[-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 53, Issue 15

Cinzia Cremona cinziacremona at googlemail.com
Sat Apr 18 20:44:29 EST 2009

Oh I do admire the qualities of certain systems ... absorbing,
reappropriating, exploiting happen on all sides of an argument.

I would like to question some assumptions ...

1. We are so used to thinking about 'capital' as 'money'. There are other
capitals, values, systems of exchange. I do like the way you highlight the
thread of friendship in the Madoff affair. Were his social skills, his
capacity to befriend, his first resource? Now that this narrative has come
to a dramatic denouement, it is harder to think how else those resources
could have been invested, and what returns they could have matured.
Friendship produces other values, which sometimes translate into money and
sometimes translate into less quantifiable values. Some of the resources
that can be accessed because of friendship need not be bought! And this goes
on all around us, but it is not part of the big capitalist narrative - it
does not translate into money - which makes it harder to include it into the
equation. I wonder if the critique of capitalism is not always struggling to
catch up when it is too late. In commenting on the commercialisation of
everything 'green', we should also comment on those who invested in the
environment when there was no hope of monetary return. Some will have
generated money on top of other things. Does this mean that capitalism has
appropriated environmentalim completely?

2. If capitalism was not so over encompassing, would we want to find
alternatives? Personally, I think one is never 'outside' anything. I also
think that 'pre-' (add to your taste: -capitalist, -linguistic, -subjective,
etc) ways of being are lovely philosophical fables. Let's ask ourselves the
ultimate naive question: WHY do we want to be free from capitalism? What do
we mean? What do we think we would be like if we were?

3. Questions of value ... Good point, what if my gift is refused? I might
get it wrong ... I might be offering you something that is of great value to
me, but means nothing to you. Isn't this the foundation of the wastefulness
of Potlach generosity? Reciprocity (competition too?) can be based on
quantity or on shared values. That's where capitalism's quantifiable and
interchangeable currencies make things easier. Investing in difference might
mean taking the trouble to evaluate what is of value to you specifically.
And taking responsibility for offering the wrong gift ... Do we really all
value the same things? Are you really exploiting me if I want your
friendship instead of your money in exchange for a service or a commodity?

4. I wonder how you would translate the phallic function into female terms:
an orgasm that doesn't even produce seed? Isn't shedding an egg a month a
life of dissemination without harvest? (dis-egg-ation ...) Investment in
sheer desire for living?

5. Your very beautiful point about credit says a lot about interwoven
systems of value, singularity and multiplicity. Without friendships, Madoff
would have not accumulated money. Does this mean his friendship was not
true? Or was it also counterfeit? Does necessarily one exclude the other?
Deleuze and Guattari open 'A Thousand Plateaus' with "... since each of us
was several, there was already quite a crowd." I also wonder if betrayal is
not part of friendship from the very beginning, at least in Derrida. He
seems to depict a set of obligations that will inevitably be disappointed.
He also delves in Nietzsche's parallel invocation: 'oh my enemy ...'.

By the way I am living, do I create more debt or credit? In what proportion?
"What is do be done?"

I'll have to leave the conversation here, as I'll be away from computers for
a week. I look forward to reading you reply(ies) on my return. It has been
very nurturing. Thank you.


Visions in the Nunnery
22 to 31 May 2009

Message: 2
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 2009 01:37:39 -0700
From: "Michael Angelo Tata, PhD" <mtata at ipublishingllc.com>
Subject: [-empyre-] The Temporality of Friendship
To: Soft Skinned Space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Message-ID: <BLU143-W17F35C5E42F68541041F86A27A0 at phx.gbl>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="windows-1252"


You are lovely to respond so directly and poetically to our lively
t?te-?-t?te about giftliness and its conditions of
possibility/impossibility.  I am especially happy you have pulled The
Politics of Friendship into the action: from a ludic perspective, it is the
ideal move, since it supplements the general discussion of gifts and gifting
in The Gift of Death and Given Time with an account of what provides the
ground or occasion for the non-exchange exchange of the gift: le m?nage.
 For when we examine the very concrete problem of the recent Wall Street
misappropriation of funds, the ethics of friendship?Derrida?s famous
n+2?comes immediately into play.  For example, so many describe Bernie
Madoff as ?a friend,? and his infidelity to the rich and famous he courted
before his fall infuses the debate surrounding his financial dishonesty with
an anger not entirely rooted in money, capital, investment, or return.

The dissymetry of a Contretemps is particularly incisive, and for me calls
to mind the radical ontological disproportion between an individual and an
Other without which there would be no possibility of either a gift, a
Gift-gift (the gift that discloses its poisonous content beneath the
beautiful sensuous form), or, paramountly, that most extreme form of the
cadeau, the gift of death.  Via Dissemination, the true gift does not
return, as the giver does not expect remuneration, compensation or
adequation, and the recipient immediately forgets that any gift was ever
given, it never dawning on him or her to return anything: like meaning, the
gift dissipates, physically as well as mnemonically, and the phallic
function finds itself surprisingly dissipative, spreading its seeds without
being able to harvest any growth, shoot or sprig that might result.  Is
amiti? similarly dissipative, since clearly it must depart from the simple
exchangism that at best produces an economy, at wo
 rst a chrematistics (system of commerce)?  If friendship, or the relation
between an autre and an autre, exists as historical liaison, it must
transcend the simple quid-pro-quo of commercial enterprise.  As for le
contretemps proper, to which time or ?temps? does it run counter?  What
exactly is the time of friendship?  How do we measure it, endure it, make
use of it?

Since ultimately the Gift manifests itself as waste and prodigality,
paradigms of reception for that waste become imperative.  How do we receive
this excrescence, this too-much-ness, this excess that is of a piece with
the sublime: does it overwhelm us, do we feel the need to reciprocate, at
the same time that we realize reciprocation is impossible and, in effect,
undesirable?  What happens if, like God in the famous Abraham/Isaac fable
central to Kierkegaard?s thought and Derrida?s appropriation of that
thought, our gift-beyond-all-gifts is (shock!) refused?  Can the Gift, with
all its metaphysical overindulgence, be accepted, or must it always fold
back upon (rapporter) the giver through the magnanimous of refusal?  At some
level, investment and the gift connect up, if we think of the capital which
gets stored in stocks, bonds, mutual funds and hedge funds as some sort of
gift-object: but are these gifts?  Or are they pre-gifts, the real gift
being the unreal returns these
 investments are able, under ideal circumstances, to produce?  Or perhaps
Wall Street is the antithesis of giftliness, since it is the gift which both
sets economy in motion at the same time that it interrupts the circularity
of exchangism, and hence cannot be something Wall Street produces.

You also make me wonder about examples of contemporary potlatch.  Is a show
like My Super Sweet Sixteen an exhibition of a potlatch economy?  Perhaps
the US war in Iraq and Afghanistan is potlatch-y.  Clearly, American and, to
some degree, European societies are wasteful, but does this waste involve
that critical dimension of the potlatch, nobility?  Is the Green Revolution,
with all its advertising machinery?everything from green bottles of
Windex-like substances which in theory will not poison that new fetish, ?the
environment,? to Oprah-endorsed burlap grocery sacks which, although
inconvenient from a cosmopolitan standpoint, keep plastic bags from
accumulating in New Jersey landfills?an attempt to manage an ecological
potlatch?  In and through the potlatch, we destroy the precious for many
reasons: to demonstrate the fact that these objects are ours and ours alone
to destroy, to lord our ownership of these objects over our peers, who
presumably own comparable objects, and
 , finally, to specularize generosity.  I think of all those cathode ray
beams shooting re-runs of I Love Lucy and Bullwinkle into space, where alien
SETI cultures intercept our junk, presumably to marvel at our commitment to
the trivial.

If friendship is an investment, it must involve all that Derrida means by a
term like ?credit.?  For Derrida, even literature is credit-based, in terms
of our faith in the veracity of the narrator, the fidelity of the narrator?s
narration with respect to the particular memory which both substantiates and
supports it, and in terms of our own credence with respect to the ability of
a porous and aporetic language to grab hold of the world and its
multifarious objects with some degree of accuracy, one clear enough to
ensure a praxis of living.  As for the credit without which there would be
no friendship or acquaintanceship, and especially not a literature, a
contemporary mutation within the sphere of human relations arises: how are
we to invest in that new tabloid creature, the Frenemy (for example, Paris
Hilton/Nicole Ritchie)?  In Baudelaire?s prose poem Counterfeit Money from
the collection Paris Spleen, friendship borders many things: dissimulation,
philanthropic display, so
 cial obligation and, most critically, the truthfulness of truth, which at
all moments in time might slip into the masquerade of the counterfeit.
 Here, the n+2, or, as Derrida terms it, the l??tre-deux-?-parler,
experiences the crisis of the simulacrum: in a sense, the two comprising the
friendship pair in Baudelaire?s poem are frenemies from the get-go, their
amity cemented by competition and conflict revealed through the politeness
of sublimated pleasantries and the luxurious expenditure of tobacco (for
anthropologists, a highly symbolic and meaningful gift not so much exchanged
as exhausted through immolation).

Generally speaking, aren?t we all ?Captives of Capitalism??  The problem of
capital is that it expertly absorbs the critique of capital: in some sense,
it even orchestrates that critique, setting up a false dichotomy so that we
might feel some pleasure at resolving the pseudo-antinomy.  Unlike
totalitarianism, which persecutes its opponents, capitalism invites
antagonism, if only because the general agonistics at its core generates
more capital; even in the wake of the current housing calamity, there is
money to be made with the ?Loan Mod? racket, for example.  For me, the vital
question is: is there an exterior to capital?  True, there are parasitic
responses to capital, like Freeganism, Voluntary Simplicitism, or squatting,
but none of these achieve freedom from capital, their motivating force,
express cause and raison d??tre.  It seems like the only way to break
through capital is via terror, but even this insidious tactic gives capital
new terrain to dominate after the de
 ad are counted, collected and interred: for example, the rebuilding of
Baghdad after the US bombs it as a response to 9/11, or the capital invested
in the new World Trade Center monument.

Investing in difference, as you so elegantly phrase it, is a key strategy to
the operation of capital, which astutely realizes that even similarity must
be marketed as dissimilarity.  Truth be told, neither ?difference? nor
?diff?rance? are inimical to capital: they are essential to its functioning,
which is based almost entirely on variation, variegation and novelty.  To
resurrect Debord: the essence of contemporary capital is diffusion, as
opposed to that of totalitarianism, which is concentration (think: Warhol?s
Mao series, versus the ?official? images of Mao decorating Communist China).
 Life may very well be a Benetton commercial.  I mean, look at us: a fab
British New Media artist conversing with an equally fab American poet about
the nature of difference and its role in sustaining and accumulating
capital.  I think of the ad campaign for design house Moschino: ?Consenting
member of the fashion system.?  Becoming aware of our complicities and
capitalizing upon them may
 be the highest form of rebellion: I say this without irony, sarcasm, or

Ciao for now!
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