Reading for November 2016

…This thing still on?

DeLanda and Deleuze/Understanding Society Blog

I have always really appreciated the Understanding Society blog. This, on Manuel DeLanda’s new book on ontology and assemblage theory in the social sciences, is particularly excellent. (Understanding Society started this discussion back here).Although I have Manuel DeLanda’s new book on social assemblages in hand, I haven’t had the time to start reading it yet. I should note that I found his previous book-length attempt at dealing with assemblages to be his least successful work; this new one sounds like a considerable step forward.

I’ve been reading DeLanda for over a decade now, and have always found him to be the clearest exponent and expositor of Deleuze’s philosophy, though calling him an editor and synthesist of that philosophy might be a better description of DeLanda’s relationship to Deleuze.

Despite admiring aspects of Deleuze’s thought greatly, and always enjoying DeLanda, I have never once been genuinely impressed by anyone else’s attempt to apply Deleuzian thought to a social or historical analysis. Likewise, I’ve never seen how one could do it in practice (it was inspiring, but not practicable)

Nevertheless, DeLanda’s diligence seems to be paying off. Little by little, he is making Deleuzian thought seem closer-to-practicable within the academy. I suspect that the best of the Deleuzian socio-historical tradition (often, lately, focusing on military applications in the Middle East) will experience a quantum leap in clarity and reproducibility within the next 5 years.

Symbolic Value of the Safety Pin.

I’ve been an active anti-fascist for most of my adult life, and have a different view of the American right and fascism than most American liberals, I think, as a consequence. The rise of attempts to signify a personal relationship to changed political circumstances, such as with the display of the safety pin, has been interesting. I’m personally grateful to those who rather immediately demanded of the people promoting it whether they were taking any actual steps to help, or whether the mere symbolism of the safety pin was sufficient for their purposes. I think the notion that the safety pin is solely a means of alleviating (endemic levels of) white guilt and fragility, on the other hand, goes a bit far. I think this piece, on Sociological Images, is particularly good at demonstrating that the effect in certain locations – especially conservative, racist, or rural locations – is quite different than pinning on a safety pin in Manhattan after secretly voting for Trump.

Nuance is good.

Renewed Genocide in Myanmar/Burma

The attack on the Rohingya has renewed and intensified. Hundreds of homes and many villages have been razed; people fleeing or homeless as a result of previous violence are made more vulnerable. Here’s just one article

It’s been happening for a few years, and is ramping up again. But the West has been utterly silent on this except for a few sensationalizing pieces. The problem with international assistance is that our distance usually renders us dependent on compromised AID groups. The best thing those of us in the USA can probably do here is to publicize (will require self-education), demand action, lobby (if you’re active in the political system or have special access), etc. Those with money could donate to MSF. Other suggestions?

Higher Ed and “Identity Politics”

I’ve decided this piece on Academe, by Christopher Newfield, titled “Higher Ed and ‘Identity Politics,’ is the must-read piece on Higher Ed this week. It’s a takedown of the  nearsighted piece by Mark Lilla on the cause of the democratic loss in the election, which he identifies largely as campus identity politics. Whew.



SOUNDING for Week Ending 1/9/2010


Khmer Rouge History Back in Schools

Well, this is big news (from VOA):

More than 30 years after Khmer Rouge communist guerrillas marched into Phnom Penh, evacuated the cities, and sewed the seeds for one of the worst genocides of the 21st Century, the Cambodian governments says it will allow the regime’s history to be taught in schools.

The Ministry of Education is finally allowing the years after 1975 to be taught in school. The article doesn’t mention why it hasn’t been taught. After the end of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (1979-1989), and the integration of massive defections from Khmer Rouge armies primarily in the Northwest, these texts were destroyed in the name of National Reconciliation. They were afraid of not being able to successfully control and integrate KR soldiers (and especially their leaders), if the history was told in the way it had been: of a brutal, cruel, and stupid regime that respected nothing but power.

During my fieldwork in Cambodia, I had the opportunity to become friendly with an elderly man who used to work in the Ministry of Ed, and personally helped in the destruction of the PRK-era textbooks on the KR period, after the defections. He retained a number of copies of these books; later I was able to obtain even more from the archives of DC-Cam.  They aren’t so very hard to find, but they aren’t being taught in schools, where history ends before the Khmer Rouge, and usually with the fall of Sihanouk.

The belief was apparently that by ignoring the period and relegating it to individual memories, the period could be ignored, and its effects diminished.  This has helped structure the contemporary relationship to the past experienced by Cambodians of different ages: the elderly are often ashamed of their experiences, as if they somehow deserved them (let’s be clear: they did not), and if they are not ashamed, they are often bitter, or resigned: the younger generation isn’t really interested, and is often outright skeptical of the verity of stories of the Democratic Kampuchea, samay pol pot.

The Ministry of Education has approved plans to incorporate lessons on the period of Democratic Kampuchea, authorizing the independent Documentation Center of Cambodia, which has extensively chronicled the brutality of the regime, to train 1,800 teachers.

Those who are publicly interested in the period are the same people who once attempted to destroy public knowledge of the period: the rulers. Just as the government once attempted to destroy an area of historical knowledge in order to have it suit its purposes, the same (largely, though much bloated) government now restores these periods, but with a new hermeneutic intended to partake of the international discourse of genocide.

“We will organize a guide book for high school teachers, and we will train them on how to present this sensitive era to students,” center director Youk Chhang said. “First we will contact other countries that have the same story of atrocities committed by a communist regime on how they taught their young children in school about the genocide.”


Vann Nath interviewed for CNN

Christine Amanpour interviewed Vann Nath. The artist and survivor of S-21, Pol Pot’s prison for his own extraordinary renditions and aggressive interrogations had some quiet words on waterboarding:

Take water torture, for instance. Van Nath remembers it as if it were yesterday. I gasped as I entered a room filled with his vivid depictions.

One of his paintings shows a prisoner blindfolded and hoisted onto a makeshift scaffold by two guards. He is then lowered head first into a massive barrel of water. Another shows a prisoner with cloth over his face, writhing as an interrogator pours water over his head.

Van Nath still remembers the accompanying screams: “It sounded like when we are really in pain, choking in water,” he told me. “The sound was screaming, from the throat. I suppose they could not bear the torture.

“Whenever we heard the noises we were really shocked and scared. We thought one day they will do the same thing to us.”

As he talked and showed me around, my mind raced to the debate in the United States over this same tactic used on its prisoners nearly 40 years later. I stared blankly at another of Van Nath’s paintings. This time a prisoner is submerged in a life-size box full of water, handcuffed to the side so he cannot escape or raise his head to breathe. His interrogators, arrayed around him, are demanding information.

I asked Van Nath whether he had heard this was once used on America’s terrorist suspects. He nodded his head. “It’s not right,” he said.

But I pressed him: Is it torture? “Yes,” he said quietly, “it is severe torture. We could try it and see how we would react if we are choking under water for just two minutes. It is very serious.”

There’s a video too – click here to see it (CNN’s videos stupidly resist embedding).