Public Intellectuals-Part II: Take I-Doreen Massey July 09, 2008

Let’s continue with Doreen Massey’s piece on Caracas; a paragraph of hers would be more than enough, from the same issue of the Antipode(Vol. 4, Iss. 3), titled When Theory Meets Politics:

One of the many impressive aspects of the Bolivarian revolution is its active and explicit use of “ideas”. Chávez on television and in meetings reads passages from “academic” tomes, and then meditates on them, live, trying to draw out thoughts that might be relevant to building “a socialism for the 21st century”. The works of Hardt and Negri, and of Laclau, amongst many others, are drawn on extensively. The concept of multitude resonates strongly in a country long ruled by an oligarchy separated by a chasm of wealth, power, and the self-enclosures of mutual ignorance, from the mass of the impoverished. The concept of hegemony and a reformulation in that light of the notion of populism helps think through a conjuncture in which the legitimacy of the formal state apparatus has pretty much collapsed. It is utterly invigorating to be in a situation where ideas really matter. But also one where they are not simply taken as “truth”. Concepts are drawn on and reworked in the complexity of the actual situation. This is part of that long Latin American endeavour of developing a voice of its own. The different theories/concepts anyway interrupt each other. (I am engaged in a demanding debate about how to (indeed can you?) work with Negri and Laclau together.)

Doreen Massey

Well, how can you? Why? 

And, my Benjaminian moment -where he felt heartbroken with what he saw in Moscow- comes in these words:

“I am totally at one with this; it is after all an argument about geographical specificity. It means you “let go” of “your” concept (power geometry, say) at the same time as trying to insert into the debate the aspects that, you think, for now, provisionally, might be essential. (I have to stop myself falling again into anger at the CV-enhancing stuff that sometimes passes for theoretical engagement back home, so often written of as “risky” even “dangerous”, before the authors return to their oh-so-conventional lives.) Sometimes you’re running after the concept, trying to keep up, and learning. I am told that on the streets in some parts of Caracas there is talk of “la geometría del poder popular”. There are other ways too, but for me this, along with the hard and lengthy reflection and rumination that come afterwards, is how “theory” develops; and this is how it can matter.”

Doreen Massey

A simple question still lingers though, is there a vacuum where theory can be singled out in its state of nature? In this case, this particular state refers to the stasis of the intellectuals, their natural habitat(zoo? or worse, botanical garden?) their class positions, their chairs, offices in well-clad university buildings, their CVs, pay packages, benefits, publications, postures in conferences, seminars, roundtables,their ubiquituous referents of power-albeit shrouded with an haphazardly woven fabric of discourse- etcetera, etcetera…

Edit: 18.04.2017

Madurismo, the perfect Stalin to Chaves’ Lenin

Don’t get me wrong, I have a deep respect, admiration, and nothing but enduring praise for Doreen Massey. Best historico-geographical academic of the latter part of the 20th century.

But, Bolivarian Revolution is dead. The Bolivarian state is in utter despair, collapsed beyond any repair. And it took less than a decade.

A great deal of public intellectuals thought themselves no more than the loudspeaker of social movements. They failed miserably in their deficit to really turn the idea on its feet. It’s not actually about politics, but about reproduction.

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