Ian Graye – Review of Lacan and Postfeminism

Link to Ian “Marvin” Graye’s Review of Lacan and Postfeminism (2001) by Elizabeth Wright:

Review of Lacan and Postfeminism


Bonus links: The Logic of Sexuation: From Aristotle to Lacan and “About the Fate of Contemporary Girls” Excerpt and “On Sex Without Identity: Feminist Politics and Sexual Difference”

John Steppling – Communism, Fascism and Green Shaming

Link to an article by John Steppling:

“Communism, Fascism and Green Shaming”


Much of what Steppling discusses with regard to what he calls “green shaming” is explained succinctly here:

“The rise of the affect(s) and the sanctimony around affective intuition are very much related to some signifiers being out of our reach, and this often involves a gross ideological mystification. Valorization of affectivity and feelings appears at the precise point when some problem — injustice, say — would demand a more radical systemic revision as to its causes and perpetuation. This would also involve naming — not only some people but also social and economic inequalities that we long stopped naming and questioning.

“Social valorization of affects basically means that we pay the plaintiff with her own money: oh, but your feelings are so precious, you are so precious! The more you feel, the more precious you are. This is a typical neoliberal maneuver, which transforms even our traumatic experiences into possible social capital. If we can capitalize on our affects, we will limit out protests to declarations of these affects — say, declarations of suffering — rather than becoming active agents of social change. I’m of course not saying that suffering shouldn’t be expressed and talked about, but that this should not ‘freeze’ the subject into the figure of the victim. The revolt should be precisely about refusing to be a victim, rejecting the position of the victim on all possible levels.


“this bind derives precisely from the subjective gain or gratification that this positioning offers. (Moral) outrage is a particularly unproductive affect, yet it is one that offers considerable libidinal satisfaction. By ‘unproductive’ I mean this: it gives us the satisfaction of feeling morally superior, the feeling that we are in the right and others are in the wrong. Now for this to work, things must not really change. We are much less interested in changing things than in proving, again and again, that we are in the right, or on the right side, the side of the good. Hegel invented a great name for this position: the ‘beautiful soul.’ A ‘beautiful soul’ sees evil and baseness all around it but fails to see to what extent it participates in the perpetuation of that same order of things. The point of course is not that the world isn’t really evil, the point is that we are part of this evil world.”

“Too Much of Not Enough: An Interview with Alenka Zupančič”

See also Beautiful Soul Quote

Critiques of Gender and Racial Identity Theories

There is a “historicist” school of thought that runs through Michel Foucault and Judith Butler (e.g., Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity) that has been subject to criticism both from the perspective of psychoanalysis as well as political science and sociology.  The Foucault/Butler approach tends to misuse psychoanalysis, on a theoretical level, and also, on a political level, aligns closely with the conservative politically correct (PC) dogma of neoliberalism.


Joan Copjec, “Sex and the Euthanasia of Reason,” Read My Desire: Lacan Against the Historicists (1994):

“Third complex of questions: Is sexual difference equatable with other categories of difference?  Is one’s sexual identity constructed in the same way, does it operate on the same level, as one’s racial or class identity; or is sexual difference a different kind of difference from these others?”


Adolph Reed, Jr., “From Jenner to Dolezal: One Trans Good, the Other Not So Much,” Common Dreams (June 15, 2015)

“By far the most intellectually and politically interesting thing about the recent ‘exposé’ of Spokane, WA, NAACP activist Rachel Dolezal’s racial status is the conundrum it has posed for racial identitarians who are also committed to defense of transgender identity. *** Their contention is that one kind of claim to an identity at odds with culturally constructed understandings of the identity appropriate to one’s biology is okay but that the other is not – that it’s OK to feel like a woman when you don’t have the body of a woman and to act like (and even get yourself the body of) a woman but that it’s wrong to feel like a black person when you’re actually white and that acting like you’re black and doing your best to get yourself the body of a black person is just lying.


There is a guild-protective agenda underlying racial identitarians’ outrage  . . . .  *** they understand black racial classification as a form of capital. *** When all is said and done, the racial outrage is about protection of the boundaries of racial authenticity as the exclusive property of the guild of Racial Spokespersonship.


That is to say, as is ever clearer and ever more important to note, race politics is not an alternative to class politics; it is a class politics, the politics of the left-wing of neoliberalism. It is the expression and active agency of a political order and moral economy in which capitalist market forces are treated as unassailable nature. An integral element of that moral economy is displacement of the critique of the invidious outcomes produced by capitalist class power onto equally naturalized categories of ascriptive identity that sort us into groups supposedly defined by what we essentially are rather than what we do. As I have argued, following Walter [Benn] Michaels and others, within that moral economy a society in which 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources could be just, provided that roughly 12% of the 1% were black, 12% were Latino, 50% were women, and whatever the appropriate proportions were LGBT people. It would be tough to imagine a normative ideal that expresses more unambiguously the social position of people who consider themselves candidates for inclusion in, or at least significant staff positions in service to, the ruling class.”


“An Interview with Harvard Anthropology Professor John Comaroff—Part Two,” WSWS (May 4, 2023)

Ethnicity, Inc. is a very disturbing phenomenon because it combines the worst of faux progressivism, under the guise of righteous identity politics, with the commodity form. Once ethnically defined populations perceive themselves to share interests and have legitimate claims on the world by virtue of a shared primordial essence, their identity becomes self-validating and non-negotiable. Ethnicity is a historical creation, a product of specific material and political conditions, but it is invariably experienced as transcendent, above history, biogenetic.

“We have a right to profit from our identity.” This is often claimed as recompense for some real or imagined injury, some wrong, some deficit—exacerbated, typically, by a lack of due recognition. But here’s the thing. Ethnic groups in their originary form are what Max Weber referred to classically as status groups, groups founded on a broadly shared culture that, within them, subsumed internal class differences. But as identity—and the imagined cultural infrastructure in which it is ostensibly grounded—becomes commodified, those groups become class stratified internally, as well as exclusionary and exploitative.

How so? Because, as I said earlier, when ethnic groups become more like corporations, or at least can financialize their material and immaterial assets, their elites tend to monopolize those assets or distribute them unevenly, and those held to be marginal members are extruded. The more identity becomes a form of monopoly capital, the more ethnic groups replicate the class structures of the wider societies in which they are embedded.

So Ethnicity Inc. has produced more poor than rich people.


Commenting on the “arrival of the identity entrepreneurs” at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, August H. Nimtz, “Race Hustling at George Floyd Square: A Valuable Teaching Moment” MR Online (Aug. 13, 2021):

“That the only person who objected to our presence [displaying a political banner at George Floyd Square] was an aspiring entrepreneur is, I argue, telling. When I first noticed [a local potted plant store businessman] viewing the banner the expression on his faced looked like, ‘oh, that’s clever.’ But in hindsight it was a look of envy. We were, in his eyes, with our dot org contact information on the banner, interlopers into his market. The George Floyd Square businessman wanted to limit competition.  ***  [I]dentity is often used to promote particular interests for personal material gain.  ***  The particularism of identity politics, most consequentially, aids and abets the divide and rule strategy of capitalist ruling elites—a historical truth if ever there was one.”


Bernadette Grubner and Isabel Ortiz Interview Alenka Zupančič, “On Sex Without Identity: Feminist Politics and Sexual Difference” LARB (Oct. 7, 2019):

“sexuality is not, as is sometimes said, at the bottom of every other problem, but something that, in and of itself, constitutes a problem. A problem for every subject to grapple with, that every subject is divided by. It is a negative core of any identity, not its positive foundation.

“This is why there are no direct, immediate sexual identities. Even when one identifies with one’s anatomy, this is already an identification, there is nothing immediate about it. Sex involves much more than anatomy, even when it coincides with our anatomy. The popular opposition between genders as biological or else socially constructed is a false opposition: there is no ‘biological gender’ in the sense of identity, because identity is by definition never immediate, ‘biological’ in this sense. Biology, anatomy is obviously a factor; it is far from insignificant. But a sexed subject does not simply emerge out of this or that anatomy, but out of its symbolization, including its rejection. *** One always becomes what one is, and this is to be taken quite literally.


“To sum up, psychoanalytic theory conceives of sexuality as something which fundamentally disorients the human being, not as something which provides him or her with a solid identity. If the notion that sexuality is at the basis of identity has any meaning, it can only have it in this sense: it is at the basis of any identity because it uproots the subject from the immediacy of her being. And this uprooting, this non-immediacy, is the condition of any symbolic identity. In fact, we can use psychoanalysis in order to interrogate identity itself, both conceptually and as a meeting ground for social struggle.


“Society is not composed of man and women; it is split, and this split is repressed. This is not the same as to say that women are repressed. Women were, are, oppressed, but this is not the same as repression, in the psychoanalytical sense of Verdrängung, of the split inherent in the structuring and curving of social space. Without making this split of negativity part of the picture, significant shifts in the structure cannot really occur. This is what feminism is about; it is not primarily about neutralizing social differences, but about bringing them to light, and attempting to affect the very structuring of the social space. To do something to/with this divide, and not simply to try to climb to the right side of it.


“the Marxian point is that social space is divided in an antagonistic way: it is not simply composed of classes as positive entities, struggling between themselves, but involves a fundamental negativity or divide that structures the very space in which classes appear as different classes. For Marx, the proletariat is not simply one of the classes: as a class that has no class, it embodies the very point of social antagonism; it is the symptom of this social order. Not only does it have some kind of empirical consistency, but it is also located at the very point that reveals the structural inconsistency of an inequality that can be empirically apprehended.


“To put it more simply, the question on the table for every emancipatory struggle is: Do we think that we live in more or less the only possible world, that there are just some pockets of injustice and discrimination still left, and all we have to do is take care of them? Or do we think that these pockets are symptoms of some deeper problem, an asymmetry or antagonism that will not go away even if we manage to do something else?”


“Too Much of Not Enough: An Interview with Alenka Zupančič” LARB (March 9, 2018):

“Valorization of affectivity and feelings appears at the precise point when some problem — injustice, say — would demand a more radical systemic revision as to its causes and perpetuation. This would also involve naming — not only some people but also social and economic inequalities that we long stopped naming and questioning.

“Social valorization of affects basically means that we pay the plaintiff with her own money: oh, but your feelings are so precious, you are so precious! The more you feel, the more precious you are. This is a typical neoliberal maneuver, which transforms even our traumatic experiences into possible social capital. If we can capitalize on our affects, we will limit out protests to declarations of these affects — say, declarations of suffering — rather than becoming active agents of social change. I’m of course not saying that suffering shouldn’t be expressed and talked about, but that this should not ‘freeze’ the subject into the figure of the victim. The revolt should be precisely about refusing to be a victim, rejecting the position of the victim on all possible levels.


Alexandra Kollontai, “The Social Basis of the Woman Question” (1909):

“The feminists seek equality in the framework of the existing class society, in no way do they attack the basis of this society. They fight for prerogatives for themselves, without challenging the existing prerogatives and privileges.”


Christopher William Wolter, “Against the Neoliberal Blackmail: Identity Fetishism and the Privatization of Affect”:

“If we pay close attention to contemporary debates within the frame of cultural identity politics we see that the quest for recognition almost universally means recognition from the very hegemonically powerful positions they rightly argue oppress them. In many cases, a short circuit occurs in which the recognition of the marginalized by the hegemonically powerful not only becomes more important than addressing the injustice as such, but indeed replaces structurally tackling that injustice as such. Victims of severe systematic violence and injustice are bribed into persuading the powerful to recognize their existence, to demand the hegemonic discourse speak of them in a particular way, or else, more often in sexual political struggles, to maintain a reverential attitude toward their experiences of injustice. What’s wrong with this? Nothing; unless this politics replaces a politics of actually changing the structural conditions which led to these injustices as such. Recognition of identity and individual experience is offered as a fetishistic disavowal in a maneuver to permanently forestall the possibility of a political act.


“Political Correctness is far from being too radical – it is rather precisely the mechanism today to avoid the radical change which is necessary.


“PCs function is predicated on the necessity that there be always an ‘other’, not here the marginalized individual whose rights are to be protected, but the ‘uneducated’ offender. The offender must be civilized, brought into the discourse and assigned their hierarchal place within it or else be ostracized. In this way the discourse thrives and propagates. The only way to ‘beat’ it, is to join it. It tolerates no outside except for the structurally necessary place of the not-yet educated, the under-educated, or that of the un-educatable offender.


“the primary result of identity politics today . . . is in order to maintain a privatization of political affect, which ultimately amounts to a neutralization of politics as such.”


Slavoj Žižek, Incontinence of the Void (pp. 157-158):

This is yet another case of what Robert Pfaller called ‘interpassivity’: I delegate the passive experience of a hurt sensitivity onto a naive other, thereby enacting the other’s infantilization. That is why we should ask ourselves if political correctness is really something that belongs to the Left—is it not a strategy of defense against radical Leftist demands, a way to neutralize antagonisms instead of openly confronting them? Many of the oppressed feel clearly how the PC strategy often just adds insult to injury: while oppression remains, they—the oppressed—now even have to be grateful for the way liberals try to protect them.”


Bhaskar Sunkara Interviews Walter Benn Michaels, “Let Them Eat Diversity” Jacobin (Jan. 1, 2011):

The differentiation between left and right neoliberalism doesn’t really undermine the way it which it is deeply unified in its commitment to competitive markets and to the state’s role in maintaining competitive markets. For me the distinction is that ‘left neoliberals’ are people who don’t understand themselves as neoliberals. They think that their commitments to anti-racism, to anti-sexism, to anti-homophobia constitute a critique of neoliberalism. But if you look at the history of the idea of neoliberalism you can see fairly quickly that neoliberalism arises as a kind of commitment precisely to those things.

“One of the first major works of neoliberal economics by an American is [Gary] Becker’s [The] Economics of Discrimination, which is designed precisely to show that in competitive economies you can’t afford to discriminate. [Michel] Foucault sort of marks the beginning of neoliberalism in Europe with the horror at what the Nazi state did and the recognition that you can legitimize the state in a much more satisfactory manner by making it the guardian of competitive markets rather than the guardian of the German volk. And today’s orthodoxy is the idea that social justice consists above all in defense of property and the attack of discrimination. This is at the heart of neoliberalism and right-wing neoliberals understand this and left-wing neoliberals don’t.”


Joseph Kishore, “Perspectives for the Coming Revolution in America: Race, Class and the Fight for Socialism” (Dec. 2, 2019):

“An important document marking the repudiation by middle class groups of Marxism and an orientation to the working class is the statement of the so-called Combahee River Collective, a black lesbian feminist organization formed in 1974 led by Barbara Smith, Demita Frazier and Beverly Smith. The statement, published in April 1977, a year before the Bakke decision, claimed to be an extension of Marxist theory, but was in fact a direct repudiation of all its fundamental conceptions.

“To this day, the Combahee statement, which contains the first use of the term ‘identity politics,’ is regularly cited by organizations of the pseudo-left as a major turning point.”


Mike Macnair, “Intersectionalism, the Highest Stage of Western Stalinism?,” Critique, 46:4, 541-558 (2018)

“Intersectionalism can be called the‘highest stage’ of western Stalinism because it carries the popular-frontist project to the point of erasing the significance of the ruling class as a class; it also becomes a justification not merely for party self-censor-ship, but for generalised censorship regimes in the names of ‘no platforming’, ‘safe spaces’, and so on; and it logically implies the actual liquidation of any independent workers’ or communist party into liberalism (as happened in Britain and Italy in the 1990s); so that by fully adopting intersectionalism, Stalinism disappears as such into a (more repressive) form of liberalism.


The problem with this approach is that it tends to preclude the possibility of solidarity. “


Craig Murray, “The Great Clutching at Pearls”:

“The splitting of the political left by identity politics has been the go-to weapon of the state for several decades now. ***  A specific use of this tool has been the weaponisation of fake sexual allegations against any individual likely to be a threat to the state.  *** Those in power know that the portion of the left who identify as feminist, which is almost all of us, are highly susceptible to support alleged victims due to the extreme difficulties of real victims in obtaining justice. This makes sexual allegations, no matter how fake, very effective in removing the support base of anti-establishment figures.”


Rob Urie, “Identity, Race and Electoral Politics” (Aug. 28, 2020):

“Intersectionality is the intersection of Cartesian categories. The IDPOL academic move is to declare them historically contingent. But historical contingency renders them indeterminate in the way they are put forward.


“While the academic theories that support IDPOL [identity politics] are often portrayed by right wing critics as ‘cultural Marxism,’ they are premised in the same Cartesian ontology that supports capitalism. Paradoxical in ways apparently not understood by proponents, identity is either essential, meaning Cartesian, or it is indeterminate.


“postmodernism served to de-politicize social theory, as if doing so had bearing on the distribution and use of power outside of the academy. Identity through this lens is a personal or group possession without identifying what ‘it,’ the basis of identity, is. Quite remarkably, the individuation that IDPOL takes from postmodernism follows quite closely the view from capitalism. In capitalist theory, materialist theories of human needs are totalitarian, while psychic wants are the path to self-realization.


“The subtext of all of the back-and-forth over IDPOL is that the political operatives for the establishment parties that are promoting it are cynical, lying, opportunistic, neoliberal sacks of shit who see it as a con, a scam, a dodge and an angle. PMC liberals are using it for emotional healing, as a cathartic release from the deep-suck of their lives and the existential misery of what they spend their time not doing. Analytical criticism serves a purpose by separating dubious motives from important issues.”


Rob Urie, “Neoliberal Centrists and the American Left” (Aug. 7, 2020):

“Assuming for the moment that racism, sexism, etc. aren’t the product of capitalist social relations, five decades of neoliberalism haven’t solved them. Why this matters conceptually is that capitalist economics don’t ‘work,’ in the sense of producing the outcomes promised, unless people are motivated by economic self-interest. Racists and sexists are therefore either motivated by economic self-interest or the base assumption of capitalism is wrong. The question then is how does rational self-interest support racism and sexism?

“To approach the question from another direction, in labor markets the ability to buy underpriced labor due to racism and sexism represents an arbitrage opportunity, a no risk way to earn excess profits. If markets work as advertised, race and gender-based pay differences should be arbitraged away. The two possible interpretations of their continued existence are (1) they represent real differences in economic value or (2) markets don’t work as advertised. The first provides a ‘natural’ basis for racism and sexism. The latter means that neoliberalism has a flaw.

“This leaves establishment Democrats and their IDPOL supporters solving racism by either dumping capitalism or concluding that racism and sexism are legitimate market outcomes based on intrinsic characteristics tied to race and gender. Ironically, or not, the latter is the Democrat’s approach. Capitalism pays people what they are worth, goes the theory, therefore racial and gender disparities are based on differences in human capital. In other words, systemic racial disparities represent the correct ordering of the world. Because people are paid what they are worth, racism has no bearing on economic outcomes.

“This becomes theoretically incoherent when ‘systemic racism’ is raised. Systemic differences in economic outcomes by race and gender aren’t possible (in capitalist theory) for the reasons given. They are either based in ‘real’ differences reflected in race and gender— the racialist explanation, or they are market failures that call all of capitalist distribution into question. As with slavery, a market ‘distortion’ of this sort affects distribution more broadly. But more fundamentally, if capitalism doesn’t ‘work’ regarding race and gender, where does the confidence come from that it works anywhere? Social divisions exist along an infinite number of axes.”


Eve Mitchell, “I Am a Woman and a Human: A Marxist-Feminist Critique of Intersectionality Theory”:

“The identity politics of the 60s and 70s conflates a particular moment, or a determinant point, in the relations of capitalism with the potential universal.


“For supporters of identity politics (despite claiming otherwise), womanhood, a form of appearance within society, is reduced to a natural, static ‘identity.’ Social relations such as ‘womanhood,’ or simply gender, become static objects, or ‘institutions.’  Society is therefore organized into individuals, or sociological groups with natural characteristics.  Therefore, the only possibility for struggle under identity politics is based on equal distribution or individualism . . . .  This is a bourgeois ideology in that it replicates the alienated individual invented and defended by bourgeois theorists and scientists (and materially enforced) since capitalism’s birth.


“Taking a cue from [Frantz] Fanon, our method must argue: I am a woman and a human. We must recognize the particular in conversation with the totality . . . .


“It is important to note that identity politics and intersectionality theorists are not wrong but they are incomplete. Patriarchal and racialized social relations are material, concrete and real.


[One] example is groups and individuals who argue that all movements should be completely subordinate to queer people of color leadership, regardless of how reactionary their politics are. Again, while intersectionality theorists have rightly identified an objective problem, these divisions and antagonisms within the class must be address[ed] materially through struggle. Simply reducing this struggle to mere quantity, equality of distribution, or ‘representation,’ reinforces identity as a static, naturalized category.”


Renata Selacl, “Introduction,” Sexuation (SIC 3) (2000):

“[I]s [the] choice between social constructivism [i.e., that male and female sexual identities are socially constructed and/or even performatively enacted] and New Age obscurantism [i.e., underlying, deeply anchored archetypical identities such as ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’] really all embracing?  ***  For Lacan, sexual difference is not a firm set of ‘static’ symbolic oppositions and inclusions or exclusions (heterosexual normativity that relegates homosexuality and other ‘perversions’ to some secondary role), but the name of a deadlock, of a trauma, of an open question, of something that resists every attempt at its symbolization.  Every translation of sexual difference into a set of symbolic opposition(s) is doomed to fail, and it is this very ‘impossibility’  that opens up the terrain of the hegemonic struggle for what ‘sexual difference’ will mean.  The reassertion of sexual difference in Lacanian psychoanalysis is thus not a return to biology but a way to stress that what we call ‘sexual difference’ is first and above all the name for a certain fundamental deadlock inherent in the symbolic order.”


Alenka Zupančič, “Biopolitics, Sexuality and the Unconscious,” Paragraph Vol. 39, No. 1 (2016):

“Although many things that Foucault attributes to the Freudian views on sexuality are simply wrong, the main front of the irreconcilable dispute is not simply sexuality, but the (never mentioned) concept of the unconscious. For [Sigmund] Freud the two are of course inseparably related . . . .


“The theory of the superego is not a psychologization of the social power structure, but a reminder that the social power structure can already be fully operative at the level of the ‘individual psyche’. ‘Civilization, therefore, obtains mastery over the individual (. . . ) by setting up an agency within him to watch over [his dangerous desires], like a garrison in a conquered city.’


“if the present (configuration) is contingent, it is not because it is ‘open to the future’, but because it is open to its own inconsistency (or not). ‘Unconscious’ is what names and conceptualizes this inconsistency in the present (as it is famously ‘timeless’ according to Freud).”


Cinzia Arruzza, “Remarks on Gender” Viewpoint Magazine (Sept. 2, 2014):

“For a brief period, from the 1970s to the mid-1980s, the question of the structural relationship between patriarchy and capitalism was the subject of a heated debate among theorists and partisans of a materialist current of thought as well as Marxist-feminists. The fundamental questions which were posed revolved around two axes: 1) is patriarchy an autonomous system in relation to capitalism? 2) is it correct to use the term ‘patriarchy’ to designate gender oppression and inequality?

“Although it produced very interesting work, this debate gradually became more and more unfashionable. This occurred in tandem with the retreat of critiques of capitalism, while other currents of feminist thought asserted themselves. These new modes of thought often did not go beyond the liberal horizon of the times – they sometimes essentialized relations between men and women and de-historicized gender, or they avoided questions of capitalism and class – but at the same time, they developed useful concepts for the deconstruction of gender (such as queer theory in the 1990s).


“In order to be both clear and concise on this point, I will try to summarize the most interesting theses on these matters that have been suggested until now. In the following remarks, I will analyze and question these different theses separately. To uphold a degree of intellectual honesty and to avoid any misunderstandings, I stress that my reconstruction of different points of view is not impartial. My own view is found in the third thesis below.

“First Thesis: ‘Dual or Triple Systems Theory.’ We can put the original version of this thesis in the following terms: Gender and sexual relations constitute an autonomous system which combines with capitalism and reshapes class relations, while being at the same time modified by capitalism in a process of reciprocal interaction. The most up-to-date version of this theory includes racial relations, also considered as a system of autonomous social relations interconnected with gender and class relations.

“Within materialist feminist circles, these reflections are usually associated with the notion that gender and racial relations are systems of oppression as much as relations of exploitation. In general, these theses have an understanding of class relations as defined solely in economic terms. It is only via the interaction with patriarchy and the system of racial domination that they acquire an extra-economic character as well. A variation of this thesis is to see gender relations as a system of ideological and cultural relations derived from older modes of production and social formations, independent of capitalism. These older relations then interact with capitalist social relations, giving the latter their gendered dimension.

“Second Thesis: ‘Indifferent Capitalism.’ Gender oppression and inequality are the remnants of previous social formations and modes of production, when patriarchy directly organized production and determined a strict sexual division of labor. Capitalism is itself indifferent to gender relations and can overcome them to such a degree that patriarchy as a system has been dissolved in the advanced capitalist countries, while family relations have been restructured in quite radical ways. In sum, capitalism has an essentially opportunistic relation with gender inequality: it utilizes what it finds to be beneficial in existing gender relations, and destroys what becomes an obstacle. This view is articulated in various versions. Some claim that within capitalism women have benefited from a degree of emancipation unknown in other kinds of society, and this would demonstrate that capitalism as such is not a structural obstacle to women’s liberation. Others maintain that we should carefully distinguish between the logical and historical levels: logically, capitalism does not specifically need gender inequality, and could get rid of it; historically, things are not so simple.

“Third Thesis: The ‘Unitary Thesis.’ According to this theory, in capitalist countries, a patriarchal system that is autonomous from capitalism no longer exists. Patriarchal relations continue to exist, but without being part of a separate system. To deny that patriarchy is an autonomous system under capitalism is not to deny that gender oppression really exists, permeating both social and interpersonal relations. In other words, this thesis does not reduce every aspect of oppression to simply a mechanistic or direct consequence of capitalism, nor does it seek to offer an explanation solely in economic terms.

“In short, unitary theory is not reductionist or economistic, and it does not underestimate the centrality of gender oppression. Proponents of the ‘unitary theory’ disagree with the idea that today patriarchy would be a system of rules and mechanisms that autonomously reproduce themselves. At the same time, they insist on the need to consider capitalism not as a set of purely economic laws, but rather as a complex and articulated social order, an order that at its core consists of relations of exploitation, domination, and alienation.

“From this point of view, the task today is to understand how the dynamic of capital accumulation continues to produce, reproduce, transform, and renew hierarchical and oppressive relations, without expressing these mechanisms in strictly economic or automatic terms.”


Much of the commentary quoted above can be fairly said to be critiques and rejections of what Arruza calls “Dual or Triple Systems Theory” in relation to class and gender (and race).  Though another recurring source of criticism is the refusal or misapplication of the unconscious to matters of human psycho-social life.


See also:

Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigenthums und des Staats: Im Anschluss an Lewis H. Morgan’s Forschungen [The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State] (1884)

What IS Sex? (2017)

Lacan and Postfeminism (2001) and review

Gender, Sexuality and Subjectivity: A Lacanian Perspective on Identity, Language and Queer Theory (2020)

Review of The Trouble With Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality (2006)

Review of Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right (2017)

Ethnicity, Inc. (2009)

Işık Barış Fidaner, “The Conflict About Sex”

“Lacan’s Concept of the Phallus”

Sex and the Failed Absolute and “The Fall That Makes Us Like God, Part I” and “Transgender Dogma Is Naive and Incompatible with Freud” and “For-show Female Empowerment & Gender Fluidity Are Simply the Latest Instruments of Corporate Capitalism” and “AOC and Her Boyfriend’s Leg” and “Sign a Contract Before Sex? Political Correctness Could Destroy Passion” and “The Moebius Strip of Sexual Contracts” and “Sex and ’68: Liberal Movement Revolutionized ‘Sexuality’ But at What Cost?” and Quote About Butler and “Woman is One of the Names-of-the-Father, or How Not to Misread Lacan’s Formulas of Sexuation” and The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Women and Causality and “Wokeness Is Here To Stay”

“Remarks on Gender”


After Queer Theory

“CSC Interview with Daniel Zamora” and “How Michel Foucault Got Neoliberalism So Wrong” and “Foucault’s Responsibility”

The Politics of Identity

Élisabeth Roudinesco Interviewed on the 30th Anniversary of Jacques Lacan’s Death

“the idea that the unconscious expresses itself, that it is language, is a very powerful and politically subversive notion. This is one of the fundamental reasons for the hatred that Freud, Lacan and psychoanalysis in general constantly provoke. The idea that the subject is traversed by her or his unconscious and that language is of capital significance is opposed to all those theories that reduce man to his behaviour, to the sum of his bodily attitudes. This is a truly political debate. If we dwell on behaviouralism, then we abolish the freedom of the subject. Behaviouralism knows only machine-men. Conversely, Freud initiated a theory of freedom determined by the unconscious. It is, moreover, this disposition that allows for his rapprochement with Marx. Man is free to make his own history, but there are psychic and social determinations that act unbeknownst to him. This idea is still today a subversive one.”

Élisabeth Roudinesco, “Élisabeth Roudinesco Interviewed on the 30th Anniversary of Jacques Lacan’s Death”

Bonus links: “‘There Can Be No Crisis of Psychoanalysis’ Jacques Lacan Interviewed [By Emilio Granzotto] in 1974” and Cold War Freud: Psychoanalysis in an Age of Catastrophes and “Therapy Wars: The Revenge of Freud” and Enjoying What We Don’t Have: the Political Project of Psychoanalysis and “Freud and the Political”

Summary of Dupuy on Social Hierarchy

“The arbitrariness of social hierarchy is not a mistake, but the whole point, with the arbitrariness of evaluation playing an analogous role to the arbitrariness of market success. Violence threatens to explode not when there is too much contingency in the social space, but when one tries to eliminate contingency. In La Marque du sacré, Jean-Pierre Dupuy conceives hierarchy as one of four procedures (‘dispositifs symboliques’) whose function is to make the relationship of superiority non-humiliating: hierarchy itself (an externally imposed order that allows me to experience my lower social status as independent of my inherent value); demystification (the ideological procedure which demonstrates that society is not a meritocracy but the product of objective social struggles, enabling me to avoid the painful conclusion that someone else’s superiority is the result of his merit and achievements); contingency (a similar mechanism, by which we come to understand that our position on the social scale depends on a natural and social lottery; the lucky ones are those born with the right genes in rich families); and complexity (uncontrollable forces have unpredictable consequences; for instance, the invisible hand of the market may lead to my failure and my neighbour’s success, even if I work much harder and am much more intelligent). Contrary to appearances, these mechanisms don’t contest or threaten hierarchy, but make it palatable, since ‘what triggers the turmoil of envy is the idea that the other deserves his good luck and not the opposite idea – which is the only one that can be openly expressed.’ Dupuy draws from this premise the conclusion that it is a great mistake to think that a reasonably just society which also perceives itself as just will be free of resentment: on the contrary, it is in such societies that those who occupy inferior positions will find an outlet for their hurt pride in violent outbursts of resentment.”

Slavoj Žižek, “The Revolt of the Salaried Bourgeoisie”

This is essentially a rejection of the liberal philosopher John Rawls‘ position, as articulated in A Theory of Justice.  See also Review of …And the Poor Get Prison

Timothy Bryar – Preferring Zizek’s Bartleby Politics

Link to an article by Timothy Bryar:

“Preferring Zizek’s Bartleby Politics,” International Journal of Žižek Studies, Vol 12, No 1 (2018).


Bonus links: Crowds and Party“Rimbaud’s Systematic Derangement of the Senses” and “John Cage’s Queer Silence or How to Avoid Making Matters Worse”

Bonus quotes: “When the self ceases to exist, the world exists.” Alejandro Jodorowsky, The Finger and the Moon: Zen Teachings and Koans and “The Sunrise Movement seems much more positive to me. I love that [students] are not going to school and are calling for people to not go to school. I think that’s awesome. Because young people’s job . . . is to reproduce the society that exists. So if they say, ‘No, we’re not going to do that, we have to stop right now. Reproducing this society is the thing we can’t do…’ To step back and say, ‘No, we want to do something different’ — I think that’s really powerful and very smart on them.” Malcolm Harris, “The Millennial Condition: History, Revolution, and Generational Analysis”

Victor Serge Quote

“Early on, I learnt from the Russian intelligentsia that the only meaning of life lies in conscious participation in the making of history. The more I think of that, the more deeply true it seems to be. It follows that one must range oneself actively against everything that diminishes man, and involve oneself in all struggles which tend to liberate and enlarge him. This categorical imperative is by no way lessened by the fact that such an involvement is inevitably soiled by error: it is a worse error merely to live for oneself, caught within traditions which are soiled by inhumanity.”

Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary


Bonus links: La La Land: A Leninist Reading” and “Preferring Zizek’s Bartleby Politics” (“a true Act occurs without the guarantees of a pre-determined ethical edifice.”)

Ornette Coleman, Vanishing Mediator

I have written much about Ornette Coleman, his “Harmolodics” musical theory, and various commercial recordings he released over his storied career.  Reading Slavoj Žižek‘s Lenin 2017: Remembering, Repeating, and Working Through, some clarifications occurred to me that, I think, go a long way to explaining what separates Ornette’s most accomplished work from the rest (that rest still being impressive unto itself).

As I have quoted extensively in the past, Paul Bley‘s description of Ornette’s music and the role of composition (in an interview with Andy Hamilton in The Wire magazine, Sept. 2007) is one of the best available starting points:

“There was an article in Down Beat in something like 1954, in which I mentioned that jazz had reached a crisis and that AABA form had too many As, and not enough CDEFG.  So I began working with groups where we would play totally free, and that led to a kind of dead end, because ‘totally free’ didn’t necessarily allow you to continue.  A totally free piece is a totally free piece, end of concert. ***  [But Ornette] suggested ABCDEFGHIJK, in which repetition was anathema *** It wasn’t totally free because totally free was A forever, metamorphosing.  It was a form that took hold, because you could finally return to the written music, and the audience had something to hold on to.”

What if Bley’s description, with its emphasis on composition (often echoed by Ornette himself, and quite similar to Jacques Attali‘s notion of “composing” as a historical phase that breaks from “repetition”), is largely right but ever so slightly off the mark?  Lars Lih has written extensively about V.I. Lenin (born V.I. Ulyanov) and his political tactic of heroic leadership.  This entails setting a heroic example, not to impose upon or force others to act in a particular way, but to inspire them to act on their own in an effective way.  Žižek calls upon Lih’s interpretation, and expands upon it using terminology adapted from literary theorist Fredric Jameson and Lacanian psychoanalysis.  He says that Lenin acted as a “Master” or “vanishing mediator”.

“A true Master is not an agent of discipline and prohibition, his message is not ‘You cannot!’ or ‘You have to…!’, but a releasing ‘You can! — what? Do the impossible — in other words, what appears impossible within the coordinates of the existing constellation.  *** A Master is a vanishing mediator who gives you back to yourself, who delivers you to the abyss of your freedom: when we listen to a true leader, we discover what we want (or, rather, what we always already wanted without knowing it).  A Master is needed because we cannot accede to our freedom directly — to gain this access we have to be pushed from outside, since our ‘animal state’ is one of inert hedonism . . . .  The underlying paradox here is that the more we live as ‘free individuals with no Master’, the more we are effectively non-free, caught within the existing frame of possibilities — we have to be pushed or disturbed into freedom by a Master.”  (p. lxii; see also Comradely Greetings, p. 78).

“The function of the Master here is to enact an authentic division — a division between those who want to hang on within the old parameters and those who recognize the necessity of change.”  (pp. lxiv-lxv).

In a similar vein, Ernest Mandel had written years earlier that thinking becomes effective when it

“learns to discover the mediations—the intermediate links—which articulate . . . contradictions, instead of juxtaposing them and ‘transcending’ them by virtue of this juxtaposition.”

Turning back to Ornette’s music, John Litweiler, in his nearly-definitive biography Ornette Coleman: A Harmolodic Life, makes some important observations about Ornette’s recordings with his Prime Time band in the late 1970s, when he began working with younger musicians steeped in rock traditions:

“The net effect of these recordings, then, is of an alto soloist of uncommon stamina accompanied by rhythm players who take their cues from him and whose strong-beat accenting affects his own rhythmic organization.”

Perhaps this hints at the failure of Ornette’s methods, while also hinting at their source of success elsewhere.  Howard Mandel has described Ornette’s “Harmolodics” musical theory as being about “dynamic tension”, where:

“each and every member of his ensembles is expected to be listening to each and every other member, to be ready to react to what any and everyone is doing melodically and harmonically (the two being horizontal and vertical expressions of the same pitched material) and rhythmically, while hewing one’s own path through a composition.”

Mandel’s description is astutely accurate, as far as it goes, but what is needed is something more that explains what Litweiler obliquely drives at: a concept that explains why some Harmolodic performances/recordings succeed more than others.  Mandel explains the strength of Ornette’s most effective work.  But it is also necessary to probe the weaknesses inherent in Ornette’s approach from the beginning.  It is here that the “vanishing mediator” (or leadership by heroic example) framework comes in, bolstered by Bley’s analysis.

The most successful Ornette performances begin with Ornette’s melodies.  They key to success is that the other performers must be ready to then step in and supply everything else themselves, taking on co-leadership of melodic content.  What is crucial is that Ornette was not going to supply the mechanics to his bandmates.  There were basically no harmonic limits imposed on them.  Performers were hanging on to the old parameters if they approached this in terms of “chord changes”!

When musicians “take cues” from Ornette’s performances or him from them, like on the lesser of the Prime Time band recordings, then his heroic leadership has failed to properly inspire his compatriots, because he has not yet “vanished”.  He is, in however much a muted way, still controlling what they do.  In this respect, Ornette remains an “Ego Ideal” (adopting a term from psychoanalysis) rather than a vanishing mediator.  His bandmates are not acting out their own freedoms in the music, they are following Ornette’s (or vice-versa).  In a practical sense, in these performances, the band members are just reflecting each others’ statements back again, with a bit of a lag.

At other times, when the music is a chaotic jumble, some of these sorts of recordings turn into precisely what Bley called “A forever, metamorphosing.”  Even at its nadir, Ornette’s music hardly fit this description.  But looking at other instances of semi-widespread free jazz practice (and let’s be honest here that free jazz was never that widespread), this often might be called chaotic surrealism.  In other words, it is a crowd of musical performers each performing music arises from their unconscious minds.  Discussing Sigmund Freud and Gustave Le Bon‘s respective theories of crowds, Jodi Dean noted that nothing new appears in crowds: “Rather, [in crowds,] the impulses repressed in the unconscious have simply become free to manifest themselves.”  When people talk about totally spontaneous free jazz, they usually refer music structured according to the unconscious, denying the structure of the unconscious (and privileging the conscious).  Which is not to say that music manifested from the unconscious is bad, but it should be identified for what it is, and it should not be projected onto what it is not.

Certain collaborations, as with The Master Musicians of Joujouka, offer little beyond this.  They get stuck in a simplistic juxtaposition, and a retreat into the past.

One episode in Ornette’s life that always struck me is that sometime in the 1950s, while he was living in Los Angeles, some communists tried to recruit Ornette to the party.  He rebuffed them, saying that while the communist party was officially anti-racist, he believed that the people trying to recruit him would have been racist if not for the constraints of the official party platform.  With that rejection of explicitly communist politics, which otherwise seem like a close fit for Ornette’s musical outlook, he turned more toward a de facto anarchist political position that often looks curious like the “totally free piece, end of concert” problem Bley pointed out.

One of the most pernicious “revisionist” takes on Ornette’s music (unfortunately, somewhat widespread today among younger listeners) is to re-normalize him into existing paradigms, by asserting that he merely played be-bop — albeit a quirky kind of be-bop/hard bop — in the early days, and there was nothing particularly revolutionary about his music.  This view is usually extended to say that Ornette did not play “free jazz” at all — overlooking the historical fact that the very term “free jazz” was developed to describe the music of Ornette and his contemporaries like Cecil Taylor!  Rather, these revisionists usually insist that “free jazz” consists more or less exclusively in unwritten, “spontaneous” music that is completely, molecularly structureless — what Bley referred to as a “totally free piece, end of concert.”  There are many problems with this view.  Aside from “The Tyranny of Structurelessness”, and the limits of spontaneity imposed by the structure of the unconscious mind, this is classic revisionism in that it adopts the post-1968 view of a multicultural multitude acting purely and strictly horizontally (“democratically” is another term sometimes applied).  Of course the reason many take this view is the now widespread influence of a particular brand of university discourse drawn from Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, among others.  But Jodi Dean, Žižek and a few others have critiqued this view as responsible in large measure for the collapse of the political left (especially after 1989/1991 and the fall of the Berlin Wall and the USSR).  Going back to the “be-bop” pigeonholing, I suggest imagining a classic Venn diagram formed by two circles.  In essence, the revisionists insist that to be “revolutionary” or constitute a “paradigm shift”, Ornette’s music must be mutually exclusive of what came before.  They insist that the Venn diagram must be depicted as two separate circles, not overlapping, one representing the past and the other a truly revolutionary music (or, perhaps, that of two circles with one completely inside the other, like a doughnut hole).  But this is a flawed argument of the “Beautiful Soul” variety (in the full Hegelian sense).  It amounts to nothing more than a perverse insistence on a kind of impossible purity, untainted by the real world — indeed, these arguments are adopted not because of their methodological rigor, but are typically devised after the fact to justify preferences for musicians other than Ornette, without exploring the real reasons those preferences were developed beforehand (perhaps, unconsciously).  But a paradigm shift can include a Venn diagram with two circles that overlap, with one circle effectively bridging the old with new territory.  This is what Ornette’s music was always about.  In the early days, his collaborators and bandmates came from be-bop traditions.  So be-bop remained part of the music.  But the music was not bound by the coordinates of be-bop.  That was the achievement.  It mediated the tension between be-bop and that which went beyond be-bop.

The other important point here, against the “revisionists” and also those who approach Ornette’s music from the standpoint of hyper-technical musical theory (usually by way of transcribing his recordings into Western notation, then analyzing those transcriptions), is that I see Ornette’s main contribution as philosophical and political. This very much fits Ornette’s own descriptions of “Harmolodics” and the purpose of his work as being about “freedom”.  He once wrote about his theory in a super-Platonic way in Bomb magazine (Summer 1996):

“The composed concept of the music I write and play is called Harmolodics. The packaged definition is a theoretical method not exclusively applied to music. Harmolodics is a noun that can be applied for the use of participating in any form of information equally without erasing or altering the information.”

In a July 1983 Down Beat article, he had previously defined it by calling it

“the use of the physical and mental of one’s own logic made into an expression of sound to bring about the musical sensation of unison executed by a single person or with a group.”

In a snippet of an interview with Stephen Rush, he also responded to a question in which he equated Hamolodics to human equality:

“Stephen: ‘This constraint on civilization and the constraint on music is going to cause an end to jazz?’

“Ornette: ‘I know you’re right…. I know you’re right. And the reason why it is … sex, money, and race. In that order.'”

Ornette suggested a new meaning for why people make music and why they might do so.  For this argument to prevail, I insist that it is not necessary that Ornette, himself, went to the furthest reaches of what his theory suggested.  In other words, his performances and recordings need not adopt the most extreme meanings in order to have philosophically and politically opened space for new meanings, through music.

Contemporary notions of multitudes of singularities, fragmented pluralization, indeterminate forms, molecular spontaneous self-organization, a long tail of micro-initiatives, etc. tend to fit the sort of anarchistic tendencies in Ornette’s music.  But this actually arose more in the post-Science Fiction era.  One the one hand, after the cultural forces that peaked around 1968 (though the early 1970s, in the case of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense), it seems natural and uncontroversial that Ornette would be swayed somewhat by all that.  And, indeed, Litweiler’s biography reveals that during the this time Ornette became somewhat preoccupied with becoming rich (which he did accomplish).  But the crucial fault these anarchistic (and sometimes paleo-traditionalist) tendencies produce in Ornette’s music is that they rest on mere aggregation (hardly even juxtaposition), leaving no sense of tension, contrast, conflict.  The music becomes static, adapting itself to any situation (yes, a kind of achievement in itself), but incapable of inducing change, and, crucially, incapable of inspiring the listener.  Tension is simply preemptively resolved, and never apparent to the listener.  While these methods perhaps suggest a kind of utopian musical practice useful for some kind of future utopia, in a pre-utopian present, this can lack appeal to listeners not involved in making the music.

Of course, a meta-criticism of the multitudinous individualism of Ornette’s Prime Time bands is that it is easy to overlook the “ferocity of commanded individuality” it entails (to adapt a statement by Jodi Dean).  When critics lament that Ornette’s bandmates don’t always bring enough to the table, perhaps a more precise criticism would be that Ornette’s music demands too much of them in the way of uniquely individualized contributions?  That is to say that the demands of the music are impractical, requiring unrealistically talented musicians to pull it off.  The result is sometimes that of a “crowd” of individualized music makers (again adapting a term from Dean), without the experience of a “band” of music makers with a collective purpose.  This, then, might be precisely the distinction between Ornette’s most vital music and his lesser works.  The most successful music shows some kind of collective purpose, made possible through the loose and open-ended structure of “Harmolodics” mediated by Ornette go into truly uncharted territory, rather than just “spontaneous” individual efforts that each reflect back something already known and already established as possible.  Ethan Iverson has also written (somewhat pessimistically) that:

“The use of Harmolodics can access a kind of emotion that is breathtakingly pure, as long as everyone makes the right decisions to serve the music. *** The successful application of Harmolodic theory almost certainly requires Ornette’s own participation as performer, and an improvising drummer besides.”

Le Bon, whom Dean calls an “odious reactionary“, wrote in the late 1800s, before Lenin’s time as an international public figure, but used Robespierre as an example of monstrous leader who, hypnotized by the ideas of the political philosopher Rousseau, was led along with the rest of crowds of the French Revolution that attacked traditional social structures.  That view seems quite typical of latter-day (reactionary) detractors who despise the principle of free jazz, mostly for its lack of respect/adherence to traditional social structures and roles.  No doubt, there must have been racists who said similar things about Ornette.  But Le Bon’s description hardly seems to describe Ornette’s best music.  It describes, at most, a “crowd” as something different and less than what Ornette achieved via a “band”.  Lenin viewed Robespierre as an important historical precedent and a hero.  So, we can at least see some continuity here in comparing Ornette to Lenin (and Robespierre and Rousseau), as part of an overarching political project working against reactionaries like Le Bon.

In the 1950s, when Ornette struggled to find an outlet for his new kind of music, his approach was in part to struggle to assemble a band of sympathetic players.  As reviewer Patrick Brown astutely comments about the early album Tomorrow Is the Question! The New Music of Ornette Coleman!:

“As Ornette creeps toward the fulfillment of his destiny he gets his music more together than on his debut album, helped in no small part by Shelly Manne who sounds absolutely terrific here, and by an ever closer understanding with Don Cherry. Tunes are the sort of crazy, complex heads that he specializes in – impossible to predict what he’s got up his sleeve next – and soloing is budding into the maturity that really blooms (for me at least) on his next album [presumably The Shape of Jazz to Come, which was recorded next but was actually released prior to Tomorrow Is the Question], though he sounds quite in control here. I say this not so much to disrespect this, but as with many great jazz players whose music I come to late, hindsight lets me know where they’re going and I’m almost itching to hear them get there when I listen to something that sounds ‘wrong’ — in this case, I suspect that it’s the absence of Charlie Haden. Again, no disrespect is meant to the great Red Mitchell or Percy Heath, I just know how in tune with this group Haden will be and it creates a note of discord for me. Manne on the other hand sounds right at home – a shame he didn’t pack up and move to NYC with the others (and don’t read ill will toward Higgins or Blackwell into this). So it’s like this — Ornette knew very early on how he wanted his music to be made, and putting together the pieces of those who shared that vision took a few tries. Here, he’s almost at that point and at times this shines as brightly as anything from the Atlantic era. At other times I feel an undefinable something missing, something that takes it down a half notch for me. But it’s that close to being great, really, despite my seemingly disparaging review.”

Brown is basically making the point that Ornette’s music demanded certain kinds of players to be effective.  Iverson has also noted that “One of the earliest longer pieces about Ornette is in A.B. Spellman’s Four Lives in the Bebop Business. When you compare Ornette’s profile to those of [the other interviewees], it seems that he’s trying to go the extra mile to communicate the importance of his sidemen to Spellman.”  This hints at the proposition that Ornette’s success was, in part, forging a collective project in the form of a band (and, also, in the form of an audience; see The Battle of The Five Spot: Ornette Coleman and The New York Jazz Field).  In contrast, after he achieved success, and after 1968, he became more interested in breaking down those collective projects and instead fostering crowd-like gatherings of individuals.  This was a different project — though it could be said that Ornette still returned to his earlier project in different ways through the years, but his work was not exclusively in that realm.

As Ornette moved on to other pursuits, his role as a “vanishing mediator” (or perhaps, his compositions’ role as a “vanishing mediator”) faded and the torch was passed on to others.  Anthony Braxton deserves a special mention here, given his long commitment to developing new compositional forms that do the same sorts of things Ornette (and his compositions) did in urging fellow players to free up their performances.

While I have mostly focused on the performance aspect of Ornette’s music, and how he related to his bandmates, it almost goes without saying that Ornette also established an “authentic division” among listeners.  Frances Davis, writing a quarter-century after Coleman’s famous stand at the Five Spot club in New York City, said, “Coleman was either a visionary or a charlatan, and there was no middle ground between advocacy and disapproval.”  (intriguingly, this article was entitled, “Ornette’s Permanent Revolution,” which parallels the title of Leon Trotsky‘s book Permanent Revolution).

Part of the purpose of this essay is to offer sympathetic criticism about the limits of Ornette’s musical vision, which, in my opinion, represents one of the most important of the 20th Century!  His later years could have been more productive, perhaps, had he made more effort to document his “Harmolodics” musical theory (the term was first publicly mentioned in conjunction with Skies of America) to found a musical “school” that would institutionalize his program (akin to a political party).  Many fans and critics who lament that Ornette never did this (despite his own statements that he was working on a book about Harmolodics) is that they wanted to join.  This is sort of the hard part, precisely what Jodi Dean’s book Crowds and Party deals with.  Ornette’s repeated equating of “Harmolodics” with a concept of “unison” very much maps onto Dean’s description of a “party” beyond that of a “crowd”.  However, the rather isolated musical interventions Ornette staged in his later career often lacked the social purpose of his early attempts to pursue an agenda of “freedom”, those later activities sometimes reduced to the far less compelling goal of amassing a personal fortune.  Maybe most importantly, Dean’s book, a reflection on the shortcomings of the anarchist underpinnings of events like Occupy Wall Street, is that Ornette’s loosely structured later bands were more like “crowds” that came together briefly, stated multitudinous demands, then dissolved, with little or no sustaining permanence.  The refusal to stick with the slow and methodical building of permanent institutions (Dean’s emphasis in on a political party), is emblematic of the the individualist turn during the neoliberal era (see Jefferson Cowie‘s Stayin’ Alive), and also consistent with political failings of anarchistic political action over the same period.  And central to that failure of institutional permanence is Ornette stepping away from being a “vanishing mediator”, and side-stepping efforts to concretely establish what “unison” means within “Harmolodics”.  It was when he pushed his bandmates into a larger cause, then “vanished” to allow them to pursue the project of their own volition, that you end up with works like his Earth-shattering recordings for Atlantic Records.  This is not to say that Ornette always appears on his recordings in a way that directly reveals his role as a vanishing mediator, but that the most successful performances arose out of situations in which efforts along those lines had taken place, whether through extended practice sessions, careful selection of band members having certain predispositions, or both, which established what sort of “unison” they were working towards.  Those practice session techniques weren’t institutionalized or emphasized by Ornette publicly, but they mattered.  I suppose my constructive criticisms might be best viewed with reference to Lenin’s mountaineering analogy “On Ascending A High Mountain” from his 1924 article “Notes of a Publicist,” which asserted the need to return to the starting point and begin again in order to reach the highest summit — something that other appreciations of Ornette’s music recognize.  I think it is necessary to work through Ornette’s music theories, take them back to the beginning, and then push them ahead even further.

Jackson Katz – Ten Must-Read Books About White Masculinity and the Rise of Trump

Link to an article by Jackson Katz:

“Ten Must-Read Books About White Masculinity and the Rise of Trump”


Bonus links: Illegitimate Means, Anomie, and Deviant Behavior and Delinquency and Opportunity and Merton’s Strain Theory (especially “retreatism”)