Žižek and world economy, reconsidered

Upon reading Stefan Sullivan’s Marxism for a Post-Communist Society years ago, I was somewhat excited by the work, not so much for Sullivan’s basic conclusions (including his assertion that it is necessary to separate those like Luxemburg and Lenin from the original works and world view of Marx and Engels) but because the work seemingly represented the possibility of a new paradigm through which Marxism could be resurrected in new contexts following the effective denouement of the world communist movement that unfolded between 1989 and 1991. Perhaps in retrospect, I was more excited by Sullivan’s work because he drew heavily from the Marxists Internet Archive – an endeavor very close to my heart for the better part of two decades now – for his book (a fact which he acknowledged in a nicely-written postscript to the work).*

Slavoj Žižek at his apartment in Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2010

Nevertheless, the fundamental ideas behind Sullivan’s work – that is, the reimagining of Marxism as a formidable force through which the 21st century society could be overhauled to be as fair and as just as possible – resonated with me. What I wanted to see was a kind of sequel to the work entitled something like, “Marxism for an Information-Based Economy.” In fact, I actually contemplated the idea of taking on something like that myself, but I eventually realized I lacked the time, patience, and (in all likelihood) the intellectual capacity to produce anything remotely coherent out of this idea.

While I ultimately filed this idea near the back of my brain, it has returned to the forefront for me a few times, and I have hoped to discover the concept articulated in the work of a contemporary Marxist. The closest I have come thus far is a work by Slavoj Žižek entitled “How to Begin from the Beginning,” which I discovered in the 2010 volume The Idea of Communism. In this piece, Žižek notes that the proletariat of today is effectively comprised of three groups: “Intellectual laborers full of cultural prejudices against the ‘redneck’ workers; workers who display a populist hatred f intellectuals and outcasts; (and) outcasts who are antagonistic to society as such.”

The Idea Of Communism (2010)

Of comparable significance (and articulated in greater detail) is Žižek’s analysis of massive profits generated by and through something that he refers to as the “general intellect”:

“… when, due to the critical role of the “general intellect” (knowledge and social cooperation) in the creation of wealth, forms of wealth are increasingly “out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production,” the result is not, as Marx seems to have expected, the self-dissolution of capitalism, but rather the gradual relative transformation of the profit generated by the exploitation of labor-power into rent appropriated by the privatization of this very “general intellect.” Take the case of Bill Gates: how did he become the richest man in the world? His wealth has nothing to do with the cost of producing the commodities Microsoft sells (one can even argue that Microsoft pays its intellectual workers a relatively high salary). It is not the result of his producing good software at lower prices than his competitors, or of higher levels of “exploitation” of his hired workers. If this were the case, Microsoft would have gone bankrupt long ago: masses of people would have chosen programs like Linux, which are both free and, according to the specialists, better than Microsoft’s. Why, then, are millions still buying Microsoft? Because Microsoft has succeeded in imposing itself as an almost universal standard, (virtually) monopolizing the field, in a kind of direct embodiment of the “general intellect.” Gates became the richest man on Earth within a couple of decades by appropriating the rent received from allowing millions of intellectual workers to participate in that particular form of the “general intellect” he successfully privatized and still controls. Is it true, then, that today’s intellectual workers are no longer separated from the objective conditions of their labor (they own their PC, etc.), which is Marx’s description of capitalist “alienation”? Superficially, one might be tempted to answer “yes,” but, more fundamentally, they remain cut off from the social field of their work, from the “general intellect,” because the latter is mediated by private capital.”

When it comes to Žižek, it’s unfortunate that there is a kind of “love him or hate him” mentality among those on the left and all too often, it seems like this is because Žižek has criticized someone’s favorite philosophical concept, political line, or personal hero. It’s true that because of some flaws in his ideas, Žižek cannot and should not be accepted as a messianic figure in the Marxist movement of today, but Žižek’s analyses are far too important to be summarily rejected. Where there are principles of merit, they surely require close consideration and study as those with the common world view espousing “fraternity, quality, and liberty” seek to build a better present and the best future imaginable.


*  Sullivan wrote of MIA: “Those who would like to sample the original texts of Marx and the Marxists could begin with Sidney Hook’s anthology (with introductory essay), Marx and the Marxists (New York, Nostrand, 1955). However, today, readers can more conveniently access these online. Here, The Marxists’ Internet Archive (httm://www.marxists.org) provides an indispensable service for both the reader and researcher. It not only provides over 200 selections of Marx’s and Engels’s original work, but it has also archived numerous essays and monographs by Marxists, critics of Marxism, and philosophers working, loosely defined, in the Marxist tradition.”
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Scholarly Scribbles: Snorri Sturluson

As a kid, I enjoyed looking at the interesting books in my dad’s home library, which included a paperback edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that featured an unusually creepy cover illustration as well as my dad’s copy of the NASA Treasury Apollo: Expeditions to the Moon. Another of my favorites was Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, a book which I admittedly didn’t spend as much time reading as I did admiring the cover art. My dad had the Mentor paperback edition (published somewhere around the mid-1960s), which featured a front cover depiction of Perseus holding Medusa’s head aloft in one hand and his sword in the other. It’s a striking illustration that made an impression upon me at a young age.

Cover and interior illustration (p. 304) from my copy of the
1964 edition of Mythology by Edith Hamilton

Dad gave me his Apollo: Expeditions to the Moon some years ago, which is a gift that I still appreciate. I don’t think I ever expressed much of an interest in the Mythology book, though, and it had largely slipped from my memory until I found a well-read copy at a thrift store in 2017. Not only was it the Mentor edition with the cover image that I remembered from childhood, but it was also replete with highlighting, underlining, and handwritten notes left by multiple readers in years prior. I especially like old books like this that combine the knowledge of the author with that of its readers, so I was happy to add the book to my own library.

I thumbed through the book once I brought it home, checking out the brilliant illustrations by Steele Savage and the margin notes by the previous reader. One of the notes that piqued my curiosity was the name “Snorre Sturlason,” (sic) which was written in pencil in the blank section at the bottom of page 302. Looking up the page, I noticed a reference to the same individual (spelled differently) in the author’s text. The sentence begins on page 301 and ends on the following page:

“The Younger Edda, in prose, was written down by one Snorri Sturlson in the last part of the twelfth century. The chief part of it is a technical treatise on how to write poetry, but it also contains some prehistoric mythological material which is not in the Elder Edda.”

Hamilton’s fleeting reference to the Icelander Snorri Sturluson occurs in Hamilton’s introductory essay for a section on Norse mythology (entitled “The Mythology of the Norsemen”). It is a short section, for sure, comprising only about 15 pages or so of Hamilton’s entire survey of mythology. From a young age, I have appreciated Nose mythology, due in large part to Walt Simonson’s run on  The Mighty Thor as well as the copy of D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths that was in the library collection of my elementary school in Lexington, Kentucky. In Hamilton’s essay, lyrical passages from the Elder Edda are woven into Hamilton’s general overview of Norse mythology. Neither Sturluson himself nor the Younger Edda garner any further mention, which still left me with some questions.

It’s not surprising that in Hamilton’s era, there isn’t much to share on Sturluson. After all, the book was compiled in the age of dense volumes and card catalogs as opposed to lightning-fast Google results. But even on the ‘net, there appears to be a lack of real specifics with regard to Sturluson’s life. Of course, he walked the earth almost a millennium ago, from 1179 to 1241. This was the same era as that of Saint Francis of Assisi (1181 – 1226), although it can be effectively argued at Saint Francis was decidedly better known in his lifetime and celebrated more widely in death compared to Sturluson. But, where some online biographical sketches of Snorri Sturluson lead a disclaimer such as, “(l)ittle definitive is known of Sturluson’s life, and much of what is known is subject to dispute and conjecture,”[1] others, like the Wikipedia entry for Sturluson, try to present as much information as possible.

There are some consistent points about Sturluson upon which everyone agrees. He was, as the Wikipedia entry notes, a historian, a poet, and a politician.[2] Among his works are the Younger Edda (or Prose Edda); Heimskringla a collection of sagas about the Norwegian kings of the eighth century through the twelfth century; and possible Egil’s Saga, a history of the clan of Egill Skallagrímsson. Sturluson’s legacy is somewhat controversial in the modern era, given some political and cultural intricacies associated with Iceland’s independence from Denmark.[3]

In the course of my relatively brief time researching Snorri Sturluson, one of the better summaries of his literary legacy appears in the introductory text to Kevin Crossley-Holland’s book The Norse Myths, in which he identifies Sturluson as “(t)he finest man of letters that Iceland ever produced.” Crossley-Holland also discusses Sturluson’s contributions in the context of cultural and social developments in Iceland during his lifetime.

Iceland had democratically adopted Christianity in 1000 ad, and the accompanying exposure to new European literary modes was eroding both the use of the old scaldic technique and familiarity with the kennings. Snorri’s reaction was to write a handbook to encourage poets to compose in the scaldic style – a kind of North European equivalent of Aristotle’s Poetics. The Prose Edda, written in about 1220, includes rules of poetic diction, quotes extensively from scaldic poems that would otherwise be lost to us, displays familiarity with almost all the poems in the Elder Edda and retells in full many of the myths that lie behind the kennings in scaldic poetry. One section in particular, ‘Gylfaginning’, consists exclusively of retellings from the myths.[4]

Additionally, Crossley-Holland’s book offers a few additional comments on Sturluson’s work and influence, including a note on the theory that Sturluson was an uncredited author of Thrymskvitha. In that particular tale, Thor’s hammer is stolen by the giant named Thyrim:

Thrym spake:
“I have hidden | Hlorrithi’s hammer,
Eight miles down | deep in the earth;
And back again | shall no man bring it
If Freyja I win not | to be my wife.”[5]

The little that I have read thus far of Snorri Sturluson’s life, his work, and his contribution to literature have rekindled my interest in Norse mythology and it’s all thanks to a decades-old reader’s note in a thrift store book. Whether my future readings simply take me back to mid-80s editions of The Mighty Thor or to an effort to approach more serious works, such as the Prose Edda or Heimskringla is yet to be determined.


[1]Snorri Sturluson,” New World Encyclopedia.
[2]Snorri Sturluson,” Wikipedia.
[3]Icelandic independence movement,” Wikipedia.
[4] Crossley Holland, Kevin. The Norse Myths. New York: Pantheon Books, 2007. Reproduced via Fair Use.
[5]Thrymskvitha: The Lay of Thrym.” Internet Sacred Text Archive.

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The Unseen USSR: Soviet Soldier On Leave

The photo below is a wonderfully candid image of what appears to be a Soviet soldier returning home on leave. I acquired it from a seller in the former Lithuanian SSR who specializes in Soviet-era antiques and ephemera. There are no dates or identifying information on the photo itself, but some online research yields a few clues: First, the uniform is either from the so-called “Modernized” era of 1969 to 1987, or from the “End of Empire” era of 1988 to 1991. The “CA” on his epaulettes indicates he was in the Soviet Army’s infantry, and there are no stripes on the board, meaning he was a private at the time. The shield-like badge near his collar has a “2,” on it, making it a second-class proficiency badge for enlisted soldiers. The Opel that he’s leaning against looks to be from the 1980s.

The different facets of the image are intriguing in and of themselves and they are complemented by the warm sentiment visible on this young soldier’s face. But the historical value of the picture is greater than the individual curiosities of his uniform and surroundings, because the photo captures a moment in time from a place that no longer exists on any map: the USSR.

As far as I am aware, this photo is hitherto unpublished.

 

More found photos:
Mostar before the war;  The Unseen USSR: Red Square, 1978;  The Unseen USSR: Red Square and the Kremlin, 1981;  White Birch on Sucker Creek

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Wally George vs. professional wrestling

Written in July 2015 for the site “Suicide Dive,” this piece was originally entitled, “Yes, It Really Happened: When Politics Met Wrestling” and it included this preface:

“Yes, It Really Happened” is Suicide Dive’s weekly throwback to weird, lesser-known angles and stories from the past. We’ll revisit some of these not-so-classic moments of yesteryear, providing links, pictures and videos along the way. Got an idea for a future installment? Leave a note in the comments section below.

Long before the likes of Jerry Springer, Steve Wilkos, or even Morton Downy Jr. there was Wally George. Widely regarded as the founding father of “combat television, the platinum-coiffed television host introduced America to the loud-in-your-face confrontational style that is a mainstay on today’s afternoon lineup. He seasoned the mix with a healthy amount of over-the-top jingoism and high praise for then-President Ronald Reagan, often ruffling feathers of his political foes with insult-laden tirades and hyperbole. In some respects, it was a simpler time…

Wally George was the ultimate “right fighter” of his day, taking on any and all subjects he deemed improper. He hosted adult film stars, metal and punk rockers and—somewhere along the way—he turned his attention to the world of pro wrestling. It’s worth noting that back in those days, it was an open secret that wrestling was scripted and predetermined. Even more importantly, wrestling was absolutely on fire and on the rise as a pop culture institution and Hulk Hogan was the face of the business.

Wally wasn’t having it, though, and in his eclectic cavalcade of guests he included wrestlers of all sorts, including macho heels, Amazonian women, and even a mud wrestler or three.

The TV host’s fixation with pro wrestling is best viewed with a grain of salt and the benefit of hindsight. A prime example is his mid-‘80s meeting with bodybuilder and wrester Don Ross who was working in the ring as Ripper Savage. Things got heated quickly, as Savage started working the crowd from the moment his glutes hit Wally’s appropriately-named “Hot Seat.” with some cheap heel heat, likening Wally’s rabid crowd to a “Nazi youth meeting” and calling them “animals.”

Later in their discussion (which was really more of a yelling match), Wally took some shots at Ripper, openly questioning the legitimacy of his work inside the squared circle.

“What kind of theatrics was that you were playing in the ring there, huh?” George jabbed. “I want to tell you one thing, Ripper Savage: You are not a wrestler… What you are is an actor–and a bad actor!”

Wally also welcomed gargantuan female grappler Queen Kong — better known to some via the moniker Matilda the Hun — to his show, and in a particularly antagonistic interview, he declared her to be “a disgrace to womanhood” as his peanut gallery chanted, “Sick! Sick! Sick!” For her part, Kong dismissed Wally as a “wimp” and ridiculed his audience relentlessly. At one point, Wally asked Quennie if she could go toe-to-toe with Hulk Hogan and she replied that she’d have been up for the challenge for sure.

“When Hulk Hogan got through with you, maybe you’d look like half a woman again,” Wally quipped.

Of course, a healthy amount of all Wally’s material was shtick and theatrics. In fact, he even made a cameo in the 1985 cult classic Grunt! The Wrestling Movie. As his career progressed, Wally George’s television escapades actually came to resemble the world of pro wrestling without the confines of turnbuckles and ring ropes. He even staged a back room brawl with disc jockey Rick Dees during their lengthy public feud.

Nowadays, WWE does a decent job of transitioning real-world celebrities into the confines of their parallel universe, albeit for very short periods of time. But the peak of Wally George’s fame came at a different time when kayfabe was the reality and folks didn’t think too hard about that nebulous place where sports and entertainment overlap.

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