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Zero Squared #25: A Diet of Austerity
June 30, 2015 11:59 PM PDT
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Elaine Graham-Leigh is a the guest this week. She's a member of Counterfire and a former member of the steering committee of the Campaign against Climate Change. Her book A Diet of Austerity was published by Zero Books in April of this year. Jonathan Neale, Author of Stop Global Warming, Change the World blurbed Elaine Graham-Leigh's book as follows: Who is to blame for climate change? Graham-Leigh says it's not fat people, cows or the working class. A challenging and interesting book, packed with new ideas to make you think again about what you thought you knew. In this episode you'll hear clips from a news report about Belgian Blue cows, a cow saying moo, dueling banjos from the film Deliverance, Brendan Cooney explaining Socially Necessary Labor Time, a nutrious breakfast torture collage, an instrumental cover of the protest standard “We Shall Overcome,” and an audio collage built on advertisements from the 70s, and Green Onions by Booker T and the MGS.
Zero Squared #24: Open Thinking
June 26, 2015 11:24 AM PDT
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C Derick Varn is the guest this week and I'm reopening the old podomatic feed. If you are reading this and are glad to get this feed reopened please contact me through douglaslain.net and let me know. Varn is a reader at Zero Books, a poet, and a University Lecturer and what we really discuss is an essay I wrote as a way to clear my head. This was a draft of an essay that will eventually end up on Truthdig, but which for now I’ll just include in this week’s shownotes. The title of the essay is Open Thinking vs. Praxis.

The music and voices you’ll hear in this episode will include Bryan Magee, Peter Singer, Pink Floyd on the Ukulele, a Ukulele version of the 1970 hit Popcorn by Hot Butter, Brendan Cooney, Anne Jaclard, Ricky Jervais, Stephen Merchant, Karl Pilkington, and Schoenberg’s 3 Piano Pieces.

Open Thinking or Praxis?

The purpose that has fallen to them in a society based on the division of labor may be questionable; they themselves may be deformed by it. – Theodore Adorno, Resignation

There is nothing easier than to type up a list of the dangers, inequities, and injustices that appear before us everyday. We can find such a list in the New York Times, on yahoo news, or on our Facebook newsfeed, and without even looking we already know that today the police have murdered another unarmed black man, that another frog or fish or insect has disappeared as climate change continues unabated, and that there are at least six different ways poor people are being screwed listed on Buzzfeed. So, given this is the case, given the need for radical social change is as pressing and evident as ever, it may seem a strange to suggest that the thing to do is to turn to philosophy, or to advocate for what Theodore Adorno called “open thinking.”

Still, this is what’s needed, precisely because, while another world may or may not be possible, the reasons to seek it abound. Philosophical thinking is necessary because only such open, undirected, impractical thought is free from the imperatives of the very system we’re attempting to change. Anything practical, any thought connected to action or politics, any position that appears to be obvious, already fits into the present system.

On May 29th, Christopher Hedges spoke at the Left Forum. He introduced a panel entitled “Why Marx Was Right” with some observations of his own about how capitalism is supported by ideologies that appear to be obvious because they are useful for the reproduction of the current “means of material production” already operating, and in this way serve the ruling elites who own and control these means.

Hedges began with a quote from the preface of Marx’s “The Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.”

No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself.

Therefore, mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since looking at the matter more closely, we always find that the task itself arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution already exist, or are at least in the process of formation.

This would, on it’s face, appear to be an argument against “open thinking” or the posing of problems in the abstract apart from practical concerns or plans for action. However, such a simple reading of Marx would preclude social change from the start. In fact, reading this passage (and the rest of Marx for that matter) provides us with exactly the kind of opportunity for open thinking or free reasoning that is necessary for radical social change to have a chance.

Let us take a close look at this to see, first, what the passage means and then if it might be true.

No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed.

Historically this isn’t true. All one has to do is look back at the history of warfare and, even more, genocide to see that social orders disappear before marshalling all their productive forces. If we think of the American Indians, for instance, we can see that the social orders of various tribes were wiped out by European settlers and did not reach a moment of transformation wherein the productive forces of, say, the Apache had been fully developed. So the unstated assumption here is that we are speaking of social orders that are self-transforming, where the change arises out of the social order itself. Marx covers the other kind of change, the change wherein capitalism destroys another social order by force, in Capital Volume One, Chapter 26 when he writes on primitive accumulation, but in this preface he covers less ground and focuses his attention more narrowly as he sets up an examination of political economy in the abstract or on its own.

New higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself.

This seems quite obvious almost a truism. It is simply saying that you can’t make something out of nothing, or that what is materialy impossible is never realized in the world.

Therefore, mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since looking at the matter more closely, we always find that the task itself arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution already exist, or are at least in the process of formation.

This follows from the truism that came before it, only it is important to mention at this stage that we’re not talking about ideologies, opinions, ideas but tasks, or more still modes of production. So this is not claiming that mankind never sets iself problems that it can solve, but that it never sets itself tasks that it can’t solve. Again, the keys here is that we’re working on the level of the total society never setting itself a collective task that it doesn’t have the ability to solve. A society does not invest its resources in preparing for a flights to the moon before there is any material basis for the building of rockets. Again, the key to this passage is the word task as opposed to thought.

So, this passage doesn’t quite close down the possibility of “open thinking” quite as completely as we might have at first concluded. Marx does not say that all ideas have to have a material basis before they can be thought up or worked out, but that societies don’t set themselves the task of solving problems in the world when those problems are entirely imaginary. Now, another word for a task that society has taken on, another word for these social formations or modes of production might be “praxis.”

Now, the temptation at this point would be to reduce the notion of a task or of praxis to the level of a simple thoughtless action, but this would be to tilt to far in the other direction. Marx is no more writing about action on its own than he is writing about thought on its own. These productive tasks are theoretical as well as practical. That’s what the word “praxis” points to. A praxis is the kinds of thought or problem that can be acted out or solved in the world.

“The chief defect of all materialism up to now (including Feuerbach’s) is that objective reality, what we apprehend through our senses, is understood only in the form of the OBJECT of contemplation; but not as SENSUOUS HUMAN ACTIVITY, as practice; not subjectively. Hence, in opposition to materialism, the ACTIVE side was developed abstractly by idealism… Feuerbach wants sensuous objects really distinguished from objects of thought but he does not understand human activity itself is OBJECTIVE activity.” –Karl Marx

Now it’s here that we might dare to speculate a bit more openly ourselves. That is, having determined that open thinking or philosophy as we’re calling it and pure action can be separated out in thought but can not be turned toward social tasks except when deployed together and, even then, only so much as the tasks or praxis develops materially we might pause to ask to what use can either side be put if kept in isolation? That is, why advocate for “open thinking” when such thought is one sided, atomized, and unreal?

The answer is that such open thinking has a function as critique. Open thinking or unrestricted reason would be purely negative, limiting, defining and describing the world and our struggles in it, up until the point as thought is seized by active forces and turned into the world.

This Isn't a Podcast but something else
May 13, 2015 09:50 PM PDT
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Try douglaslain.com or go to the Zero Books blog. There are podcasts there. Resubscribe through iTunes to either of those feeds. This feed is only going to be getting announcements like this one telling you to switch feeds.

Zero Squared and Everything Else has Moved
May 11, 2015 12:29 PM PDT
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The latest Zero Squared podcast isn't on this feed. Please go to douglaslain.com and/or to the Zero Books Blog or subscribe to Zero Squared on iTunes or to douglaslain.com on iTunes.

Three feeds is one too many, and while this is the most popular feed currently it still makes the most sense to move the podcast to these other feeds. If you like the show resubscribe to one of these other two feeds. Thanks.

Zero Squared #17: The Liminalist
April 29, 2015 06:35 PM PDT
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Jason Horsley is the guest this week and we discuss his new podcast called The Liminalist. Jason Horsley is the author of several books including Matrix Warrior, The Blood Poets, and most recently Seen and Not Seen which came out from Zero Books in January. Pauline Kael, the influential film critic for the New Yorker from 1968 to 1991, blurbed Horsley's book The Blood Poets. She wrote: This hothead fantasist offers the excitement of a wild, paranoid style. He lives in the movies, explodes them from the inside, and shares his fevered trance with us. But he doesn’t lose his analytic good sense. He’s not just a hothead, he’s a hardhead, too. . . . He’s a marvellous critic. Tackling a new movie, he’ll hang in there until he’s balanced and sound. It’s always a surprise. Horsley was, for a short while, my co-host on Zero Squared and I was pleased to speak to him again. In this episode you’ll hear Bob Odenkirk imitating Charles Manson, the linguist John McWhorter discussing the strange history of the plural form in English, a couple of notes from the theme for the television show New Girl, the youtube star Ralph Skip Stevens describing Structuralism, the youtube star AlanKey86 with Auditory Illusion #3, and the audio track from promotional video from Utah.com called Four Corners: Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, and Pierre Schaeffer's Apostrophe.
Zero Squared #16: Drink the Rest of That
April 22, 2015 02:33 PM PDT
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Guy J Jackson is the guest this week and we discuss his collection of short stories Drink the Rest of That which came out from Roundfire Books in January. Roundfire Books is an imprint at John Hunt Publishing as is Zero Books. Drink the Rest of That is a collection of shorts meant to be read “at a rate of one per day in order to feel Zen for however many days that there are stories, or so claimed Roundfire Book's late editorial assistant, Nils Samuels Chastain, even thought it wasn't his place to decide that.” Nathan Penlington is the author of “Roadkill on the Digitial Highway” and a drinking buddy with Guy. He blurbed the collection as follows: Imagine if a Kurt Vonnegut/Richard Brautigan hybrid had written The Phantom Tollbooth and you are somewhat close to the uniqueness of this book. Drink The Rest of That is a dazzling, heartbreaking, laugh-a-loud collection that will leave you wanting more. I'm having a difficult time imagining such a creature myself. It sounds like something out of a Cronenberg movie. It's Wednesday, April 22nd 2015 and I'm Douglas Lain the publisher of Zero Books and the host of this podcast. In this episode you’ll hear a Christopher Knowles poem as recited by Robert Wilson, a Philip Glass style improvization by the youtube star Torley, train sounds and an excerpt from Paul Simon's song Ordinary Child from his Rhythm of the Saints which was the album I listened to on my Realistic brand Walkman when I first travelled by train from Colorado Springs to Portland Oregon back in 1991. The music you're listening to right now is the Soweto String Quartet's tribute to Paul Simon's Graceland, but in just a moment you'll be listening to Guy Jackson and I discuss why you should drink that.
Zero Squared #15: Twerking to Turking (EDA)
April 15, 2015 10:36 PM PDT
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Alfie Bown is the guest this week and we discuss the book from the EDA Collective Twerking to Turking which is coming from Zero Books this month. With the tag line: “Analysing the signs of everyday life” this is the second collection by the EDA. It is a follow-up to their book “Why Animals are funny.” Jamie Mackay, writing for Review 31, praised the EDA, writing: It is not often that theory is this fun to read, and less often still that satire is so well versed in the language of its assailants. It's Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 and I'm Douglas Lain the publisher of Zero Books and the host of this podcast. In this episode you’ll hear a longish clip from Radiolab on the subject of Yellow Rain. The podcast was originally aired on September 24th, 2012, and I'll provide links to it in the show notes. If you go to the site you'll find an apology from Robert Krulwich wherein he apologizes for the way he aggressively questioned the Mr Eng Yang regarding reports that “yellow rain” was used on people in Laos after American forces left Vietnam. I want to make clear that, in my opinion, Robert Krulwich should not have apologized. If the oppressed of the Earth are going to find a voice that matters they will, simultaneously, have to be open to the truth and to pursuing the truth. This will require transcending their own experiences even as they act in their own collective interest. You'll also hear clips of Philip Glass's Photographer, an excerpt from a documentary about Audrey Hepburn entitled “World's Most Photographed Woman,” the comedian Godfrey Chi, Phlearn Photoshop's “The Basics of Studium and Punctum in Photographs,” and "Got a Good Thing Going" by the Beetletown Players and Mister Show.
Zero Squared #14: Nihilism and Reason
April 08, 2015 09:18 AM PDT
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Eugene Thacker is the guest this week and we discuss his Horror of Philosophy series, two new volumes of which ( Tentacles Longer than Night and Starry Speculative Corpse) are coming from Zero Books on April 24th. In these book Thacker, instead of taking fiction as the mere illustration of ideas, he reads horror stories as if they themselves were works of philosophy. The horror author Thomas Ligotti praised Thacker’s first volume, In The Dust of this Planet. He wrote: Thacker's discourse on the intersection of horror and philosophy is utterly original and utterly captivating...In the Dust of This Planet is an encyclopedic grimoire instructing us in the varieties of esoteric thought and infernal diversions that exist for the reader’s further investigation, treating us to a delightful stroll down a midway of accursed attractions that alone are worth the ticket of this volume. In this episode you’ll hear a clip from the Laverne and Shirley, Rick and Morty, Rick Roderick, Bryan Magee and Bernard Williams on Descartes, Laurie Anderson, Kraftwerk, a reading from the Gideon bible, the theme from True Detective, and the opening music from Mister Show.
Zero Squared #13: Heavy Radicals
April 01, 2015 01:42 PM PDT
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Aaron Leonard is the guest this week and we discuss his book Heavy Radicals which was published by Zero Books in February. With the subtile: The FBI's Secret War on America's Maoists, Aaron Leonard's book covers Maoism in America from the 60s through to 1980. Sarah Khan at the Washington Book Review praised the book. “Heavy Radicals is an excellent addition to the literature on the history of revolutionary groups which played important roles in the 1960s and 1970s. It is the first comprehensive and complete history of ... the Revolutionary Union. It is a well-researched book which fills the gap created by the absence of historical literature on an important period in the history of the United States.” In this episode you’ll hear a clips from Bob Avakian, the American propaganda film “What is Communism,” the 1963 instrumental hit Pipeline by the Chantays, Mario Savio at Sproul Hall in 1964, Andrew Kliman, a String Quartet cover of Jefferson Airplane's “White Rabbit” and the aria “I am the wife of Mao Tse-Tung” from John Adam's opera Nixon in China as well as John Adams' “The Chairman Dances.”
Zero Squared #12: Rebel Rebel
March 25, 2015 01:14 PM PDT
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Chris O'Leary is the guest this week and we discuss his book Rebel Rebel which is coming from Zero Books in two days. With the tag line: “Every single song. Everything you want to know, everything you didn't know” the book catalogs all of Bowie's songs from 1964 through 1976. The Cultural Critic Mark Dery (author of All the Young Dudes:Why Glam Rock Matters) sent me a blurb for O'Leary and I'll read it now: Marooned in '70s suburbia, I and countless weirdos like me awaited every new Bowie record as a deep-space ping from a world where weird ruled—proof that there really was life on Mars, if not in tract-home sprawl. To date, what passes for thoughtful inquiry into the polymorphous, polyvalent phenomenon that is David Bowie has consisted almost entirely of potted biographies and coffee-table photo albums. At last, the Homo Superior gets the exegesis he deserves: Rebel Rebel is the Lipstick Traces of Bowie studies, and Chris O'Leary its unchallenged dean. I should also point out that you can win a copy of O'Leary's book by entering the fictional Bowie lyric contest at DavidBowieNews.com, and I'll put a link to that in the show notes. In this episode you’ll hear a clip from the Chris Hadfield on the International Space Station, a clip of a cover of Kim Wilyde's The Kids in America done by Nirvana, David Bowie with Bing Crosby from Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas, an Andy Warhol/David Bowie interview juxtaposition and Bowie's Warszawa played on a Minimoog by the youtube star orchestron.

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