Poptimism Reconsidered

A couple of reactions to Freddie DeBoer’s excellent take down of what he calls “poptimism”-more or less equivalent to what those in my circles will be familiar with under Alex Ross’s moniker “pop triumphalism”.

First, Freddie’s a young guy, so he’s more au courant with pop cultural references than would be appropriate for me.

But that’s related to his main point, i.e. that cultural and aesthetic politics which previously had the function of uniting mass constituencies (or, at least, were seen as having that potential) almost invariably now have the effect of dividing them and setting self- (or externally) defined identities at each others throats.

Also, he observes how the promotion of a populist sensibility once taken as necessarily oppositional to elite power and privilege has long since become reversed in that it now amounts to little more than cheerleading for popular culture and, by extension, the communications conglomerates that market and commodify it. As a consequence, those who assume they are functioning in a “transgressive” or “adversarial” counter-cultural capacity are objectively doing the work of their neoliberal bosses, and have been for years.

All this is a cousin to Daniel Zamora’s recent demonstrations of the neoliberal sympathies of Foucault and, more closely, to Eric Drott’s forthcoming Critical Inquiry article on hipster Friedmanite Jacques Attali, who, in a previous incarnation, had become an icon of the New Musicology through his widely cited text, Noise.  Eric shows how these two identities, which left leaning academics find irreconciliable are entirely consistent with each other.

Good to see that a kind of critical mass seems to be developing along these lines.

Noam on Dyson vs. West

Noam’s comments from 2011, perfectly applicable to the West/Dyson shitstorm now exploding on the internets.

The word “prophet” is a very bad translation of an obscure Hebrew word, navi. Nobody knows what it means. But today they’d be called dissident intellectuals. They were giving geopolitical analysis, arguing that the acts of the rulers were going to destroy society. And they condemned the acts of evil kings. They called for justice and mercy to orphans and widows and so on.

And the nivi’im were treated the way dissident intellectuals always are. They weren’t praised. They weren’t honored. They were imprisoned like Jeremiah. They were driven into the desert. They were hated. Now at the time, there were intellectuals, ‘prophets,’ who were very well treated. They were the flatterers of the court. Centuries later, they were called “false prophets.”

People who criticize power . . . are regarded the way Ahab treated Elijah: You’re a traitor. You’ve got to serve power. You can’t argue that the policies . . are going to lead to . . . destruction.

Is there any question who is the navi and who is the “false prophet”?

Original source here.


Update:  Also relevant to the charismatic, high volume, rhetorical style trafficked in by both parties:  “I’m always put off by people who are called good speakers, by those who can rouse and audience. That’s just what you do not want. If you have the capacity to do it, you should suppress it.”  Source here.

The Problem with Intellectuals

1) Noam tells us that “the responsibility of intellectuals is to tell the truth and expose lies.”

2) The problem is that they are not rewarded for doing so. Rather their status depends on appearing to be “brilliant” or at least “smart”.

3) But often “telling the truth and exposing lies” requires the opposite: i.e. telling people obvious facts they already know but can’t admit and don’t want to hear about.

4) In other words, basic intellectual honesty often requires us to be tedious and dumb. Hence, the dishonesty and uselessness of most intellectuals.

5) As usual, Orwell put it better: “If there are certain pages of Mr Bertrand Russell’s book, Power, which seem rather empty, that is merely to say that we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”