WEB LIBRARY – Recommended E-books! [3rd Post] – Louis Althusser, Michel Serres, Mike Davis

serres

MICHEL SERRESThe Natural Contract – Studies in Literature and Science. “Global environmental change, argues Michel Serres, has forced us to reconsider our relationship to nature. In this translation of his influential 1990 book Le Contrat Naturel, Serres calls for a natural contract to be negotiated between Earth and its inhabitants. World history is often referred to as the story of human conflict. Those struggles that are seen as our history must now include the uncontrolled violence that humanity perpetrates upon the earth, and the uncontrollable menace to human life posed by the earth in reaction to this violence. Just as a social contract once brought order to human relations, Serres believes that we must now sign a “natural contract” with the earth to bring balance and reciprocity to our relations with the planet that gives us life. Our survival depends on the extent to which humans join together and act globally, on an earth now conceived as an entity.

Tracing the ancient beginnings of modernity, Serres examines the origins and possibilities of a natural contract through an extended meditation on the contractual foundations of law and science. By invoking a nonhuman, physical world, Serres asserts, science frees us from the oppressive confines of a purely social existence, but threatens to become a totalitarian order in its own right. The new legislator of the natural contract must bring science and law into balance.

Serres ends his meditation by retelling the story of the natural contract as a series of parables. He sees humanity as a spacecraft that with the help of science and technology has cast off from familiar moorings. In place of the ties that modernity and analytic reason have severed, we find a network of relations both stranger and stronger than any we once knew, binding us to one another and to the world. The philosopher’s harrowing and joyous task, Serres tells us, is that of comprehending and experiencing the bonds of violence and love that unite us in our spacewalk on the spaceship Mother Earth.”

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AlthusserLOUIS ALTHUSSER. On The Reproduction Of Capitalism: Ideology And Ideological State Apparatuses. Louis Althusser’s renowned short text ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’ radically transformed the concept of the subject, the understanding of the state and even the very frameworks of cultural, political and literary theory. The text has influenced thinkers such as Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Zizek. The piece is, in fact, an extract from a much longer book, On the Reproduction of Capitalism, until now unavailable in English. Its publication makes possible a reappraisal of seminal Althusserian texts already available in English, their place in Althusser’s oeuvre and the relevance of his ideas for contemporary theory.

On the Reproduction of Capitalism develops Althusser’s conception of historical materialism, outlining the conditions of reproduction in capitalist society and the revolutionary struggle for its overthrow. Written in the afterglow of May 1968, the text addresses a question that continues to haunt us today: in a society that proclaims its attachment to the ideals of liberty and equality, why do we witness the ever-renewed reproduction of relations of domination? Both a conceptually innovative text and a key theoretical tool for activists, On the Reproduction of Capitalism is an essential addition to the corpus of the twentieth-century Left.

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slUMSMIKE DAVIS, Planet of Slums. Celebrated urban theorist lifts the lid on the effects of a global explosion of disenfranchised slum-dwellers. According to the United Nations, more than one billion people now live in the slums of the cities of the South. In this brilliant and ambitious book, Mike Davis explores the future of a radically unequal and explosively unstable urban world. From the sprawling barricadas of Lima to the garbage hills of Manila, urbanization has been disconnected from industrialization, even economic growth. Davis portrays a vast humanity warehoused in shantytowns and exiled from the formal world economy.

He argues that the rise of this informal urban proletariat is a wholly original development unforeseen by either classical Marxism or neoliberal theory. Are the great slums, as a terrified Victorian middle class once imagined, volcanoes waiting to erupt? Davis provides the first global overview of the diverse religious, ethnic, and political movements competing for the souls of the new urban poor. He surveys Hindu fundamentalism in Bombay, the Islamist resistance in Casablanca and Cairo, street gangs in Cape Town and San Salvador, Pentecostalism in Kinshasa and Rio de Janeiro, and revolutionary populism in Caracas and La Paz. Planet of Slums ends with a provocative meditation on the “war on terrorism” as an incipient world war between the American empire and the new slum poor.

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Other e-books previously shared at Awestruck Wanderer:

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The Conquest of America and the Imperialist Siphon – A remembrance of past deeds in History with Galeano, Todorov, Clastres & Fanon

Diego Rivera - Pre Hispanic America

Diego Rivera (1886-1957) – “Pre Hispanic America”

The Conquest of America and the Imperialist Siphon

Eduardo Carli de Moraes

“In 1492, the natives discovered they were indians, discovered they lived in America, discovered they were naked, discovered that Sin existed, discovered they owed allegiance to a King and Kingdom from another world and a God from another sky, and that this God had invented the guilty and dress, and had sent to be burnt alive who worships the Sun, the Moon, the Earth and the Rain that wets it.” – EDUARDO GALEANO

Fellow earthlings!

I’m speaking to you from America, a continent that was “discovered” more than 500 years ago, thus finally beggining its relations with the so-called Old World. Or at least it’s told so in tales written by Europeans…  The first thing that we tend to forget or overlook when we get hypnotized by history as written by European White Christians is this: the name this continent was given by the ones who have “discovered”  is clearly European, a tribute to a conquistadorseñor Américo Vespúcio. The second thing that brings awe to my conscience is to discover that, during the whole Imperialist/Colonialist epoch, a huge magnitude and diversity of procedures that we nowadays deem utterly imoral and unnaceptable were  employed in mass scale. Not only did the Europeans sucked out the wealth of these invaded lands, they used slave labour and genocide of indigenous populations to do it. Not only did they try to force their civilization and culture on the native populations, they brought along in their ships not only their Bibles and crosses, but also their guns and their germs.

Many historians, sociologists, anthropologists and artists have argued – Uruguyan writer Eduardo Galeano or Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, for example – that the Industrial Revolution in Europe got kick-started by the wealth that was shipped out of colonies in America. Capitalism is basically born out of robbery. Just think of all the tons of gold that were taken from Minas Gerais, in Brazil, or all the silver who was extracted from Potosí, in Bolívia, and then shipped to Europe, being pocketed by enriching capitalists and noblemen. The people who originally lived in this Land for millenia prior to the White Men Invasion, the people who had lived since time immemorial in this land that afterwards its conquerors would baptize “America”, they didn’t get a chance to choose their own path, nor could they remain faithful to their own past. Europe imposed on the indigenous populations not only its culture, its civilization, its moral values, its religious beliefs; it acted as a material force of great power, conquerors by force, who left a shockingly huge trail of blood and death while imposing their modes of production.

Genocide and ethnic cleansing were enduring historical realities in this land after the Europeans for the first time reached these beaches with their ships. The wealth produced in the continent by means of forced-labor, either from people kidnapped from Africa or enslaved native populations,  was sent away, shipped abroad, to feed the greedy bellies of European kings and queens, landowners and cardinals, the “cream” of the European aristocracy. Can we understand History rightly if we forget this colossal event, I mean, the massive stream of wealth that went from America to Europe in the centuries following “Discovery”? Welcome to the birthplace of modern Capitalism!

The so-called Discovery of America (what an euphemism!) is actually something else: the continent wasn’t simply “discovered”, it was invaded, conquered, plundered. Tzvetan Todorov very aptly calls his excellent book on the subject The Conquest of America. When the Catholic kingdoms of Spain and Portugal set out to cross the ocean and reach the continent later to be called America, they weren’t arriving on virgin, inhabited land. According to estimates by researchers such as Pierre Clastres and Todorov, there were 80 million people living in the continent in 1492, when the population of  planet Earth was of about 400 million. Of these 80 million indigenous inhabitants of pre-Columbian civilizations and tribes, how many survived the invasion of foreign white europeans? Todorov estimates that, only in Mexico, there were 25 million people prior to the invasion; a century later, in 1600, there were only 1 million left. It’s a genocide of such proportions that our minds almost refuse to fully realize it. But if we take America as a whole, the numbers are worse – and even more shocking: prior to the Europeans’ invasion, there were 80 million people living here; one century later, 90% had been wiped out. This is not only genocide, but ethnocide – to apply a distinction made by Clastres in a excellent article in Archeology of Violence. What ensued from the Conquest was not only the murder of individuals in massive scale, but the death of whole cultures and civilizations, with all its temples and buildings, its mythology and its history, all tramped underfoot by the Europeans’ unmerciful quest for profit.

John Berger, in his book (and BBC Series) Ways of Seeing (1972), has something quite interesting to say about this theme. He remembers his school days, when he was taught about “heroic voyages bringing human civilization to all the world”. “It tends to be forgotten”, reminds us Berger, “that these voyages were the start of the European slave trade, and the traffic which began to siphon the riches of the rest of the world into Europe.” (BERGER, J. 3rd Episode) I consider these remarks very bright, especially for the image they evoke, that of the siphon. Europe really did exactly this: it sucked out, with its Imperial Siphon, the fruits of labor produced in this newly-discovered land. An immense transfer of wealth ocurred: from the authentic producers of these wealth – that did all the work and received none of the pay – to capitalists in Europe. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, there’s another very pedagogical metaphor employed by Daniel Day Lewis’ character, when he explains a process by which he stole oil from the properties of others: imagine a milkshake with two drinkings straws. One is for its legitime “owner”; the other from an intruder. Europe’s drinking straw is the intruder’s, and the Europeans can be understood, from 1492 on, as stealers of the milkshakes of wealth they enslaved others to produce

It’s then that I start to suspect – a suspicion that gives me shivers of indignation and disgust…  – that slavery was so present in the dawn of the Commercial-Industrial society because one would be impossible without the other, one is the condition of the other. Slavery and Capitalism: haven’t they “evolved” together, like siamese twins? And when slavery was officially abolished from all colonies, what happened them? Did the system underlying it get utterly transformed? Or the same system went on, with just a little reformation in secondary elements of its machinery, only with slaves being substituted by underpaid wage workers? And can it be said that in the 21st century Imperialism is dead and gone? Or does it live on, masked and disguised behind the new vocabulary that capitalism developed? Are “Free Trade” or “neoliberalism” just  techniques for some corporations to plunder the wealth produced by empoverished workers, just ways to keep on opression, inequality and obscene concentration of capital in few hands?

To answer some of these questions, let’s summon a powerful voice from Africa, Mr. Frantz Fanon (1925-1961). Writing after the II World War, when colonies in Africa were still struggling for their independences from European rulers, Fanon’s book The Wretched of the Earth is born out not only of theoretical thinking or historical research, but mainly from lived experience. In the context of the Algerians fight against French imperialism, Frantz Fanon speaks a language that White Men from the Developed World aren’t used to hearing – and his writings impressed and inspired important Europeans intellectuals, from Jean-Paul Sartre to Jean Ziegler. “Let us not lose time in useless laments and sickening mimicry. Let us leave this Europe which never stops talking of man yet massacres him at every one of its street corners, at every corner of the world. For centuries it has stifled virtually the whole of humanity in the name of a so-called ‘spiritual adventure’… Natives of all the underdeveloped countries unite!” This is the sound of Africa rising against centuries of foreign dominion and attempting to break its chains. This is the voice of someone who wishes to rewrite history in order to tell the whole truth, and not only the convenient fabrication of Europeans. This is the voice of someone who is quite aware, at the dawn of the 1960s, that Latin America and Africa have been systematically robbed, and that won’t forget that the opulence of the so-called Developed World is built upon exploitation, opression and slavery.

“We must refuse outright the situation to which the West wants to condemn us. Colonialism and imperialism have not settled their debt to us once they have withdrawn their flag and their police force from our territories. For centuries the capitalists have behaved like real war criminals in the underdeveloped world. Deportation, massacres, forced labor, and slavery were the primary methods used by capitalism to increase its gold and diamond reserves, and establish its wealth and power.

The European nations achieved their national unity at a time when the national bourgeoisies had concentrated most of the wealth in their own hands. Shopkeepers and merchants, clerks and bankers monopolized finance, commerce, and science within the national framework. The bourgeoisie represented the most dynamic and prosperous class. Its rise to power enabled it to launch into operations of a crucial nature such as industrialization, the development of communications, and, eventually, the quest for overseas outlets…

Today, national independence and nation building in the underdeveloped regions take on an entirely new aspect. In these regions, except for some remarkable achievements, every country suffers from the same lack of infrastructure. The masses battle with the same poverty, wrestle with the same age-old gestures, and delineate what we could call the geography of hunger with their shrunken bellies. A world of underdevelopment, a world of poverty and inhumanity. But also a world without doctors, without engineers, without administrators. Facing this world, the European nations wallow in the most ostentatious opulence. This European opulence is literally a scandal for it was built on the backs of slaves, it fed on the blood of slaves, and owes its very existence to the soil and subsoil of the underdeveloped world. Europe’s well-being and progress were built with the sweat and corpses of blacks, Arabs, Indians, and Asians. This we are determined never to forget.”

FRANTZ FANON. The Wretched of the Earth. Pg. 53 –  57.

RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING:

Galeano

EDUARDO GALEANO’s The Open Veins of Latin America. DOWNLOAD E-BOOK (PDF, 3MB, at libgen.org)

Jared

“Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies”, by Jared Diamond. Download E-book.

Clastres2

Pierre Clastres, “Archeology of Violence” – DOWNLOAD E-BOOK

Excellent article by film critic André Bazin (1918-1958) about spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel (1900-1983)

CRUELTY AND LOVE IN LOS OLVIDADOS

by André Bazin

In: The Cinema Of Cruelty, Arcade Publishing, New York, 2013.

bunueldThe case of Luis Buñuel is one of the strangest in the history of the cinema. Between 1928 and 1936, Buñuel only made three films, and of these only one — L’Age d’Or —was full length; but these three thousand metres of film are in their entirety archive classics, certainly, with Le Sang d’un Poète, the least dated productions of the avant-garde and in any case the only cinematic production of major quality inspired by surrealism. With Las Hurdes, a ‘documentary’ on the poverty-stricken population of the Las Hurdes region, Buñuel did not reject Un Chien Andalou; on the contrary, the objectivity, the soberness of the documentary surpassed the horror and the forcefulness of the fantasy. In the former, the donkey devoured by bees attained the nobility of a barbaric and Mediterranean myth which is certainly equal to the glamour of the dead donkey on the piano. Thus Buñuel stands out as one of the great names of the cinema at the end of the silent screen and the beginning of sound —one with which only that of Vigo bears comparison — in spite of the sparse-ness of his output. But after eighteen years Buñuel seemed to have definitely disappeared from the cinema. Death had not claimed him as it had Vigo. We only knew vaguely that he had been swallowed up by the commercial cinema of the New World, where in order to earn his living he was doing obscure and second-rate work in Mexico.

And now suddenly we get a film from down there signed Buñuel. Only a B feature, admittedly. A production shot in one month for eighteen million (old francs). But at any rate one in which Buñuel had freedom in the script and direction. And the miracle took place: eighteen years later and 5,000 kilometres away, it is still the same, the inimitable Buñuel, a message which remains faithful to L’Age d’Or and Las Hurdes, a film which lashes the mind like a red hot iron and leaves one’s conscience no opportunity for rest.

The theme is outwardly the same as that which has served as a model for films dealing with delinquent youth ever since The Road to Life, the archetype of the genre: the evil effects of poverty and the possibility of re-education through love, trust, and work. It is important to note the fundamental optimism of this concept. A moral optimism first of all, which follows Rousseau in presupposing the original goodness of man, a paradise of childhood destroyed before its time by the perverted society of adults; but also a social optimism, since it assumes that society can redress the wrong it has done by making the re-education centre a social microcosm founded on the trust, order and fraternity of which the delinquent had been unduly deprived, and that this situation is sufficient to return the adolescent to his original innocence. In other words, this form of pedagogy implies not so much a re-education as an exorcism and a conversion. Its psychological truth, proved by experience, is not its supreme instance. The immutability of scenarios on delinquent youth from The Road to Life to L’Ecole Buissonnière (the character of the truant) passing via Le Carrefour des Enfants Perdus, prove that we are faced with a moral myth, a sort of social parable whose message is intangible,

Now the prime originality of Los Olvidados lies in daring to distort the myth. Pedro, a difficult inmate of a re-education centre in the shape of a model farm, is subjected to a show of trust-bringing back the change from a packet of cigarettes — as was Mustapha in The Road to Life — buying the sausage. But Pedro does not return to the open cage, not because he prefers to steal the money but because it is stolen from him by Jaibo, the evil friend. Thus the myth is not denied in essence — it cannot be; if Pedro had betrayed the director’s trust, the latter would still have been right to tempt him by goodness. It is objectively much more serious that the experiment is made to fail from the outside and against Pedro’s will, since in this way society is saddled with a double responsibility, that of having perverted Pedro and that of having compromised his salvation. It is all very well to build model farms where justice, work and fraternity reign, but so long as the same society of injustice and pain remains outside, the evil — namely the objective cruelty of the world — remains.

Poster35In fact my references to the films on fallen youth only throw light on the most outward aspect of Buñuel’s film, whose funda­mental premise is quite different. There is no contradiction between the explicit theme and the deeper themes which I now propose to extract from it; but the first has only the same importance as the subject for a painter; through its conventions (which he only adopts in order to destroy them) the artist aims much higher, at a truth which transcends morality and sociology, at a metaphysical reality — the cruelty of the human condition.

The greatness of this film can be grasped immediately when one has sensed that it never refers to moral categories. There is no manicheism in the characters, their guilt is purely fortuitous — the temporary conjunction of different destinies which meet in them like crossed swords. Undoubtedly, adopting the level of psychology and morality, one could say of Pedro that he is ‘basically good’, that he has a fundamental purity: he is the only one who passes through this hail of mud without it sticking to him and penetrating him. But Jaibo, the villain, though he is vicious and sadistic, cruel and treacherous, does not inspire repugnance but only a kind of horror which is by no means incompatible with love. One is re­minded of the heroes of Genet, with the difference that in the author of the Miracle de la Rose there is an inversion of values which is not found at all here. These children are beautiful not because they do good or evil, but because they are children even in crime and even in death. Pedro is the brother in childhood of Jaibo, who betrays him and beats him to death, but they are equal in death, such as their childhood makes them in themselves. Their dreams are the measure of their fate. Buñuel achieves the tour de force of recreating two dreams in the worst tradition of Hollywood Freudian surreal­ism and yet leaving us palpitating with horror and pity. Pedro has run away from home because his mother refused to give him a scrap of meat which he wanted. He dreams that his mother gets up in the night to offer him a cut of raw and bleeding meat, which Jaibo, hidden under the bed, grabs as she passes. We shall never forget that piece of meat, quivering like a dead octopus as the mother offers it with a Madonna-like smile. Nor shall we ever forget the poor, homeless, mangy dog which passes through Jaibo’s receding consciousness as he lies dying on a piece of waste ground, his fore­head wreathed in blood. I am almost inclined to think that Buñuel has given us the only contemporary aesthetic proof of Freudianism. Surrealism, used it in too conscious a fashion for one to be surprised at finding in its painting symbols which it put there in the first place. Only Un Chien Andalou, L’Age d’Or and Los Olvidados present us with the psychoanalytical situations in their profound and irre­fragable truth. Whatever the concrete form which Buñuel gives to the dream (and here it is at its most questionable), his images have A pulsating, burning power to move us — the thick blood of the unconscious circulates in them and swamps us, as from an opened artery, with the pulse of the mind.

No more than on the children does Buñuel make a value judg­ment on his adult characters. If they are generally more evil-intentioned, it is because they are more irremediably crystallised, petrified by misfortune. The most horrifying feature of the film is undoubtedly the fact that it dares to show cripples without attract­ing any sympathy for them. The blind beggar who is stoned by the children gets his revenge in the end by denouncing Jaibo to the police. A cripple who refuses to give them some cigarettes is robbed and left on the pavement a hundred yards away from his cart — but is he any better than his tormentors? In this world where all is poverty, where everyone fights with whatever weapon he can find, no one is basically ‘worse off than oneself’. Even more than being beyond good and evil, one is beyond happiness and pity. The moral sense which certain characters seem to display is basically no more than a form of their fate, a taste for purity and integrity which others do not have. It does not occur to these privileged characters to reproach the others for their ‘wickedness’; at the most they struggle to defend themselves from it. These beings have no other points of reference than life—this life which we think we have domesticated by means of morality and social order, but which the social disorder of poverty restores to its original virtuality as a sort of infernal earthly paradise with its exit barred by a fiery sword.

It is absurd to accuse Buñuel of having a perverted taste for cruelty. It is true that he seems to choose situations for their maxi­mum horror-content. What could be more atrocious than a child throwing stones at a blind man, if not a blind man taking revenge on a child? Pedro’s body, when he has been killed by Jaibo, is thrown onto a rubbish dump amongst the dead cats and empty tins, and those who get rid of him in this way — a young girl and her grandfather — are precisely amongst the few people who wished him well. But the cruelty is not Buñuel’s; he restricts himself to revealing it in the world. If he chooses the most frightful examples, it is because the real problem is not knowing that happiness exists also, but knowing how far the human condition can go in mis­fortune; it is plumbing the cruelty of creation. This intention was already visible in the documentary on Las Hurdes. It hardly mattered whether this miserable tribe was really representative of the poverty of the Spanish peasant or not — no doubt it was — the important thing was that it represented human poverty. Thus, between Paris and Madrid it was possible to reach the limits of human degradation. Not in Tibet, in Alaska or in South Africa, but somewhere in the Pyrenees, men like you and me, heirs of the same civilisation, of the same race, had turned into these cretins keeping pigs and eating green cherries, too besotted to brush the flies away from their face. It did not matter that this was an exception, only that it was possible. Buñuel’s surrealism is no more than a desire to reach the bases of reality; what does it matter if we loose our breath there like a diver weighed down with lead, who panics when he cannot feel the sand under his heel. The fantasy of Un Chien Andalou is a descent into the human soul, just as Las Hurdes and Los Olvidados are explorations of man in society.

But Buñuel’s ‘cruelty’ is entirely objective, it is no more than lucidity, and anything but pessimism; if pity is excluded from his aesthetic system, it is because it envelops it everywhere. At least this is true of Los Olvidados,for in this respect I seem to detect a development since Las Hurdes. The documentary on Las Hurdes was tinged with a certain cynicism, a self-satisfaction in its objec­tivity; the rejection of pity took on the colour of an aesthetic pro­vocation. Los Olvidados, on the contrary, is a film of love and one which demands love. Nothing is more opposed to ‘existentialist’ pessimism than Buñuel’s cruelty. Because it evades nothing, con­cedes nothing, and dares to dissect reality with surgical obscenity, it can rediscover man in all his greatness and force us, by a sort of Pascalian dialectic, into love and admiration. Paradoxically, the main feeling which emanates from Las Hurdes and LosOlvidados is one of the unshakeable dignity of mankind. In Las Hurdes, a mother sits unmoving, holding the dead body of her child on her knees, but this peasant face, brutalised by poverty and pain, has all the beauty of a Spanish Pieta: it is disconcerting in its nobility and harmony. Similarly, in Los Olvidados, the most hideous faces are still in the image of man. This presence of beauty in the midst of atrocity (and which is by no means only the beauty of atrocity),this perenniality of human nobility in degradation, turns cruelty dialectically into an act of charity and love. And that is why Los Olvidados inspires neither sadistic satisfaction nor pharisaic indig­nation in its audiences.

If we have made passing reference to surrealism, of which Buñuel is historically one of the few valid representatives, it is because it was impossible to avoid this reference. But to conclude, we must underline the fact that it is insufficient. Over and beyond the acci­dental influences (which have no doubt been fortunate and enrich­ing ones), in Buñuel surrealism is combined with a whole Spanish tradition. The taste for the horrible, the sense of cruelty, the seeking out of the extreme aspects of life, these are also the heritage of Goya, Zurbaran and Ribera, of a whole tragic sense of humanity which these painters have displayed precisely in expressing the most extreme human degradation — that of war sickness, poverty and its rotten accessories. But their cruelty too was no more than the measure of their trust in mankind and in painting.

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Watch some of Buñuel’s classics in the silent film era: