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politics, theory, and cultural critiquecarlos rojas
The subject itself, however, and the severed heads on the ground, made this an unusually frightful scene…Even today, over a century later, this contempt remains shocking. Simply as racial stereotyping alone, it was as disdainful of the Chinese as anything that can be found in anti-Oriental racism in the United States and Europe at the time – as if the process of Westernization had entailed, for Japanese, adopting the white man’s imagery while excluding themselves from it. This poisonous seed, already planted in violence in 1894-95, would burst into full atrocious flower four decades later, when the emperor’s soldiers and sailors once again launched war against China.Nevertheless, this detailed explanation would not necessarily have been obvious to more casual viewers—particularly among readers whose first language was not English (for discussions of this image among overseas Chinese language newspapers, see , for example, Chinese News Net, Ta Kung Pao and World Journal).
In particular, the vivid images of the wartime atrocities inflicted on the Chinese conjured up haunting emotions of loss and rage, not unlike those emotions people around the world feel toward the much better-known and more talked-about events of the Holocaust. Already, the outcry from MIT's Chinese community has been thunderous, and the distress levels severe. We do understand the historical significance of these wood prints, and respect the authors' academic freedom to purse this study. However, we are appalled at the lack of accessible explanations and the proper historical context that ought to accompany these images.
Phrases featured prominently at the top of the page under Old China, New Japan include "Still, predictable patterns give order to this chaos. Discipline (the Japanese side) prevails over disarray (the Chinese)," and "In short, the Chinese are riotous in every way—disgracefully so in their behavior, and delightfully so in their accoutrements." The only circumstance under which these very racially-charged statements might be possibly acceptable is if they are being used to describe the depictions of the images. Yet at first glance, that purpose is far from obvious; instead, the text seems to suggest that it is reporting history itself. The issue of the blatant racism so prominently exhibited in these images and descriptions is not addressed until much further down the page, almost at the end of the article.The CSSA’s claim in this letter (corrected four days later) that the events in question derived from an “art exhibit” (term used in the CSSA’s second open letter; the first refers to it as simply an “exhibit”) further illustrates the point of how even careful viewers might separate powerful images from their detailed textual commentary.
The Visualizing Cultures research team will address how it contextualizes sensitive content by providing appropriate language to prepare users for the graphic material depicted. The research team is looking to CSSA for feedback and future dialogue.Precisely one day later, however, MIT History professor Peter Perdue published a lengthy “Open Letter to Chinese Students at MIT,” in which he made a number of forceful and cogent arguments about the importance of intellectual autonomy. At several points in the letter, Prof. Purdue addresses his intended audience directly:
As stated previously, CSSA is strongly opposed to any irrational behavior. Any feedback from individuals on this issue is welcome.
You are some of the best and brightest young people of China, who have come to MIT in order to pursue education mainly in scientific and technological subjects with the leading researchers in the world. Many of you, I am sure, plan to return to China to use the skills you learn here to help China become a truly modern country. […]What strikes me as interesting about these statements is that that they appear to blur two different epistemological orders. Purdue posits a contrast between the students’ “passion” and the scholars’ “essential research skills, careful study of documents, and thoughtful, clear, writing,” and clearly valorizes the “thoughtful” approach” over the more “passion[ate]” one. He concludes that “No one so far has presented any evidence that the materials presented on the Visualizing Cultures are mistaken or biased.” Perhaps, however, that is precisely the point—the controversy does not seem to be about empirical issues of “mistake[s]” in the first place, but rather the claim that the images are, by their very nature, disturbing to many viewers, regardless of the historical accuracy of the discussion in which they are embedded.
You, despite your passion, are not specialists in East Asian history. Like any field in the sciences or engineering, historical study requires intensive concentration, acquisition of essential research skills, careful study of documents, and thoughtful, clear, writing. Those of you who think that you know the history of East Asian better than these distinguished scholars lack the authority to make this claim. No one so far has presented any evidence that the materials presented on the Visualizing Cultures are mistaken or biased. It is disrespectful of the dedication of serious scholars to make such emotional charges based on no evidence.
The most important issue neglected in this debate is the questions regarding public access to educational and research materials posted online. OCW is a global medium and a global classroom. But is there such a thing as a singular "global" or "universal" audience for digitally delivered open content? What kind of room do we (or should we) allow technologically enabled audiences (of different ethnic cultures and nationalities) to partake in knowledge production? Do professors have the sole monopoly over knowledge production and dissemination in the age where knowledge is collectively produced?[On May 2nd, the same day as Wang’s letter, it was announced that the page would be reposted, but even now, a week later, the original “Visualizing Cultures” link on MIT’s “opencourseware” site simply redirects to a page containing a number of official statements about the controversy by the MIT administration and others.]
He examined hundreds of the animals, working long hours amid stench and slime, peering through a microscope at countless tissue samples, in search of an organ that had eluded earlier anatomists -- male testicles.
''Since eels do not keep diaries,'' the investigator, 19-year-old Sigmund Freud, wrote to a friend in the spring of 1876, the only way to determine gender was to cut and slice, ''but in vain, all the eels which I cut open are of the fairer sex.''
He ended the letter by sketching an eel, swimming through the text, its face fixed with a slight, Mona Lisa smile.As psychoanalyst Mark Solms noted recently on NPR (and repeats again in the exhibit catalogue), this biographical detail is uncannily appropriate: the father of psychoanalysis, whose reputation is closely linked (for better or for worse) in the popular imagination with the notion of castration anxiety, appearing in an adolescent quest to visually confirm the existence of male reproductive organs of eels.
Freud’s stockpile of must-see scientific drawings and diagrams from throughout his nearly 60-year career has been largely absent from public view. […]In using terms like “must-see,” “absent from public view,” and “overlooked,” the NYAM press release deliberately plays off of the same issues of visibility and invisibility which lie at the heart of the exhibit itself. The exhibit demonstrates the degree to which Freud, who was an accomplished draftsman, systematically moved from illustrations of visible anatomical and neurological structures, to schematic illustrations of inherently "invisible" delocalized mental processes. A similar progression can be seen within the history of psychology itself, from Jean-Martin Charcot’s famous photographic catalogues of hysterics in the 1870s and 80s, to Freud’s eventual use of the “talking cure” to diagnose the non-visible, unconscious foundations of hysteria and other neuroses. In other words, one of the central elements of the Freudian method consists in making visible the non-visible, while the same time stressing the a priori importance of that nonvisiblity in the first place.
“This is the Freud you don’t know,” said Miriam Mandelbaum, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Academy. “This is Freud as he has not really been presented in popular literature. His scientific training is overlooked.”
Freud turns this metaphor on its head. In "A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis," ruins stand for what is clearly in view, in front of the analyst's face. And the issue here is why what is so straightforwardly visible, uncompromisingly material, should be strangely denied or disavowed.That, indeed, is perhaps one of the central paradoxes of the psychoanalytic inquiry--that it purports to reveal that which is, be definition, not visible, though the method of this inquiry is, at the same time, predicated on the conviction that the workings of the unconscious are nevertheless ubiquitously visible, if only one knows how to look for them—a paradox concisely summed up in the tag-line of the X-Files (which Zizek is fond of citing): “The truth is out there.”
Viswanathan’s explanation certainly sounds reasonable — what young writer hasn’t been inspired, perhaps to the point of slavish imitation, by the work of a particularly affecting role model? But was McCafferty truly such a figure for Viswanathan? [emphases added]What is perhaps most interesting here, therefore, is not so much the question of whether Viswanathan did or did not “unintentional[ly] and unconscious[ly] adopt other writers’ words, but rather what the incident reveals about the status of psychoanalytic concepts and terminology within contemporary culture. That is, even in an intellectual climate in which Freud is routinely mocked for his over-reliance on sexual explanations (a caricature I like to refer to as “vulgar Freudianism”), concepts such as that of the unconscious (a foundational element of modern psychoanalysis) have by and large been successfully naturalized and internalized by contemporary American culture.
Some of the plagiarism may have happened because she has a photographic memory, Ms. Viswanathan said. ''I remember by reading,'' she said. ''I never take notes.''Although the Times doesn’t explicitly attribute the phrase “photographic memory” to Viswanathan, the choice of words here is revealing. To begin with, it would appear that the term “photographic memory” is being used here in a very colloquial sense, rather than necessarily implying a precise analogy with workings of a camera. Indeed, Viswanathan’s claim of unconscious appropriation would appear to closely mirror Helen Keller’s similar explanation that she had internalized (though, we may safely assume, not in a “photographic” way) Margaret Canby's "The Frost Fairies" in her story "The Frost King":
I have ever since been tortured by the fear that what I write is not my own. For a long time, when I wrote a letter, even to my mother, I was seized with a sudden feeling, and I would spell the sentences over and over, to make sure that I had not read them in a book. It is certain that I cannot always distinguish my own thoughts from those I read, because what I read become the very substance and texture of my mind.[In Slate, Joshua Foer uses the Viswanathan incident as a pretext for unleashing a detailed critique of the whole notion of “photographic memory”—a term which he rather mysteriously insists on interpreting very literally (in the sense of the mind functioning like a high-resolution camera) though it is not at all clear that Viswanathan or anyone else was using it in that way].
A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties. […] The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than “table-turning” every was.While the popular mid-nineteenth century practice of “table-turning,” or spirit divination, was originally of American origins, it is nevertheless clear that in making this allusion Marx also had in mind another corner of the world that he was following closely during this period: China:
The hitherto unshakeable Central Empire experienced a social crisis. Taxes ceased to come in, the State fell to the edge of bankruptcy, the population sank in masses into pauperism, broke out in revolts, maltreated and killed the Emperor’s mandarins and the priests of the Fohis. The country came to the verge of ruin, and is already threatened with a mighty revolution. And there is even worse. Among the masses and in the insurrection there appeared people who pointed to the poverty on the one side and the riches on the other, and who demanded, and are still demanding, a different division of property and even the entire abolition of private property. When Mr. Gutzlaff, after twenty years’ absence, returned once more to civilised people and Europeans, he heard talk of Socialism, and asked what that was. When it was explained to him he exclaimed in consternation, “Shall I then never escape this pernicious doctrine? The very same thing has been preached for some time by many people among the mobs in China.” […]In fact, in Capital itself Marx makes an explicit comparison between table-turning and the contemporary turmoil and tumult in China. As Derrida notes in Specters of Marx,
Chinese Socialism, bears much the same relation to European Socialism as Chinese philosophy does to Hegelian philosophy. It is, in any case, an intriguing fact that the oldest and the most unshakable empire in the world has in eight years by the cannon-balls of the English bourgeoisie been brought to the eve of a social revolution which will certainly have the most important .results for civilisation. When our European reactionaries in their immediately coming flight across Asia finally come up against the Great Wall of China, who knows whether they will not find on the gates which lead to the home of ancient reaction and ancient conservatism the inscription, “Chinese Republic – liberty, equality, fraternity."]
[The table] goes into trances, it levitates, it appears relieved of its body, like all ghosts, a little mad and unsettled as well, upset, “out of joint,” delirious, capricious, and unpredictable. It appears to put itself spontaneously into motion, but it also puts others into motion, yes, it puts everything around it into motion, as though “pour encourager les autres” (to encourage the others), Marx specifies in French in a note about this ghost dance: “One may recall that China and the tables began to dance when the rest of the world appeared to be standing still — pour encourager les autres.”The tables and other furniture of Marx’s house, therefore, speak, on the one hand, to the process by which “common, every-day” objects “step forth as commodities” and are thereby “transformed into something transcendent.” How, in other words, the furniture and other artifacts in the Marx House are invested with value precisely through the process of being placed within a global circuit of ideological exchange. And, more specifically, the in/authentic furniture of the Marx House conjures up the image of Marx’s famous American “dancing tables,” together with the allusion, just below the surface, to China’s own dance when the rest of the world “appeared to be standing still”….or shall we say sleeping?
In the same Book of Revelations, when the seven seals are broken open... on the Day of Judgment and the seven angels blow the trumpets, when the third angel blows her bugle, wormwood will fall from the sky, wormwood will poison[This monologue has also been adapted into a song by The Orb in their 1997 CD Orblivion]. Although Johnny’s etymology cited is slightly inaccurate (the name of the Ukranian city is actually derived from the word for mugwort [Artemisia vulgaris], which is related to but distinct from wormwood [Artemisia absinthium]—and this is not even considering the question of whether the New Testament Greek term apsinthos [ἄψινθος] itself necessarily refers to the absinthium genus), the resulting association between the Chernobyl meltdown and the Biblical prophecy has, nevertheless, become enshrined within popular culture.
a third part of all the waters, and a third part of all the land, and many, many, many people will die. Now, do you know what the Russian translation for "wormwood" is?
- Chernobyl. Fact!
There would be no archive desire without the radical finitude, without the possibility of a forgetfulness which does not limit itself to repression. Above all, and this is the most serious, beyond or within this simple limit called finiteness or finitude, there is no archive fever without the threat of this death drive, this aggression or destruction drive. […] (19).Returning to the anniversary of Chernobyl and its implications for a rational energy politics, we might argue that the very literal "death drive" underlying many current discussions of nuclear energy (together with the “monument of amnesia” on which they are premised) should be viewed, not as a simple negation of the creation of a an archive and for a consideration of future directions, but rather as a catalytic condition of possibility for the same.
Hi Matt,And, in fact, the last movie review which appeared on “The House Next Door” before Jennifer’s death (one day before, to be precise) was on issues of memory, remembrance and amnesia in relation to United 93:
Checking your blog on Monday morning to read about film, and seeing this shocking news leaves me somewhat speechless. Though we don't know each other, please accept my sincere condolences.
For what it is worth, film is inherently about memory, memorials, and commemoration, and therefore, at the very least, it is reassuring to know that Jennifer's memory will be in very capable hands.
"The harder you try to forget something, the more it will stick in your memory. Once I heard someone say that if you have to lose something, the best way to keep it is to keep it is to keep it in your memory."
(Wong Kar-wai, "Ashes of Time")
The unofficial graffiti tag of 9/11 was “We Will Never Forget,” yet this film, which is dedicated to the memory of all who died, is ironically designed to make you erase everything but the 100 most emotionally intense minutes of 9/11. Given all this, it seems no surprise that Greengrass’ last film, The Bourne Supremacy, was a blockbuster action sequel about a government-trained killer with amnesia. This new movie is a different kind of amnesiac agent: It’s propaganda produced by, and for, the malleable center of the American psyche, a place where political leanings are built from Tinker Toys.Amnesia and nostalgia are, as Andreas Huyssen argues in Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia, inextricably intertwined, and it is arguably the awareness of our potential to forget which thereby creates the imperative to remember. In this context, the subtitle of “The House Next Door” (the blog, not the sitcom episode) comes to assume an unexpectedly poignant significance: “A long strange journey toward a retrospectively inevitable destination.” The “retrospectively inevitable destination” being our own mortality, or the process of commemoration which it makes possible.
the old and rotten cells are constantly being weeded out, and openings are thus created which are promptly filled with fresh and lively cells. If this metabolic process functions correctly, the organism will be healthy; but if the old and rotten cells are allowed to accumulate, however, the organism will die. If this metabolic process functions properly at a social level, society will flourish; but if the old and corrupt elements are allowed to accumulate, society will be destroyed.Although the medical underpinnings of this bio-social metaphor are left comparatively vague in this 1915 essay, they are elaborated in considerably more detail in another essay Chen wrote the following year on the Élie Metchnikoff (1845-1916). The younger brother of Ivan Ilyitch—immortalized by Tolstoy in his story "The Death of Ivan Ilyitch"—Metchikoff achieved received the Nobel Prize in 1908 for his work on the immune system, and then spent the final decade of his life working on the possibility of extending human longevity.
It is as if [Ibsen] were saying, "People's bodies all rely on the innumerable white blood cells in their bloodstream to be perpetually battling the harmful microbes that enter the body, and to make certain that they are all completely eliminated. Only then can the body be healthy and the spirit complete." The health of the society and of the nation depend completely on these white blood cells, which are never satisfied, never content, and at every moment are battling the evil and the filthy elements in society, and only then can there be hope for social improvement and advancement.When read in conjunction with Chen's 1915 and 1916 essays, this idealistic discussion of altruistic white blood cells comes to assume a somewhat darker valence, whereby it becomes evident that “evil and filthy elements” which are the targets of the white blood cell’s phygocytotic fury will inevitably include not only “harmful microbes that enter the body,” but also “old and rotten cells” from the body itself. Therefore, in this essay – published in the same year as Lu Xun's 鲁迅 positing, in "Diary of a Madman" 狂人日记, of cannibalism as the quintessential metaphorical condition from which traditional society must extricate itself – we here have instead an implicit argument in support of figurative cannibalism, a call for social "white blood cells" to seek out and consume "the evil and filthy elements in society." An act of collective self-awakening, therefore, implies a process of self-alienation, a systematic identification and excision of unprogressive elements.
Pre-eminently a twentieth-century object, the immune system is a map drawn to guide recognition and misrecognition of self and other in the dialectics of Western biopolitics. […]"In a word, no," she writes, in reply to her own rhetorical question. The notions of "self" presupposed by these immune system models are, instead, continually contested and always-already "under erasure." While Haraway posits that this deconstructive turn in immune system models represents a specifically "post-modern," late twentieth century development, my reading of these May Fourth period texts suggests that many of these deconstructive implications were latently present in the model all along.
Does the immune system – the fluid, dispersed, networking techno-organic-textual-mythic system that ties together the more stodgy and localized centers of the body through its acts of recognition – represent the ultimate sign of altruistic evolution towards wholeness, in the form of the means of co-ordination of a coherent self?
an oil painting by Gao Qiang depicting a sickly yellow Mao Zedong bathing in a Yangtze river the colour of blood… a child-like depiction of the 1989 Beijing massacre by Wu Wenjian, who uses stick figures to illustrate tanks and soldiers shooting at people…. [and ]the centrepiece of the celebrated artist Huang Rui's first solo exhibition on the Chinese mainland: a cultural revolution slogan made up of banknotes bearing Mao's portrait.Although government censorship of privately-displayed art is certainly not a good thing, what is interesting about this report is not so much the censorship itself, but rather that it was so long in coming and so specific. After all, calling for the quiet withdrawal of a painting showing the Great Helmsman bathing in a river of blood seems relatively mild for a government which previously sentenced two of the three protesters who defaced the Tiananmen Mao portrait with paint to a cumulative 36 years in prison, and a third was sentenced to life (all three have now been released, after spending a collective 40 years behind bars).
"We're looking at it, too," said Lt. Col. Bruce Alexander, a spokesman for the Air Mobility Command's 89th Airlift Wing, which operates Air Force One. "It looks very real."Col. Alexander’s confusion over the reality of the video, in turn, resonates with the Ecko’s own claim that, “I wanted to do something culturally significant, wanted to create a real pop-culture moment." The irony here is, of course, that the “reality” of the resulting “pop-cultural moment” is very directly grounded in the blurring and breakdown of boundaries between reality and representation. Air Force One was not “really” defaced, but the simulation of that defacement (together with the cultural stir which it produced) was, nevertheless, quite “real.”
Riding at speed….is at the heart of another recent rejoinder, the 2001 film Beijing Bicycle, Wang Xiaoshuai’s 2001 remake of Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 classic, The Bicycle Thief. Wang’s film is about a young itinerant laborer from the countryside, Guo Liangui (Cui Lin) who comes to Beijing for work, and is subsequently hired by a courier service. As a condition for his employment, moreover, he must accept one of their band new mountain bikes, the payment for which would subsequently be garnered from each of his pay checks until the bike is completely paid off. In this way, Guo acquires speed and mobility, but at a price. Almost immediately after he finally succeeds in paying it off, the bicycle is stolen. Subsequently repurchased by a preppy secondary school student by the name of Jian, the bicycle comes to provide the hinge for a most improbable dialogue between radically dissimilar Beijing teenagers.Writing at speed….Despite the professed speediness of her 1996 essay, Spivak’s dialogue with Derrida and Marx is actually one of consummate slowness, dating back nearly two decades. “Ghostwriting” builds on earlier essays, including her 1985 essay “Scattered Speculations on the Question of Value,” in which she notes that this was actually her “third attempt at working over these questions.” The first attempt was in “Marx after Derrida” (1984), followed by “Speculations on Reading Marx: after reading Derrida” (which was actually an “extended version of ‘the same [first] piece,’” and, in any event, was not published until 1987, two years after “Scattered Speculations”). Finally, there is yet another essay (or essays?) on the same topic which is not mentioned in “Speculations,” yet nevertheless chronologically straddles each of the preceding interventions: namely, her “Limits and Openings of Marx in Derrida,” first presented as a lecture in Paris in 1980 (and published in French the following year), but not published in English until 1993 (in a revised and expanded form in Outside in the Teaching Machine). Each text in this continuing dialogue, therefore, is part of an elaborate palimpsest, carrying echoes of preceding interventions, as well as anticipations/promises of what will follow (as Keith asks, "how can one concentrate on just one text, when so many other texts are woven into it”).
Beijing Bicycle is a similarly-tangled intertextual intervention. Not only is Wang’s film directly inspired by De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief, but furthermore it explicitly tropes on a number of more recent works. For instance, the first bicycle fight scene quotes quite directly from a parallel scene in Jiang Wen’s 1995 debut film In the Heat of the Sun—down to the protagonist’s extending beating of the crumpled body of a rival long after the fight has ended). Bicycle is also in dialogue with Wang Xiaoshuai’s own corpus of work, in that it is directly informed by the trouble his earlier films such as The Days and So Close to Paradise had with the censors. Equally importantly, Bicycle is implicitly in dialogue with Wang’s Frozen (2000), a provocative film about Beijing performance artists which Wang directed released anonymously so as not to cause unnecessary controversy for Beijing Bicycle, which he hoped would have a much smoother ride through the approval process. Finally, Beijing Bicycle is also directly in dialogue with one of the classic novels of the early twentieth century China: Lao She’s Camel Xiangzi, about a poor Beijing rickshaw puller’s symbiotic relationship with the rickshaw which is both his livelihood as well as a direct concretization of his own labor.Writing at speed… Part of the significance of speed and timeliness for this two-decade long (anti)dialogue is that the dialogue itself is explicitly grounded on notions of promises, contracts, debts, etc. In “Ghostwriting,” for instance, Spivak frames “Speculations” as a “textualized answer” to the “question of value” (but the footnote to this passage makes clear that it is just as importantly an “answer” to the question of Derrida’s perspective on Marx); and she compares the ghost of Marx that Derrida is haunted by” to “the structure of a promise…” (s0metim3s concludes with a consideration of this passage, though in a somewhat different context. These thematics of promise, contract, and debt are, of course, central concerns in Derrida’s Specters of Marx itself.
Motivated by the promise of his former boss at the courier service that he would be rehired if he succeeded in tracking down the stolen bike, Guo vows to scour the city until he finds it again (he had made a proprietary mark on the bicycle just before it was stolen). Improbably, he ultimately does succeed in finding it, now owned by the prep school student Jian (who stole money from his father to purchase it after his father reneged on his earlier promise to buy him one). Caught, therefore, between two promises (viz., Guo’s boss’, and Jian’s father’s), one of them broken), the bicycle functions to suture together different temporalities, spaces, and unexpected social relationships.Writing at speed… In “Ghostwriting,” Spivak notes that her first essay on Derrida for Diacritics (18 years earlier) took her a year to write, but that now she is “writing at speed,” in part because “life has become harder in the intervening years.” (Amerdeep Singh discusses the interpenetration of Spivak’s tempo of life and her writing). In the second paragraph of “Ghostwriting,” meanwhile, Spivak specifies that she intends not only to write this essay “at speed,” but furthermore to “write at ease.” “Speed” and “ease” might initially appear to be opposed to one another—with speed connoting a post-Fordist emphasis on efficiency and production (time is money), and ease connoting a space a space of leisure, or relaxation, of deliberate slowness. In “Ghost-writing,” however, Spivak is using “speed” and “ease” as parallel terms, suggesting that “at ease,” here, suggests a release not so much from compulsory speed per se, bur rather from an economy grounded on the compulsory regulation of speed.
At one point in Beijing Bicycle, Guo shows up a bathhouse to pick up a package from a certain “Mr. Wang.” The receptionist, however, insists that, in order to enter the bathhouse, Gui must first undress and shower. He reluctantly does so, looking decidedly grumpy, whereupon he is dressed in a frumpy robe and lead into the massage area to look for Mr. Wang. When he subsequently attempts to leave, however, the receptionist continues to insist that he pay for the shower, despite the fact that, as he points out, it had been she herself who had insisted he take the shower in the first place. Here, therefore, we have the pampering of the bathhouse functioning as a luxury for some, but as a luxury for some, but as considerable hardship for someone like Guo, who is clearly longing to escape this oppressive (and exploitative) “leisure,” and speed away on his bicycle as soon as possible.Writing at speed… in “Ghostwriting,” Spivak implies that it is her unusually intimate and convoluted relationship with both thinkers that makes it possible—and perhaps even necessary?—for her to write so speedily. On the one hand, at the beginning of “Ghostwriting,” she notes that a friend has suggested that perhaps she feels “proprietorial about Marx,” a suggestion which she herself does not deny. On the other hand, she notes in “Limits and Openings of Marx in Derrida” that she has “fallen into a habit of deconstruction over the past twenty five years”; and three years later, in “Ghostwriting,” she elaborates that, “My relationship to ‘deconstruction’, whatever that may be, has become more intimate, more everyday, more of a giving—away, and in—habit of mind, a kind of tic that comes in to warn in the thick of what is called activism.” Caught between feeling “proprietorial”—or shall we say possessive?—about one of the most influential theorists of property and possessions; and gripped—shall we say “possessed”?— by the “habit” or “tic” of deconstruction, Spivak, in pursuing this dialogue between Marxism and deconstruction (between possessiveness and possession), is, in a very real sense, developing a dialogue with herself.
Caught at an impasse over two competing and (within the logic of the film) equally valid claims of ownership, Gui and Jian reluctantly agree to a rather astonishing compromise: they will Solomonically split their respective rights to the vehicle, with each of them using it on alternate days. In this way, the mountain bike oscillates between two markedly different valuations. For Gui, the teenager the countryside seeking work in Beijing, the bicycle is a means of subsistence, the hard-earned product of his labor (50% is deducted from every 10 Yuan delivery until the debt is repaid in full). For Jian, the prep school student whose middle-class family is, perhaps, slightly less wealthy than those of his friends and classmates, the bike is all about social status, and sex appeal. Both teenagers, therefore, perceive the bicycle as representing an extension of their identities—in the sense that others not only view them through the lens of this possession, while they themselves have internalized (become possessed by) the unique rhythms and habits of the possession.Writing at speed… This speed is, at some level, an affirmation of the degree to which the act of writing is itself embedded within an economy of production and consumption. Writing, one may assume, with the help of modern technologies such as the word processor, a device which, as Spivak notes in “Speculations,” “is an extremely convenient and efficient tool for the production of writing. It certainly allows us to produce a much larger quantity of writing in a much shorter time…” Yet Spivak is nevertheless sanguine about the possible promise of this computational speed and efficiency, arguing (somewhat mysteriously) that “we are, however, present at the inception of telecommunication and, being completely encompassed by the historical ideology of efficiency, we are unable to reckon with the transformations wrought by the strategic exclusions of the randomness of bricolage operated by programming”; and, later, “the computer, even as it pushes the frontiers of rationalization, proves unable to achieve bricolage, to produce a program that will use an item for a purpose for which it was not designed” (128).
Leaving aside the odd assertion that bricolage is no longer possible in the age of global telecommunciations, suffice it to note that this essay’s juxtaposition of Spivak’s and Wang Xiaoshuai’s texts is itself, needless to say, a deliberate act of bricolage—the bringing together of otherwise unrelated elements in the hope of creating a new whole—to reflect further on the status of value and the subject. Building on a pair of (impossible) dialogues—Spivak and Derrida in dialogue over Marx; Spivak mediating between a dialogue between Derrida and Marx, etc.—we introduce here a third, equally unlikely dialogue—Spivak and Wang Xiaoshuai.Writing at speed… Does the temporality of the modern telecommunications necessarily obviate the possibility of bricolage? Underlying this rather mysterious question is Spivak’s underlying concern in the essay, which is the relevance of Marxist theories of Value, and of the subject, within a contemporary era of telecommunications. In the process of addressing this question, she critically examines the “continuist” presumption underlying the signifying chain labor→money→value→capital:
The contemporary Beijing of Beijing Bicycle is similarly centrally concerned with the status of textual production within an economy transitioning from one based on traditional human labor (e.g., the bicycle couriers) and one based on the near-instantaneity of global telecommunications (e.g., the invisible content of the business packages Guo delivers back and forth all day pertain in no small part, it is safe to assume, to the businesses which are currently at the forefront of Beijing’s and China’s “modernization."
Let us now consider the discontinuities harbored by the unified terms that name the relationships between the individual semantemes on that chain. Such resident discontinuities also textualize the chain.[“Textualize,” here, appears to be used as a figure for Derridean différerance, but at the same time it inevitably carries connotations of its more “literal” meaning, i.e., of writing.] The nub of this critique is her deconstruction of the relationship between “use value” and “exchange value,” and more specifically her claim that it is precisely the apparently “parasitic” exchange value which provides the conditions under which use-value becomes possible in the first place: “Exchange-value, which is some respects is the species term of Value, is also a superfluity or a parasite of use-value…. “ Or, as she puts it more concisely in “Limits,” “How many of Marx’s readers remember that use-value appears only after the appearance of the exchange relation?” (106).
The question which Beijing Bicycle brings into focus, however, is the role of fetishism and fetishistic attachment within the exchange relation. Guo relies on his bicycle for his economic livelihood, while Jian’s equally strong attachment to the vehicle (informed by his association of the bicycle with his girlfriend’s desire, by his Oedipal relationship with his father, and by his complex relationship with his friends) underscores the intricate interpenetration of these monetary and psychic economies. Even in the case of Guo, his attachment to the bicycle, his willingness to endure considerable physical punishment in order to regain it, would appear to vastly exceed its objective monetary value for him (it is true that it was his means of employment, but surely the courier service was not the only company in Beijing at which he could be hired).
One might be tempted to view these latter sorts of fetishistic or addictive attachments to commodities as parasitic to the underlying monetary economy within which they are embedded, and perhaps they are, indeed, parasitic in a Derridean sense—providing the conditions under which monetary value becomes possible in the first place.