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Cutting off the scream—censoring it—is a way to render inaudible that which threatens to become audible on the soundtrack: the inside of the woman’s body—her vocal cords, larynx, and lungs at full power, a pornography of pure voice.
"Scream Queens" by Kartik Nair

Cutting off the scream—censoring it—is a way to render inaudible that which threatens to become audible on the soundtrack: the inside of the woman’s body—her vocal cords, larynx, and lungs at full power, a pornography of pure voice.

"Scream Queens" by Kartik Nair

The New Inquiry Magazine, Vol. 29: Queens

TNI Vol. 29: QUEENS

This is the editorial note to The New Inquiry Magazine,
Vol. 29: Queens.

Look inside the issue here.

The queen addresses her audience. She is draped in ermine. She wears her jeweled crown and sits on her gold throne. It is the day she speaks to her assembled Parliament and delivers directives for the year. The representatives of capital stand before her, looking as obedient as children dragged to church. A single page boy faints, overcome by the power of the ceremony, but the queen does not signal that she notices. It seems like a grace note in the performance of her power, or a sad commentary on its actual application. Such is the plight of the queen.

A queen is the image of a woman at the height of her potential social standing. She evokes beauty, poise, and dignity simultaneously with power. Women who inhabit their social role fully and without struggle are crowned queens. But if the queen is the pinnacle, she is also the limit. If she is an exception to the general subordination of women, she proves the male rule.

We are now republicans, as far as the term goes. And the redistribution of royal titles can only be celebrated. Many more women than there have ever been noble families elicit cries of “queen” these days. “Queen,” unlike “princess,” functions as praise — though its deployment can teach us about the gender of power. She has avoided the fate of a princess, a title applied with more derision than awe, shaming women for articulating their desires as demands.

A queen is also ruthless, controlling, runs shit. A queen is not an executive, though. The corporate form of power is still far too fraternal to allow for anything sororal in the boardroom. A queen stands alone, fixed in place, with her subjects arrayed around her. This means she is also outnumbered. If her every movement seems deliberate, she might be self-possessed or she might be trapped.

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Teenage Dream

Still from Teenage

By 

Now a feature film, Jon Savage’s history of 20th century adolescence Teenageis a modern classic on kids and demographics.Savage talked with TNI co-founding editor Mary Borkowski on youth culture now and then

Several years ago Jon Savage’s Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture fell into my lap, suggested by a good friend, and I devoured the book, intrigued at the time with the idea that I might never grow up (I was 23). Savage—a renowned music journalist who’d also written, inter alia, the award-winning punk history book England’s Dreaming—had as the central tenet of Teenage that sometime around the beginning of the 20th century a “new stage of life” was created: “Teen age,” or “Teen-age,” and later just “teenage.”  That the adolescent demographic we now malign and mythologize was once effectively created—invented, marketed—is a fascinating notion to examine. Reading the book, I found myself equally fascinated by the parallel between adolescence and America’s own nascence as a country.

Recently, Savage partnered with filmmaker Matt Wolf to create a companion documentary film for the book, also titled Teenage (for venues, go to teenagefilm.com). While quite different, and slimmer in scope and information, the documentary succeeds as a lively companion to Savage’s impressive book. I had the opportunity to chat with Savage in early March about his experience translating the book Teenage into a film, and about the eternal draw and intrigue of this transformative step in the process of becoming-American.

Mary Borkowski: Good morning from here in LA. I read Teenage a few years ago, but I just recently watched the film, and I wanted to start off by asking about [director] Matt Wolf.

Jon Savage: Well, I’ve worked in television on and off since the late ’70s and I’ve made several other films as a writer, so I knew when I’d written Teenage [in 2007] that I wanted to turn it into a film or a television series. I tried to get it off the ground in the UK, but dealing with television people here didn’t work. It wasn’t until a mutual friend put me in touch with Matt that I thought this is somebody I could work with, because Matt was young, he really got the idea of the book, and he’s based in New York. It’s really an American story.

MB: I know you’ve written on music and worked on film for years, but historically, where does your interest in youth culture come from?

JS: I suppose, really, I’m the kind of person for whom music is everything. Telling social history through music is a good thing to do because music, in a way, is all about memory and all about emotion, and so it’s a very good way to go into social history. But, in fact, the Teenage book was driven by an idea, and music comes into that, but it is the idea that a second stage of life was quote-unquote discovered around the turn of the 20th century. So you have this dialectic between adults and regimes trying to control it and militarize it and the actual real-time adolescence being defined as special. What does it mean to be this second stage of life? How can it work for us? How can we get some freedom? How can we avoid getting sent off into the army and pushed around by our parents, and if we’re not going to do that, then what sort of world, what sort of culture are we going to create?

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Decolonizing Israel

Anti-Zionist demonstration at Damascus Gate. March 8th, 1920

By 

The BDS movement is enjoying success because even at home, Zionists are beginning to lose the PR battle.

“The Palestinians are winning,” writes Ali Abunimah in his new book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine. It’s an audacious assessment, and arguably true even in the U.S. This moment of Palestine activism is dynamic and by some measures unprecedented. Of course, Palestinian activism and scholarship have always been vigorous, but at no time in the United States, going back even to the anti-Zionist activity of al-muhjar (the Arab American writers of the early 20th century), has Israel’s behavior been under the sort of scrutiny in evidence today. That scrutiny has been forced into conversation by linking of the Palestine struggle to international movements of decolonization in new media venues, coming together under the name of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions [BDS] movement.

BDS is not simply a political tactic. Even its most optimistic supporter would have a hard time arguing that it will significantly affect détente at the level of the state. However, if we view BDS as a phenomenon on the level of discourse, as Abunimah does, we can better understand its influence on public debate, where pressure on Israel has altered the dynamics of organizing and the vocabularies of advocacy. BDS as a specific movement is nearly a decade old, and emerged out of a weariness about the traditional modes of resistance (dialogue, state intervention, outreach, and so forth), which had largely proved ineffective. BDS has developed through systematic decolonial analysis, with the result that Israel continues to be situated—rightly, in Abunimah’s opinion—as a settler colony.

Ali Abunimah’s book arrives at an opportune moment, with the movement, not state actors, generating headlines and the latest round of peace talks sputtering with even more than the usual ineptitude. Abunimah is a well-placed narrator of Palestine as a global phenomenon. A founder of the news and commentary site Electronic Intifada[lr]Full disclosure: I write a regular blog for EI.[/lr], Abunimah is a familiar figure to veterans of the online wars around the Israel-Palestine conflict. Known for his sharp and sometimes pointed debating style, Abunimah is a veteran of Palestinian public life. His first book, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, was published nearly a decade ago amid an emerging debate about the one-state/two-state solution and, along with a handful of contemporary titles (like Joel Kovel’s Overcoming Zionism and Mazin Qumsiyeh’s Sharing the Land of Canaan), helped push Palestine activism toward a one-state paradigm.

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Over Easy

By 

Elite education may impoverish and indebt young women and do little to get them a job, but at least it makes their eggs valuable

Reproductive Medical Associates of New York, a fertility clinic associated with Mount Sinai Hospital, maintains separate websites for egg donors and egg buyers. The home page of the donors’ site features a large stock photograph of a young woman holding schoolbooks. Behind crossed arms the pretty brunette model is clutching what looks like but is not a copy of Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism, along with a white three-ring binder. She wears a zippered velor jacket in the same shade of blue as the graphic that emerges from behind her head in an oversize font: Become an Egg Donor.

Beneath is an embedded YouTube video of Dr. Georgia Witkin, a partner at Reproductive Medical Associates, who grins into the camera and delivers a poorly edited four-minute pitch to visitors interested in donating. Dr. Witkin is a woman who has undergone thorough and ambitious plastic surgery. Her stretched skin exposes the contours of her skull around glassy, saucer-size eyes, and she speaks to her audience of young women from behind sheaths of feathered blond hair. “The DNA in your eggs contains genetic material from your entire gene pool,” she says, speaking in a heavy Long Island accent. Dr. Witkin smiles, and blinks heavily at the camera.

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The Whitney Biennial for Angry Women

image

By 

Maya Mackrandilal Sheath IV (2014)

I.

First, some definitions:

(White)spatiality: There is a specter here that haunts this space. It has multiple faces. We’ll call one white supremacy: the belief in the universal, a pure idea arrived at by a series of white men who have combed through culture and curated its worth. Another face we’ll call visual oppression. We’ll call it passing. We’ll call it presence without provocation. We’ll call it just enough black faces to assuage liberal guilt without the discomfort of challenging anything. We’ll call it the fantasy of postracial America. We’ll call it visible invisibility.

The Body of the Other: It goes where it pleases under the vague, ever-present threat of violence. It infiltrates. It wears the right clothes. It uses the right words. It has abandoned its mothers. But it claws at the ribs, crawls up the throat, and tumbles past the lips in polite company. Don’t forget what Gloria Anzaldua told us: “Wild tongues can’t be tamed, they can only be cut out.”

The Ritual of Looking: It is pleasant enough, the rapt masses examining objects, reading texts, staring at screens. It is pleasant enough, their whispered exchanges, the sidelong glances at fellow patrons. Like pilgrims, we circumambulate the rooms in near silent meditation, offering our attention to the gods that feel right to us. We want to say that there is a value in this thing we’ve been doing for thousands of years, this thing that’s been with us before capitalism, before agriculture, before patriarchy. This thing was there at the beginning: to make, to regard what is made.

White Aesthetics: And isn’t this specter the god of our neoliberal artistic landscape? A place where critical language—which is meant to articulate everything that is not said, to reveal the threads of systemic inequality—is co-opted by an inane buzzword pastiche? Where the artist-CEO employs the labor of others—material labor of unpaid assistants, affective labor of subject-bodies, contractual labor of the working class, temporary labor of performers, take your pick—to realize his unique vision? There is only space for “questions” here. Ambiguity is both a currency and a shield. The titillation of a brush with the radical—a safari of political rebellion—without the nuisance of actually addressing systems of power or challenging the status quo. All the trappings, none of the substance.

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Buying the Future

konczalb

By 

Financialization depends on a standardized product. What happens when it’s applied to people?

With the financialization of the economy has come a revolution in the ability to buy and sell the future. One of the most important instruments is called a “future” exactly for this reason. Futures allow people to buy and sell a specific quantity of a product now for cash, with the product delivered at some point in the future. Firms can lock in raw materials and mitigate the risk of unanticipated price rises (like airlines when they use futures to manage fuel purchases), while speculators can bet on the demand, supply, and price of everything from apples to wood.

Finance can go beyond bringing the future of raw commodities into cash value in the present. A wave of mathematical modeling and computer simulations allows investors to predict the likely value of everything from apartment rentals to sovereign crises to human beings, and a elaborate contractual infrastructure lets them lock down their bets. These fruits of financial engineering will increasingly play a role in our economic lives.

But are these fruits poison? Where will this sort of predictive financial engineering lead, and can anything be done to alter the path? This system of buying and selling the future requires a level of control over far beyond the normal standardization and commodification that comes with capitalist societies. To specify the future in the ways that futures contracts demand means locking down its forms in advance, with an abstract conception suitable to financial exchange positing what will become lived reality. Knowledge of the future breaks down, while financial markets overwhelms areas of everyday life once fully separate from what has been traditionally seen as finance. The consequences of this domination by finance have already begun to unfold and may only intensify as finance’s realms expand.

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The New Inquiry Vol. 27: Money is out now! See the table of contents here and subscribe for $2 to get it today

The New Inquiry Vol. 27: Money is out now! See the table of contents here and subscribe for $2 to get it today

Vol. 27 Editors’ Note: Money

Wanda Whips Wall Street (1982)

This is the editorial note to The New Inquiry Magazine, Vol. 27: Money. View the full table of contents here.

Subscribe to TNI for $2 and get Money (as well as free access to our archive of back issues) this week.

***

Money: free for those who can afford it, very expensive for those who can’t. The purported measure of all things and the most powerful of our mass delusions, money is imaginary and unlimited, as any central banker will tell you. And yet that never seems to help anyone get their hands on enough of it. Nowhere is the contradiction between something being a socially constructed fiction and material determinant of the world around us so strong as it is in a dollar bill. It’s obviously fake and yet oh so real.

This contradiction wasn’t always so extreme: In 1896, William Jennings Bryan propelled himself to presidential nominee purely through an impassioned convention speech likening the gold standard, the original austerity policy, to a “crown of thorns” being pressed down on the “brow of labor.” But in the ensuing century, the idea of a monetary policy open to populist debate and democratic control has become a joke, swinging from a lived reality at the turn of the 20th century to a weirdo fringe in the 21st screaming “End the Fed.”

In the fallout from the 2008 crisis, that fringe has been moving toward the center.  From Modern Monetary Theorists arguing that fiat money emerges from the policeman’s truncheon to Glenn Beck–inspired gold bugs stacking bullion in their air-raid shelters, money itself, and not just its distribution, is once again a prominent object of contention. The premise of the end of history was that money had finally won out over politics—but the crisis required a hell of a lot of politics to shore up the monetary system.

So what is money? Is it the true innovation of statecraft, the thing that enables and justifies coercion through taxation, as Rebecca Rojer notes in her account of MMT? Is it financial engineering’s raw material, or its necessary fiction? Is it a claim on future production, or does it warp the future by dragging it into the present? Is it a social construction that delinks debt from reciprocal social obligations, making industrialization, massive urbanism, alienation, and possessive individualism possible? Is the beginning or the end of trust? Does it remake quality as quantity, and substitute insecurity and artificial scarcity for natural satiety? Is it the root of all evil, or the solution to all of our problems? Should we redistribute it or abolish it? Can we have some?

Money doesn’t grow on trees, we’re told, but it does grow in bodies. Moira Donegan takes us through the world of paid surrogates in “Over Easy,” where it turns out it’s not good enough to be fertile. To sell your eggs you have to sell yourself as a success first and amass human capital. Mike Konczal details how human capital has a future in the futures market, in which the lives of graduates might be subject to the same sorts of detailed scrutiny and specification as a delivery of pork bellies. Jason Huff looks at Amazon’s MTurk service, labor clearinghouse for microtasks in which workers are treated as largely interchangeable and human capital becomes negligible, if not extinguished.

The fate of human capital in crowdsourced labor markets may mirror the fate of capital itself in what Izabella Kaminska describes as an increasingly “postcapital world,” in which the overabundance of capital demands alternative approaches to investment and industrial policy, with China leading the way. In “The Paper Chase,” Rob Trump tours the history of American alternative currencies, finding that the value of value can shift with a system’s, well, values. In “Disgorge the Cash,” J.W. Mason argues that the financial sector isn’t about putting value into the economy but extracting it. And that no matter how difficult radical struggles are, he argues, it’s nothing compared to “the Sisyphean task faced by the other side, of constantly transforming the existing organization of production into capitalism.” Money is a boulder that never stops rolling down the mountain. It flattens everyone and everything.

Money is often mistaken for liberty, when it typically functions as a mechanism of control. Steve Randy Waldman considers its role in linking capitalism to freedom, arguing that the purpose of markets is to nurture illusions of political choice and depersonalizing the behavioral limits we place on one another. But of all the illusions sustained by money, perhaps the most dangerous is that everything should have a price, even the privilege of being not for sale.

You Are Too Much

image

overlyattachedgirlfriend.com

By 

The Overly Attached Girlfriend’s desire isn’t oriented towards sex or even a boyfriend; both are just means to maximal intensity of feeling

This is the age of intensity and not of duration. The implicit premise of the Overly Attached Girlfriend, a popular YouTube series that originated as a meme in 2012, is this: A pretty young white woman has absorbed the lessons of pop music without irony, in an atmosphere of total surveillance prescribed by Facebook and the NSA, and now believes that love should be conducted in conditions of panoptic intensity. Each of the videos by YouTube star Laina, in her guise as the Overly Attached Girlfriend, have at least six-figure viewing numbers. Not a single one is all that funny. She remains very popular.

Jameson says of Warhol that if the work isn’t critique then he wants to know why. Laina isn’t making an explicit critique, and here is the reason. One side of the joke — that a woman would have to be crazy to long for entry into a couple — is negated by the other — that a woman who can’t negotiate her way into a couple is crazy. The coin turns on the woman’s possible worth and worthlessness, both of which are unstable even though the Overly Attached Girlfriend is a young, attractive white woman. Even (or perhaps most of all) in the gated community of middle-class white womanhood, women not only can’t have what they want, they are barred from frank expressions of wanting.

The Overly Attached Girlfriend began as a single image, multiply inflected with different captions. The logic of the meme: It must be instantly understood. Her huge eyes are fixed wide open in her otherwise unremarkable face, a face that avoids censure by being white, untroublingly pretty, young, etc.; all that could be condemned is held in the eyes, which won’t give up their object. She is a contemporary spin on the ancient European slur against women that they desire too much. Now, at least in most mainstream discourse, feels-shaming is more common than slut-shaming: the shame of being too much or too little, too warm or too cold, too ambivalent or too certain. Successful attachments, we are told, are pragmatic fusions of compatible values, something to work on, replete with quasi-contractual obligations to tell the truth, empathize, etc. Unsuccessful attachments, on the other hand, are failures of competence, embarrassingly lacking in the reality principle.

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Hungry for Love

Imp Kerr, Booborama, 2006

With art that hopes to go too far, who gets to ask for forgiveness instead of permission?

MOCA L.A. commissioned Marina Abramović in 2011 to direct the museum’s yearly gala benefit. Guests, including Hollywood A-listers, would not be merely entertained; they would be intimately, at times uncomfortably, involved in what Abramović called her living manifesto. The gala’s centerpiece featured professional performers acting as human tables. For this they were paid a pittance. After auditioning, performer Yvonne Rainer drafted a public letter denouncing Abramović’s economic and physical exploitation of cultural workers, writing, “both artist and institution have proven irresponsible in their unwillingness to recognize that art is not immune to ethical standards.” She continues:

Ms. Abramović is so wedded to her original vision that she—and by extension, the Museum director and curators—doesn’t see the egregious associations for the performers, who, though willing, will be exploited nonetheless. Their cheerful voluntarism says something about the pervasive desperation and cynicism of the art world such that young people must become abject table ornaments and clichéd living symbols of mortality in order to assume a novitiate role in the temple of art.

Abramović’s gala went forth as planned. Yet Rainer’s doubts about performance art’s moral responsibility persist. Performance, grounded in the conscious pretense that one acts in a space temporarily removed, is morally ambiguous by definition. But this state of exception does not make the ethics of performance unquestionable. Art is not performed in vacuum.

The question is not simply what ethical standards we should hold art to, but instead who sets those standards and who can ignore them. Who gets to ask for forgiveness instead of permission?

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