"Whenever, at the beginning of a social movement, a particular slogan seems to be on everyone's lips and to capture the mood, its power is likely to come from the fact that it condenses some of the most deeply felt sentiments of the hidden transcript. In the working class riots and demonstrations in the Baltic cities of Poland in 1970, 'Down with the Red Bourgeoisie' was such a slogan. Quite apart from the adjective red modifying the noun bourgeoisie, one imagines that this slogan captured the essence of thousands upon thousands of bitter jokes, resentments, and outrage accumulated around kitchen tables, in small groups of workers, in beer halls, and among close companions. The soft life of the representatives of the proletariat—their special shops, their vacation spas and hunting lodges, their party hospitals, their privileged housing and consumer durables, the educational advantages of their children, their arrogance and social distance, their appropriation of the state budget, their corruption—must have fueled a discourse, in safe places, of enormous moral anger and power. It was this social reservoir created offstage well before 1970 that explains the force behind a seemingly simplistic phrase.

The first public declaration of the hidden transcript, then, has a prehistory that explains its capacity to produce political breakthroughs. If, of course, the first act of defiance meets with a decisive defeat it is unlikely to be emulated by others. The courage of those who fail, however, is likely to be noted, admired, and even mythologized in stories of bravery, social banditry, and noble sacrifice. They become themselves part of the hidden transcript.

When the first declaration of the hidden transcript succeeds, its mobilizing capacity as a symbolic act is potentially awesome. At the level of tactics and strategy, it is a powerful straw in the wind. It portends a possible turning of the tables. Key symbolic acts are, as one sociologist puts it, 'tests of whether or not the whole system of mutual fear will hold up.' At the level of political beliefs, anger, and dreams it is a social explosion. That first declaration speaks for countless others, it shouts what has historically had to be whispered, controlled, choked back, stifled, and suppressed. If the results seem like moments of madness, if the politics they engender is tumultuous, frenetic, delirious, and occasionally violent, that is perhaps because the powerless are so rarely on the public stage and have so much to say and do when they finally arrive.

--James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), 226-227.

28th May 2011

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24th January 2011

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This is fucking crazy, but also really an unbelievably rich primary document.

1st January 2011

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Is not the Lord overturning, overturning, overturning?

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Linebaugh and Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra, 94-96:

In October 1656 James Nayler rode through the gates of Bristol, his horse guided by three women: Martha Simmonds, Hannah Stranger, and Dorcas Erbery. They trudged knee-deep in mud, sang psalms of praise, and cast flowers along the way. Nayler was a Yorkshireman who was, at the time, a more successful evangelist even than George Fox, the founder of the Quakers. He wandered the countryside appealing to putting-out workers; he was thrown in prison and shared the straw on the ground with pirates. His class consciousness was well developed. Nayler wrote, “For your scoffing at the plow, I am of it, knowing it to be a lawful employment, much better than the hireling that works not at all, but lives on other man’s labours, taking by violence what’s other men’s labours; but seeing the plow is a reproach with you, why should not the tithes be so also, which are a fruit of the plow?” In 1653 he explained why he did not take off his hat or bow his knee: “The Scripture saith he that respects persons commits sin.”* He was a powerful preacher. He preached jubilee—the acceptable year of the lord, the liberty of the captive. He preached revolution, quoting Ezekiel, “Is not the Lord overturning, overturning, overturning?” He inveighed against the oppressors for taking the commons, “getting great estates in the world, laying house to house and land to land, till there be no place for the poor. And when they are become poor through your deceits then you despise them and exalt yourselves above them and forget that you are all made of one mold, and one blood, and must appear before one judge, who is no respecter of persons.” He spoke out against the slave trade: “Where can the innocent go out and not a trap laid to bring him into bondage and slavery to some of these spirits?” He proclaimed, “I have fellowship with them who live in Dens, and desolate places in the Earth.”

*To “respect persons” meant, in early Modern English, to care about “personage”—that is, status.

1st January 2011

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Fellow-Creature

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Linebaugh and Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra, 72-73:

Some of the more revolutionary notions of the day may be best illustrated by an extraordinary text about a woman named Francis, a “blackymoore maide” who, as a member of a radical religious congregation in Bristol during the 1640s, provided leadership especially to the women of that congregation. The text was written by a church elder, Edward Terrill, which means that ours cannot be a simple story about Francis; it must also necessarily be a tale about the teller of it. She was black; he was white. She was a woman; he was a man. She was a sister in the congregation; he was an elder of the church. She was a servant; he was a master. Underlying these familiar assumptions was a basic antimony: she lived and died during the revolution of the 1640s, while he came of age in the 1640s but thrived during the counterrevolution of the 1660s. The story of Francis and Terrill helps to illuminate the dynamics of race, class, and gender in the English Revolution and to show how the radical voices were ultimately silenced. The outcome of the English Revolution might have been dramatically altered: the commons might have been preserved; values other than those of market society and commodity production might have triumphed; work might not have been seen as the condition of human salvation; patriarchy in the family might not have been saved, nor the labor of women devalued; torture and terror might not have survived in the law and its practice; popular assembles might have proliferated and become open; mutual subsistence rather than individual accumulation might have become the basis of economic activity; and divisions between master and slave might have been abolished.

1st January 2011

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The crisis of reproduction

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Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra, 92:

Female prophecy must be situated in the crisis of reproduction in the middle of the seventeenth century. This was the peak period for the criminalization of women in England and throughout Europe, as prosecutions for infanticide, abortion, and witchcraft reached their highest rate. It was also the period in which men began to wrest control of reproduction from women (male midwives appeared in 1625 and the forceps soon thereafter); previously, “childbirth and the lying-in period were a kind of ritual collectively staged and controlled by women, from which men were usually excluded.” Since the ruling class had begun to recognize its interest in increased fecundity, “attention was focussed on the ‘population’ as a fundamental category for economic and political analysis.” The simultaneous births of modern obstetrics and modern demography were responses to the crisis. Both, like the witchraft prosecutions, sought to rationalize social reproduction in a capitalist context—that is, as the breeding of labor power. A recurring motif in the ruling-class imagination was intercourse between the English witch and the “black man”—a devil or imp. The terror was not limited to imaginary chamber of horrors; it was an actuality of counterrevolution.

29th December 2010

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The Angel of History

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Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”:

A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

26th December 2010

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Over time 2

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Occurrences of “security” over time in American English. See the spike from 1929 to 1940? That’s what my adviser’s book is about.

26th December 2010

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Over time

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Incidences of the word capitalism over time. The general secular trend toward increase is notable, if obvious. The 1929 spike is also predictable. What’s interesting in the decline, which is exactly coincident with the postwar boom. This is what Howard Brick calls the age of “postcapitalist thought”: the boom, an artifact of the destruction of the manufacturing economies of Europe and Japan, created the illusion that the U.S. had passed into a new mode of production. The economy grew, the gap between rich and poor closed. Marx seemed proven definitively wrong. (This set of ideas also, as Lisa McGirr points out, spawned the grassroots creators of the New Right: the suburban middle class who considered their newfound affluence virtue rewarded.) It’s amazing that it turns up so clearly in a measure as simple as this one.

25th December 2010

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Hegemony and resistance in service labor

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Arlie Hochschild, The Managed Heart, 126-127:

For a decade now, flight attendants have quietly lodged a counterclaim to control over their own bodily appearance. Some crews, for example, staged “shoe-ins” … Workers have also—in varying degrees—reclaimed control of their own smiles, and their facial expressions in general.

Alexandra G. Murphy, “Hidden Transcripts of Flight Attendant Resistance,” 499.

I don’t worry about all the changes they are talking about. I just do what they want me to do, and when they aren’t looking, I do what I want.

25th December 2010

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Hegemony and anti-modernism

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James C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak, 346-347:

The conflict in Sedaka can be grasped only against this background of the transforming power of capitalism—its tendency to undermine radically the past and the present. Raymond Williams vividly captures the process:

"Since it has become dominant in one area after another, it has been uncontrollably disturbing and restless, reaching local stabilities only almost at once to move away from them, leaving every kind of social and technical debris, disrupting human continuities and settlements, moving on with brash confidence to its always novel enterprises."

This is also what Brecht must have had in mind when he claimed that it was not socialism, but capitalism, that was revolutionary.

The backward-looking character of much subordinate class ideology and protest is perfectly understandable in this context. It is the revolutionary character of capitalism that casts them in a defensive role. If they defend a version of the older hegemony, it is because those arrangements look good by comparison with the current prospects and because it has a certain legitimacy rooted in earlier practice. The defense and elaboration of a social contract that has been abrogated by capitalist development is perhaps the most constant ideological theme of the peasant and the early capitalist worker—from the Levellers and the Diggers of the English Revolution to the craftsmen and weavers threatened with extinction to the “Captain Swing” rebels fighting the use of threshing machines. The same defense of beleaguered traditional rights is found at the core of popular intellectual attacks on capitalism by figures as ideologically diverse as Cobbett, Paine, and Carlyle.