Tag Archives: Frankfurt School

Politics Is Downstream from Culture, Part 2:
“Cultural Marxism,” or, from Hegel to Obama

88622867_fortune cookie NARRATIVE pt2 FLAT

It was widely reported last month that Andrew Breitbart’s protegé Steve Bannon had said at the Conservative Political Action Conference that his goal was the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” The phrasing caused humanities professors and journalists alike to do a double take. Matthew Yglesias wrote at Vox, “[Bannon] presumably meant that he wants to destroy the administrative state, not apply literary theory inspired by Jacques Derrida to it.”

Or did he? What if Breitbart’s media empire, which grew from the slogan “politics is downstream from culture” (see Part 1), was based precisely on ideas that come from the lexicon of critical theory, literary theory, and media theory? That would go a long way toward explaining why the White House is flatly denying that it colluded not just with Russians but also with Internet trolls, those denizens of viral content-production.

Bannon’s right hand is Julia Hahn, a University of Chicago graduate who wrote her senior thesis on “issues at the intersection of psychoanalysis and post-Foucauldian philosophical inquiry,” influenced by poststructuralist queer theorist Leo Bersani. After decades of the far right attacking academia both institutionally and symbolically, it’s hard for us to imagine Bannon doing more than sneering at “the Cathedral” or “the Complex” (cartoonish alt-right names for the left-wing conspiracy that supposedly extends from Ivy League ivory towers to Hollywood). But Hahn isn’t Bannon’s only source for literary theory. The other is none other than his mentor Andrew Breitbart, who devoted a chapter of his 2011 book Righteous Indignation to “cultural Marxism.” Continue reading

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Twitter as Aphorism

Most tweets are little more than banal self-promotion or mindless snark. Few are experiments in forms of social critique. But for University of Pennsylvania Professor of German Studies Eric Jarosinski, Twitter’s formal constraint of just 144 characters has freed him of the endless equivocations of academic prose. Jarosinki started his tenure-track position at UPenn in 2007 as a scholar of the Frankfurt School and critical theory, working on figures such as Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Siegfried Kracauer. As he was struggling to write a book and compose in a language that could get him tenure, he began a Twitter feed, NeinQuarterly, that helped him recover, as he recently put it in a New Yorker interview, “the playful sides of German thinkers”:

Adopting the Twitter persona was “extremely liberating,” he said, because it helped him to remember what had attracted him to the Frankfurt School philosophers in the first place: their more literary works, especially their aphorisms. Adorno: “The splinter in your eye is the best magnifying glass.” Or, as one NeinQuarterly tweet has it: “ADORNO. German for YOLO.”

Composing for Twitter also forced him to think about matters of form and the shape that social critique could take, something that Frankfurt School figures like Adorno and Benjamin wrote a great deal about. A good tweet, says Jarosinski, does something particular:

“You’re trying to find a way to state contradiction. You’re writing a cartoon caption for a cartoon that doesn’t exist…. It’s the old Gary Larson trick,” he said, referring to the creator of “The Far Side.” “What you really need to do in a cartoon is set someone up for the moment that comes next, after that frame, but is not depicted.” Tweets, he has learned, work best in dialogue form, because dialogue helps readers imagine a scene. “An early tweet of mine would have said, ‘No bourgeois morality on the bus.’… The better tweet is, ‘Sorry, sir, no bourgeois morality on the bus.’”

A good day on Twitter for him is when he can discover “a new structure” that he can use over and over. “I guess I want to see myself as an aphorist,” Jarosinski said. “And not even a Twitter aphorist. I think we need to reestablish that as a profession.”

Twitter as critique, anyone?

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