hamid Dabashi

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The fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq in March 2003, in anticipation of the seventh anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, and in commemoration of the second anniversary of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in July 2006, occasions a moment to redirect our attention from the terrors of death and destruction that the U.S. and Israel have caused in these countries (and in occupied Palestine) and wonder what precisely is the nature and disposition of this imperial project. Whatever the U.S. is up to in Afghanistan and Iraq (and perhaps in Iran), and whatever Israel is plotting in Lebanon and Palestine (and perhaps Syria), it is ultimately the domestic echoes of all this globalized warmongering in the United States—particularly in a presidential election year—that will have a definitive impact on the nature and disposition of this empire. The barometer of the overheated U.S. imperial imagination is nowhere better gauged and measured, felt and palpable, than inside a country now in the full swing of casting its political future over the next generation.

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Radicalism, Resistance, and the Structures of Family Law

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By Maria Rosaria Marella

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These few notes are about feminism and the law, better: about the approach of certain feminisms to certain areas of family law. In particular these notes are about the ideas of law as resistance and law as oppression as conceptualised by two different feminist wings in the 1970’s: Italian radical feminism and English socialist feminism. The difference between these schools in approaching the law can be effectively seen in the way these two feminisms tackled the family in reference to two major issues: reproduction (abortion, particularly) and housework. So I will mainly refer to these topics in comparing and discussing the sets of arguments respectively produced by Italian radical feminism and English socialist feminism in rejecting or supporting specific legal policies concerning the family and—more generally—the theme of legal change as a key tool to promote social transformation.

The reasons I focus here on feminism in the 1970’s are strictly related, on the one hand, to the dramatic changes that occurred in those years in the legal regulation of the family in Europe, and on the other hand, to the seminal character of the critical analysis feminists produced at that time with regard to women and sex, the family and the law.

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Structures

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By Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento

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Clandestine Construction Company International (“Clancco”) is an art project which explores, investigates, and examines juridical structures and their effects on art and visual culture.

Clancco was incorporated in 1968 and functions by employing theoretical and operating structures similar to those of corporations. Through the format of subsidiaries, Clancco implements three separate yet interconnected projects in real space and digital media. The three subsidiaries are: Projects, Art + Law (commentaries on international news related to art and law), and Writings and Interviews by and with arts professionals and legal scholars. Clancco and its subsidiaries are physically present in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and on Clancco’s website.

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Freud and the Political

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By Mladen Dolar

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The political in Freud conceals under the air of innocence a most difficult, even impossible topic. Both terms are far from being unequivocal—it is not quite clear, despite the appearances, what is meant by Freud, in spite of, or rather because of, the aura that surrounds his name and the general clamor that his fame provoked . . . and it is even less clear what is meant by the political, in spite of, or rather because of, the fact that one is constantly bombarded from all quarters by politics in all shapes and sizes. The trickiest of all is the possible intersection of the two. The temptation is great to adopt a deconstructivist rhetoric—instead of speaking about the topic, speaking about the impossibility of speaking about the topic. I will very much try to resist this temptation.

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Legal Luck

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By Slavoj Žižek

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Kant grounds what he calls the “transcendental formula of public law”—“All actions relating to the right of other men are unjust if their maxim is not consistent
with publicity”—in the obvious reason that a secret law, a law unknown to its subjects, would legitimize the arbitrary despotism of those who exercise it: “A maxim which I cannot divulge without defeating my own purpose must be kept secret if it is to succeed; and, if I cannot publicly avow it without inevitably exciting universal opposition to my project, the necessary and universal opposition which can be foreseen a priori is due only to the injustice with which the maxim threatens everyone.”1 This paradox is nicely rendered in the title of a recent report on China: “Even what’s secret is a secret in China.”2 Many troublesome intellectuals who report on political oppression, ecological catastrophes, rural poverty, etc., (for example, a Chinese woman who sent her husband, who lives abroad, clippings from a local Chinese newspaper), got years of prison for betraying a state secret, even if they were not aware of doing anything wrong. The catch was that “many of the laws and regulations that make up the state-secret regime are themselves classified, making it difficult
for individuals to know how and when they’re in violation.”3 This secrecy of the prohibition itself serves two different purposes, which should not be confused. Its commonly admitted role is that of universalizing guilt and fear: if you do not know what is prohibited, you cannot even know when you are violating a prohibition, which makes you potentially guilty all the time. (Incidentally, no wonder that, in Opus dei also, their statute has a half-secret status, existing only in Latin and unavailable even to the majority of its members.)

Of course, things are more precise here: except at the climax of the Stalinist purges when, effectively, everyone could be found guilty, people do know when they are doing something that will annoy those in power. The function of prohibiting prohibitions is thus not to give rise to “irrational” fear, but to let the potential dissidents (who think they can get away with their critical activity, as they are not breaking any laws, but only engaging in actions that enjoy legal protection, involving freedom of the press, etc.) know that, if they annoy those in power too much, they can be punished at the power’s will: “Don’t provoke us, we can do with you whatever we want, no laws are protecting you here!” In ex-Yugoslavia, the infamous Article 133 of the penal code could always be invoked to prosecute writers and journalists. It criminalized any text that falsely presented the achievements of the socialist revolution or that might arouse tension and discontent among the public for the way it dealt with political, social, or other topics. This last category is obviously not only infinitely plastic, but also conveniently self-relating: doesn’t the very fact that you are accused by those in power equal the fact that you “aroused tension and discontent among the public?” In those years, I remember asking a Slovene politician how he justified this law. He just smiled and, with a wink, told me: “Well, we have to have some tool to discipline at our will those who annoy us without worrying about legal niceties!”

But there is another function of prohibiting prohibitions which is no less crucial: that of maintaining the appearances—and we all know how absolutely crucial appearances were in Stalinism. The Stalinist regime reacted with total panic whenever there was a threat that appearances would be disturbed—say, that some accident that renders clear the failure of the regime would be reported in the public media. (There were, in the Soviet media, no black chronicles, no reports on crimes and prostitution, not to mention workers or public protests.) This is why this prohibiting of prohibitions is far from being limited to Communist regimes: it is operative also in today’s “permissive” capitalism. A “postmodern” boss insists that he is not a master but just a coordinator of our joint creative efforts, the first among equals; there should be no formalities among us, we should address him by his nickname, he shares a dirty joke with us…
but in all this, he remains our master. In such a social link, relations of domination function through their denial: in order to be operative, they have to be ignored. We are not only obliged to obey our masters, we are also obliged to act as if we are free and equal, as if there is no domination—which, of course, makes the situation even more humiliating.

Paradoxically, in such a situation, the first act of liberation is to demand from the master that he acts as one: one should reject false collegiality from the master and insist that he treats subordinates with cold distance, as a master. From my military service, I remember how I rejected a commanding officer’s friendly offer to drop the formalities in our communication, which made him explode in rage. The same goes for patriarchal domination over women: in modern societies, this domination is no longer admitted as such, which is why one of the subversive tactics of the feminine resistance is to act mockingly subordinated. What one should bear in mind is that, while every social edifice relies on certain exclusions and prohibitions, this exclusionary logic is always redoubled: not only is the subordinated Other (homosexual, racially non-white…) excluded or repressed; the excluding and repressing power itself relies on an excluded/repressed “obscene” content of its own—say, the exercise of power that legitimizes itself as legal, tolerant, Christian, in fact relies on a set of publicly disavowed obscene rituals of violent humiliation of the subordinated.

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