Critique and innovation

Are critique and innovation the same thing?

On Nettime, Prem Chandavarkar argues they are different, but co-existing:

The avant-garde are (to use a term from Thomas Kuhn) paradigm

shifters. Their work consists of two facets that operate

simultaneously. One is a deep critique of current paradigms of

cultural production. And the other is production of artistic work

that demonstrates a new paradigm and a new set of possibilities. One

cannot privilege either of these facets saying it is primary, and

the other derives from it – the relationship between the two is far

more complex. However the two always go together

Momus thinks, in a weaker version, that they can be:

Sometimes satire and innovation are the same thing. Everything is chugging along just fine in a discipline — pop music, design, whatever. There are norms, habits, maxims. It all looks like common sense, although in fact it’s just repetition and conformity. Then — bang! — out jump these jokers who mock the whole thing, send it up because they’re not really invested in it, terribly bored by it, and have no jobs and nothing to lose…They want to change the paradigms and put themselves at the centre of a new way of doing things. And on their mockery they build something good, against all the odds. You have to knock something down before you can build something new.

You’ll often find hints of a stronger argument from those who work through the form of criticism, or who praise it (these two unsurprisingly tend to coexist). But I’m not sure many quite cross the chasm — they may convince me that critique is a Good Thing, or that it creates conditions which favour change. But a gulf remains between that and making the change happen.

So in drama, Brecht gives us the Verfremdungseffekt, or alienation effect. This argues that critical drama should shun the euphoric escapism on offer from purely entertainment-oriented theatre. Rather, jolt the audience awake by showing them the weirdness of the present. We watch Charlie Chaplin eating a boot, for example, with great concern for his table manners. Thus we see the artificiality and the limits of, for example, our customs around eating.

Or take the cluster of thinkers around Critical Theory — anybody from Adorno through to Judith Butler. Here the focus is on the politics of words, on laying bare the hidden meaning of the present. Again, this can demonstrate what is wrong with the present — the operation of power, the closed-off areas of the unsayable. Perhaps it opens up new possibilities of expression. But does it force them?

Drug-resistant TB in India

Very Not Good, to quote somebody on Facebook.

Drug-resistant TB has now emerged in India; it had already been found in Italy and Iran.

The development of some kind of resistance is pretty much inevitable. The


of that development really isn’t.



Although the WHO describes TB as a “disease of poverty”, drug-resistant varieties might best be understood as resulting from poor treatment. According to a 2011 WHO report, fewer than 5% of newly diagnosed or previously treated patients are tested for drug resistance. And it is estimated that just 16% of patients with drug-resistant TB are receiving appropriate treatment.

“The cases are a story of mismanagement,” says Migliori. “Resistance is man-made, caused by exposure to the wrong treatment, the wrong regimen, the wrong treatment duration.”

In the management of TB, many factors affect whether the disease is cured or becomes resistant to treatment. Drug misuse or mismanagement can result if a patient does not follow a full course of treatment, or if the correct drugs are not available or patients with undiagnosed resistant TB receive inappropriate therapies.

And then there’s the usual economics behind it:

Tuberculosis trails behind only HIV as the world’s leading cause of death from infectious disease. But in spite of its impact on human health and economic growth, it has not ranked among the pharmaceutical industry’s priorities.

“The pharmaceutical industry had scant interest in TB for decades,” says Richard Chaisson, director of the Center for TB Research at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. “The industry pretty much concluded it wasn’t an attractive market, there was not enough potential profit.”

Dividends of Crime

Good news of the week: the Serious Fraud Office has grown some teeth. For the first time, they’ve confiscated dividends paid out by a fraudulant company.

This has been possible for many years — the Proceeds of Crime Act enables confiscation of money earned through criminal behaviour, even if it has since changed hands.

And it makes complete moral sense. Investing in a company means (partially) owning it, which means being responsible for its behaviour.

The FT has some charmingly outraged reactions from the City. The Efficient Markets Hypothesis goes straight out of the window, the moment inefficiency is bad for financial institutions.

And so they fall back to the last front of financial scaremongering: pension-fund FUD. “

Intellectually it’s unassailable

“, says one barrister, “

but if it happened on a large scale it could undermine people’s pension funds


Nonsense. Nobody argues you should fund your retirement by mugging old ladies. So why should you be entitled to fund it by investing in Muggers, Inc?

Besides, investors — especially huge pension funds — have a duty to investigate the companies in which they invest. Otherwise, you have to assume they’re defrauding not just their customers, but also the shareholders.

Besides, isn’t this why we have markets? To distribute risk? Presumably some innovative broker could concoct a scheme “Proceeds of Crime Insurance”, and allow those poor pension funds to protect themselves.

Actually, I’d love for this to happen more than it already does. The price of fraud insurance would be a public indicator of how corrupt investors believe a company to be. It might even make public some of the due-diligence work done in parallel and in secret by analysts.

To some extent this already happens with, for instance, Directors and Officers Liability Insurance or Fidelity Bonds. It would surely only take the smallest of tweaks to make these explicitly cover the proceeds of crime.

Thatcher on the bus

Rhian Jones is always great, doubly so when it gets to feminism and culture and politics:

[Thatcher’s image on

The Iron Lady

adverts is] like being repeatedly sideswiped by the 1980s, which is something the last UK election had already made me thoroughly sick of.

Thatcher, according to an article Jones links, “

had what it takes to become a modern icon: big hair, high foreheads and a face that would allow you to project your own fears and desires on to it

And while the image of Thatcher as

Liberty Leading the People

makes my skin crawl, I can’t disagree with this:

the images of both women are used in a cultural tradition in which the female figure in particular becomes a canvas for the expression of abstract ideas (think justice, liberty, victory). The abstract embodiment of multiple meanings, and the strategic performance of traditional ideas of femininity, constitute sources of power which Thatcher and her political and media allies exploited to the hilt in their harnessing of support for the policies she promoted.

Nostalgia for British industry

Owen Hatherley picks up on the veneration of industry over services, as a political cliche which unites Labour and the Conservatives:

For Ed Miliband, it’s a question of rewarding the ‘producers’ in industry rather than the ‘predators’ of finance capitalism; for George Osborne, ‘we need to start making things again’….What does it mean, this apparent divide between producer and predator, industrialist and speculator, this apparent desire to turn the long-defunct workshop of the world back into a workshop of some sort?

Despite appearances, this is not a modernist argument. It’s romantic nostalgia. Industry is old-fashioned, honest, straightforward, comprehensible. It’s what gave Britain the identity it has lost in these confusing times.

In other words, industry is taking on the role you would expect to see played by the countryside. And, as with today’s industrial nostalgia, rural nostalgia came from both left and right. Hatherley again:

Whether ostensibly conservative, like the Gothic architect Augustus Welsby Pugin, or Marxist, like William Morris, opinion formers in the second half of the nineteenth century agreed that industry had deformed the United Kingdom, that its cities and its architecture were horrifying, that its factories were infernal, and that it should be replaced with a return to older, preferably medieval certainties.

It’s a neat step through sectors of the economy: the prisoner of finance pines for industry; the prisoner of industry pines for farming. Go back far enough, and I’m sure you’d find Mercian villagers longing for the good old days of nomadic hunting

Rural architecture

Rem Koolhaas claims to now be more interested in countryside than in cities. As he says, rural areas are “changing more radically than our cities”:

Millions have moved to cities from the countryside. They have left behind a weird territory for genetic experimentation, intermittent immigration [and] vast property transactions. It’s truly amazing when you look closely.

architectural preservation by landmine

via bldgblog, the grim idea that the best way of preserving natural landscapes might be through making them too dangerous for humans to venture into.

The post carries pictures of beautiful landscapes — and of the landmines which were once buried there. Remove the mines, and will the landscape in turn be destroyed?

It’s not dissimilar to the allure of the exclusion zone around Chernobyl. Again, a certain deadliness suits nature just as it keeps us out.


It can be entertaining, if grim, to see which bits of cultural history get adopted by extremists. The Larouche followers are my favourite case, with their mishmash of Leibnitz, and with being relatively harmless. But there’s this case of a racist murderer, part of a group passionate about Ezra Pound.

Good Ancestors

Laurie Penny is now, annoyingly, writing good things in print that aren’t available on the internet:

youth services are the first to go when cuts are imposed, because they have few measurable outcomes — by the time the damage done can be tallied, the political careers of the current administration will be beyond scrutiny

Nobody is investing in young people, in the environment, in frastructure, in education, in any of the things that might make us – to use an adddictive little phrase I picked up at Occupy Wall Street – “good ancestors”.

Instead, allt he current crop of politicians seems to be able to do is beg and bullyu the young and disenfranchised into giving them respect…I can think of few historical moments when respect for our elders has been less appropriate

Nashi don’t look after their districts

B&T has an interesting point on the differences between officially-sponsored political movements in Russia vs. China. Briefly: only in China do the local candidates put in the work:

Your pan-democrat is the fellow with the big words about democracy; your DAB candidate is known in the neighbourhood for spending years ladling soup into grannies and talking ‘common sense’. That’s not how Nashi rolls.

I do wonder, though,


Nashi don’t do more of the local service provision. It’s the most reliable route to political support, and United Russia have the cash. Maybe they just don’t feel they need to put in that much effort.