Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Quotidian politics

This morning there were two new posts on my sidebar, the part where I have my current favourite blogs showing their latest posts. I use this sidebar function a lot because I have never managed to get blogoodle or sitefeed or myblogs or whatever any of them are called to work for me.

I read Reading the Maps first. Maps wants to know Have our intellectuals gone to the blogs? He takes his cue from kiwipolitico post Who are the next generation of NZ left thinkers? Both posts are worth reading. The kiwipolitico post, which I read last, has a long conversation in the comments which is more illuminating than the post itself.

This from Reading the Maps:
Pablo and a number of the commenters at Kiwipolitico seem to believe that young left-wing intellectuals are a little thin on the ground in New Zealand, but I'm not sure if this is quite the case. I don't think there is any shortage of clever young people with left-wing opinions in New Zealand: the problem, as far as I can tell, is that it is hard for these young people to relate their scholarly research and their theorising to the world of quotidian politics.

That word 'quotidian' is wonderful. It has an almost onomatopeic quality, seeming to echo the doldrums of daily bickering. Maps goes on to detail the gap between action and theory with reference to thinkers he has known personally in New Zealand universities and some names from my own time at university came to mind as similar examples as I read.

Then I read the second new post from my sidebar. This one is from Maia of The Hand Mirror, writing on the forthcoming 2011 Pro-choice gathering in Wellington in March. As I read, I was mindful of the accusations ('observations' if I'm feeling generous in my interpretation) of some male lefty writers that single issue activism had essentially buggered up the class activism movement. In my view, paid labour is not central to agency for any woman; control over ones own body is central. No matter how repulsive abortion might ever be to me personally, I have no right to stop another woman from controlling the direction of a pregnancy. Neither has the state nor any other organisation. This is where I sidetrack yet again. If you read the comments section you will see this:
I agree with the basic principle about choice and whose choice it is (although I don't think the taxpayer should have to fund something they may vehemently oppose.)
How on earth can anyone say this as if it is logical? Can the rugby world cup funding NOW! And marketing departments in universities and television advertisements and cholesterol lowering drugs and cigarettes and vaccination propaganda and and and and. I am vehemently opposed to a lot of things. Our legal system is surely our charter for how to best both meet and insist upon the rights and responsibilities of us all, collectively and individually. I am aware that those who would make abortion illegal in this country believe that they are also doing this, albeit through privileging the journey of a foetus over that of a woman. Privileging the journey of a foetus over that of a woman oppresses the woman in her lack of choice. That's not okay to me.

The Action for Abortion Rights group have taken the theory of women's empowerment and right to control over our own bodies and is applying it practically. The Hand Mirror was absent from both Kiwipolitico and Reading the Maps' initial posts and it is a glaring omission. In the comments to the Reading the Maps post, a fellow called Jack Ross makes the following observation:

I agree that the blog makes a good intermediary between the Academy and the Street -- in theory, at least, it can steer between the Alexandrian over-refinements (and entrenched power-structures) of the former and the simplistic bellowings (and over-dependence on a muzzled news media) of the latter.

"Subjective and trivial" are the presumptive labels attributed to most blogs, though - breaking through that perception is, I think, the real problem. If a blog simply works as an extension of the street or the academy it helps it gain an audience, but doesn't achieve any of this cultivation of the middle ground you're talking about.

Body politics are often described as subjective and trivial and yet the ideas around fat acceptance and the controlling narratives of fat shaming were possibly the most interesting ideas I took on board in 2010. How any of us define 'political' and 'intellectual' are in themselves powerful tools. Are those definitions up for discussion, or are we to content ourselves with bickering about versions of pure leftism (as if) and the naughtiness of the proletariat who are watching tele and eating chips instead of remodelling society into a collective utopia?

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

is it OK for me to say I don't have the energy for political thought and discussion this year....or is it putting my head in the sand?
~Rachael

Sandra - too heavy to stand on a soapbox, but undeterred said...

Hi Rachael (to whom I most seriously owe an email - I still haven't apologised for not getting to see you in Auckland yet), of course it is okay to say what you have said. But if you could bear it, I would be interested to know what shapes your sense that you don't have the energy? Last year, in a post I never kept, John Minto commented that in New Zealand the welfare state is kept at the level to keep people compliant, implying that the right wing strategy in New Zealand is to stop short of the kind of oppression which would actually invoke direct rebellion, lage scale physical action, in order to keep us somewhat poor but not actually motivated to fight it.

I think he is right. I cannot find the motivation to get involved in party politics - all variants of neoliberal blandness - and I cannot believe in the transformative power of class struggle to change captialism right now either. The sites of struggle I can identify more with are body politics, particularly the abortion issue and health rights, particularly with regard to keeping our local hospital open (hospitals and the medical system are often oppressive structures as well but that is another issue altogether. I think.)

Maia said...

Hey Sandra

Thanks for the link. I'm finding the whole debate too ridiculous to even get involved with (it's the idea as the intellectual as an individual figure that gets me going, as well as all the Room of her Own stuff, which shouldn't be breaking news).

I just wanted to make it clear that I didn't write that blog post - I just posted it. It's all cut and pasted from the invitation produced by action for abortion rights.

I hope you'll make it to the gathering!

maps said...

Hi Sandra,

I must confess that I *still* haven't read Coal Flat, which no doubt blows my cred amongst West Coast regionalists! I have, however, been reading Pearson's 1974 volume Fetful Sleepers and other essays, which is very interesting and also, sometimes, quite sad.

Contra Maia, I don't find the notion of the intellectual as an individual figure disturbing;
in fact I think it inspiring. I admire intellectuals, from Socrates to St Augustine to Simone Weil to Smithyman to EP Thompson, who have swum against the stream of public opinion (including pubic opinion on the left) and official taste, even if doing so sometimes meant being prickly or even misanthropic. I am a bourgeois individualist at heart, I guess.

In the same way, I don't think we should set up a dichotomy between, on the one hand, personal inclination or obsession and on the other hand notons of what is intellectually or politically 'right' or 'important'. JG Ballard said that the best advice he could give anyone, in any field, was to follow their obsessions. Don De Lillo seemed, to me at least, to echo this point when he argued that writers don't write for the good of society, but because they feel compelled to write. Writing is, De Lillo suggested, tied up with the desire to sustain a separate identity.

I think that when people try to think or write about what they consider is objectively important, rather than to follow their deeper impulses, they tend to produce dull, sanctimonious work. It is work which flows from our obsessions which tends to be, in the long run, valuable. We don't value Wells for his dully instructive later political works, but for The Time Traveller and The Island of Doctor Moreau. We esteem Gulliver's Travels as a work of fantasy, not a petty-minded satire of obscure figures from a bygone era. I think, then, that you should forget about political guilt and let rip!

Sandra - too heavy to stand on a soapbox, but undeterred said...

Thanks Maia and Maps. I'm still thinking about your points even though I haven't managed to articulate a thoughtful response. If I could cobble it together, it might be called "Multi-tasking and the intellectual" There is something else going on gender-wise which isn't just Room of Ones Own or multiple responsibilities but an inclination to multiple pursuits rather than a single minded obsession which is sustained over years. Not that I've tested it empirically, but I am noticing the anecdotal observations pile up. Kind of like the dishes.