Many have been writing about this, but in disparate areas and under different keywords.  Some call it ‘blogging’, some ‘reality TV’, some ‘social networking’ but in the end I see them as all mainfest of the same movement: confessional culture.  We are dumping ourselves into the larger discussions where a few years ago the technology, and arguably the desire to do so, did not exist.  Most criticize this move and yet they embrace it at the very same time.  Yours truly, for example, has always derided Facebook and yet I cannot help but check it for updates and at times to even update my own status.  My derision only grows as I feel more and more naturalized with it.  Hell, this paragraph can stands as a testament to the confessional’s power.

Wendy Brown does a better job of explaining the danger surrounding this movement:

But if the silences in discourses are a site for insurrectionary noise, if they are the corridors we must fill with explosive counter-tales, it also possible to make a fetish of breaking silence.  Even more than a fetish, it is possible that this ostensible tool of emancipation carries its own techniques of subjugation – that it converges with non-emancipatory tendencies in contem-porary culture (for example, the ubiquity of confessional discourse and rampant personalization of political life), that it establishes regulatory norms, coincides with the disciplinary power of confession, in short, feeds the powers we meant to starve. While attempting to avoid a simple reversal of feminist valorizations of breaking silence, it is this dimension of silence and its putative opposite with which this Article is concerned.

In the course of this work, I want to make the case for silence not simply as an aesthetic but a political value, a means of preserving certain practices and dimensions of existence from regulatory power, from normative violence, as well as from the scorching rays of public exposure. I also want to suggest a link between, on the one hand, a certain contemporary tendency concerning the lives of public figures – the confession or extraction of every detail of private and personal life (sexual, familial, therapeutic, financial) and, on the other hand, a certain practice in feminist culture: the compulsive putting into public discourse of heretofore hidden or private experiences – from catalogues of sexual pleasures to litanies of sexual abuses, from chronicles of eating disorders to diaries of homebirths, lesbian mothering, and Gloria Steinam’s inner revolution.  In linking these two phenomena – the privatization of public life via the mechanism of public exposure of private life on the one hand, and the compulsive/compulsory cataloguing of the details of women’s lives on the other – I want to highlight a modality of regulation and depoliticization specific to our age that is not simply confessional but empties private life into the public domain, and thereby also usurps public space with the relatively trivial, rendering the political personal in a fashion that leaves injurious social, political and economic powers unremarked and untouched.  In short, while intended as a practice of freedom (premised on the modernist conceit that the truth shall make us free), these productions of truth not only bear the capacity to chain us to our injurious histories as well as the stations of our small lives but also to instigate the further regulation of those lives, all the while depoliti-cizing their conditions. (1996, 185)

These are not new ideas, however, combatting them will require a new move.  As discussed above with my own accounting, even though I feel this way I still desire to update my Facebook page. Google will be announcing a new social media tool later this week and I am enthralled for the announcement.  This movement cannot be combatted by simple criticism.  Something more affective is needed.  What is needed is something like the Hello Kitty logo.

I have not done the research necessary to validate the following reading of the logo, but it is consistent with what I know of Japanese culture hence more than plausible.  Japanese women/girls are not silenced as their western counterparts are.  Instead they are often called upon to speak and not empowered to hold their tongues.  The logo, then, is a piece de resistance of that impulse.

Hello Kitty is still caught up some translation problems, most notably the western confession does not seem to be specific to gender norms, see Brown above for reference to its once gendered liberatory potential.  What we should find is an image that can serve as a stand-in for silence.

Brown, Wendy.  (1996).  Constitutions and ‘survivor stories’: In the ‘folds of our own discourse.’  University of Chicago Law School Roundtable, 3

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On the bus into to downtown this morning I was reading from the Chaloupka book and I came across what I consider to be the kernel of the book: a description of his prescribed politics and a brief theorization of why it works.

The interpretation – the “spin,” to use the Reagan-era term – I want to consider goes like this.  Not presuming to enter into the realm of force-counterforce (and all the other economies of force surrounding military and nuclear matters), the “lifestyle” argument simply intervenes. this intervention produces consequences that are more ironic than representational, more disruptive than analytic.  The lifestyle position works by rubbing against a nuclearist discourse that has tried hard to exclude challenges to its logic.  In its partial, deconstructive mode, that opposition has worked, putting its own “dumbness,” its forced inarticulateness, against the forced coherence of foreign policy discourse.  Arrayed against a thoroughly coded way of speaking, the opposition stripped its own utterances down to a naked minimum – not escaping code (how could anyone presume that?), but forcing the dominant discourse to handle the weight of the codes and substitutions all by itself.

My reading works, then, on language-and-politics turf captured by Foucault.  I am postulating a specific kind of intervention – one that politicizes by noting how language works, wihtout forfeiting the next political response.  Foucault claims this odd and important double move with a distinctive two-part challenge to power.  Starting with the crisis of representation and character of language that sets that crisis off – shifting and turning away from either the self who uses it or the phenomenon it tries to capture – Foucault moved on to a description of rules and the ways those rules constitute a generally unrecognized realm of power in contemporary society.  The two moves resonate, one exacerbating the other until legitimacy is drawn into the whirl of contested territory.  Foucault’s conception of language is what funds the possibility of political response, making it possible that such response is neither an arbitrary imposition, as has been charged, nor a promise of meaning and representation that cannot be fulfilled.  Instead, the political response finds its form exactly at the point where old models of language break down. (94).

The reduction of this intevention Chalouka advocates is to move from persuasion into a realm of Affect.  Leaving aside the debate about who first theorizes affect, Foucault, Spinoza, etc…, I will simply say that I find Affect compelling.  Sometimes.  How Affect works to mobilize mass audiences seems lacking, not only in theory but also in historical examples.  I may learn to value recycling because my mother or friends do it, and those learnings replicate outwards until they collide with someone whose mother or friends did not recycle.  The better example is something I lived through this morning.  I rode the bus.  I never rode a bus until  I moved to the east coast a few years ago and now I am a fan.  Even though I am now a convert I know that if I were to return to Texas I would not ride the bus.  Economics would prevail.  Affect is thus limited as a tool for change.  Why then did I learn to ride the bus.  Economics had some role in it, but so too did seeing people, many people, especially people I looked up to, riding the bus.

I do not feel up to the task of measuring Chaloupka’s claim that Affect removes the communication from the same grid that houses the crisis of representation (that task can wait and will require some long nights of academic sleep-deprivation, see this guy.)  That seems to be the critical portion of Affect’s value.  However, this argument does seem, on first glance, to be cheating:  “if the crisis of representation did not exist then we would not communicate in ways that replicate that crisis.  All we need to do is wish it away.”  Sure.  I’ll get right on that.

At the moment I am in the downtown Panera trying to drink some tea, my preferred caffeine delivery vehicle, that is way too hot.  The man next to me has long wiry gray hair pulled into a ponytail. He has a backpack and a camouflage jacket on.  He strikes me as either homeless or someone practicing the lifestyle politics Chaloupka discusses.  Except this man has a laptop and is looking at what seems to be Russian mail-order brides.  He then switched over to Google Finance and looked at a particular chart, manipulating the graphs and then made a phone call where I heard him order someone to buy.  How does this man intersect with Chaloupka?  He is clearly living a less-than-ordinary life.  My ability to categorize that life, however, is the crisis of representation at work no matter how ‘cool’ I may find him for being less-than-ordinary.  And he is cool: stock broker answering a call at 6:50 AM, looking at Russian mail-order brides and looking like Ian, Tom Robbins’ character, in High Fidelity.  He may seem resistant to his friends or people on the street, but his computer work betrays his actual greasing of the system.

Chaloupka, William.  (1992).  Knowing Nukes.

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In competitive policy debate we have an argument called E-Prime, that we ought not use “to be” and its conjugations because the verb implies a solid static meaning when such rigidity is rarely accurate.  The famous example is, “The runner is a woman,” when discussing some of the former Olympic champions that were revealed to be cheating and/or hermaphroditic.

This argument is not particularly persuasive and is used mainly when there is not a sophisticated negative strategy available.  However, as I age I am come more and more to believe in a variant of the argument.  I tend to dismiss declarative statements as statements of fact and instead see them more as wish-fulfillment.  This is easily seen when people talk among themselves.  I cannot help but cringe a little when someone says, “I have a high threshold for pain” or the classic “Homey don’t play that.”  Homey does play it and wishes he didn’t, hence his enthusiasm for the distancing move.

So when I encounter Che’s famous statement about the revolutionary being “guided by great feelings of love” I have to snort-laugh a little.  Che wants the revolutionary to be guided by love.  Revolutionaries want to be guided by love.  In my experience though, they are not.  Meeting many of the activists that partook in the Battle for St. Paul I believed that many of them were rather disaffected artsy kids that were angry for whatever reason.  This is not to say that those kids are impartial to the sufferings they rallied in support of, but to attribute that concern as the guiding principle is wish fulfillment.  Che’s declaration also serves the classic us/them trope of rhetoric.  If ‘we’ are the ones guided by love then ‘they’ are by definition not guided by love.  Regardless of accuracy this move is moralizing and hence more affective.

Elbaum (89) gives another example of this happening.  When discussing why 1960s radicals were drawn to the communist regimes despite the human rights abuses Elbaum says the evidence of abuses were not considered credible because the sources dismissing the abuses were also the strongest critics of US imperialism.  Much scholarly research is still concerned with the power/failures of persuasion (and evidence) and why people continue to believe something in the face of clear evidence (I contend this is the question central to Marx’ opus).  To me the answer seems obvious: persuasion only works on the choir, affect is what matters most.  The continued neglect of this is an act of wish fulfillment: scholars wish it weren’t so, they wish people could be persuaded.

The failure of debate is probably best treated by popular pundits than by academics.  Arianna Huffington’s most recent book (Right is Wrong) is about this very breakdown in society.  The August recess and the town halls aptly demonstrate this lack as people were vocal about Obama being the next Hitler.  Barney Frank dismissed one of his constituents aptly and appropriately when he said arguing with her would be like debating a kitchen table.  Sadly Frank was only partly correct: debating with anyone and not just her.  I suspect most of us in this community are either atheists or not moved by religious appeals, but there is a certain genius to the “What Would Jesus Do?” slogan.  If Obama had couched reform as the right thing to do instead of being about containing costs (a proposition open for debate, obfuscation and fear tactics) then we would be seeing a very different public dialogue right now.  Obama has a good story.  He defeated Hillary and McCain on the back of that story.  But that story has since disappeared and now he is President Wonk.  Even The Shrub understood this.

With this approach to persuasion one then has to ask, one being fond of theory and nuance, “what then of theory and nuance?”  After all, why do distinctions matter if the crowd merely follows the cool kid?  This question also comes into the easy criticism of my theory: what constitutes “cool” and how does it exist beyond the grid of intelligibility?  Clearly, coolness is not exogenous and independent of rhetoric.  Being able to talk about theory, after all, is cool to come people.  I will own this blindspot as this balancing act I am not yet able to account for.  Ultimately though, my question is about how to organize and recruit.

Theory and those discussions are important, but only after someone has been recruited into the choir.  Until then we, as organizers, ought to be concerned with being model  people (not necessarily the same thing as role models).  We need to be people our targets want to be, want to be around, and accepted by.  Once that level of affection is achieved then the theory is important.  So, trying to explain why capitalism is predatory and it is not just a problem of predatory lenders is important but only affection is achieved.  This model leaves many ambiguities and does not help close many of the difficulties of the organizers, after all, when has affection been achieved?  Is this person more receptive and hence more affected by an ability to cite authors?  In short, what motivates this person? The traditional persuasion model is still applicable, but how applicable?  My answer is to listen, not to what she says she wants but how she describes others.  The magic is in the audience’s observations not the audience’s pronouncements.

Elbaum, Max.  (2002).  Revolution in the air: Sixties radicals turn to Lenin, Mao and Che. London: Verso Books.

Admittedly it is Nike, but when you have enough money to buy good cultural managers you can make affective pieces of The Beautiful Game.

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I was thinking about what to write this week and I keep coming back to the persuasion/affect debate that has been raging in my head for years.  Here’s the crux:  less and less I see the value of persuasion.  Even advertising is turning from ‘why my product is superior’ to more ads based on ‘look at this cool shit, brought to you by my product’.

The problem may be interpretation.  My major professor told me in graduate school that whomever you first read will forever mark you.  How oddly that he was speaking of traces and interpretation when the first person I really read was Derrida.  In any case, I am a sucker for discussions of interpretation and maybe I see the relegation of persuasion precisely because I myself see less of its importance in my daily life.  Here’s the kicker: I coach debate.  I live in persuasion and techniques and research.  My job is to teach kids how to persuade and yet I think persuasion is dying?  I like to think it is that very contradiction which makes me credible.  But it may be the opposite.

Zizek and others claim that the true capitalist is a nihilist because she believes in the value of all products, which is also the same as believing in no-value for all products.  Am I the analogical proof of that claim?  Am I so immersed in all the arguments for and against the Kyoto Protocol that I no longer see value to persuading someone to support or oppose it?  Is it instead about finding someone cool and agreeing with her views on the treaty?

This morning I tackled Greene 2007 and his article contains markers of this split.  Money/Speech is a category devised by the Supreme Court to allow campaign contributions under the aegis of the First Amendment’s protections.  The thinking is that if a politician supports X and someone (remembering that corporations are given legal entitlements like a person) likes X then that person’s contributions to said politician are nearly equivalent to speech supporting that person.

This is not persuasion, as persuasion is regulated by the criminal justice system looking for a quid pro quo among the donor and the politician.  Money/Speech is instead about affect.  It is about associating and identifying with a politician and the politician with certain donors.  This analysis is even before studies of political advertisements and the aforementioned shift towards affect from persuasion.  Living in Minnesota this past election cycle made it easy to see this at work as I was forced to repeatedly look at Al Franken’s evil grin.  Norm Coleman’s campaign was able to find some awful pictures of the opponent.

But then I read Judith Butler’s recent piece where she makes the opposite claim.  Obama was able to win precisely because people put aside their affective stances and instead voted along lines of persuasion: he may be black, but he is better for the economy.  She argues that Palin was brought in to shore up the moral vote and it failed in face of the policy vote.

Maybe my theory can be resuscitated by showing that the moral/policy vote is not congruous with the affective/persuasion models.  I will think about this some.

As always, comments are appreciated.  Check back for revisions.

Greene, Ronald Walter.  (2007).  Rhetorical capital: Communicative labor, money/speech, and neo-liberal governance.  Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 4(3), 327-31.