[Adorno’s] moment of vindication is arriving now. With the election of Donald Trump, the latent threat of American authoritarianism is on the verge of being realized, its characteristics already mapped by latter-day sociologists who have updated Adorno’s “F-scale” for fascist tendencies. […] As early as the forties, Adorno saw American life as a kind of reality show: “Men are reduced to walk-on parts in a monster documentary film which has no spectators, since the least of them has his bit to do on the screen.” Now a businessman turned reality-show star has been elected President. Like it or not, Trump is as much a pop-culture phenomenon as he is a political one.
I’ve been reading through Wendy Brown’s new book on neoliberalism in the last couple of weeks, and I’d like to jot down some thoughts on it here (hopefully in prelude to a genuine review essay further along the road).
Brown’s book gets exactly right the nature of the transformation of both states and individuals in neoliberalism into self-standing entrepreneurial units forced to compete for investment funds with other such units. This is described as the eclipse of homo politicus by the all-encompassing neoliberal figure of homo economicus. Neoliberalism, Brown argues, literally swallows the space of the demos, the democratic space in which people gather to articulate common concerns around freedom, equality, and sovereignty. Our problem is not merely (!) the wasting away of public goods, public values and public participation. It is the evisceration of the very space in which it is possible to come together and form a public, the space that, for Brown, Aristotle (and Arendt) distinguish as different from ‘mere life’, and which Marx conceived as the ‘true realm of freedom’. Neoliberalism, Brown states, in a sentence that captures a dawning awareness of where things now stand, is ‘the rationality through which capitalism finally swallows humanity’ (p. 44). Continue reading
Over the past three years, Egyptian street art has become an iconic symbol of protest. It has appeared and reappeared with the same lightening speed as the rapid shifts in the political climate, directly participating in the events that transpired under the regimes of Hosni Mubarak, Mohammed Morsi, and Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. In the hands of Egyptian street artists, art was a powerful revolutionary weapon. Now, in an atmosphere of repression, where many of the signs and symbols of the revolution have been painted over and protest has been outlawed, a new set of questions is crystallizing about the role of art in contemporary Egypt. Continue reading
In a recent publication, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York took up the question: ‘Do the Benefits of College Still Outweigh the Costs?’ The report, which attracted the interest of several mainstream news organizations, noted that, at the end of 2013, aggregate student debt in the United States exceeded $1 trillion, and more than 11% of student loan balances are either delinquent or in default. These unfortunate facts, however, do not vitiate the welcome finding that the college degree has maintained a steady ROI of 15%, which, the authors note, ‘easily surpasses the threshold for a sound investment’. Granted, this 15% has held steady only because the wages of people without college degrees have been falling faster than the wages of college graduates. But these unfortunate social facts are irrelevant to the concept of a sound investment in any case. The authors do go on to caution, however, that ‘while the benefits of college still outweigh the costs on average, not all college degrees are an equally good investment’. Continue reading
The Association for Adorno Studies would like to introduce a new series of blog posts, called “Adorno in Context,” wherein Adorno scholars write more casually, through a lens inspired and informed by Adorno’s thinking, on elements of the modern world. Upcoming, we will have an initial series of posts by Roger Foster (Burrough Manhattan Community College, CUNY) and later, others by Surti Singh (American University in Cairo) and Gordon Finlayson (University of Sussex). We hope you’ll find them interesting, and please do not hesitate to comment.