Being in Solidarity with Monsters
July 21, 2013 11:47 AM   Subscribe

China Miéville talks about Marxism and Halloween in a 39 minute audio recording from the Socialism 2013 conference organized by the International Socialist Organization. Miéville, Marxism, and the Fantastic previously (and many more)
posted by GenjiandProust (29 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
There's a whole lot of lectures and panels on the We Are Many site, should you like that sort of thing, but Miéville's is probably the funniest.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:49 AM on July 21, 2013


Miéville made cactus people a thing, so he's ok in my book.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 11:50 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I will listen to the recording in a bit but I just wanted to take this opportunity to say I just finished Embassytown and it was pretty good even though its premise was kinda shaky if you examine it for a minute!

Also Mieville is number one on my Marxist Hotties 2013 list
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:54 AM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


He's number one on every sensible person's Marxist Hotties 2013 list.

Bonus Miéville: "Guilty Pleasures: Art and Politics" from Socialism 2012.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:04 PM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am intetested in this Marxist Hotties list. Have you a tumblr or pinboard or some such?

:-P
posted by eviemath at 12:04 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Red Hot Revolutionaries?
posted by The Whelk at 12:05 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Like the Cosmarxpolitan covers, but more contemporary?

Oh - I have just had the most brilliant idea: Class War Kitteh + Boys With Cats/Des Hommes et des Chaton mashup: Class War Hottehs with Kittehs!
posted by eviemath at 12:08 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Miéville made cactus people a thing, so he's ok in my book.

This might be relevant to your interests
(and predates Bas-Lag).
posted by ersatz at 12:14 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lil Cactus is also pleased by this digression. High five!
posted by byanyothername at 12:39 PM on July 21, 2013


Red Hot Reds
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:39 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just finished Embassytown and it was pretty good even though its premise was kinda shaky if you examine it for a minute!

it sort of reads like a thought experiment on what's wrong with the "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis"... but then he's stuck with the hypothesis as the premise for the novel without the magical realism-out of The City and The City.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:44 PM on July 21, 2013


Cute Hottehs with Revolutionary Kittehs? The title needs work, but it could have photos of men/trans-men/bois (no gender policing, or any other sort of policing, here!) with cats, captioned with one of the subjects saying something to the other with a Marxist, anarchist, or libertarian communist theme, from a feminist, anti-racist/colonialist, etc. perspective of course, a la Class War Kitteh or Gael Garcia Bernal Feminista.
posted by eviemath at 1:23 PM on July 21, 2013


Embassytown is not abot the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Only the very first description of Language makes it seem so, but this is abandoned soon after. The central concept circles around the arbitrary relation - or lack thereof in the case of Language - between the signifier and the signifed, or between signs and their referents. And as such it works surprisingly well. It's perhaps understandable that many readers don't really get the central premise, as evidenced by many Goodreads reviews too, since I guess Saussure is not as familiar a name as Sapir and Whorf. But as a book toying with the sign-referent relation it is very, very good - and I should know, I'm in fact a PhD student and researcher in semiotics. I think the book is awesome.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 1:32 PM on July 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Hey girl, I heard you got nothing to lose but your chains.
posted by The Whelk at 1:35 PM on July 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


Just in case you have not been tempted to listen to the lecture, perhaps videos of coconut-carrying octopuses (as discussed by Miéville) will change your mind. (Weirdly, there has never been an FPP on this topic.)
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:45 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hard to tell how serious Mieville is during this talk; he almost seems to be going more for humor than for truth. Hard to tell if he's actually arguing for Marxist dread or not. Though his final remark about fools and truth probably tells me where his real point is.

The discussion of Halloween and fear (or dread) makes me want to link to the Cynicalman comic from 1986 on that topic. Looks like it's currently not available on Matt Feazell's website, though.

There's an aspect of Halloween he didn't address: its Saturnalian ties, specifically the idea that everything is inverted for a day. The dead come back to life, genders are switched, lords become peasants and vice versa, etc. That last part could have pretty Marxist meanings, but then it's also just for one day a year. Wouldn't a Marxist analysis of it be that Halloween is just a way for the ruling classes to allow the working classes to blow off steam for a day, thereby further co-opting and commoditizing the working classes' desire to invert the social order? Would've been good for Mieville to address that, though maybe his talk didn't allow time for that aspect of the issue.
posted by jiawen at 1:54 PM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


ersatz: "This might be relevant to your interests (and predates Bas-Lag)."

Hard for me to believe Mieville didn't have the Doctor Who episode "Meglos" in mind.
posted by jiawen at 2:37 PM on July 21, 2013


Pyrogenesis is exactly right (and yeah, it is that good). Embassytown very clearly identifies its subject with the epigraph, which is a Walter Benjamin quote: "The word must communicate something (other than itself)."

It's not about linguistics, it's about semiotics.
posted by mek at 3:13 PM on July 21, 2013


The central concept circles around the arbitrary relation - or lack thereof in the case of Language - between the signifier and the signifed, or between signs and their referents.

this is a derail from halloween with the bolsheviks, but the problem (for me) is that the aliens appear to have different intuitive experiences from us based upon the structure of their language... is that what a semiotician would argue?

(it's been awhile I may be misremembering the book)

also, the problem with monsters is that they are fundamentally other, even if you identify them you can't become a monster. although i'd have a different response to Chavez's fatwa against Halloween.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:18 PM on July 21, 2013


ok, now i've listened to the whole thing. he's charming but i don't quite get his "marxism of dread" line: historical materialism is founded on dread of the future? the inevitable collapse of capitalism as a ghost story doesn't seem like an idea you want to wake up next to in the morning.

also, the whole discussion seems to exist in an alternate reality without the SituationistsTM: have they been scrubbed from the history of international socialism?
posted by ennui.bz at 5:18 PM on July 21, 2013


Coconut-carrying octopus post from 2009.
posted by Kattullus at 5:40 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


here he is talking about art and politics.

he lets out what i think is the root of my problem with both of the lectures which is that he sees art (including popular culture) as having a dual nature: part commodity and part... art. which is an odd view for a socialist to have. it's precisely the *total* process of commodity production and consumption of popular culture which makes it interesting, as compared to modern "high" art which functions mainly as a social currency among the wealthy... and is interesting as anthropology more than aesthetics.

you can step back, in the spirit of Peter Weiss's Aesthetics of Resistance, and say the primary politics of aesthetics is in the consumer rather than the producer. but mieville, in speaking, is speaking as a producer.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:20 PM on July 21, 2013


The central concept circles around the arbitrary relation - or lack thereof in the case of Language - between the signifier and the signifed, or between signs and their referents.

I got that, but I couldn't really tease out a connection between that and the having-to-be-spoken-to-by-two-people-sharing-a-mind thing. It felt like two cool concepts that didn't have much to do with each other.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:50 PM on July 21, 2013


So I think it's a trap to say that Language illustrates that language shapes thought (though of course language shapes thought), because Language isn't a language — it's a non-linguistic method of directly producing effects in properly prepared minds, that happens (like language) to involve mouths and sound.

On the surface level, the "let's see what's necessary to move the plot along" level, I'd say the two-voices requirement for Language works because it makes it really hard for humans to speak/experience it. Though there's more than that there.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:01 PM on July 21, 2013


also, the whole discussion seems to exist in an alternate reality without the SituationistsTM: have they been scrubbed from the history of international socialism?

The ISO is Marxist/Leninist/Trotskyist. It has never really had much use for other socialist traditions, and it has even less use for anything strongly associated with anarchists (which the SI is).

That said, I'm positive "The Revolution of Everyday Life" is a guilty pleasure for more than a few comrades. They'll quit soon enough.
posted by mph at 8:55 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Politics aside, Mieville is one of the few fantasy wuthors who's works feel fantastic.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:56 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like this is just skating over the surface, and as somebody who defended 'theory' recently I still don't really understand this lecture.

The end bit about slasher movies is great though.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:32 PM on July 21, 2013


the problem (for me) is that the aliens appear to have different intuitive experiences from us based upon the structure of their language... is that what a semiotician would argue?

No. The problem is that their 'language' isn't really a language at all. It looks like a language, but it's really just a causal chain. It's a weirdly modernist book that engages with the 90s-ish fear of neurology and materiality by sidestepping it and arguing it isn't a feature of real languages. Kind of weird that he ignores all the poststructuralist muddying of the signifier/signified split, but a clear exposition of a basic idea.
posted by Acheman at 3:03 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


also, the whole discussion seems to exist in an alternate reality without the SituationistsTM: have they been scrubbed from the history of international socialism?

Well, I think he was mostly interested in the issue of the Fantastic (and he appeals to the Surrealists for that). Given that he had only 40 minutes (based on lectures by other people, I gather that the organizers are rather stern with the clock), I'm not sure how much he could have discussed the SI (although, as noted above, there are possible political motives as well).
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:20 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


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