All posts by Jacob Leveton

Art & Oil in the Age of Monopoly and Disaster Capital

Daniel Beltrá, "Oil Spill #4," from the series May 6, 2010, 2010. Photograph
Daniel Beltrá, “Oil Spill #4,” from the series May 6, 2010, 2010. Photograph. Used with the permission of the artist

It’s been a half century since the publication of Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order. 1 The book was written by the American Marxist economists Paul Baran and Paul Swezy. Monopoly Capital advances a trenchant critique of advanced industrial capitalism. Still salient, the book remains important for romanticists invested both in the Marxist tradition in critical theory, and the project of tracing the eighteenth-century British origins of contemporary constellations of global capitalist political economy. In this post, I return to Monopoly Capital, trace the text’s key contours, and argue for both its importance for understanding aspects of the contemporary ecological predicament, and the need to update Baran and Swezy’s ideas according to the concept of “disaster capitalism.” 2

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  1. Paul Baran and Paul Swezy, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966).
  2. See Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Picador, 2007); Antony Lowenstein, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe (London: Verso, 2015).

NASSR 2016 Rapid Response: Day One

Today’s Tweets about #NASSR2016 via Storify

Thanks to the intrepid new managing editor of the NGSC blog Caroline Winter, a new inititative started by the caucus with the NASSR conference at Berkeley will be the fast publication of rapid responses to each day’s events.

Over the course of the week, you’ll be hearing from Deven Parker, Cailey Hall, and Talia Vestri Croan. Though, for day 1, it’s me.

I experienced the start to NASSR2016 as equal parts intense and insightful. The problems of understanding issues of space and time relative to ethics, politics, and aesthetics were central to the sessions I attended. To my mind, nothing made this clearer than Rei Terada in her truly fabulous plenary. Reading Kant, and primarily the Critique of Practical Reason, at a moment I found especially exciting, Terada observed:

Justice itself is an intertemporal problem.

The domain of the just operates at a veritable nexus and conjunction of time, linking past, present, and future. And this was to my mind was the crux of the day: How does a rethinking of time and space contribute to a new way of understanding relations?

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Presence/Absence as Problem & Possibility in “On The Medusa of Leonardo Da Vinci” and ODESZA

In October, I found myself facing a new problem in the interpretation of music, with broader implications for the engagement and understanding of the arts generally. It has taken this long to begin to work it out. Then, I saw the contemporary indie electronica group ODESZA. The show was amazing. Yet, it yielded a profound sense of vertigo, the kind we all sense, and become been sensitized to, in romantic poetry. How do we contend with art when the aesthetic object–traditionally understood–radically recedes from view?

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COP21: Opinion Piece

Forum during Women and Gender Day in Climate Generations Area, COP21, Le Bourget, France, 8 December 2014
Forum during “Women and Gender Day” at the Climate Generations Area open to the Public, COP21, Le Bourget, France, 8 December 2015. Photograph by the author

Introduction: It’s been two and a half weeks since the COP21 concluded, and it has taken as long for me to feel I could begin forming my own perspective on the events. In one of the last remaining assemblies where all nations are equitably represented, according to the aspirations of the mission, and progress is made only by consensus, 196 countries for the first time in history reached agreement in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC. The unity necessary for nations to together begin addressing industrially-produced greenhouse gas emissions was at last achieved. I believe, in part despite the criticisms of the agreement leveled by members of both the diverse global political left and and right, that when placed in the proper, nuanced, and historical perspective, the accord represents a terrific and tremendous success.  Indeed, if there was one strain of pessimism many of my friends and associates expressed before and during the conference, it was that the event would represent only “médiaques,” simply “media hype,” the image of progress without the substance of promise and action. In this post, I engage in a critical reflection on the Paris Agreement, offer my optimistic sense of what it offers, what it leaves to be done, and a speculation on where we go from here. It is my position that is precisely the image of the accord–as opposed to its actuality–that will make what it purposeively aims to do achievable. Towards this end, I also include some of my favorite images from the ArtCOP21 festival and climate-related events in which I was fortunate enough to participate.

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COP21: Halfway Through

Today marks the halfway point of the COP21 United Nations Climate Summit, a multinational effort–including some 30,000 delegates and diplomats from 195 countries–to produce a global accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, slow and eventually stop human-produced global warming, and begin to alleviate environmental problems associated with the industrial-scale burning of fossil fuels. Because the climate negotiators are taking today as a break, I felt it a good time to offer my summary and assessment of how matters have progressed in Paris.

Reason for Optimism

Overall, I have been heartened by a number of the advancements made. The discussion at the conference has, in large part, served to validate the optimism that columnist Mark Hertsgaard showed in his critical piece that appeared in The Nation last month. There, Hertsgaard made the case that “popular pressure” ahead of the COP21 has actively moved policy makers towards positions that would increasingly “leave fossil fuels in the ground.” This represents a major departure from the failed talks in Copenhagen in 2009, when public opinion had not yet turned in favor of policy-based action against global warming to the extent it has today. This shift is borne out by recent polling: two-thirds of Americans now believe that the US should join an international treaty to stop global warming. Continue reading COP21: Halfway Through

« Make It Work » : Velocities of Engagement, The COP21 Forum and Nuit Blanche 2015

As I detailed in my first post this academic year, I am in Paris on a critical theory fellowship studying French philosophy and environmental history. This month, two particularly significant events took place: the first–as part of the “Make It Work” initiative at the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris (« Sciences Po »)–was Forum COP21: Civil Society Committed to the Environment; the second was the 2015 iteration of the Nuit Blanche arts festival, where the city stays up all night to look at art. This year’s theme, fittingly in support of COP21, and as part of ArtCOP21, was “atmospheres.”

In this post, I detail both events. My intent is to be more journalistic than interpretive, leaving the content of these events open as much as possible for interpretation by the blog’s audience, excepting a few places where I bring the methods of environmental history and critical thought into play, and experiment with some quantitative analysis of environmental issues.

Continue reading « Make It Work » : Velocities of Engagement, The COP21 Forum and Nuit Blanche 2015

The Climate of Romanticism: Autumn in Paris 2015

Fall has always been my favorite season. The excitement and energy of a new academic year, with the promise and potential for new experiences, engagements, commitments and ideas never ceases to amaze me. I’ve experienced this to be especially true this fall. Felicitously, and making good on Devoney Looser’s advice regarding applying for fellowships, published on this blog,  I received a fellowship to take part in Northwestern’s Paris Program in Critical Theory, a graduate exchange program with the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle. In the Program, you spend the autumn in a seminar covering a select topic in critical theory (this year, belief in Jacques Derrida’s “Faith and Knowledge”) led by Samuel Weber, best known as a theorist, scholar of media, and translator of Derrida and Theodor Adorno. For the rest of the year, you are free to engage in archival research and dissertation writing, and to take part in European academic life. I’ve included a link to the program’s website, since it is open to all graduate students with external funding.  With annual graduate fellowships available at most universities in the form of presidential fellowships and other awards that don’t require full-time residence at the home university, in addition to important external awards to apply for, such as the Fulbright program, ACLS/Mellon Dissertation Completion Fellowship, the Chateaubriand Fellowship in the Humanities, and many more, numerous great possibilities exist for grads across the humanities and social sciences to take part in the Paris Program in Critical Theory.

Specifically, I’m in Paris this year for two reasons. First, I’m here to study contemporary French environmental theory as I develop the conceptual framework that’ll drive my dissertation on Blake and ecological politics. Consequently, over the coming months on the blog, expect reading lists and book reviews of the latest in European social thought, with an emphasis on texts that haven’t been translated into English that I imagine will be especially relevant to graduate students generally, and Romanticists especially. There’s also nothing like having an audience to focus and sharpen the mind with language learning, translation, and writing, right?

Yet, this year–as I’m sure most of our readers are already aware–is an especially significant one for climate politics, decades in the making for climate policy experts and negotiators, and centuries in the making, with respect to the conditions those most optimistic among us hope will begin to be overturned: the massive amounts of carbon accruing in the earth’s atmosphere. In December, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (also known as the COP21) will convene in Paris, with the hope of establishing a legally binding universal agreement to begin curtailing carbon emissions. The goal is ultimately to limit the amount of atmospheric carbon to that which will produce no more than a 2°C rise, on average, above pre-industrial levels. So second, and relatedly, my fellowship is geared to support my hope to help document the important visual culture that looks to emerge around the the climate conference. Already, there are prominent stirrings–with the ArtCOP21 cultural festival set to convene in Paris, and across the globe, paralleling the climate summit. All of this, I believe, retains certain implications for the study of Romanticism.

Continue reading The Climate of Romanticism: Autumn in Paris 2015

Ethics & The Archive

This short post was occasioned by a conversation NGSC blog contributor Andrew Welch and I shared on the ethics of archival research while working together over coffee in Chicago this week. Indeed, and because so many of us are engaged not only in grappling with the historical documents that archives provide in support of our research, but also are actively engaged in thinking through the implications of  archival research in terms of travel, the extensive financial resources needed, and the like, I imagined transposing the significant ideas that emerged might be beneficial to readers. Continue reading Ethics & The Archive

Call for Papers: NASSR 2016

The topic for this year’s conference, in Berkeley, CA, is “Romanticism and its Discontents.” See the full call for papers here: Proposals for individual papers are due on February 8, 2016. Deadline for proposing an open-call session is November 2, 2015. Deadline for proposing a complete panel or roundtable is also February 8, 2016.

Constructing an Academic Self: The Worksheet

This follows up on my previous post, concerning the necessity of renewing resolve and reorienting goals for the forthcoming academic year. Over the last month, in starting to capitalize on the commitments I explored there, I’ve increasingly realized the importance of utilizing reflective writing to actively work through the process of beginning the dissertation, and for the first time really envisioning what type of scholar I’d like to become through that particilar endeavor. As I imagine is the case for most romanticists, certain professional investments have started to become clarified as a result of engaging in the intense, challenging, and rewarding project of dissertation writing–in my case, guided by reading Donald Hall’s The Academic Self, Jean Botkin’s Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day, and Timothy Morton’s Ph.D Advice. To honestly think through these core themes that I’m realizing connect work, communities, and more (and, especially, because I’ll be going on the predoctoral fellowship market next year, and think the activity will be helpful for writing research statements), I’ve developed a series of fifteen questions to answer to better understand how areas of academic research, values, and goals are shaped by a longer history of development, different institutions, multiple great mentors, and romanticist friendships. In this blog–an unconventional one, admittedly–I am posting these questions I’ve generated, in hopes that they might be helpful for other grads to think through. I also invite others to post additional questions in the comments you’ve found helpful in creating fulfilling academic trajectories. Continue reading Constructing an Academic Self: The Worksheet