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“In a world full of violence, destruction and death, or “madness in every direction,” as Kerouac would have said, the subject becomes nothing but a projector of the evil within society.”
Cengiz Erdem

The Nihil Solipsist: a being that knows neither its own nothingness nor the dark self-cannibalizing force of all those others within; trapped within the introjected prison-house of an impure fear, bound to the cross of a symbolic gesture, tormented by the thought of its own paranoid-schizoid position this Nietzschean subject relishes the hunt as a repetition of the life-death drives it seeks to unleash at the hands of all those non-others within its own panopticon of deliriums. Cengiz Erdem in his essay The Nietzschean Subject tells us that the “paradoxical nature of the contemporary Nietzschean subject is a result of the turning of self into the other within in the process of becoming. The self of the present has not only become a prison-house of the others within itself but also it itself has become a self-contained monad with no relation to the outside and no awareness of the external world populated by the others’ selves.”

Erdem tells us that today everything has been reduced to the pure or impure exchange value of Capital; even the invention of subjectivity, which no longer touches the oldest of criteria: use value. Instead we have always already become a cog in the machine, a machinic subject, a zombified cogito serving the greater good of Capital itself. Like somnambulists in a dream matrix we have become the illusory beneficiaries of an inhuman thought:

“With societies based on exchange value the relationship between the subject and the object is confined in the paranoid-schizoid position. There remains no gap between the subject and the object when in fact there should be. Everything becomes a substitute for another thing and everything is substitutable. With the advance of global capitalism the subject itself becomes an object. The subject begins to act itself out as an object for the desire and consumption of the other. The subject becomes a substitute of itself.  With global capitalism the subject starts to feel itself as a machine; it becomes inorganic for itself when in fact it is essentially organic. In other words organs start to operate like non-organs, all organicity is replaced by inorganicity, life with death, and in this kind of a society everyone is always already dead.”

Consuming machines that we are we have been reduced to eating our own… shall I say it: shit! Instead of difference we have all become entrepreneurs of the self-same identity of Capital: trending our way to the avant-garde in our latest designer outfits we speak the local lingo like the good netizens we are, forging identities in a spurious masqueradism of conformity to the latest fashion boutique or philosophical blog, hip-hopping or rapping along to life’s happy nihilism like black metal fetishists apotropaically defending ourselves against the encrustations of an artificial slime world where the gods of filth and dionysian ecstasy infuse us with the abyss of the inhuman. Or, as Erdem defines it: “With the advance of global capitalism this herd-instinct can be said to have become nothing but a result of the exploitation of the life and death drives to reduce life to a struggle for and against life/death. The subject no longer has to carry the burden of being different. In this light and in this time we can see global capitalism creating not only the conditions of possibility for the subject to forget itself but also the conditions of impossibility for a remembrance of self, producing the non-knowledge of self as the counter-knowledge.”

Nietzsche‘s Ecce Homo has become for the new trend setters the glorious cookbook for ‘healthy living’, and all those pesky little ghosts of our forbears otherness has suddenly surprised us as the unmasking of our daily selves in the present. Erdem in a final colloquy relates that ”the the non-reason inherent in reason has become the reason itself, and yet the questions remain:

1. What can be learned from Nietzsche’s failure, which caused and continues to cause many other failures?

2. What are the conditions of possibility for a non-antagonistic and yet non-illusory relationship between the self and the other and how can they be sustained?

Those two questions could and should fill volumes, but being a small blog report upon the workings of such a fine mind we can only hope that Cengiz Erdem will be answering these either fully or partially in his upcoming book?

Addendum: Cengiz published another essay just after the previous one, Barbaric Regress and Civilised Progress contra Deconstruction and Affirmative Recreation, which offers some further reflection on the above topic.

via Dark Chemistry

Excision Ethos: Flat Ontology and the Posthuman Object/Subject.

Somebody dying under the MRI.  

The Immortal Subject Beyond The Life Drive

In our daily lives we create little worlds of our own and invest them with various meanings. These worlds have their own logics, orders repetitively staged every day; this gives us a sense of continuity in time and hence a sense of security. Objects and subjects surrounding us, everything fits in its proper place in this microcosmic self-consciousness of ours.

The thought of being a tiny spot in the middle of nowhere, however, or somewhere in the vast universe is too unbearable to be thought through for many people because it reminds us of death. If one thinks this thought for too long all meaning collapses and life falls apart, the established symbolic order of object relations become disorganized. This is when the journey of the subject towards nothingness begins. If the subject manages to maintain integrity throughout the passage from self-consciousness to an impersonal consciousness reconciliation of self with life and the world takes place. With the advance of this macrocosmic impersonal consciousness in time everything symbolic loses meaning and credibility only to lead to an opening up of a space for the emergence of a new meaning. The new is not independent from the old. But is that which had hitherto been unseen, unrealised, unthought as a new possibility of a progressive movement.

Authentic fidelity is the fidelity to the void itself—to the very act of loss, of abandoning or erasing the object. Why should the dead be the object of attachment in the first place? The name for this fidelity is death drive. In the terms of dealing with the dead, one should, perhaps, against the work of mourning as well as against the melancholic attachment to the dead who return as ghosts, assert the Christian motto “let the dead bury their dead.” The obvious reproach to this motto is, What are we to do when, precisely, the dead do not accept to stay dead, but continue to live in us, haunting us by their spectral presence? One is tempted here to claim that the most radical dimension of the Freudian death drive provides the key to how we are to read the Christian “let the dead bury their dead”: what death drive tries to obliterate is not the biological life but the very afterlife—it endeavours to kill the lost object the second time, not in the sense of mourning (accepting the loss through symbolization) but in a more radical sense of obliterating the very symbolic texture, the letter in which the spirit of the dead survives.[1]

So, neither the work of mourning nor melancholia are progressive. It is the work of death drive to kill death, to cause a loss of loss, to destroy the symbolic texture causing death to take place; death drive is the only weapon against death in life. Rather than symbolizing and then accepting death, the subject as death drive contemplates death as nothingness and fills the space of death within the symbolic with nothing. Zizek points out that there is a great difference between willing nothing and willing nothingness.

What we are implicitly referring to here is, of course, Nietzsche’s classic opposition between ‘wanting nothing’ (in the sense of ‘I don’t want anything’) and the nihilistic stance of actively wanting Nothingness itself; following Nietzsche’s path, Lacan emphasized how in anorexia, the subject does not simply ‘eat nothing’ – rather, she or he actively wants to eat the Nothingness (the Void) that is itself the ultimate object-cause of desire. (The same goes for Ernst Kris’s famous patient who felt guilty of theft, although he did not actually steal anything: what he did steal, again, was the Nothingness itself.) So – along the same lines, in the case of caffeine-free diet Coke, we drink the Nothingness itself, the pure semblance of a property that is in effect merely an envelope of a void.[2]

The object that takes the place of the Real is what Lacan calls the objet petit a. The objet petit a is that which the master-signifier causes to be signified. There is nothing to signify the objet petit a, it is that signifier itself. The master-signifier signifies the objet petit a as its own signifier. Without the objet petit a the nothingness behind the master-signifier would become manifest. Master signifier generates signs that signify their own autonomous existence. That is, they hide the latent content of the master-signifier which is nothingness.  By manufacturing the illusion of its own non-being the master-signifier signifies itself as the transcendental signified. It does this through signifying the objet petit a as the transcendental sign, (signifier and signified at once). The sublime object which stands in for nothingness behind it is the object of desire of masses who fantasize that they are drinking something good, when in reality they are drinking the void and their own life/death.

One simply cannot conceal from oneself what all the willing that has received its direction from the ascetic ideal actually expresses: this hatred of the human, still more of the animal, still more of the material, this abhorrence of the senses, of reason itself, this fear of happiness and of beauty, this longing away from all appearance, change, becoming, death, wish, longing itself—all of this means—let us grasp this—a will to nothingness, an aversion to life, a rebellion against the most fundamental presuppositions of life; but it is and remains a will!… And, to say again at the end what I said at the beginning: man would much rather will nothingness than not will… [3]

In The Fragile Absolute, Slavoj Zizek gives the example of Diet-Coke as a symptom of will to nothingness inherent in contemporary society.

So, when, some years ago, the advertising slogan for Coke was ‘Coke is it!’, we should note its thorough ambiguity: ‘that’s it’ precisely in so far as that’s never actually it, precisely in so far as every satisfaction opens up a gap of ‘I want more!’. The paradox, therefore, is that Coke is not an ordinary commodity whereby its-use value is transubstantiated into an expression of (or supplemented with) the auratic dimension of pure (exchange) Value, but a commodity whose very peculiar use-value is itself already a direct embodiment of the suprasensible aura of the ineffable spiritual surplus, a commodity whose very material properties are already those of a commodity. This process is brought to its conclusion in the case of caffeine-free diet Coke – why? We drink Coke – or any drink – for two reasons: for its thirst-quenching or nutritional value, and for its taste. In the case of caffeine-free diet Coke, nutritional value is suspended and the caffeine, as the key ingredient of its taste, is also taken away – all that remains is a pure semblance, an artificial promise of a substance which never materialized. Is it not true that in this sense, in the case of caffeine-free diet Coke, we almost literally ‘drink nothing in the guise of something’?[4]

By drinking Diet-Coke, the subject, rather than being really healthy, is being merely less ill, since Diet or not, Coke is itself unhealthy.  Coke as we know it is miles away from its medicinal uses for which it was invented in the first place. The measure of health is not Coke without caffeine and sugar. So the Diet-Coke cannot be a sign of healthy living. Worse than being unhealthy, it is death disguised as an object of desire, that object of desire being healthy living. So we can see the process through which the Real of the subject’s desire, which is the death-drive, is turned into desire for healthy living. As the subject thinks he/she is moving towards greater health, he/she is in reality moving towards death. We have to be clear about where exactly the life-drive and the death-drive become separated from themselves and hence their roles are reversed, turning them into their opposites. It is precisely at this point of separation- unification of the life-drive and the death-drive that the conflict-event takes the place of the place itself.

This place is a playground on which this conflict-event between the life-drive and the death-drive is played out as a confrontation between the therapeutic society and critical theory. If the aim of psychotherapy is to adapt the subject to the environment, then it is by definition a normalizing practice. But asks critical theory, what is the definition of health? On which grounds are we talking about health? What are the values that make health? All these questions may lead down to the big question of ontology: “What is the meaning of life?” There is no meaning of life. It is my actions and words that invest my life with a particular meaning. What determines the meaning of objects surrounding me is the use I put them into. In this context, progress in therapeutic procedure is signified by an increase in the subject’s ability to use the objects surrounding him/her.

But critical theory says: you are confusing use-value and exchange-value. You are forgetting the need to remember that in your world the exchange-value preceeds the use-value. You are always already born into the world of objects with their values attached to them, how can you say that you are healing these people by telling lies to them concerning the cause of their desire and the Real of the objects they choose to put to use. Isn’t their choice already determined by the pre-dominant symbolic order?[5]

Critical theory agrees with psychotherapy that it is the use value of the object that is important. But what critical theory wants to say is that what psychotherapy presents the subject with, as the use-value, is already the exchange-value, so psychotherapy is presenting the subject with death disguised as life. It is there that there has been a shift in the gears, where Nietzsche conceived of himself as the stage of confrontation between Christ and Dionysus, as the conflict-event that shifted the gears at a certain moment in history. At this precise moment in time negation and affirmation change roles for the very reason that negating the symbolic order becomes the same as affirming the Real. One creates a fantasy which negates the symbolic and affirms the Real as it is, that is, with all its inconsistencies, internal conflicts, imperfections, and incompleteness. Something in the symbolic order is caused to fail by these interventions of the affirmative subject. Here a question awaits us: Does that mean that for creation to take place destruction is necessary? The answer to this question is a yes and a no at the same time. Because destruction causes a split in the order and yet this split’s consequence depends on the future of the response to it. Destruction is not essential to creation but is an inescapable result of it. [6]  So there may or may not be cases where there is something in the process of being created without anything being destroyed. For when one thinks about it, creation is not a subtraction from nature, but quite the contrary, an addition to it. For subtraction to become creative it should be a subtraction from culture, that is, from knowledge, or from the already existing symbolic order. Badiou’s subtraction opens a void within the already existing symbolic order and through this void a new truth flows. It is only in so far as the mortal human animal chooses fidelity to this truth-event that it becomes a subject, that is, an immortal indifferent to death.

André Kertész     Window, paris     1928

The Immortal Subject Beyond The Death Drive

The creature called human can cease being a passive non-being and become an active being only insofar as it produces love against the negative power of the already existing capitalist law. As we all know, the laws’ negative impositions give birth to the vicious cycle of the life and death drives, which is in turn exploited in the way of more money.

With the domination of nihilist global capitalism all over the world social life has become a masquerade. The silence diminishes and noise pollutes the lives of all. This noise is what Nietzsche calls “the noise of the marketplace.” The subject neither questions its being in itself nor its being for itself. The system provides the subject with innumerable facilities to keep boredom at bay so as to sustain the conditions for the possibility of the non-being of thought to take place. The subject simply does not feel the need to think and in time the subject loses the ability not only to think but also to act consciously. It all becomes an empty and meaningless spectacle to live. Every subject takes on a role, or an identity in accordance with the demands of the show business and hides behind this role turning into a solipsistic monad acting itself out in the way of satisfying the big Other. Just like Judge Schreber who had to endure inordinate measures of suffering to satisfy the demands of those cruel gods he populated himself with… And Schreber, satisfied as he was with the mere pleasure of sharing the high profile mission of satisfying cruel and invisible gods, becomes a madman when in fact he was a woman enduring privation.[7]

In the banality of ordinary social reality the subject forgets to think of its death as its own. Absence of the thought of death brings with it the presence of the thought of being, which means that the subject has lost his/her sense of self/other distinction, and is governed by his/her unconscious drives. This leads to the subject’s ignorance of an external world, or perhaps an unintentional neglect of an external reality other than the one it imagines, for it has itself become exterior to itself.

When death is thought about, this thought never takes place in terms of the death of the self. It is always through the death of the other that the subject thinks of death. It is always a “they” who die. Death is conceived as a symbolic incident. The reason of that reductive attitude towards death is the will to preserve the banality of ordinary reality and sustain the conditions for the possibility of an illusory sense of oneness with the world. All this, of course, is done to keep the Real of the external world at bay.

Global capitalism produces subjects who cannot stand the thought of the outside; they cannot conceive the absence of an external world within them. The fear of death is so strong that with the force of its negativity it totally negates death in life, erases the slash in life/death, and vainly erects statues to attain immortality.

It is a strange subject, however, with no fixed identity, wandering about over the body without organs, but always remaining peripheral to the desiring-machines, being defined by the share of the product it takes for itself, garnering here, there, and everywhere a reward in the form of a becoming an avatar, being born of the states that it consumes and being reborn with each new state. “It’s me, and so it’s mine…” Even suffering, as Marx says, is a form of self-enjoyment.[8]

Today the purpose of life has become keeping the subject busy for the sake of the business of not thinking death. The subject is bombarded by objects of introjection to such extent that it has no time for feeling anxious about its own death. The objects form a transparent sheet between the subject and its death. As inorganic substances the objects fill the space of death within life. What we witness in this time is life turned into a project aiming at erasing the silence necessary for thought; and not only erasing but also replacing it with an unceasing noise causing nausea.

The infinite, then, is within finitude, so in order to think the infinite we have to think the finite, that is, the thought of death. Although the thought of death has a high price which the subject pays by a loss of mental and physical health, it is nevertheless useful in opening up the way to limit experiences. The death drive devastates the predominant conceptualisations of the “good” of civilized progress and the “bad” of barbaric regress. The subject of the death drive situates itself as the traitor on the opposite pole of belief and faith in immortality. In the place of statues representing immortality, it erects nothing. That way it confronts the promised land of total security and harmony with a world governed by the anxiety of the feeling of being surrounded by nothingness. In this world there remains no ground beneath the symbolic order. Death is in the midst of life; it is life that surrounds death.

How would our lives change if we were to become capable of imagining ourselves as immortal beings? If we keep in mind that we are always already locked within the vicious cycle of the life and death drives governed by the law of capital, it becomes easier to understand why we need to break this vicious cycle of Capitalism and its governor, liberal-democracy, based on unjust representations, in order to create, produce or present the realm of love beyond the rotary motion of drives. But it must also be kept in mind that when we say beyond, we are talking about a beyond which is always already within the pre-dominant symbolic order and yet not within the reach of mortal beings. It is a beyond only from the perspective of the present state. In our scenario, immortality is not something to be attained, rather, it is a virtual potential or an actual capacity within every mortal being, awaiting to be realised. The realisation of the immortality within us, or the realisation of the infinite potential that life contains, depends on our proper use of our powers of imagination. Let us imagine ourselves as immortal beings then, which we already are, but cannot enact because of the finitude imposed upon us by the already existing symbolic order. Would we need to get out of this order to become immortal? Yes and no. Yes, because the within which we said infinity resides is a within which is exterior only from the point of view of the already existing order. No, because only from within the already existing order can we present an outside of this order, “an outside” in Deleuze’s words apropos of Foucault and Blanchot, “which is closer than any interiority and further away than any exteriority.”

 In his Theoretical Writings Alain Badiou attempts to separate himself from the Romantic understanding of infinity, and the pursuit of immortality. According to Badiou, contemporary mathematics broke with the Romantic idea of infinity by dissolving the Romantic concept of finitude. For Badiou, as it is for mathematics, the infinite is nothing but indifferent multiplicity, whereas for the Romantics it was nothing more than a “historical envelopment of finitude.” Behind all this, of course, is Badiou’s strong opposition to historicism and temporalization of the concept. It is in this context that Badiou can say, “Romantic philosophy localizes the infinite in the temporalization of the concept as a historical envelopment of finitude.”[9]

Mathematics now treats the finite as a special case whose concept is derived from that of the infinite. The infinite is no longer that sacred exception co-ordinating an excess over the finite, or a negation, a sublation of finitude. For contemporary mathematics, it is the infinite that admits of a simple, positive definition, since it represents the ordinary form of multiplicities, while it is the finite that is deduced from the infinite by means of negation or limitation. If one places philosophy under the condition such a mathematics, it becomes impossible to maintain the discourse of the pathos of finitude. ‘We’ are infinite, like every multiple-situation, and the finite is a lacunal abstraction. Death itself merely inscribes us within the natural form of infinite being-multiple, that of the limit ordinal, which punctuates the recapitulation of our infinity in a pure, external ‘dying.’[10]

The political implications of the move from Romantic infinity to mathematical infinity can be observed in Badiou’s Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. In this little book Badiou criticizes the hypocrisy of human rights for reducing being-human to being a mortal animal. Of course Badiou admits that what is called human is indeed a mortal animal, but what he objects to is the exploitation of this state of being. Against this deprecative attitude, Badiou pits the immortal subject, or rather, the subject who is capable of realising his/her immortality.[11]

Badiou says that “being is inconsistent multiplicity.” As an advocate of immanence, unlike Heidegger, he doesn’t think that there is an ontological difference between Being and beings. As a matter of fact, he altogether refuses that there is such a thing as Being transcending the multiple beings, or beings as inconsistent multiplicities. To understand where Badiou is coming from we only need to look at his critique of Heidegger’s equation of being in the world and being towards death. For Badiou there is no such thing as being in the world, because for him there is not one world but multiple worlds and consequently being in the world as being towards death is a rather impoverished idea doomed to result in the mistaken assumption that consciousness of human finitude is self-consciousness. And I agree with Badiou that consciousness of human finitude merely serves to justify a life driven by death.

 I therefore propose a consciousness of infinitude rather than of finitude for a sustenance of the conditions of possibility for an ethical life and for an ethical death. For when you think about it, if we were immortal, that is, if our lives were eternal, we wouldn’t be so destructive of the environment, not so harsh on nature and one another, because no one would want to live in such a hell eternally. Since it is obvious that as humans we have been turning the world into a hell in the name of progress for a while now, and since death has been the end from which we have come to think we have been striving to escape in this progressive process, it is obvious that a forgetting of death, or rather, a remembering to forget our mortality would make us fear an eternal life in hell, rather than a finite life in an illusory heaven.

If we keep in mind that the global capitalist system, as we have tried to explicate, takes its governing force from its exploitation of life and death drives, that it is based on our fear of death and consciousness of finitude, it becomes clearer why a subtraction of death from life not only shakes, but also annihilates the foundations of capitalism.

To What End Last Words? To What End Suffering…

Throughout this article I have tried to develop a mode of critique in and through which nothing is excluded and/or determined. This reflective mode of critique itself enabled me to situate myself in the middle of the reflective and the determinative modes of judgment. The critical mode employed in this article is still context-bound to a certain extent, and yet it tries to restrictively dissociate itself from the predetermined context, rather than freely associate within it. A new field is opened, the conditions are created for the possibility of a decision beyond the Law of Militarist Capitalism and the Welfare State driven by and driving the exploitation of mortality on a massive scale.

There is this transcendental field that requires a non-mortal mode of being in the world, neither for nor against it, but engagingly indifferent to it in such a way as to turn its own alienation from mortality into its driving force in its attempt to demolish the faculty of finite judgment and create the conditions of possibility out of the conditions of impossibility for an infinite judgment to take place beyond the subject/object of a Law that is mortal, all too mortal.

A truth comes into being through those subjects who maintain a resilient fidelity to the consequences of an event that took place in a situation but not of it. Fidelity, the commitment to truth, amounts to something like a disinterested enthusiasm, absorption in a compelling task or cause, a sense of elation, of being caught up in something that transcends all petty, private or material concerns.[12]

The immortal subject within and without the pre-dominant symbolic order is not only the cause, but also the effect of its own alienation from mortal life. This regulatory idea of immortality, which is also a constitutive illusion, is inspired by the post-structuralist theme of becoming non-identical as we see in Deleuze and Derrida. If one could become non-identical, why would one not also become non-mortal? If one could become alienated from one’s identity, why would one not also become alienated from one’s mortality?  Why not become immortal so as to become capable of criticizing the exploitations of this mortal, all too mortal life? But what motivated me to take immortality as a virtual mode of being was Badiou’s theory of infinity which aimed at secularizing the concept of truth. Badiou’s technique of secularizing the truth is inspired by the 19th century mathematician Georg Cantor’s technique of secularizing the infinite. As Badiou claims, the secularization of infinity started with Cantor who stated that there was not one, but many infinities varying in size and intensity. From then onwards it became possible to link Deleuze’s concepts of impersonal consciousness and transcendental empiricism with Badiou’s theory of infinity and Kant’s assertion that for reflective judgement to take place and turn the object into a subject a transcendental ground is necessary.  Now I can say that for me a transcendental ground is necessary only to the extent that it enables the subject to shake the foundation of its own mode of being and opens a field for immanent critique to take place. In other words, the untimely indifference of immortality is required in order to actively engage in an exposition of the exploitation of mortality in this time.

I don’t know if it is worth mentioning that in this time we are all slaves and yet some slaves dominate the others. Where time goes no one knows. There are necessary illusions in this life, some for life, some not. Both the extreme belief in civilized progress and barbaric regress are good for nothing. These two are now in the process of being left behind. A third possibility of developmental process is emerging in the form of a becoming-reconciled which is based on the recognition of the otherness of the other as it is, that is, prior to the additions and the subtractions imposed upon the self and the other, nature and culture, life and death. For a non-normative and progressive work it is necessary for the participants to become capable of making distinctions between their natures and cultures, their cliniques and critiques. It is a matter of realizing that theory and practice are always already reconciled and yet the only way to actualise this reconciliation passes through carrying it out and across by introducing a split between the subject of statement (the enunciated) and the subject of enunciation.

It is indeed true that sometimes it takes a long journey to get there, where one eventually got to, and realise that one is other than one thinks itself to be. Apparently the numbers indeed start with zero and continue with two, but it takes time to realise this actuality and become capable of actualising this reality. Perhaps we should indeed know that absolute reconciliation is impossible and yet still strive to reconcile ourselves as much as we can to all the living and the dead.

Memory Void-Fallen Leaves By Yellowbagman

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[1] Slavoj Zizek, Organs Without Bodies (London: Routledge, 2004), 13

[2] Slavoj Zizek, The Fragile Absolute (London: Verso, 2000), 23

[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, On The Genealogy of Morality, transl. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998), 118

[4] Zizek, The Fragile Absolute, 22

[5] Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man: Studies in Advanced Industrial Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964)

[6] Alain Badiou, InfiniteThought, trans. and ed. Oliver Feltham and Justin Clemens (London: Continuum, 2005), 132

[7] Sigmund Freud, Psycho-analytic Notes On An Autobiogrophical Account Of A Case Of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoids), trans. Strachey J. (London: Hogarth Press, 1986)

[8] Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia I, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (New York: The Viking Press, 1977), 16

[9] Alain Badiou, Theoretical Writings, trans. Ray Brassier and Alberto Toscano, (London: Continuum, 2006), 38

[10] Badiou, 38

[11] Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, trans. Peter Hallward (London: Verso, 2001), 41

[12] Peter Hallward, “Introduction” in Alain Badiou, Ethics (London: Verso, 2002), x

 

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The recent developments in electronic music present us with a good example of how the inorganic has become, at least in sound, more organic than the organic. With the rapid development of sound-producing machines it has become possible to create such sounds that while listening to it one feels like there is a living organism from a strangely familiar realm making noises in the room, or worse still, that the noises are coming from within one’s mind and body. Listening to this kind of music makes the mutual exclusiveness of the somatic and the psychic irrelevant. Especially after the three dimensional medium presented by CDs and DVDs it has become possible to present the sound to masses in a form that sounds more real than the original, live recording. 

I will return to the relevance of electronic music in a little while, but first let me revisit Herbert Marcuse’s theory of how capitalism keeps itself alive by feeding on the death of the counter-subjectivities and the life of the dominant consuming subject governed by the life drive which is itself externally constituted within the subject. In a nutshell, Marcuse’s theory in One-Dimensional Man was that the one dimensional market society absorbs and turns the counter-cultural products into its own agents, reducing the two-dimensional to the one-dimensional, hence making the forces of resistance serve the purpose of strengthening what they are counter to. Marcuse’s problem was the dissolution of the two-dimensional sphere of counter-cultural production and its domination by one-dimensional relations. He suggested using mythological imagery  not only to make sense of the pre-dominant social reality, but also to create a counter-social reality which would at the same time be a critique of the existing social reality. What Marcuse said is still relevant to a certain extent, but to be able to use this theory one has to adapt it to the demands of the present situation. What I will attempt to do, therefore, is to ignore the irrelevant parts of Marcuse’s theory and try to find out those parts of it that matter for my concerns. It is true that Marcuse’s theory is no more sufficient in understanding and solving the problems of our Superpanoptic societies. And yet in it there are lots of insights with high potential for development in the service of psychosomatic and sociopolitical progress today.

Today even Madonna’s latest release, Confessions on the Dance Floor, is produced in a DJ’s room in London. The electronic dance music products are mostly produced in people’s bedrooms on a personal computer donated with software especially produced for making electronic music. The recent shift in the gears of electronic dance music, of course, is a cause of the amazing possibilities the digital sound machines present. These machines have no material existence; they are loaded on the computer in the form of digital data. One can have a studio loaded into one’s computer by pressing a few buttons on the keyboard. In this context, making music requires technical knowledge of the tools of production more than the knowledge of the rules of what is called making music. With electronic music the sounds are already there, loaded into the computer; all one needs to do to become a music producer has become putting these sounds together, making them overlap with one another in a positively disordered way and produce something that is neither the one nor the other.

If we imagine for a moment Beethoven making his music after the orchestra plays it, composing the piece after it is materialized, we can see how paradoxical the situation the producer is caught up in inherent in the production process of electronic music is. It is as if Beethoven wrote the notes of his music as he listened to the orchestra play it. We can see that this is in fact exactly the opposite of what Beethoven did. For in the case of Beethoven, unlike the electronic music producer, it is the internal orchestra in the psyche that plays the piece as Beethoven writes it, not an actual orchestra in its material existence. With electronic music that internal orchestra is not in the creator’s mind, but in the computer. 

Some of the more creative and experimentalist logics in this field record the noises coming from within their bodies, or from within other animals’ bodies, load them into the computer, and with the aid of synthesizers and effects units, turn these noises into the basic rhythms and melodies of their music. Heartbeat, for instance, can be used as drum and bass at the same time in some electronic music recordings. It is possible to dub-out, echo, delay, deepen, darken, lighten, slow down, or fasten up the sound of heartbeat with the computer. And after a proper mastering process you get something that sounds neither totally organic, nor totally inorganic.  These products are not only digitally bought and sold on the internet, but also exchanged with similar other products.

The affective qualities of these products are extremely high. The producers of the five most developed forms of electronic music, which are Techno, House, Electro, Trance, and Breakbeat, claim that they are the beholders of the threshold between the soma and the psyche, that with their walls of sound they keep them separate and yet contiguous to one another. 

It would be wrong to assume, as many have done, that this kind of music is in touch with only a few listeners. On the contrary, since not only the listeners but also the producers of this kind of music have started to occupy dominant positions in the advertisement production business, it is not surprising that electronic music, and especially the underground minimal techno, is increasingly being used as the background music surrounding the object advertised in many advertisements on radio and T.V. Based on the erasure of the boundary between the psychic and the somatic, or between the inorganic and organic, the use of minimalist electronic music in the advertisements of today’s hectic life-styles is a very good example of the exploitation of the life/death drives inherent in contemporary nihilistic culture driving and driven by what has almost become transglobal capitalism.  The LG U880 ultra-slim mobile phone advert on T.V. is precisely the hard-core of how this exploitation of the life/death drives takes place. In the advert there is heart beating in the phone. Or, the heart is shown to have a transparent phone surrounding it. And with the minimalist techno at the back, that is, sounds that are neither organic nor inorganic but both at the same time. The beating heart in the phone creates the deep and dark bass sound with extremely electronic and yet organic sounding noises coming from within the phone.  It’s as though it is one’s own heart beating in the phone; this phone is you, so it’s yours… If we keep in mind that the transparency of the phone is fleshy, for there are capillaries of the phone, the overall impression created is one of ultra minimalist life reduced to its bare bones when in reality the LG U880 mobile phone is itself the product of exactly the opposite of an ultra minimalist attitude. The message is that this mobile phone is what attaches you to life, when in fact it detaches you from life as it is. The finishing words, “Life is Good,” only confirms my critique of this advertisement, of this marvellous sound-image which is an inorganic object disguised as a living organism. It is obvious that what’s at work here is the exploitation/oppression of the life/death drives, as the inorganic replaces the organic, and the real of death in the midst of life is expelled. 

As I said at the beginning of this article, in this perilous time the three dimensional sounds created by the contemporary electronic music are non-representational to such an extent that it is as though there is a living organism from a completely other dimension making organic noises in the room. And in this room and at this very moment  in which I found myself Marcuse’s theories are unfortunately insufficient in that they do not realize that it is precisely the reversing of the roles policy, that is, presentation of something as its opposite, of an inorganic entity as an organic entity for instance, or of that which is inside as if it is outside, that has to be left behind. As we know from Foucault and Hobbes, Panopticon and Leviathan are within and without the subject at the same time, and a reverse of the roles of the inside and the outside means nothing in this perilous time. 

For the solution of problems posed by the advanced projection-introjection mechanisms of what have become Superpanoptic societies, I shall attempt to show that post-structuralism and critical theory have never been as mutually exclusive as many suggest, especially in terms of the wrong and right questions that they have left unanswered. If we look at Adorno’s and Foucault’s writings we can see that most of their thoughts are directed towards finding out how to reconcile theory and practice. Just as theory and practice, post-structuralism and critical theory, too, are always already reconciled, because they come from Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud. They may be always already reconciled but the only way to actualize this reconciliation is to realize their common goal; to put theory in the service of ordinary life, to develop the conditions of existence, and to practise freedom. 

 It will almost sound offensive to say that the new emerges only if some people become traitors and shake the foundations of their own mode of being, or at least undertake opening up spaces so that light can shine among all, or death can manifest itself. But one must take the risk of offending some others, for every situation requires its expression, every problem bears within itself at least half of its own solution. It is all a matter of putting theory and practice in the service of one another. Theory that does not match the truth of its time is for nothing. It is important to theorize practical ways of dealing with the banal accidents of an ordinary life. I think what I have just said is one of the things that both Foucault and Adorno would have agreed on.

What we witness in this time is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World turning into Rave New World.  A world in which the well known and the so called lines between mind and body, fantasy and reality, nature and culture, organic and inorganic, life and death, are not just blurred, but have completely disappeared. And yet, at the same time, these lines are in the process of reappearance.

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MANTIS 076 + BLACKMASS PLASTICS
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hour 1 / DVNT

Photek – Ni-Ten-Ichi-Rhy [Science]
Solar Chrome – Malevil [Maschinen Musik]
Petar Alargic – EeR NR1 [petaralargic.com]
Octave Mouret – Good News Everyone! I’ve Taught the Toaster to Feel Love [octavemouret.bandcamp.com]
Foul Shape – A Monster Has Created [Entity]
Loefah – Twisup VIP [DMZ]
Adam X – Downbursts [Prologue]
Plastikman – Ask Yourself (Dead Sound remix) [dub]
Intra:mental – Love Arp [Semantica Records]
Mothboy – Medusa feat. Sezrah Sylvan [Drawn Recordings]
Mothboy – Others [Drawn Recordings]
Drugstore – Razor [Offaudio]
Steve Bicknell – Track 5 [Cosmic Records]
Scanone – Angels [Syndetic Recordings]
Laserfire – Wires of Love (Encrypter remix) [dub]
Bruce Stallion – OK U Cunts [Off Me Nut Records]
Perforated Cerebal Party – Mystery Train [Russian-Techno.com]
Concrete DJz – Hadron Collider [Subsequent]
Pillpopper – Jewelry Box (Threnody remix) [Furioso] forthcoming
BEATure – Follow the Line [Sens Inverse Label]
ECHO PARK – After Burner [All City Records]

hour 2 / BLACKMASS PLASTICS showcase

Blackmass Plastics – Plasixsixsix
Blackmass Plastics – Bad Reflection
Blackmass Plastics – Step Up or Get…
Blackmass Plastics – Ouija Board
Blackmass Plastics – Arpexone
Blackmass Plastics – Biomega
Blackmass Plastics – Klonk Kreator
Blackmass Plastics – Visions of Plastic
Blackmass Plastics – OK Ozzy
Blackmass Plastics – Dial M.
Blackmass Plastics – D for Danger
Blackmass Plastics – Red and Black Rush
Blackmass Plastics – Known Space
Blackmass Plastics – Paranoid Agent
Blackmass Plastics – Selecta Infecta
Blackmass Plastics – Give Me Da Data
Blackmass Plastics – Scope Dog
Blackmass Plastics – T-Rex Powerdrill
Blackmass Plastics – Zargon
Blackmass Plastics – Nothing Nice
Blackmass Plastics – Get Destroyed
Blackmass Plastics – Get Bigga
Blackmass Plastics – Down Periscope
Blackmass Plastics – Get Jacked
Blackmass Plastics – Tek Tek v3
Blackmass Plastics – Ice and Slice
Blackmass Plastics – Future Past (original mix)
Blackmass Plastics – Trauma Centre
Blackmass Plastics – Blindsider
Blackmass Plastics – No Escape
Blackmass Plastics – Get Spooked

The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism

Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek and Graham Harman (editors)

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Description

Continental philosophy has entered a new period of ferment. The long deconstructionist era was followed with a period dominated by Deleuze, which has in turn evolved into a new situation still difficult to define. However, one common thread running through the new brand of continental positions is a renewed attention to materialist and realist options in philosophy. Among the current giants of this generation, this new focus takes numerous different and opposed forms. It might be hard to find many shared positions in the writings of Badiou, DeLanda, Laruelle, Latour, Stengers, and Zizek, but what is missing from their positions is an obsession with the critique of written texts. All of them elaborate a positive ontology, despite the incompatibility of their results. Meanwhile, the new generation of continental thinkers is pushing these trends still further, as seen in currents ranging from transcendental materialism to the London-based speculative realism movement to new revivals of Derrida. As indicated by the title The Speculative Turn, the new currents of continental philosophy depart from the text-centered hermeneutic models of the past and engage in daring speculations about the nature of reality itself. This anthology assembles authors, of several generations and numerous nationalities, who will be at the center of debate in continental philosophy for decades to come.

Contents

Essays from:
Alain Badiou
Ray Brassier 
Nathan Brown
Levi Bryant 
Gabriel Catren
Manuel DeLanda 
Iain Hamilton Grant
Martin Hägglund 
Peter Hallward 
Graham Harman
Adrian Johnston
Francois Laruelle
Bruno Latour 
Quentin Meillassoux
Reza Negarestani
John Protevi
Steven Shaviro  
Nick Srnicek
Isabelle Stengers
Alberto Toscano 
Slavoj Žižek

 Authors, editors and contributors

Levi R. Bryant is a Professor of Philosophy at Collin College in Frisco, Texas.  He is the author of Difference and Givenness: Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence as well as a number of articles on Deleuze, Badiou, and Lacanian psychoanalysis.

Graham Harman is Associate Provost for Research Administration at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. He has published the following books: Tool-Being (2002), Guerrilla Metaphysics (2005), Heidegger Explained (2007), Prince of Networks (2009), Towards Speculative Realism (2010), L’Objet quadruple (2010), and Circus Philosophicus (2010)

Nick Srnicek is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the London School of Economics. He is currently working towards a dissertation on the general dynamics of global political change, specifically focusing on the relations between contentious social movements, civil society organizations and international institutions. He has also published work in Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy and Pli: The Warwick Journal of Philosophy.

The Island is a science-fiction movie directed by Michael Bay. Our hero, Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor) wakes up from a nightmare in which he sees himself drowning. What we, the spectators don’t know yet is that Lincoln has actually woken up to a sterile world which has nothing do with the real world. Lincoln wakes up from a nightmare to what appears to be an unreal reality. As Lincoln wakes up he sees a screen in front of him on which is written “Erratic REM Sleep Cycle Detected,” followed by “Please Report to Tranquility Center.” Lincoln gets out of his bed and goes to the toilet. As he urinates, another screen appears in front of him with the words “Sodium Excess Detected, Advising Nutritional Control.” On top of all these a speaker intervenes: “A healthy person is a happy person.”

Lincoln is living in an environment in which he is surveilled and controlled at all times. This environment is in fact an underground factory which produces human clones. Lincoln is nothing but a clone produced to be consumed when the time comes. We, the spectators, will later on learn that this environment was an institution used by the American Ministry of Defence for military research. Now it has been passed on to a medical corporation sponsored by extremely rich people to produce clones. These clones are the copies of those rich people who have various illnesses. Lincoln Six-Echo, for instance, is the clone of a Scottish man named Tom Lincoln who suffers from Hepatitis and who is expected to die in two years. This means that in two years time Lincoln Six-Echo will be killed and his organs will be transferred to his sponsor Tom Lincoln.

The DNA samples taken from the sponsors are used to produce clones. These clones are then grown in a womb-like environment until they reach the age of their sponsors. Some of the clones are grown for their hearts, some for their eyes, skins, and some for their internal organs. As they are grown they are almost injected a memory through audio-visual imagery, their consciousness is completely artificial just like themselves. Although they look no different from a normal human being they are in fact programmed to desire to go to The Island. They are continually told that they are the chosen ones, that they are the only survivors from a terrible epidemic which destroyed almost all life on earth, that they are lucky for being where they now are. Of course these clones need some kind of motive to be able to bear their monotonous existence. Their motive is waiting for the day on which they will win the lottery and go to the last piece of beauty left on earth after the epidemic; an exotic island, a heaven on earth. Through this lottery business the life in this institution is invested with a meaning. Educated to the level of fifteen year old children, the clones do not question their lives. They think that they really are chosen and they really want to go to the island. But Lincoln is unhappy and unsatisfied. He thinks there should be more to life than waiting for the departure towards the island. When he talks with his psychiatrist who is in fact the manager of the corporation, his psychiatrist tells him this: “You can’t see how lucky you are Lincoln. You have survived the epidemic, you are comfortable here, what else do you want?” Lincoln is not satisfied with this answer and goes to places he shouldn’t, sees things he better not. Following an insect Lincoln finds himself at a hidden section of the institute, a hospital, where he sees that those who are chosen to go to the island are in fact killed for their organs. Lincoln understands that there is no such thing as an epidemic, and no such place as the island, that all this island business is merely a fantasy to keep the clones operating efficiently as they wait.

On the night of the day that Lincoln learns the truth his lover Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlet Johansson) wins the lottery. Realising that the turn of death has come to Jordan, Lincoln goes to her room to warn her. After that the movie turns into a typical adventure movie in which many cars explode and many people die. At the end our hero and heroine destroy the corporation and save all the clones from their miserable existences.

The importance of this movie derives from the way in which it criticizes modern power structures which produces subjects in such a way as to serve the system which consumes them. The subjects are subjectified so as to feel happy and content with being locked in hopeful dreams. The Island shows that even what we call the unconscious is a construct, that the drives are not natural, but rather cultural products. 

What we see here is how the life drive turns out to be the death drive. As the clones wait for the day they will finally start living a real life full of pleasures, they are in fact waiting for the day they will die. As they die the system in which they are locked gains strength. Through the death of the subjects the system prolongs its own life.

When the phone rang restlessly, whatever this means, Dr. Lawgiverz was sipping his dry red wine and smoking his hand rolled Havana cigar as if everything in the world was absolutely normal and nothing extraordinary was in progress concerning the workings of the universe. It wasn’t his wife calling out of love to propose reunification, it wasn’t the Japanese scientist calling out of friendship to share his latest invention in the field of astrophysics which might have led to a ground breaking new discovery of an uncharted territory, a new dimension of being even, it wasn’t Genesis calling out of urgency to lay the foundation of their new pattern of action, their new strategy against the forces of evil, it was, rather, a subject we have hitherto neglected to mention due to unncessity, a subject who was capable of radically changing the course of events and open new fields in and through which our uncanny narrative could unfold. “Hello?” said Dr. Lawgiverz with an inquisitive tone of voice, and received an equally inquisitive “hello?” from the other end of the line. It all seemed as though something quite surprising, if not altogether shattering, was about to happen to say the least. Now, we may or may not opt for delaying the soon to be made public conversation between Dr. Lawgiverz and the mysterious character who has just been introduced into our narrative, but as we are aware of the demanding readers, who, even god doesn’t know in which circumstances are reading this book, we will not even consider choosing the negative option, which is that of opting for delaying the truth. Quite the contrary, we shall reveal all in no more than a few sentences. Accordingly, “I’m the president of the United States of the World Platform, and I hope it is Dr. Lawgiverz with whom I’m speaking,” will say and has already done so, the mystery man who has lost all his mysteriousness with these words. “It is indeed,” said Dr. Lawgiverz with a sarcastic and/but somehow even more inquisitive tone, this time reflecting a worry as well on behalf of the speaker. “The reason I’m calling you, doctor, is that we have gathered information which we think might be of interest to you regarding the recent developments in world history, and especially the history of science and philosophy.” “Don’t you consider philosophy to be a science in-itself? Or do you consider it an inferior science, a thing of the past, which should rather be left to extinction in the long forgotten pages of history?” asked Dr. Lawgiverz as if this had any relevance at all to the issue at stake here. “Whether philosophy is a science or not is of no interest to us, sir,” said the voice at the other end of the line and continued, “what’s of interest to us is your relationship, or correlation, as you and the likes of you would put it, to the newly emerging philosophical movement called Speculative Realism, which, no doubt goes beyond a mere interest in new possibilities of philosophizing and touches upon a fundamental and highly sensitive issue concerning the relationship between the meaning of life and the state of world politics today. Now, it would be understandable if you only touched upon this issue, but you go much further than that and recklessly intervene in world economics, manifesting itself in the form of capitalism, the most developed form of economics known to man up until now. As is clear to us, your intentions are much more sinister than they appear to be, to cut a long story short, doctor, we are convinced that your primary objective is to shake the foundations of humanity’s very own mode of being itself. Am I right or am I right?” “No need to get uptight with me mister president. I understand that you have done your homework extremely well, but I wonder if you really have any proof at all to sustain your unjustified accusations.” “I assume you are forgetting with whom you are talking mister doctor. If I had no proof to justify my accusations, as you put it, with what authority do you think I would have the courage, or to put it more bluntly, the guts, to call and accuse you of being the mastermind behind these conspiracies?” “I don’t know about that, sir,” said Dr. Lawgiverz and added, “but if there’s one thing I surely know, it’s that I don’t even know whether you really are the person you say you are, calling me in the middle of the night and speculating endlessly about my intellectual life and the conspiracies behind which I’m the mastermind. Correct me if I’m wrong, but how am I supposed to know that you are not a psychotic reader who has not only just happened to read one or more of my books, but who also happens to think he has solved the riddle just like that?” “Well, you obviously cannot know that, what’s more, you are not supposed to know that anyway. So why don’t you just stop presenting yourself as someone who is supposed to know everything.” “I must admit, I’m having difficulty relating to you.” “Perhaps that’s because you are an anti-correlationist, as you would put it.” “I think there is a grand misunderstanding here. Anti-correlationism has nothing to do with two individuals having difficulty communicating with one another. As a matter of fact, what’s at stake in anti- correlationism is much more profound than that. I don’t know if it’s necessary to get into details, but let me at least say just this: anti-correlationism is not a state of mind, or a state of situation, as Badiou would put it, rather, it is a mode of being and thinking, which is driven by a will to think non-reflectively and non-determinatively, that is, to think objects as they are in themselves, rather than they are for mortal humans. Anti-correlationism proposes that it is possible and necessary to think and speculate on a world independent of human thought and/but engagingly indifferent to the symbolic reality. In short, it is an attempt to traverse the fantasy and touch the Real, as Lacan would have put it if only he was alive, which he did when he was.” “How would a human do that, if I may ask?” “You surely may ask, and the answer you get would be that natural sciences and mathematics have already been doing that for centuries. It is only a matter of finding, or rather, creating a new language that would do(express) the same in and through words, rather than the symbols of mathematics, chemistry and physics.” “I didn’t call you to engage in philosophical and scientific discourse doctor. You are a suspect and my duty is to warn you that if you continue your sinister acts, you will regret being alive and capable of thought. Good bye!” “Good bye, sir.”

An Interview with Jane Bennett

by Gulshan Khan

Jane Bennett is Professor of Political Theory and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA. In 1986 she received her doctorate in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts. In the following year her dissertation was published with New York University Press under the title Unthinking faith and enlightenment: nature and state in a post-Hegelian era. Her subsequent published books include Thoreau’s Nature: Ethics, Politics, and the Wild (Sage Publications, 1994) and The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics (Princeton University Press, 2001). Her new book, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, is forthcoming from Duke University Press. In 1988 Bennett became an Assistant Professor at Goucher College in Baltimore, where she also became the Elizabeth Todd Professor in the year 2000 until 2004 when she moved to John Hopkins. She has been a visiting fellow at universities in Britain and in Australia. Bennett is on the editorial and advisory board of a number of prestigious journals and book series ranging from Political Theory to Critical Horizons.

Bennett co-edited The Politics of Moralizing (Routledge, 2002) with Michael J. Shapiro and co-edited In the Nature of Things: Language, Politics and the Environment (University of Minnesota Press, 1993) with William Chaloupka. She and William E. Connolly are in the beginning stages of co-writing a political theory textbook, Friends of the Earth: Minor Voices in the History of Political Thought. These encounters have contributed to Bennett’s distinctive notion of ‘vital materiality’. Her intellectual trajectory is also indebted to aspects of the work of Lucretius (1995), Spinoza (1949), Diderot (1996), Nietzsche (1994), Deleuze and Guattari (1987), Henry Thoreau (1968) and Bruno Latour (1993). Her notion of ‘vital materiality’ also builds upon Michel Foucault’s notion of bio-power and Judith Butler’s early notion of ‘bodies that matter’. Conversely, the notion of agency that stems from Bennett’s work makes an important and substantive contribution, away from the politics of performativity associated with Butler and towards a politics of nonhuman matter and agency. She invokes a new and different political imaginary outside the Hegelian and psychoanalytic framework of the subject and object/other. In this sense her work shares a ‘subject matter’ as well an intellectual affinity with Elizabeth Grosz’s (1994) Deleuzian inspired works. Following a long tradition of thinkers who have sought to de-centre ‘the human’ (for example, Louis Althusser and Michel Foucault), Bennett’s emphasis on nonhuman matter challenges the ontological privileging of ‘the human’. However, her approach creatively affirms the necessity of human embodiment, understood as one site of agency within and across a multiplicity of other material bodies and formations. Her notion of agency also seeks to avoid reducing politics to morality, which has implications for the predominant analytical framework that is heavily underpinned by a Kantian conception of moral agency with its emphasis on intuitions, duties and obligations. Bennett’s contribution to political theory with its emphasis on nature, ethics, aesthetics, environmentalism and vitalism is inter-laced with a political interest in the literary writings of Kafka, Coetzee, Thoreau and Kundera, on whom she has published several articles and essays. Her work has clear implications for re-thinking our relations to and engagement with the vitality of nature. 

 GULSHAN KHAN: Jane, thanks for agreeing to this interview. I would like to begin by exploring some of the themes you are currently working on in your new book and issues raised by your paper presented at the ‘Stem Cell Identities, Governance and Ethics’ conference at Nottingham University in 2007.1  I will then move onto questions about your theory about the enchantment of modernity, nature and agency.

You are currently working on a book entitled Vibrant Matter: The Political Ecology of Things (2010), and I find myself drawn to your version of post-structuralism, which does not reduce life or matter to the play of language. Instead, you outline a layered notion of reality and in particular you delineate a conception of matter as a lively force present in all things. You seem to want to challenge our received notions of the distinction between nature and culture. For example, in your article ‘The force of things’ (2004) you confront Theodor Adorno’s (1990) point that we cannot make any positive claims about the ‘non-identity’ between the concept and the thing. By way of contrast, you offer an affirmative account of this non-identity understood as the play of lively animate forces. Can I press you to explain your notion of ‘things’ or ‘vital materiality’ and how it differs from contending versions?

JANE BENNETT: I’m trying to take ‘things’ more seriously than political theorists had been taking them. By ‘things’ I mean the materialities usually figured as inanimate objects, passive utilities, occasional interruptions or background context – figured, that is, in ways that give all the active, creative power to humans. I focus on five exemplary ‘things’ in the book: stem cells, fish oils, electricity, metal and trash. Our habit of parsing the world into passive matter (it) and vibrant life (us) is what Jacques Rancière (in another context) called a ‘partition of the sensible’. In other words, it limits what we are able to sense; it places below the threshold of note the active powers of material formations, such as the way landfills are, as we speak, generating lively streams of chemicals and volatile winds of methane, or the way omega-3 fatty acids can transform brain chemistry and mood, or the way the differential rates of cooling organize the unpredictable patterns of granite.

My experiment is this: What would the world look and feel like were the life/matter binary to fall into disuse, were it to be translated into differences in degree rather than kind? And how, in particular, would our political analyses of events change were they to acknowledge an elemental, material agency distributed across bodies, human and nonhuman? Who or what would count as a ‘stakeholder’? How would a ‘public’ be constituted? Would politics become less centred around the punitive project of finding individual human agents responsible for the public problems of, say, an electricity blackout or an epidemic of obesity, and more concerned with identifying how the complex human–nonhuman assemblage that’s churning out the negative effect holds itself together – how it endures or feeds itself? Until we do that, political attempts to remedy the problem are likely to be ineffective.

An ‘assemblage’ is an ad hoc grouping of an ontologically diverse range of actants, of vital materialities of various sorts. It is a vibrant, throbbing collective with an uneven topography: some of the points at which its diverse affects and bodies cross paths are more heavily trafficked than others, and thus power is not distributed equally across its surface. An assemblage has no sovereignty in the classical sense, for it is not governed by a central head: no one materiality or type of material has sufficient competence to determine consistently its trajectory or impact. The effects generated by an assemblage are, rather, emergent properties, emergent in that their ability to make something happen (a blackout, a hurricane, a war on terror) is distinct from the sum of the force of each materiality considered alone. An assemblage thus has both a distinctive history of formation and a finite life span.

To be clear: the agency of assemblages of which I speak is not the strong kind of agency traditionally attributed to humans or God. My contention, rather, is that if one looks closely enough, the productive impetus of change is always a congregation. As my friend Ben Corson helped me to see, not only is human agency always already distributed to ‘our’ tools, microbes, minerals and sounds. It only emerges as agentic via its distribution into the ‘foreign’ materialities we are all too eager to figure as mere objects.

It is, I think, the ‘responsibility’ of humans to pay attention to the effects of the assemblages in which we find ourselves participating, and then to work experimentally to alter the machine so as to minimize or compensate for the suffering it manufactures. Sometimes it may be necessary to try to extricate your body from that assemblage, to refuse to contribute more energy to it, and sometimes to work to tilt the existing assemblage in a different direction. In a world where agency is always distributed, a hesitant attitude towards assigning moral blame becomes a virtue. Outrage should not disappear completely, but a politics devoted too exclusively to moral condemnation and not enough to a cultivated discernment of the web of agentic capacities can do little good. A moralized politics of good and evil, of singular agents who must be made to pay for their sins – be they Osama bin Laden or George W. Bush – becomes immoral to the degree that it legitimates vengeance and elevates violence to the tool of first resort. A distributive understanding of agency, then, re-invokes the need to detach ethics from moralism… Read More

via Para_Doxa

A Lacanian Ink Event – Jack Tilton Gallery – NYC, 10/15/2010
Introduction by Josefina Ayerza


My review of Nina Power’s One Dimensional Woman appeared in last weekend’s The Sunday Star. It’s an important, intelligently-argued book, and I highly recommend that the world reads it. Yes, the world. I’ve reproduced it in full here:

For all of us who happily imagine contemporary feminism to be a uniform and linear yellow brick road that delivers us right into the heart of the Emerald City of equality, there’s no one better than Nina Power to take a sledgehammer to that useless utopian dream. With One-Dimensional Woman, Power, a British philosophy professor at Roehampton University, has set out to untangle and reveal the underlying irrationality and contradictions of much of modern-day feminism – wedded as it is to the ugly and false emancipatory “ideals” of capitalism. The title of Power’s book comes from Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man, a treatise published in 1964 that offered a critique of the false needs created by modern industrialist society – the idea that people were “free” in their choices when they were actually deeply bound to an insidiously rigid system of production and consumption… Read More

via The Blog of Disquiet

Accelerationism


“But which is the revolutionary path? Is there one? – To withdraw from the world market, as Samir Amin advises Third World Countries to do, in a curious revival of the fascist “economic solution”? Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? To go further still, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and practice of a highly schizophrenic character. Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to “accelerate the process,” as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.”

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus

“The English unemployed did not have to become workers to survive, they – hang on tight and spit on me – enjoyed the hysterical, masochistic, whatever exhaustion it was of hanging on in the mines, in the foundries, in the factories, in hell, they enjoyed it, enjoyed the mad destruction of their organic body which was indeed imposed upon them, they enjoyed the decomposition of their personal identity, the identity that the peasant tradition had constructed for them, enjoyed the dissolutions of their families and villages, and enjoyed the new monstrous anonymity of the suburbs and the pubs in morning and evening.”

Jean-Francois Lyotard Libidinal Economy

“Machinic revolution must therefore go in the opposite direction to socialistic regulation; pressing towards ever more uninhibited marketization of the processes that are tearing down the social field, “still further” with “the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization” and “one can never go far enough in the direction of deterritorialization: you haven’t seen anything yet”.

Nick Land, “Machinic Desire”

“In the early 1970s, post-68 French thinkers such as Deleuze and Guattari and Lyotard made the heretical suggestion that capital should not be resisted but accelerated. Deplored, repudiated then forgotten, this remarkable moment was returned to only in the UK during the 1990s, in the theory-fiction of Nick Land, Iain Hamilton Grant, Sadie Plant and the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit. Drawing upon Fernand Braudel, Manuel DeLanda, and cyber-theory, 90s accelerationism drew a distinction between markets (as bottom-up self-organising networks) and capital (an oligarchic and predatory system of control). Was accelerationism merely a new cybernetic mask for neoliberalism? Or does the call to “accelerate the process” mark out a political position that has never been properly developed, and which still has a potential to reinvigorate the left?

This one-day symposium will think through the implications of accelerationism in the light of the forthcoming publication of Nick Land’s Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987-2007 and Benjamin Noys’s The Persistence of the Negative.”

Speakers:

  • Ray Brassier – co-editor with Robin Mackay of Nick Land’s Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987-2007 (2010)
  • Mark Fisher – author of k-punk blog and a founder member of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit
  • Alex Andrews – a researcher at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Nottingham.
  • Benjamin Noys – author of The Persistence of the Negative (2010), blogs at No Useless Leniency
  • Nick Srnicek – author of Speculative Heresy blog, PhD candidate at LSE, and is working with
  • Alex Williams on a book critiquing folk politics Alex Williams – working on a book on accelerationism, blogs at Splintering Bone Ashes

A music mix by Mark Fisher to illustrate the ‘Accelerationism’ event can be found here.

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Mark Fisher

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Ray Brassier

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______________________________________________Session 2

Ben Noys

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Alex Andrews

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questions:

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____________________________________________Session 3

Nick Srnicek

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Alex Williams

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Closing discussion

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via Accelerationism

By Andrew Robinson

The usefulness of Deleuzian theory for social transformation will vary with the selection of which conceptual contributions one chooses to appropriate. Studying Deleuzian theory is complicated by characteristics of Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophical method. In What is Philosophy?, they define the function of theory in terms of proliferating concepts – inventing new conceptual categories which construct new ways of seeing. In common with many constructivists, they take the view that our relationship to the world is filtered through our conceptual categories. Distinctively, they also view agency in terms of differentiation – each person or group creates itself, not by selecting among available alternatives, but by splitting existing totalities through the creation of new differences. This approach leads to a proliferation of different concepts which, across Deleuze and Guattari’s collaborative and individual works, total in the hundreds.

Instead of seeking to trim their conceptual innovations and neologisms (new words) for simplicity and necessity (an efficiency model of theory – “just in time”, like modern production), they multiply concepts as tools for use, which, although possibly redundant in some analyses, may be useful for others (a resilience model of theory – “just in case”, like indigenous and autonomous cultures). They encourage readers to pick and choose from their concepts, selecting those which are useful and simply passing by those which are not. This has contributed to the spread of diverse Deleuzian approaches which draw on different aspects of their work, but also makes it easy for people to make incomplete readings of their theories, appropriating certain concepts for incompatible theoretical projects while rejecting the revolutionary dynamic of the theory itself. As a result, a large proportion of what passes for Deleuzian theory has limited resonance with the general gist of Deleuze and Guattari’s work, which is not at all about reconciling oneself to the dominant system, but rather, is about constructing other kinds of social relations impossible within the dominant frame. The proliferation of concepts is intended to support such constructions of other ways of being. Another effect of the proliferation of concepts is to make Deleuzian theory difficult to explain or express in its entirety.

In this article, I have chosen to concentrate on the conceptual pairing of states and war-machines as a way of understanding the differences between autonomous social networks and hierarchical, repressive formations. Deleuze and Guattari view the ‘state’ as a particular kind of institutional regime derived from a set of social relations which can be traced to a way of seeing focused on the construction of fixities and representation. There is thus a basic form of the state (a “state-form”) in spite of the differences among specific states. Since Deleuze and Guattari’s theory is primarily relational and processual, the state exists primarily as a process rather than a thing. The state-form is defined by the processes or practices of ‘overcoding’, ‘despotic signification’ and ‘machinic enslavement’. These attributes can be explained one at a time. The concept of despotic signification, derived from Lacan’s idea of the master-signifier, suggests that, in statist thought, a particular signifier is elevated to the status of standing for the whole, and the other of this signifier (remembering that signification is necessarily differential) is defined as radically excluded. ‘Overcoding’ consists in the imposition of the regime of meanings arising from this fixing of representations on the various processes through which social life and desire operate. In contrast to the deep penetration which occurs in capitalism, states often do this fairly lightly, but with brutality around the edges. Hence for instance, in historical despotic states, the inclusion of peripheral areas only required their symbolic subordination, and not any real impact on everyday life in these areas. Overcoding also, however, entails the destruction of anything which cannot be represented or encoded.

‘Machinic enslavement’ occurs when assembled groups of social relations and desires, known in Deleuzian theory as ‘machines’, are rendered subordinate to the regulatory function of the despotic signifier and hence incorporated in an overarching totality. This process identifies Deleuze and Guattari’s view of the state-form with Mumford’s idea of the megamachine, with the state operating as a kind of absorbing and enclosing totality, a bit like the Borg in Star Trek, eating up and assimilating the social networks with which it comes into contact. Crucially, while these relations it absorbs often start out as horizontal, or as hierarchical only at a local level, their absorption rearranges them as vertical and hierarchical aggregates. It tends to destroy or reduce the intensity of horizontal connections, instead increasing the intensity of vertical subordination. Take, for instance, the formation of the colonial state in Africa: loose social identities were rigidly reclassified as exclusive ethnicities, and these ethnicities were arranged in hierarchies (for instance, Tutsi as superior to Hutu) in ways which created rigid boundaries and oppressive relations culminating in today’s conflicts…Read More

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari
 
Andrew Robinson is a political theorist and activist based in the UK. His book Power, Resistance and Conflict in the Contemporary World: Social Movements, Networks and Hierarchies (co-authored with Athina Karatzogianni) was published in Sep 2009 by Routledge. His ‘In Theory’ column appears every other Friday.
 

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INTRODUCTION
by Alex Andrews

Mark Fisher’s book ‘Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?’ is a persuasive diagnosis of contemporary society, an analysis of its political impasses and a call for fresh organization and thought.
Capitalist Realism for Fisher describes the core of today’s ideological moment, particularly in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Weekend-read short and written in a highly accessible style, Fisher’s work is “intellectual without being academic, popular without being populist” (in the words of Zer0 book series programmatic statement), attempting to bring the work of high theory and political economy to an informed citizenry, carving out a public space for debate that intends to have direct political impact in an ideological stagnant age.

From Spinoza to Deleuze to Wall-E, from Supernanny to post-autonomist theory, Fisher is not afraid to clash high theory with a well-known illustration to startling effect. An insightful blogger at k-punk, outside of this book Mark has been influential in bringing Derrida’s concept of hauntology to music criticism, working through Simon Reynold’s notorious hardcore continuum thesis regarding electronic music and, more recently, providing one of the most interesting commentaries on the World Cup Finals at the group blog Minus The Shooting.

Ceasefire talked to Mark Fisher about his book, education, the internet and the prospect of moving beyond capitalist realism.

The Interview

Can you define ‘capitalist realism’ for me?

Put simply, capitalist realism is the view that it is now impossible even to imagine an alternative to capitalism. Capitalism is the only ‘realistic’ political economic system, and, since this is the case, all we can do is accommodate ourselves to it. This leads to the imposition of what I have called ‘business ontology’ – a version of social reality in which every process is modeled on corporate practices.

Thus, we’ve seen the gradual incursion into public services of forms of bureaucratic self-surveillance (performance reviews, mission statements and so on) that have their origins in business. There is an aesthetic and cultural dimension to capitalist realism too. The concept of capitalist realism was meant to echo socialist realism, and, just as socialist realism was a retreat from the abstraction and experimentation of modernism into the familiar and the familial, so capitalist realism trades on a drab and reductive sense of what reality is. It’s no accident, for instance, that the most successful entertainment format over the last decade or so has been reality TV.

What would be a recent example of the phenomena of capitalist realism?

The bank bailouts are the most spectacular example of capitalist realism we’ve yet seen, and the cuts that are now being imposed come out of the same logic. The bank crisis of two years ago was a major shift from the high pomp of neoliberalism, when it was held that the so-called market would automatically provide the answer to any conceivable problem, to a new phase.

The justification for the bank bailouts was that it was unthinkable that banks should be allowed to collapse, as succinct a statement of capitalist realism as you could wish for. Capitalist realism hasn’t weakened since the bank crises; if anything it has intensified. But now that it has lost the sheath of market utopianism to protect it, capitalist realism appears in more raw and exposed form, which I expect to be massively contested over the next few months. In Britain, the new coalition government has enjoyed a period of phony peace. But I expect this to be interrupted very soon, once the anger that is simmering here finds outlets.

Read More via Ceasefire Magazine – Interview: Mark Fisher

Brassier: Capital and the Incompressible Here is my exegesis of Ray Brassier‘s compelling conjectural reversal that moves from thinking Capital to the bold conclusion that Capital thinks. In his text ‘Nihil Unbound: Remarks on Subtractive Ontology and Thinking Capital’ he grapples with how it might be possible to think Capital by providing an objective determination-in-the-last-instance. Beyond the Marxist analysis of the dynamics of accumulation, Brassier draws on recent philosophical… Read More

via Total Assault On Culture

Contingency, Necessity and the Final Absolute: Expanding on my summary of Ray Brassier‘s  Remarks on Subtractive Ontology and Thinking Capital here are some further related observations on aleatory rationalism, drawing on Elie Ayache’s account of how the option ‘science’ of the derivatives trading comes to  hypostasize the market as an absolute relation that is not thought-independent: Brassier’s critique of aleatory rationality shares the epistemological concerns of Quinten Meillassoux… Read More

via Total Assault On Culture


A joke about dissidents and a great speech from Zizek –  It’s the Political Economy, Stupid!  

Watch the youtube video and here’s the text:

“In the good old days of Really-Existing Socialism, a joke was popular among dissidents, used to illustrate the futility of their protests. In the 15th century Russia occupied by Mongols, a farmer and his wife walk along a dusty country road; a Mongol warrior on a horse stops at their side and tells the farmer that he will now rape his wife; he then adds: “But since there is a lot of dust on the ground, you should hold my testicles while I’m raping your wife, so that they will not get dirty!” After the Mongol finishes his job and rides away, the farmer starts to laugh and jump with joy; the surprised wife asks him: “how can you be jumping with joy when I was just brutally raped in your presence?” The farmer answers: “But I got him! His balls are full of dust!” This sad joke tells of the predicament of dissidents: they thought they are dealing serious blows to the party nomenklatura, but all they were doing was getting a little bit of dust on the nomenklatura’s testicles, while the nomenklatura went on raping the people… Is today’s critical Left not in a similar position? Our task is to discover how to make a step further – our thesis 11 should be: in our societies, critical Leftists have hitherto only dirtied with dust the balls of those in power, the point is to cut them off”

ANd here are some of my favorite quotes from the speech:

When the normal run of things is traumatically interrupted, the field is open for a “discursive” ideological competition …Consequently, to put it in old-fashioned Marxist terms, the main task of the ruling ideology in the present crisis is to impose as narrative which will not put the blame for the meltdown onto the global capitalist system AS SUCH, but on its secondary accidental deviation (too lax legal regulations, the corruption of big financial institutions, etc.)”

“Rarely was the function of ideology described in clearer terms – to defend the existing system against any serious critique, legitimizing it as a direct expression of human nature:

 “An essential task of democratic governments and opinion makers when confronting economic cycles and political pressure is to secure and protect the system that has served humanity so well, and not to change it for the worse on the pretext of its imperfection. / Still, this lesson is doubtless one of the hardest to translate into language that public opinion will accept. The best of all possible economic systems is indeed imperfect . Whatever the truths uncovered by economic science, the free market is finally only the reflection of human nature, itself hardly perfectible.” 

Such ideological legitimization also perfectly exemplifies Badiou’s precise precise formula of the basic paradox of enemy propaganda: it fights something of which it is itself not aware, something for which it is structurally blind – not the actual counterforces (political opponents), but the possibility (the utopian revolutionary-emancipatory potential) which is immanent to the situation:“The goal of all enemy propaganda is not to annihilate an existing force (this function is generally left to police forces), but rather to annihilate an unnoticed possibility of the situation. This possibility is also unnoticed by those who conduct this propaganda, since its features are to be simultaneously immanent to the situation and not to appear in it. »6 This is why enemy propaganda against radical emancipatory politics is by definition cynical – not in the simple sense of not believing its own words, but at a much more basic level: it is cynical precisely and even more insofar as it does believe its own words, since its message is a resigned conviction that the world we live in, even if not the best of all possible worlds, is the least bad one, so that any radical change can only make it worse .”

“Again, it is thus not enough to remain faithful to the Communist Idea – one has to locate in historical reality antagonisms which make this Idea a practical urgency. The only true question today is: do we endorse the predominant naturalization of capitalism, or does today’s global capitalism contain strong enough antagonisms which prevent its indefinite reproduction?

There are four such antagonisms: the looming threat of ecological catastrophy, the inappropriateness of private property for the so-called “intellectual property,” the socio-ethical implications of new techno-scientific developments (especially in biogenetics, and, last but not least, new forms of apartheid, new Walls and slums. There is a qualitative difference between the last feature, the gap that separates the Excluded from the Included, and the other three, which designate the domains of what Hardt and Negri call “commons,” the shared substance of our social being whose privatization is a violent act which should also be resisted with violent means, if necessary: the commons of culture, the immediately socialized forms of “cognitive” capital, primarily language, our means of communication and education, but also the shared infrastructure of public transport, electricity, post, etc. (if Bill Gates were to be allowed monopoly, we would have reached the absurd situation in which a private individual would have literally owned the software texture of our basic network of communication); the commons of external nature threatened by pollution and exploitation (from oil to forests and natural habitat itself); the commons of internal nature (the biogenetic inheritance of humanity) .”

The predominant liberal notion of democracy also deals with those Excluded, but in a radically different mode: it focuses on their inclusion, on the inclusion of all minority voices. All positions should be heard, all interests taken into account, the human rights of everyone guaranteed, all ways of life, cultures and practices respected, etc. – the obsession of this democracy is the protection of all kinds of minorities: cultural, religious, sexual, etc. The formula of democracy is here: patient negotiation and compromise. What gets lost is the proletarian position, the position of universality embodied in the Excluded.

 “The new emancipatory politics will no longer be the act of a particular social agent, but an explosive combination of different agents. What unites us is that, in contrast to the classic image of proletarians who have “nothing to lose but their chains,” we are in danger of losing ALL: the threat is that we will be reduced to abstract empty Cartesian subject deprived of all substantial content, dispossessed of our symbolic substance, with our genetic base manipulated, vegetating in an unlivable environment. This triple threat to our entire being make us all in a way all proletarians, reduced to “substanceless subjectivity,” as Marx put it in Grundrisse. The figure of the “part of no-part,” confronts us with the truth of our own position, and the ethico-political challenge is to recognize ourselves in this figure – in a way, we are all excluded, from nature as well as from our symbolic substance. Today, we are all potentially a HOMO SACER, and the only way to prevent actually becoming one is to act preventively.

THANKS BARRY! 

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Transcribed from the Backdoor Broadcasting Company recording.

Alberto Toscano: I’m wondering if either of you actually think Land has a theory of capitalism. It seems to me simply an aesthetics, a very common extrapolation from a certain lyrical vision of capitalism which to one extent or another you famously encounter in the Communist Manifesto, which simply doesn’t seem to actually involve any theory, if by theory we also understand something… Read More

via moskvax

      
 
Now, more than ever, one should insist on what Badiou calls the ‘eternal’ Idea of Communism.  – Slavoj Zizek
 
A new program for the Left after the death of neoliberalism. ‘We know that communism is the right hypothesis. All those who abandon this hypothesis immediately resign themselves to the market economy, to parliamentary democracy—the form of state suited to capitalism—and to the inevitable and “natural” character of the most monstrous inequalities.’—Alain Badiou
 

Badiou’s Communist Hypothesis and The Idea of Communism Conference > Resources


 

Download and Read

Mark Fisher has been writing an acclaimed blog as k-punk for some years now. Focussing on culture, especially music and literature, and politics. His writing also appears in the New Statesman, Frieze, The Wire, Sight and Sound and FACT. A founder member of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, he now teaches at Goldsmiths University and the City Literary Institute in London.

In November last year he published his first book Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, and also edited a collection of texts on the death of Michael Jackson, The Resistible Demise of Michael Jackson, both published with Zer0 Books.

Rowan Wilson: Your blog, k-punk, is one of the leading blogs for cultural analysis. When did you first start writing it and why did you start?

Mark Fisher: Thank you. I started it in 2003. At the time, I was working as a Philosophy lecturer in a Further Education college in Kent – I reflect on some of my experiences there in Capitalist Realism. I was then quite badly depressed – not because of teaching, which I enjoyed, but for a whole series of long-term reasons – and I started blogging as a way of getting back into writing after the traumatic experience of doing a PhD. PhD work bullies one into the idea that you can’t say anything about any subject until you’ve read every possible authority on it. But blogging seemed a more informal space, without that kind of pressure. Blogging was a way of tricking myself back into doing serious writing. I was able to con myself, thinking, “it doesn’t matter, it’s only a blog post, it’s not an academic paper”. But now I take the blog rather more seriously than writing academic papers. I was actually only aware of blogs for a short while before I started mine. But I could quite quickly see that the blog network around Simon Reynolds’ blog [see the RSB interview with Reynolds] – which was the first network I started to read – fulfilled many of the functions that the music press used to. But it wasn’t just replicating the old music press; there were also sorts of strange, idiosyncratic blogs which couldn’t have existed in any other medium. I saw that – contrary to all the clichés – blogs didn’t have to be online diaries: they were a blank space in which writers could pursue their own lines of interest (something that it‘s increasingly difficult for writers to do in print media, for a number of reasons).

RW: You’re almost one of the elder statespeople of blogging now. How has it changed since you started?

MF: Blogging networks shift all the time; new blogs enter the network, older ones fall away; new networks constitute themselves. One of the most significant developments was the introduction of comments; a largely unfortunate change in my view. In the early days of blogs, if you wanted to respond to a post, you had to reply on your own blog, and if you didn’t have a blog, you had to create one. Comments tend to reduce things to banal sociality, with all its many drawbacks.

Yet blogs continue to do things that can’t be done anywhere else: look at the way that Speculative Realism has propagated through blogs. Originally coined as term of convenience for the work of the philosophers Ray Brassier, Graham Harman, Iain Hamilton Grant and Quentin Meillassoux, Speculative Realism now has an online unlife of its own. This isn’t just commentary on existing philosophical positions; it’s a philosophy that is actually happening on the web. Graham has his own blog, Object-Oriented Philosophy, but there are a whole range of Speculative Realism-related blogs, including Speculative Heresy and Planomenology. Reid Kane of Plamomenology has gone so far as to argue that Speculative Realism is “the first avatar of distributed cognition”, that, in other words, there is a natural fit between SR and the online medium.

RW: You were one of the co-founders of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU), described by Simon Reynolds as the academic equivalent of Apocalypse Now’s Colonel Kurtz. Who did you form it with and what was its purpose?

MF: The main driving forces behind it were Sadie Plant and Nick Land. But Sadie Plant left quite quickly so the CCRU as it developed was much more shaped by Nick Land. Nick’s 1990s texts – which are to be issued in a collected edition this year, by Urbanomic, who publish the Collapse journal – are incredible. Far from the dry databasing of much academic writing or the pompous solemnity of so much continental philosophy, Nick’s texts were astonishing theory-fictions. They weren’t distanced readings of French theory so much as cybergothic remixes which put Deleuze and Guattari on the same plane as films such as Apocalypse Now and fictions such as Gibson’s Neuromancer.

Jungle was crucial to the Ccru. What the Ccru was about was capturing, (and extrapolating) this specifically British take on cyberculture, in which music was central. Ccru was trying to do with writing what Jungle, with its samples from such as Predator, Terminator and Blade Runner, was doing in sound: “text at sample velocity”, as Kodwo Eshun put it.

RW: The writing of the Ccru seems very different to your current style. Are you still involved with the Ccru – and indeed is it still operating?

MF: It was never formally disbanded but then again it was never formally constituted. It’s odd because, it’s only a decade on that the stuff is starting to get published in book form. As I said, Nick’s texts are just about to be published. Steve Goodman (aka Kode9) has just had his book Sonic Warfarepublished on MIT Press. As for the change of style, I suppose a number of things happened. One was the slowing of the UK cyberculture that had inspired the Ccru throughout the 90s. Gradually, the exorbitant hypotheses of the Ccru seemed to have less purchase on a culture that increasingly seemed to correspond more with Jameson’s ideas of retrospection and pastiche. In the 90s, it was possible to oppose a vibrant cyberculture to the malaise which Jameson identified. But in the 00s, the blight of postmodernism spread everywhere.

Also, I found that, as I started teaching regularly, and as I got used to writing for an audience – and there’s no form of writing that makes you as aware of having an audience as blogging; print publications just don’t compare – I rediscovered rhetoric, argument and engagement. The exhilaration of the Ccru-style was its uncompromising blizzard of jargon, text as a tattoo of intensities to which you just had to submit. But it’s hard to maintain that kind of speed-intensity for longer writing projects; and I found that I enjoyed producing writing that was expositorier and which tried to engage the reader rather than blitz them. I like Zizek’s line that the idiot he is trying to explain philosophy to is himself; I feel the same. Much of my writing now is me trying to explain things to/for myself.

There were also political schisms. The Ccru defined itself against the sclerotic stranglehold that a certain moralizing Old Left had on the Humanities academy. There was a kind of exuberant anti-politics, a ‘technihilo’ celebration of the irrelevance of human agency, partly inspired by the pro-markets, anti-capitalism line developed by Manuel DeLanda out of Braudel, and from the section of Anti-Oedipus that talks about marketization as the “revolutionary path”. This was a version of what Alex Williams has called “accelerationism”, but it has never been properly articulated as a political position; the tendency is to fall back into a standard binary, with capitalism and libertarianism on one side and the state and centralization on the other.

But working in the public sector in Blairite Britain made me see that neoliberal capitalism didn’t fit with the accelerationist model; on the contrary, pseudo-marketization was producing the pervasive, decentralized bureaucracy I describe in Capitalist Realism. My experiences as a teacher and as trade union activist combined with a belated encounter with Zizek – who was using some of the same conceptual materials as Ccru (the Freudian death drive; pulp culture, technology), but giving them a leftist spin – to push me towards a different political position. I guess what I’m interested in now is in synthesizing some of the interests and methods of the Ccru with a new leftism. Speculative Realism has returned to some of the areas that the Ccru was interested in. What I’m hoping will happen in the next decade is that a new kind of theory will develop that emerges from people who have been deep-cooked in post-Fordist capitalism, who take cyberspace for granted and who lack nostalgia for the exhausted paradigms of the old left.

RW: One of the most exciting things to happen in publishing last year was the development of the Zer0 Books imprint. Can you explain how that came about and the purpose of the project?

MF: The imprint was set up by the novelist Tariq Godard. He asked Nina Power and me if we’d like to do books, and we suggested a range of other people. What we wanted was to produce the kind of books we’d want to read ourselves, but which weren’t being published anywhere. In mainstream media, the space that had drawn Tariq and myself towards theory in the first place – the music press, areas of the broadcast media – had disappeared. Effectively, that kind of discourse had been driven into exile online. So part of what Zer0 was about was harvesting the work that has been developed on the blog networks. Zer0 is about establishing a para-space, between theory and popular culture, between cyberspace and the university. The Zer0 books are a reminder of what ought to be obvious, but which the imbecilic reductionism of neoliberal media would like us to forget: serious writing doesn’t have to be opaque and incomprehensible, and popular writing doesn’t have to be facile.

RW: Your first book, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, was published by Zer0 in November. Why do you think that capitalism, even in the wake of the financial crisis, has such a grip on our consciousness?

MF: I’m not sure that it has a grip on our consciousness so much as on our unconscious. It shapes the limits of what we can imagine. It does so because it has enjoyed 20 years of unchallenged domination, blitzing our nervous systems with its intoxicants, paralysing thought. Put at its simplest, capitalist realism is the widespread idea that capitalism is the only “realistic” political economic system. The response to the financial crisis only reinforced this belief – it was (on every level) unthinkable that the banks could be allowed to crash. The problem is imagining an alternative that anyone believes could be actually attained. Which isn’t to say that an alternative can’t ever come about; in fact, after the financial crisis, we’re in the bizarre situation at the moment where everything – very much including the continuation of the status quo – looks impossible.  But this is already an improvement from how things seemed only two years ago. The financial crisis forced capitalist realism to change its form. The old neoliberal story was no longer viable. But Capital has not yet cobbled together much of a new narrative, or come up with any economic solution to the problems that led to the crash in the first place. It’s as if capitalism has suffered its own version of shock therapy.

RW: How is your argument different from that put forward by Fredric Jameson in his work on the culture of postmodernism?

MF: Well, as I say in the book, in many ways what I’m calling “capitalist realism” can be contained under the rubric of Jameson’s theorization of postmodernism. Yet the very persistence and ubiquity of the processes that Jameson identifies – the destruction of a sense of history, the supersession of novelty by pastiche – meant that they have changed in kind. Postmodernism is now no longer a tendency in culture; it has subsumed practically all culture. Capitalist realism, you might say, is what happens when postmodernism is naturalized. After all, we’ve now got a generation of young adults who have known nothing but global capitalism and who are accustomed to culture being pastiche and recapitulation.

RW: In the book you move from describing the problems of capitalist society to how it is making us mentally ill. What do you think are the central lasting effects of neoliberalism on our psyches and, with its collapse, how do you see these unravelling?

MF: Neoliberalism installs a perpetual anxiety – there is no security; your position and status are under constant review. It’s no wonder that, as Oliver James shows in The Selfish Capitalist, depression is so prevalent in neoliberalized countries. Widespread mental illness is one of the hidden costs of neoliberal capitalism; stress has been privatized. If you’re depressed because of overwork, that’s between you and your brain chemistry!

I do think that the financial crisis killed neoliberalism as a political project – but it doesn’t need to be alive in order to continue to dominate our minds, work and culture. Even though neoliberalism now lacks any forward momentum, it still controls things by default. So, sadly, I don’t see the deleterious psychic effects of neoliberalism waning any time in the immediate future.

RW:You identify the madness of managerial bureaucracy, the incessant and pointless ‘auditing culture’, in contemporary public services, specifically education. You discuss how this auditing culture is now, along with capitalism’s PR network, a new big Other, a replacement for God. It’s the ideological matrix that we all cynically dismiss (not just privately – this cynicism is now the accepted public language; see the Guardian’s G2 section for daily examples) but nonetheless remains the binding authority. Why are we not simply able to shrug it off?

MF: PR is not limited any more to specific promotional activities – as I say in the book, under capitalism, all that is solid melts into PR. In so-called “immaterial” labour, the effect of auditing is not to improve actual performance but to generate a representation of better performance. It’s a familiar effect that anyone subject to New Labour’s targets will know all too well.

Neoliberalism reproduces itself through cynicism, through people doing things they “don’t really believe”. It’s a question of power. People go along with auditing culture and what I call “business ontology” not necessarily because they agree with it, but because that is the ruling order, “that’s just how things are now, and we can’t do anything about it”. That kind of sentiment is what I mean by capitalist realism. And it isn’t merely queitsm; it’s true that almost no-one working in public services is likely to be sacked if they get a poor performance review (they will just be subject to endless retraining); but they might well be sacked if they start questioning the performance review system itself or refusing to co-operate with it.

RW: So now we move from the critique to the positive proposals. In an interview with Matthew Fuller for Mute you tentatively suggest that the left needs to come up with a new big Other, one that is more representative of Rousseau’s ‘general will’. How is this to be distinguished from the capitalist big Other and how would it be prevented from becoming reified, a new system of mystical dominance?

RW: Reification isn’t a problem per se; in fact, it’s something we should hope for. Evan Calder Williams, whose book Combined and Uneven Apocalypse is coming out on Zer0, talks of an “anti-capitalist reification”, and I think that’s what we need to develop. It’s capitalism that poses as being anti-reification; it’s capitalism that presents itself as having dissolved all illusions and exposed the underlying reality of things. Part of what I’m arguing in Capitalist Realism is that this is an ideological sleight of hand; it’s precisely neoliberal capitalism’s ostensible demystifications (its reduction of everything to the supposedly self-evident category of the free individual) that allow all kinds of strange, quasi-theological entities to rule our lives. But I don’t think the aim should be to replace capitalism’s fake anti-reification with a “real” anti-reification. Reification can’t be entirely eliminated. I take this to be one of the important lessons that Lacanian psychoanalysis has to teach. Being a speaking subject at all involves a minimal reification; the big Other is coterminous with language itself. But this is very far from being a problem for the left. It’s the left that needs to insist on the reality of something in excess of individuals, whether you call it the “general will”, the “public interest”, or something else. When Mrs Thatcher famously denied the existence of society, she was echoing Max Stirner’s claim that all such abstractions are “spooks”. But we can’t ever rid ourselves of these incorporeal entities – neoliberalism certainly hasn’t. As I argue in Capitalist Realism, neoliberalism hasn’t killed the big Other – for who is the consumer of PR (which no actual empirical individual believes) if not the big Other? The point now – and I would affirm this forcefully, not tentatively – is to invent a leftist big Other. This doesn’t mean reviving authoritarianism; there is no necessary relation between the big Other and a strong leader. On the contrary, in fact, authoritarianism happens when there is a confusion between the big Other (as virtuality) and an empirical individual. What we need are institutions and agents that will stand in for – but cannot be equated with – a leftist big Other.

RW: You talk about the re-formatting of memory that is a symptom of capitalist realism, where history can be altered almost instantly (as in a Philip K. Dick novel) as we stand agog before the supposed ceaseless innovation of capitalism. You were also one of those to start using the concept ‘hauntology’, the idea that there was a cultural meme that acknowledged the collapse of a moment and picks through the remains for the lost futures buried within (it’s probably fair to say that Owen Hatherley’s Militant Modernism, the first Zer0 Book, is operating within this terrain). Similarly, we are in a political landscape littered with ‘ideological rubble’ (as you quote Alex Williams). My suspicion is that for you the ‘moment’ that has collapsed is the politics of ’68, one that was perhaps guilty of the re-formatting of history and memory in its own way, before many of its ideas were taken up by a post-Fordist capitalism. So what is the detritus that you are picking through? What of the discarded remnants of left politics would you dust off? And is it possible to give old ideas new momentum?

MF: I would say that, in many ways, the politics of ’68 haven’t collapsed enough. ’68 is a spectre which still hangs over theory. Yet the forces which ’68 railed against no longer exist; there is no Stalinist Party or State that we need to blow apart with a Cultural Revolution. Which isn’t to say that we should want to return to Stalinist authoritarianism, or that it is possible to do so; the oscillation between these two options is the sign of a failure of political imagination. It’s necessary to go all the way through post-Fordism, to keep looking ahead, especially at times when there seems to be nothing ahead of us. Part of the importance of the concept of hauntology is the idea of lost futures, of things which never happened but which could have. On one level, late capitalism is indeed all about ceaseless reinvention, nothing is solid, everything is mutable; but on another level, it is about recapitulation, homogeneity, minimally different commodities. Some of Jameson’s best passages are about this strange antinomy. Deleuze and Guattari, too, emphasize the way in which capitalism is a bizarre mix of the ultra-modern and the archaic. The failure of the future haunts capitalism: after 1989, capitalism’s victory has not consisted in it confidently claiming the future, but in denying that the future is possible.  All we can expect, we have been led to believe, is more of the same – but on higher resolution screens with faster connections. Hauntology, I think, expresses dissatisfaction with this foreclosure of the future.

So it’s not now a question of giving old ideas new momentum, it’s a matter of fighting over the meaning of the words “new” and “modern”. Neoliberalism has made it seem self-evident that “modernization” means managerialism, increased exploitation of workers, outsourcing etc. But of course this isn’t self-evident: the neoliberals fought a long campaign on many fronts in order to impose that definition. And now neoliberalism itself is a discredited relic – albeit, as I argued above, one that still dominates our lives, but only by default now. Part of the battle now will be to ensure that neoliberalism is perceived to be defunct. I think that’s already happening. There is a change in the cultural atmosphere, small at the moment, but it will increase. What Jim McGuigan calls “cool capitalism”, the culture of swaggering business and conspicuous consumption that dominated the last decade, already looks as if it belongs to a world that is dead and gone. After the financial crisis, all those television programmes about selling property and the like became out of date overnight. These things aren’t trivial; they have provided the background noise which capitalist realism needed in order to naturalise itself. The financial crisis has weakened the corporate elite – not materially so much as ideologically. And, by the same token, it has given confidence to those opposed to the ruling order. I’m sure that the university occupations are the signs of a growing militancy. We need to take advantage of this new mood. There’s nothing old fashioned about the idea of rational organisation of resources, or that public space is important. (The failure to rationally organise natural resources is now evident to everyone; and the consequences of letting the concept of public space decline are equally obvious to anyone living in Britain, with its violent crime and drunkenness, both of which are symptoms of a kind of despair that is as unacknowledged under capitalist realism as it is ubiquitous). Similarly, what is intrinsically “modern” about putting workers under intolerable stress? The pseudonymous postal worker Roy Mayall put this very well in his LRB blog:

We used to be told that there were three elements to the postal trade: the business, the customers and the staff, and that all were equally important. These days we are clearly being told that only the business matters. So now the ‘modernisers’ are moving in. They are young, thrusting, in-your-face and they think they know all the answers. According to them, the future is the application of new technology within the discipline of the market. But the market doesn’t tell us what to do: people tell us what to do. The ‘market’ is essentially a ploy by which one group of people’s interests are imposed on the rest of us. The postal trade is at the front line of a battle between people’s needs and the demands of corporations to make ever increasing profits. That’s what they mean by ‘modernisation’, and it’s not ‘nostalgia’ to remind ourselves that things used to be different.

But the fight will only be won when we can say with confidence, not only that things used to be different in the past, but that they can be different in the future too. I’m hoping that, before long, the neoliberal era will be seen for what it was: a barbarous anti-Enlightenment atavism, a temporary interruption of a process of egalitarian modernization.

RW: At the end of last year you edited a collection of essays, The Resistible Demise of Michael Jackson, brought out almost at the speed of John Blake Publishing! What was so important about Michael Jackson’s death that made you put such energy into this project?

MF: Yes, it’s rapid-response theory! There’s no doubt that Jackson’s death arrived at a punctual moment. A whole thirty year reality system had just collapsed with the bank bail-outs. Obama had been elected. There was no-one who personified that thirty year period more than Michael Jackson. In the few days after Jackson died, I found myself watching his videos over and over again. I surprised myself by moved from a position of detached cynicism to feeling increasingly sad. There was something in those videos – particularly the Off The Wall clips – which afterwards disappeared from Jackson personally and from the culture in general. So I listened to Off The Wall and “Billie Jean” obsessively. I probably listened to “Billie Jean” forty times, but it was like listening to it for the first time; there were depths to it I’d never got to before. I wrote a post on my blog which elicited some positive responses; and it struck me that the network around Zer0 – which includes many of the world’s music writers as well as theorists – was in an ideal position to produce a book that could deal with MJ as a symptom. Which isn’t to say that the book is some desiccated analysis that doesn’t engage with the sensuous qualities of Jackson’s music – there are some wonderful descriptions of the tracks and Jackson’s dancing. The book was put together very quickly, but I’m extremely pleased with the results. It was heartening to see what music writers can do when you give them space and let them pursue their interests. There are some pieces in the book – such as Chris Roberts’ and Ian Penman’s – that are so sui generis that it is difficult to imagine them appearing anywhere else.

RW: You’ve had a busy year, what with the blog, teaching, finishing a stint as reviews editor at The Wire, conference papers, marriage, Zer0 and the publication of two books – is it time for a rest now or will 2010 be just as busy?

MF: This is not the time for a rest. On a personal level, a rest is impossible. Most of what I do doesn’t make me much money, so I have to keep working at a furious rate to keep my head above water. On a wider cultural and political level, this is a highly exciting time, not a moment to be convalescing. This year, in addition to the teaching, blogging, freelancing and editing for Zer0, I will be putting out Ghosts Of My Life, which will bring together my writings on hauntology and lost futures; in some ways, it’s the other half of Capitalist Realism. There’s another big project that I’m involved with which I have high hopes for, but we’re not ready to go public on that yet.

RW: And finally, I hope it’s not too late to ask what were your favourite books of last year?

MF: Apart from the Zer0 books – and I’ve almost certainly forgotten something really important – they would be:

Fredric Jameson, Valences Of The Dialectic. A genuinely monumental work that I expect to be referring to for many years.
Graham Harman, Prince Of Networks. A stunning reinterpretation of Bruno Latour’s work that is also Graham’s most lucid account yet of his object-oriented philosophy
Jodi Dean, Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics. Jodi’s sharp analysis of the impasses of the left is also a kind of requiem for much the 2.0 bluster of the last decade.
Slavoj Zizek, First As Tragedy, Then As Farce. Much more focused than some of Zizek’s recent books, this was a reminder of his supreme relevance to the current conjuncture.

RW: Thanks Mark.

Rowan Wilson (22/02/2010)
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…A remark on Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude (after Colletti)

This paper seeks to explore a very stark and simple question elicited by Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude: are materialism and speculation compatible? In order to outline a response I will take what might initially seem a somewhat arbitrary detour through a seemingly disparate line of thought, namely that of the Italian anti-Hegelian Marxist Lucio Colletti, focussing in particular on his 1969 Marxism and Hegel – a book which in its time had a remarkable impact on the discussion of historical and dialectical materialism. By means of this theoretical contrast, I will try to elucidate what appear to me as some of the stakes of Meillassoux’s powerful book. In this regard my guiding question will open onto some subsidiary ones, two of them being of particular significance: ‘Is non-metaphysical speculation possible?’ and ‘What is the difference between realism and materialism (and indeed between these two and naturalism)?’ In the background of these questions lies the issue of demarcation – especially the three-way demarcation between science, philosophy and ideology. The contrast with a line of inquiry within twentieth-century Marxism which bears a number of affinities with Meillassoux’s proposal is also significant, to my mind, because it allows us to address one of the strong rhetorical gestures that lends this short book its polemical, and one might even say political character, to the extent that can speak of a politics immanent to philosophy as a Kampfplatz, a battlefield, a Kantian image dear to Althusser. This gesture involves enlisting a speculative materialism against the pernicious extra-philosophical effects of correlationism, encapsulated by the notion of fideism. When it comes to these arguments, principally rehearsed in Chapter 2 of After Finitude, I think it is fair to say, in terms of the aforementioned issue of demarcation, that Meillassoux is engaging in an ideological struggle founded on the specific demarcation between philosophy and science, as the two relate to the questions of necessity and belief. Speculative materialism is here also an ideological operation, aimed at terminating correlationism’s collusion with irrationalism (‘Dialectical Materialism and Irrationalism’, incidentally, was the subtitle of Colletti’s book).

Meillassoux brings his investigation into explicitly contact with the issue of ideology when he characterizes speculative materialism as an approach that does away with any ‘dogmatic metaphysics’, as a rejection of real necessity and sufficient reason grounded in the following operation: ‘to reject dogmatic metaphysics means to reject all real necessity, and a fortiori to reject the principle of sufficient reason, as well as the ontological argument, which is the keystone that allows the system of real necessity to close in upon itself’. He goes on to declare that ‘such a refusal of dogmatism furnishes the minimal condition for every critique of ideology, insofar as an ideology cannot be identified with just any variety of deceptive representation, but is rather any form of pseudo-rationality whose aim is to establish that what exists as a matter of fact exists necessarily’ (33-4). At bottom, Meillassoux wishes to combine and revitalise two aspects of the Enlightenment critique of metaphysics and religion. On the one hand, a speculative materialism is aimed at undermining the dogmatism of necessary entities, the dogmatism of classical metaphysics, rationalism included. On the other, speculative materialism is targeted against the way in which correlationism makes any belief equally legitimate by rejecting the absoluteness of reality (i.e. by making the archi-fossil unthinkable). But this entails that the critique of metaphysics not be a deflationary, relativist or conventionalist critique, in other words that it not be a correlationist critique. The brilliance (but as I will suggest also the problematic character) of Meillassoux’s enterprise stems from the manner in which he articulates the two seemingly antinomic requirements of anti-dogmatism and speculation. Accordingly, as he writes ‘we must uncover an absolute necessity that does not reinstate any form of absolute necessary entity’, thus demarcating absolutising from absolutist thought, and speculation from metaphysics. This requires resisting what Meillassoux calls the ‘de-absolutizing implication’, which posits that ‘if metaphysics is obsolete, so is the absolute’ (34). Kantianism, or, in Meillassoux’s vocabulary ‘weak correlationism’, is partially responsible for this, though the fact that it maintains an uncorrelated non-contradictory real as thinkable entails that it does not harbour the same irrationalist consequences as strong correlationism, especially in the latter’s Heideggerian or Wittgensteinian varieties. It is in discussing strong correlationism that Meillassoux attempt to infuse speculative materialism with the polemical spirit of the radical Enlightenment is particularly in evidence, leading to the formulation of what we could call an absolute Enlightenment. Meillassoux’s indictment of strong correlationism as a new obscurantism, as a kind of carte blanche for any and all superstitions centres on the category of facticity. The latter designates those structural invariants or transcendental parameters which govern a given world or domain of correlation without themselves being open to rational explanation, deduction or derivation. In this respect, facticity is a form of reflexive ignorance. In Meillassoux’s words, it ‘consists in not knowing why the correlational structure has to be thus’ (39). Facticity is here synonymous with finitude and with a form of anti-foundationalism whose converse, as Meillassoux writes, ‘is that nothing can be said to be absolutely impossible, not even the unthinkable’. Strong correlationism generates a form of philosophically-vouchsafed permissiveness, which makes it impossible to establish the very criteria that might make it possible to ‘disqualify’ irrational discourses. As he notes, while weak correlationism had done away with naïve realism, strong correlationism further undoes a notion of the absolute by pitting the facticity of the correlation against any speculative idealism.

It is the complicity of strong correlationism with a return of religiosity that lends Meillassoux’s speculative denunciation its ideological urgency. Its ‘contemporary predominance’, he writes, is ‘intimately connected to the immunity from the constraints of conceptual rationality which religious belief currently seems to enjoy’ (43). According to After Finitude, we live in a time where the ideological hegemony of strong correlationist philosophies, with their assertion of a facticity beyond explanation, their dumb wonderment at things as they are, has revoked any of the rational instruments available for refuting or dismissing irrational beliefs. Intriguingly, and I’ll return to this when I move to Colletti, for Meillassoux correlationist irrationalism is founded on its termination of the Parmenidean identity of being and thought, the consequence that it draws from facticity that ‘being and thinking must be thought as capable of being wholly other’ (44). From such a vantage point, is impossible to rule out the radical incommensurability between the in-itself and thought. What is the consequence of this? That thought’s claim to think the absolute is drastically withdrawn but irrational absolutes remain, indeed proliferate. Hence the basically unchallenged contemporary sway of a sceptically permissive and pluralistic ‘fideism of any belief whatsoever’. It is not clear whether Meillassoux actually thinks that correlationism has played a causal part in abetting the current return of the religious, but he does draw out very neatly the manner in which it implies it. In his own words:

The end of metaphysics, understood as the ‘de-absolutization of thought’, is thereby seen to consist in the rational legitimation of any and every variety of religious (or ‘poetico-religious’) belief in the absolute, so long as the latter invokes no authority beside itself. To put it in other words: by forbidding reason any claim to the absolute, the end of metaphysics has taken the form of an exacerbated return to the religious. (45)

On the basis of this argument, Meillassoux frames his own project in the classical terms of the French lumières, especially of Voltaire, as a struggle against fanaticism (characteristically, Meillassoux does not use the Kantian definition of fanaticism, or Schwärmerei, which for Kant involves the hyper-rationalist delusion of ‘seeing the infinite’, against which the critical philosophy erects its iconoclastic proscriptions). The relation between fideism and fanaticism is somewhat fuzzy, but it is intriguing, and one might argue somewhat worrying, that Meillassoux flirts with the conservative thesis that a relativistic proliferation of beliefs, beyond any horizon of legitimacy, is a form of de-Christianization, the obverse of his equally questionable conviction that critical Western rationality is a ‘progressive rationalization of Judeo-Christianity under the influence of Greek philosophy’ (47). In pure Enlightenment style, Meillassoux wants to argue that strong correlationism, in colluding with the religionization of reason, has left us powerless to argue rationally – rather than on ad hoc moral grounds – against all varieties of fanaticism, including, in an odd allusion, those which may deal out ‘the worst forms of violence’, whose claim to access an irrational absolute correlationist fideism cannot allow itself to disqualify. At the end of Chapter 2 of After Finitude, Meillassoux even goes so far as to claim that contemporary ‘fanaticism’ is the effect of critical rationality, a by-product of the latter’s effectively emancipatory attack on dogmatism, which has in removed any fetter on the claims of ‘blind faith’. Without dwelling on the under-determined and exceedingly allusive references to contemporary fanaticism which lend Meillassoux’s claims their charge of urgency, as well as on the rather dubious claims made about the relation between Christianity and Western reason, in the rest of this presentation I want to challenge the plausibility of Meillassoux’s Enlightenment reloaded, as I mentioned by a detour through Colletti’s Marxism and Hegel. I want to put forward two inter-related arguments. First, that attending to the distinction between Kant and Hegel as formulated by Colletti, allows us to cast doubt on the very possibility of a speculative materialism, and provides a qualified Marxian defence for weak Kantian correlationism as a component of a genuine materialist thinking. Second, and much more briefly, that Colletti’s related discussion of hypostasis and ‘real abstraction’ demonstrates the weakness of Meillassoux’s attempt to revitalise the Enlightenment attack on fanaticism. Behind these two claims lies the conviction that, despite its undeniable subtlety, Meillassoux’s attack on the idealist parameters of correlationism is ultimately idealist in form, a problem which also affects it attempt to ideologically intervene, through a recasting of the Enlightenment fight against fanaticism, in the contemporary ‘return to the religious’.

The reasons that govern the contrast I will propose with Colletti are several. To begin with, I want to use this disjunctive exercise to begin to think through the relationship between Meillassoux’s speculative materialism and the kinds of materialisms of practice or history that refer back to Marx. The choice of Colletti is dictated by the very nature of his intervention in Marxism and Hegel and related pieces: it was designed to counter the obfuscatory idealism and rejection of science which he saw as the Hegelian legacy within Western Marxism. In this respect its spirit, if not its specific targets, is not so distant from Meillassoux. What’s more, Colletti bears a more specific affinity with Meillassoux (1). Both regard scientific thought as inextricable from an affirmation of the principle of non-contradiction. Meillassoux argues, towards the end of chapter 3 of After Finitude that: ‘Dialectics and paraconsistent logics would be shown to be studies of the ways in which the contradictions of thought produce effects in thought, rather than studies of the supposedly ontological contradictions which thought discovers in the surrounding world’ (79). The distinction between contradictions in thought and in reality is so central to Colletti’s work that it eventually led to his abandonment of Marxism, guilty in his eyes of maintaining the possibility of contradictions in the real. But the different ways of arguing against contradictions in reality in Colletti and Meillassoux are already indicative of the broader differences in their philosophical defences of science against idealism. Colletti turns to Kant’s 1763 essay on negative magnitudes to argue that:

The fundamental principle of materialism and of science … is the principle of non-contradiction. Reality cannot contain dialectical contradictions but only real oppositions, conflicts between forces, relations of contrariety. The latter are ohne Widerspruch, i.e. non-contradictory oppositions, and not dialectical contradictions. These assertions must be sustained, because they constitute the principle of science itself. Now science is the only means of apprehending reality, the only means of gaining knowledge of the world. There cannot be two (qualitatively different) forms of knowledge. A philosophy which claims a status for itself superior to that of science, is an edifying philosophy – that is, a scarcely disguised religion. (‘Marxism and the Dialectic’, 28–9).

Rather than relying on a notion of material reality for the argument against dialectical contradiction, Meillassoux’s argument regarding non-contradiction is wholly intra-speculative. Non-contradiction must be respected to ward off the metaphysical spectre of an absolutely necessary entity that forfeiting this principle would involve. Thus, contrary to the customary link between dialectical contradiction and an ontology of flux or process, for Meillassoux a contradictory entity ‘could never become other than it is because there would be no alterity for it in which to become’ (69). In other words, and I’ll try to develop this point, while Colletti takes a materialist critique of the dialectic to imply the extra-logical character of reality, the fact that deriving the dynamics of the real from the logical is illegitimate and idealist, for Meillassoux the denial of real contradiction takes place on intra-logical grounds. But to develop this point further, it is worth looking further at the rationale behind Colletti’s anti-Hegelian revision of Marxism.

Let’s begin where the contrast appears greatest: Colletti’s plea for a pro-scientific materialism takes the form of a defence of the finite. At the very start of his book, he isolates the crux of idealism in Hegel’s statement from the Science of Logic according to which: ‘The idealism of philosophy consists in nothing else than in recognizing that the finite has no veritable being’ (7). Consequently, ‘the finite is ideal’, in two senses: it is a mere abstraction, a fleeting isolation from the concrete universality of the Whole, and, conversely, it is only granted its true being when comprised as a moment of the ideal. In Hegel’s formulation, from the Encyclopaedia: ‘The truth of the finite is … its ideality. … This ideality of the finite is the chief maxim of philosophy’ (14). The labour of speculative reason (Vernunft), as opposed to the intellect or understanding (Verstand), is to traverse the various configurations of the finite and to undo its separateness. Colletti will diagnose this contempt towards the isolated thing and the thought which thinks it (mere intellect as opposed to reason) as a constant within idealist philosophy, including that of dialectical materialism – the polemical object of his book. For Colletti, sympathy towards the Hegelian critique of the intellect and of the Kantian restrictions placed on reason – which he encounters in a motley host of thinkers, from Rickert to Marcuse, from Bergson to Lukacs – is a sign of an abdication of materialism and of a position towards science which, in according philosophy the sovereign right to legislate about reality, turns the former it into a ‘scarcely disguised religion’. What’s more, to the extent that science is seen to isolate entities and treat them as both finite and external to the mind it is paradigmatically a product of the intellect, and is consequently viewed as a merely abstract and incomplete form of thinking – a feature most evident in Bergsonism, but present, as Colletti demonstrates, in a broad range of nineteenth and twentieth century philosophy. For Colletti, speculation, conceived as the pretension of philosophical thought to logically encompass being, is fundamentally incompatible with materialism. Indeed, he insists on Hegel’s conviction that he was returning to rationalism, but stripping it of its reliance on a materialist, or scientific form of argument. In passing, we could note that Meillassoux’s return to rationalism, and to Descartes in particular, takes the inverse approach: maintaining the materialist form of rationalism, and stripping it of its idealist or theological content.

Thus, it is the repudiation of the finite as separate and self-standing, and the attempt to overcome finitude, understood as the inability for thought or logic to determine being, which for Colletti marks idealism’s hostility to scientific materialism. In other words, it is because of a denial of finitude, and not because of its assertion, that for idealism ‘an independent material world no longer exists’ (19). The idea of real opposition, Kant’s Realrepugnanz, is significant because it is only by upholding the principle of non-contradiction and the idea of real exteriority in the material world that materialism can avert being enveloped by an idealism for which the material world is merely an incarnation of a fundamentally inclusive and unlimited reason. As Colletti remarks, ‘since Hegel transforms the logical inclusion of opposites that is reason into the very principle of idealism (reason is the sole reality, there is nothing outside it), he excludes precisely that exclusion of opposites (the externality of being in relation to thought) that is the very principle of materialism)’ (34).

In Marxism and Hegel, idealism qua speculation is identified with ‘the negation of any extralogical existence’ (49). This is also why materialism is always to some extent an Unphilosophie, an anti-philosophy, based on the idea of an externality of thought to being, and on a related irreducibility of scientific epistemology to speculative logic. While, in Colletti’s formulation, ‘Kant constantly remarks that if one wants to have knowledge, one must refer thought back to that which is other than itself’ (202), Meillassoux’s attempt to break out of a correlationist circle of Kantian provenance into what he calls ‘the great outdoors’ involves generating a new figure, under the aegis of a necessary and radical contingency, of thought’s Parmenidean identity with being, or, as he very lucidly outlines, inventing a novel type of non-metaphysical speculation.

Let’s sum up the results of this contrast. In Meillassoux’s work, a speculative materialism counters correlationism by undermining the thesis of finitude (or rather, via the passage from facticity to factuality, by turning correlationist finitude against itself), and by engaging in a non-metaphysical deployment of a ‘logos of contingency’ relying on the intra-logical principle of non-contradiction and the ultimate identity of being and thought. In Colletti, on the contrary, a critical materialism depends on asserting the extra-logical character of reality, and the related and irreducible distinction between logical contradiction and real opposition. What’s more, for Colletti it is precisely by turning the finite into an ideality, which is in turn encompassed by logical thinking, that speculation – which form him can only be idealist – transforms the world into an ‘ephemeral’ entity, something which Meillassoux’s logos of contingency would seem to do as well. It is worth quoting here at length from Colletti’s exposition of his critical materialism:

Dogmatism is metaphysics; critical thought is materialism. The antithesis, with respect to Hegel, could not be more pronounced. Metaphysics is the identity of thought and being; its contents are ‘already’ within thought, they are independent of experience, i.e. supersensible. Ergo, form and content are forever united, knowledge is already formed, and it is impossible to pose the problem of the origin of the knowledge that we possess. Critical thought, contrariwise, identifies itself with the position that presupposes the heterogeneity, i.e. a real and not formal (or purely ‘logical’) difference, between being and thought. Thereby one can pose the ‘critical’ problem of the origin of our knowledge, inasmuch as knowledge itself is not already given. Which in turn presupposes, in a word, that the sources of knowledge are two: the spontaneity of the mind and whatever data are given to the receptivity of our senses. (91)

In Colletti, the scientific content of Kantian finitude – severed from its moral dimension – is to prohibit the self-sufficient of thought, i.e. speculation. In his words: ‘If one denies that there exist premises in reality for thought, then one is forced to take up knowledge itself as a presupposed and given reality’ (89). Accordingly, it is imperative that epistemology, understood as the study of thought’s relation to being as relates to the scientific enterprise, not be reduced to logic, the theory of thought’s coherent relation to itself.

Among the issues at stake in this contrast is the standing of the absolute. Colletti and Meillassoux seem to converge on the notion of the absolute as something which is separate from what the latter would refer to as a correlationist circle. As is stated at the beginning of Chapter 2 of After Finitude, the task of speculative materialism ‘consists in trying to understand how thought is able to access the uncorrelated, which is to say, a world capable of subsisting without being given. But to say this is just to day that we must grasp how thought is able to access an absolute, i.e. a being whose severance (the original meaning of absolutus) and whose separateness from thought is such that it presents itself to us as non-relative to us, and hence as capable of existing whether we exist or not’ (28). In Colletti’s account it is precisely this absoluteness of extra-logical reality which is the nemesis of idealism. As he notes: ‘For Hegel, the ‘“intellect” is dogmatic because it makes the finite absolute. The meaning of this term is the same as its etymology: solutus ab…, freed from limitations, existing on its own, and therefore unrestricted and independent’ (82). But, and this is the important point, Meillassoux does not limit himself to the severance of extra-logical reality, precisely because his refutation of correlationism is a logical, or speculative one.

Looking through the prism of Colletti’s critique of Hegelianism, we can recognise two sense of the absolute in After Finitude: on the one hand, the absoluteness of the archi-fossil, an absoluteness that fits quite well with Colletti’s defence of the finite against its idealist sublations; on the other, the absoluteness of a reason or logic which is assumed to be congruent with being, and which can legislate about modality and change with no reference to anything extrinsic to it, be it experience or matter. The uniqueness of Meillassoux’s account lies of course in the dextrous and fascinating manner in which he seems to need the second absolute, the absolute of speculation (or what we might call the absolute absolute) to shore up the second (the relative or negative absolute, the absolute from thought) and defeat correlationism. Viewed from the vantage point of Colletti’s argument, Meillassoux poses the ontological presuppositions of correlationist epistemology, but resolves it by logical means, thus obviating his own materialist aims, and creating something like a detotalised and contingent ‘logical mysticism’, to employ Marx’s characterisation of Hegel’s system. We could thus articulate this contrast in terms of the distinction between a materialism of the intellect and a materialism of reason, or a realism of the intellect and a realism of reason. From the vantage point of Colletti’s defence of intellect against reason, After Finitude’s attempt at defending the expansive and speculative uses of a ‘totally a-subjective’ reason by getting rid of fideism throw out with it the criticism, revision and scientificity that marks the extra-logical character of reality in a Kant-inspired materialist epistemology.

But is a restatement of Kantian epistemology as a materialist precursor all that there is to Colletti’s position? No. Crucial to Marxism and Hegel is the highlighting of Marx’s theory of real abstraction, to wit the idea that the excesses of speculation and the hypostases of idealism are not merely cognitive problems, but are deeply entangled with abstractions that have a real existence in what, following Hegel, Marx was wont to call an upside-down world. Thus the State, and its philosophical expression in Hegel, and Capital, and its theoretical capture in the political economy of Smith and Ricardo, are not simply thought-forms that could be dispelled by some enlightened emendation of the intellect, or a valiant combat against superstitions. As Colletti writes: ‘For Marx, in fact, metaphysics is the realism of universals; it is a logical totality which posits itself as self-subsisting, transforms itself into the subject, and which (since it must be self-subsisting) identifies and confuses itself acritically with the particular, turning the latter – i.e. the actual subject of reality – into its own predicate or manifestation’ (198). Again, this is not a merely logical but a real process. To return to the earlier remarks on Meillassoux’s attempt to revive the Enlightenment war on fanaticism within his broader critique of correlationist fideism, what Marx’s notion of real abstraction permits us to think – and the reason why it is an important advance with respect to the idea of ideology as a merely cognitive matter – is that ideologies, including those of correlationism, fideism and fanaticism, are social facts.

In trying to maintain the speculative sovereignty of philosophical reason, albeit advocating a principle of unreason and breaking correlationist self-sufficiency, Meillassoux can be seen to reintroduce idealism at the level of form at the same time as he valiantly seeks to defeat it at the level of content. In two senses. First, by presuming the possibility of drawing ontological conclusions from logical intuitions – something which can be registered in the inconsistent use of the notion of the absolute: as the absolute absolute of the logos of contingency, and as the relative absolute of the entity severed from correlation. The former, logical absolute leads to a variant of Hegel’s transubstantiation of material or effective causality into a moment within ideal causality – though of course in Meillassoux this is explicitly an acausality, stripped of teleology. Second, by presuming that a speculative philosophy in conjunction with a mathematised science can struggle against abstractions that are perceived as mere errors of the intellect, and not as abstractions that have any basis in a social, material and extra-logical reality. Logical form undermines materialist content, the struggle against finitude reproduces the ideality of the finite, the intellectualist defence of the Enlightenment conceals the reality of abstractions. The antidote to a post-Kantian catastrophe threatens to be a neo-Hegelian reverie.

1. There is a further convergence in these two attempts to recast materialism. As their discussions of non-contradictions suggest, both rely on a preliminary ‘atomization’ of things, objects and laws. In the case of Meillassoux one could perhaps critically refer to Anton Pannekoek’s critique of Materialism and Empirio-Criticism in Lenin as Philosopher: ‘for Lenin “nature” consists not only in matter but also in natural laws directing its behaviour, floating somehow in the world as commanders who must be obeyed by the things.’ In order for Meillassoux’s reasoning to operate, is there not a need to pre-emptively reduce the real to a domain of entities rather than relations, such that arguments based on the principle of non-contradiction can have their purchase? And is there not a parallel weakness in Colletti’s refusal to consider the point that a materialist ontology may be concerned with processes, not things?

Alberto Toscano

via Nina Power’s infinite thought

Today’s radical political (or metapolitical) theory is the offspring of a contorted dialectic of defeat and reinvention.1 Though it is common to take contemporary ideas on emancipation and political subjectivity at face value, many of the defining characteristics of these recent writings are obscured if we fail to address how they emerged out of a reckoning with the failure or  distortion of Marxist politics, and, moreover, if we disregard the extent to which they maintain an underlying commitment to the Marxist impulse whence they arose.

The mode of separation, as it were, from the organisational and theoretical tenets of Marxism (in whichever guise) can tell us a lot about the present resources and limitations of theoretical contributions to the contemporary thinking of politics which drew initial sustenance from that tradition, even if they are now allegedly “beyond” Marx and Marxism. This is certainly the case with the work of Alain Badiou, whose knotty relationship to his own Marxist-Leninist militancy and to Marxist theory has recently become the object of rich and detailed investigation, above all in several essays by Bruno Bosteels. Bosteels’ characterisation of Badiou’s metapolitical trajectory in terms of “post-Maoism’2 already suggests that what makes Badiou’s theoretical biography distinctive is at a considerable remove from the entire “post-Marxist” tendency, chiefly encapsulated in Laclau and Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, and persuasively dismantled in Ellen Meiksins Wood’s The Retreat from Class.3 Having said that, the echoes of a common “post-structuralist” theoretical conjuncture, and a critique of (or separation from) “thick” Hegelian-Marxist versions of dialectics and social ontology, might make one suspect that “the theoretical edifices of Laclau and Badiou are united by a deep homology”.4 This “deep homology”, which Zizek identifies in the notion of a contingent, subjective rupture of ontological closure, is nevertheless offset, still according to Zizek, by a fundamental divergence, inasmuch as, in the last instance, Badiou’s “post-Marxism” has nothing whatsoever to do with the fashionable deconstructionist dismissal of the alleged Marxist “essentialism”; on the contrary, he is unique in radically rejecting the deconstructionist doxa as a new form of pseudo-thought, as a contemporary version of sophism”.5 Rather than either homology, or frontal opposition, it might be more precise to argue that Badiou’s post-Maoism and the post-Marxism of Laclau et al. intersect in manners that generate, from the peculiar perspective of contemporary radical thought, a kind of “family resemblance” effect, but that, when push comes to shove, they are really indifferent to one another, born of divergent assessments of the end or crisis of Marxism. To a certain extent, they connect the same dots but the resulting pictures differ radically. In order better to delineate the specific difference of Badiou’s project, and of the problems that generated it, it is of considerable interest to examine the period between the highest speculative product of Badiou’s heterodox Maoism, Théorie du sujet (1982), and L’être et l’événement (1988), in particular the book Peut-on penser la politique?, published in 1985, which is to say contemporaneously with Laclau and Mouffe’s Hegemony.

Like many post-Marxists, and indeed anticommunists, Badiou attacks the “metaphysics” that contaminate Marxist politics. In a Heideggerian pastiche, he even describes Marxism-Leninism as the “metaphysical epoch of Marxist political ontology”.6 Most “deconstructions” of the Marxist canon have looked for this metaphysics in Marx’s supposed reductionist “economism” or in what they take to be an imaginary constitution of the social, and of class structure in particular, whose correlate is the putative transparency of the post-revolutionary social bond. While some of these points may be registered in Badiou’s texts from the mid-eighties, the emphasis is firmly on a conceptual dyad that persists even in more recent works like Metapolitics. This is the distinction between politics and the political. The thesis that lies at the core of Badiou’s call to counter the supposed “crisis” of Marxism through its “destruction” and “recomposition”, is that Marxism has succumbed to the homogenising political fiction that imagines the possibility of measuring, anticipating and representing political action. According to this framework, “the political has never been anything but the fiction which politics punctures through the hole of the event”.7 One’s first impression is of a substantial overlap with Laclau in terms of the notions of working class, proletariat or people as fictions of the social bond, signifying fictions in which political action could find its guarantee. Indeed, the fundamental political fiction for Badiou is that of the “alliance of the social relation and its measure” (where, as the treatment of the concept of “state” in Being and Event suggests, measure is equivalent to representation). However, from the idea whereby the crisis of the political reveals that (in his vocabulary) all sets are inconsistent,8 Badiou does not draw the customary post-Marxist lessons regarding the transcendental horizon of discursively generated identities and the a priori of antagonism as an intractable impediment to social revolution. In other words, he does not espouse the post-Marxist mix of strategic populism, sociological description, discursive ontology and cynical liberalism. Rather, the assault on the fiction of the social, and on Marxism’s foundational commitment to a critique of political economy, is viewed by Badiou as the occasion for a renovation, and a kind of purification, of the politics of emancipation. Marxism, according to Peut-on penser la politique?, is unable to critique its own critique of political economy,9 leaving its original political impetus cloaked and perverted, binding it to the mediations, however antagonistic, of economic and social relations. The maintenance of categories of totality and system within this approach is what imprisons the encounter and creation of a politics in the fiction of the political, which always comes down to “the alliance of the social relation and its measure”.10 Marxism – this is Badiou’s verdict – was destroyed by its history, the subordination of politics to the fiction of a social measure. The political is a kind of metaphorical cloaking of the hiatus between state and civil society,  representation and presentation. The aim of an emancipatory politics should not lie in the creation of a new bond; the inconsistency of the social does not open onto ever-renegotiated (and formally identical) disputes over its content, but on the idea of an autonomy and heterogeneity of politics, which occurs at a remove from any relational dialectic: “What is dissipated is the thesis of an essence of the relations internal to the city, an essence representable in the exercise of a sovereignty, be it the dictatorship of the slaves, even if the relation is that of civil war within the class structure”.11

So, while there is a convergence or homology around a certain anti-essentialism, what follows from Badiou’s own attack on essential relations is a link between inconsistency and event, which still maintains an emancipatory, rationalist reference to transmissible decision and a communist reference to the generic (in the axiom of equality) – rather than a generalised undecidability oscillating between a sociologistic account of discursive plurality and a political ontology of fundamental antagonisms. In other words, the “destruction” of the political fiction that Badiou diagnoses within metaphysical Marxism is not an opportunity to affirm the pluralism of political  struggles, but rather to argue simultaneously for their singularity and their prescriptive homogeneity. Badiou insists, during this period, in writing of the recomposition of Marxism, in putting his work under the aegis of “Marxist politics” because of the unsurpassable character of the Marxist hypothesis, the hypothesis of a politics of non-domination which is not reducible to the state. Rescinding the fiction of the political, from within Marxism, is presented as a kind of prolegomenon to the emancipation of a (Marxist) politics. In Peut-on penser la politique? we can thus observe, in a quasi-deductive manner, the passage from an internal dislocation of Marxism to a metapolitical thinking of the event: “the determination of the essence of politics, unable to find a guarantee either in structure (inconsistency of sets, unbinding), nor sense (History does not make a whole), has no other benchmark than the event”. Note that it is through this “ultra-one” of the event, that Badiou maintains “the essence of politics’: “The firmness of essentialisation rests on the precariousness of what happens.’12

Keeping this move in mind, we can elucidate a number of supplementary differences with the ideological attitude of post-Marxism, as well as shed some light on the direction taken by Badiou’s further work. A particularly significant issue in this regard involves the difference between an ontology of the multiple and the kind of pluralist notion of hegemony put forward in post-Marxism. Whilst in both instances the undermining of unity (at the level of class identity and of party leadership, for instance, as well as in terms of the category of social totality) is used to articulate a movement beyond the supposedly Hegelian or totalising character of Marxist theory, Badiou’s set theoretical meontology of the multiple is of a wholly different order than the discursive pluralism of Laclau et al. – indeed, the theme of the generic, running (explicitly or otherwise) through the whole of Badiou’s work from the 1980s onwards, can be understood in terms of the need to maintain communism as an intrinsic property of truth and subjective fidelity. This is not an immanent critique of Marxism as a science of capitalism and revolution, but a displacement to a dissimilar practical and theoretical framework (one in which politics and philosophy are de-sutured, as Badiou’s 1989 Manifesto for Philosophy proposes) in order to sustain the retention of a minimal Marxism conjoining the hypothesis of non-domination with the rational identification of the sites of subversion, without trapping politics in a teleological, revolutionary or programmatic framework. We will return to the question of whether maintaining the name Marxism is tenable once these theoretical options have been taken – especially bidding farewell to the concept of revolution. For the time being, it is worth noting that the emphasis on the subjective element in Marxist politics – already a prominent trait in Badiou’s Maoism and still present in the 1980s concern with political “forms of consciousness’13 – is fully at odds with the post-Marxist concern with “subject-positions” and the hegemonic negotiations of “identity”. This anti-essentialist discursive ontology of the (empty) social is absent from Badiou, whose concern, as demonstrated quite consistently even in more recent books like the Ethics, is not with the political interplay between identity and difference. Rather, Badiou’s thought works at the interface between, on the one hand, the fact of identity-and-difference as a feature of the encyclopaedia of knowledges,14 and, on the other hand, the production of the Same.15

Despite the deceptive resonance, this is not to be confused with the two logics of Laclau and Mouffe, differential and equivalential. Why? Because in the latter these two logics remain transitive to one another and map out the transcendental horizon of political dispute, whilst in Badiou the production of sameness in the political field is a real production of truth which does not involve the strategic rearrangement and occupation of the language of the situation, but an organised subtraction from its very terms.

Instead of shifting the terrain from that of (the taking of) political power, of classical revolutionary politics, to the domain of discourse (the post-Marxist strategy whose fundamental “electoralism” is persuasively ferreted out by Wood), the shift made by Badiou and his political comrades is marked by the attempt, in order to maintain the hypothesis of non-domination, to consolidate and purify the subject of politics. In a distinction that would obviously strike the likes of Wood as spurious, inasmuch as it characteristically bypasses the level of class, for Badiou it is not the state but proletarian capacity which lies at the heart of Marxist politics. Regarding the question of class struggle and antagonism as a crucial node in the so-called crisis of Marxism, and the possibility of a “party of a new type”, Paul Sandevince (a.k.a. Sylvain Lazarus) writes in Le Perroquet (the publication of Badiou’s group, the UCFML), that: “For Lenin, the essential is not struggle, but “antagonism against the entirety of the existent political and social order”.” This is read fundamentally as a warning against the logic of the absorption of the party into the state, whilst the “other path” involves assigning “the process of politics to the masses/State contradiction grasped in terms of consciousness [conscience]”.16 This is one of the sources of Badiou’s own insistence on politics viewed not as strategy for power, or a way of ordering the social, but as an organised practice of thought (a “truth procedure”, in the later work). The link between the hypothesis of nondomination, the egalitarian and organised capacity for thought, and a separation from the state thus appears as one of the key tenets of this self-avowed “Marxist politics”. This gives us an inkling as to why the appellations post-Maoism or post-Leninism (the one favoured by the various authors in Le Perroquet17) are more appropriate than post-Marxism. Having already decided that Marxist politics is not the consequence of a critical analysis of capitalism, but is rather the means, within capitalist conditions, for the production of communism (so that the critique of political economy is wholly subsidiary to the project of emancipation), the direction taken in the 1980s by Badiou and his comrades is primarily born out of the crisis of the Marxist political subject (i.e. the party), and not, as with “traditional” post-Marxism, out of a critique of the metaphysical tenets and sociological shortcomings of Marxism as a science of capitalism. If Badiou’s Théorie du sujet had declared that the every subject is political and that subject equals party, what is at stake in this period (1982-88) which oscillates between the option for a “party of a new type” and that of “politics without a party’?

Jameson contends that Marxism qua science of capitalism gives rise to post-Marxism at moments of systemic crisis. Whatever the links between such crises and forms of political organisation, it is clear that for Badiou it is the party qua subject which is the focus of the crisis, not the ability of “Marxism” to cope with social and economic transformations, or the shifts and turns in class composition. Indeed, Badiou is generally rather sanguine about the Marxist understanding of capitalism, and does not seem to think that Marx has really been surpassed in this domain. In any instance, Badiou is immunised against the stance according to which the failure of social ontology or economic analysis would debilitate Marxist politics. Indeed, he mocks this very possibility in a vicious piece caricaturing the “old Marxist”, the one who waits for the proper study of “social formations” before acting, who thinks that “one of these days the “workers” movement” will give us something to talk about”.18 To the contrary:

Marx starts, absolutely, not from the architecture of the social, in which he will, after the fact, deploy his assurance and his guarantee, but from the interpretation-cut of a symptom of social hysteria, uprisings and workers’ parties. (…) For the symptom that hystericises the social to be thus grasped, without pinning it to the fiction of the political, proletarian political capacity – as a radical hypothesis of truth and a reduction to fiction of every foregoing notion of the political – must be excepted from any approach via the communitarian and the social.19

By now, Badiou’s philosophy is renowned as a philosophy of the event. But, in terms of what I referred to above as the dialectic of defeat and reinvention, could we also say that there are events of closure, failure, saturation? Without entering into doctrinal details, Badiou does overtly mark his treatment of the “destruction and recomposition” of Marxism in terms of what he terms “the end of referents”, a position presaged by an article of the same name in Le Perroquet, penned by Sandevince-Lazarus.20 This passage through history is inexorable, inasmuch as “Marxism alone presented itself as a revolutionary political doctrine which, if not historically confirmed, was at least historically active”.21 If Marxist politics, in its Marxist-Leninist phase, was crystallised around the figure of the party as subject, and suffused by an essential historicity, then this figure is seen to suffer from the collapse of its three primary referents: (1) the statist referent: the actual existence of Marxist states, as emblems of the possible victory of a Marxist politics, and of “the domination of non-domination’22; (2) wars of national liberation as an other emblem of actually victorious Marxist politics, and the “fusion of the national principle and the popular principle’23 in the invention of new ways of linking politics and war; (3) the workers’ movement, especially in its incarnation in “working class parties” with an explicit Marxist reference, “mixed figures of a distant revolutionary Idea and the proximity of an oppositional activity”.24

Once again, it is not the analytical force of Marxism qua science of capital that is paramount for Badiou, but the collapse of its singularity as a revolutionary thinking and a politics that was fundamentally “self-referential” (its instances were, to various degrees, homogeneous with its theory) and massively historically inscribed. Though Badiou will always maintain (as he does in D’un désastre obscur) the “eternity of communism”, what is at stake here is the historicity of Marxism and the impossibility, in his view, for Marxism to continue to draw any value from its actual history in the present. As Badiou puts it, “its credit has run out”.25 Note that, contrary to all specimens of post-Marxism, this has nothing to do with the explanatory capacity of Marxism (Badiou treats it strictly as a politics, not a doctrine, and only secondarily and strategically as an analysis of the social).

The “crisis of Marxism” is to be located in the collapse of its real referents: it is an immanent, and thoroughly political crisis, for which the analytical force of the critique of political economy remains of little import. Along with this collapse of referents, this political death, which seems to suggest the separation of a communist hypothesis from moribund Marxist politics, Badiou also points to certain symptoms – larval and obscure political subjects which indicate that if a Marxist politics is to be “recomposed”, it can no longer be so in terms of political processes that take it as an explicit reference-point. Marxism has not only lost its historical foothold, it is no longer an internal referent for nascent forms of emancipatory politics. This is what is meant by the expatriation of Marxism, as the key aspect of the crisis that we must destructively traverse (let us not forget that for the Badiou of Théorie du sujet, the becoming of a subject, and of a proletarian subject especially, is intimately linked to its own destruction, so that the call to be heeded here is for Marxism to truly subjectivise itself, after having gone through the “subjective destitution” of its referents). In a piece from 1983, Badiou declares:

Today, the referents of Marxist politics are not Marxist. There is a fundamental delocalisation of Marxism. Previously, there was a kind of selfreference, because Marxism drew its general credit from States that called themselves Marxist, from wars of national liberation under the direction of Marxist parties, from workers’ movements framed by Marxist unionists. But this referential apparatus is gone. The great mass historical pulsations no longer refer to Marxism, after, at least, the end of the cultural revolution in China: see Poland, or Iran. Therefore, there is an expatriation of Marxism. Its historical territoriality is no longer transitive to it. The era of self-reference is closed. Marxism no longer has a historical home. All the political referents endowed with a worker and popular life are, with regard to Marxism, atypical, delocalised, errant. Any orthodox Marxist today will object that the Polish movement is national and religious, that the Iranian movement is religious and fanatical, that there is nothing there that fundamentally matters for Marxism. And this orthodox Marxism will be nothing but an empty object in the process of the destruction of Marxism.26

This theme of expatriation thus allows Badiou to maintain, albeit in a problematic register, the reference to “worker and popular life”, as well as the crucial (communist) hypothesis of non-domination, in the face of some of the very events that served as grist to the post-Marxist mill. By thinking in terms of the dislocation of Marxist politics and the tentative invention of new forms of consciousness, rather than in terms of the analytic and ideological failure of Marxism, Badiou can turn the political conjuncture of the 1980s – the death throes of historical communism and the birth of heterogeneous political forms – into an opportunity for the recomposition of a politics of emancipation.27 Crucially, this is not done in relation to a return to logics of electoral alliance or the articulation of group demands outside of the working class referent, but in terms of the possibility of a new workers” politics at a distance from the State, a non-classist, non-systemic experience of proletarian capacity. Rather than seeing the “crisis of Marxism” as a chance for singing the praises of political plurality, Badiou seems to grasp in it the possibility of a further singularisation of emancipatory politics. The wager then, is to look for the traits of a new politics of anti-statist emancipation in these mass symptoms, these hysterias of the social. Though it transcends the limits of this paper, it would be fruitful to follow the attempts – ultimately frustrated by the religious and populist sclerosis of the Polish and Iranian situations – made in Le Perroquet to track moments of organisational invention and worker capacity in non-Marxist political scenarios. Contrary to post-Marxism, which sees in the rise of “new social movements” a radical-democratic pluralism beyond universalist28 and communist hypotheses, Badiou’s post-Leninism is committed, from the 1980s onwards, to producing a metapolitical framework for thinking the persistence of communism as a minimal, universalising hypothesis even in political scenarios where the name “communism” is anathema.

The requirement that the destruction and recomposition of Marxist politics be internal – which is to say not dictated by its supposed explanatory shortcomings,  its political disasters, or novel sociological facts – is motivated by an appraisal of the  subjectivity that dominates the post-revolutionary Restoration of the virtues of liberalism and parliamentary democracy.29 The peculiarity of the reactive (or renegade) subjects that, from the mid-seventies onwards, publicised the return to liberty on the basis of their own failures lies instead in the fact that they perceived the “crisis of Marxism” simply as the subjective discovery of an objective fact (crystallised by Badiou in the typical utterances: “we tried, it was a catastrophe” and “I fail, therefore I am’): the fact of the impossibility of emancipation. But for Badiou all that these failures and disasters prove is that the opposition to existent society is a “difficult” problem. Just like a mathematician who fails in a proof does not thereby declare as inexistent the problem that proof stemmed from, so a political militant does not make failure into either a necessity or a virtue: “So that what is presented to us as a conjoined progress of morality (liberating us from the totalitarian phantasm) and of realism (seeing the objective virtues of the existent state of things) is in fact a confession of incapacity. The essence of reneging is incompetence”.30 Badiou here intervenes directly in the anti-Marxist philosophy of the Restoration, which sees the defence of the “negative liberties” at the heart of parliamentary democracy (or capitalist parliamentarianism, as he will later dub it). He repeats the idea of a termination of the Marxist-Leninist sequence, of its arrangement of certain political factors,31 but, crucially, contends that we cannot disregard the fact that antagonism to the status quo is still at the heart of any politics of emancipation and that a return to the Enlightenment thematic of liberty is simply insufficient, since the question of equality, which determines “a current stage of the political question”, cannot be evaded.

The question, in the legacy and destruction of what he dubs the Marxist/Leninist “montage”, is how to practice, under the conditions of a nondespotic State, a politics whose axiom is equality: a contemporary politics beyond the modern debate between the State of right and law (parliamentary constitutional liberal democracy) and tyranny. We cannot turn away from “contemporary” politics, initially marked by the entrance of the signifier “worker” into the political field, for the sake of a merely “modern” anti-despotic politics of democracy. Following Badiou’s hazardous “de-socialisation” of Marxism, however, equality must not be thought in terms of equality of “material positions” (‘economistically’), but in strictly political terms. The maxim of equality becomes the following: “what must the world be such that an inegalitarian statement is impossible within it?” Badiou here draws a crucial difference between the modern politics of liberty, which, ever since Saint-Just, functions in a symbolic register, as a form of non-prohibition, and a contemporary politics of equality, whose aim is to really make impossible the production of inegalitarian statements (this will remain the chief characteristic of Badiou’s later concept of the generic). What is surprising here, especially in terms of the earlier commitment to a communist dialectic of destruction, is the idea of a complementarity between the politics of liberty and the politics of equality, along with the stipulation of the general problem of equality in “times of peace”, as detached from the revolutionary problematic of power, war and the state: “under the general conditions of a nondespotic State, how can one think and practice a politics whose overarching philosophical category is equality?’32

A politics of equality, in this framework, works within the symbolic politics of prohibition for the sake of real-impossible equality. It is as if, albeit “at a distance”, Badiou sees the project of emancipation as conditioned to some extent by the apolitical horizon of a liberal polity. This bears two interesting, and problematic consequences. The first is that politics cannot be primarily or directly concerned with the betterment of the polity itself, since “politics must be thinkable as a conjoined excess over the State and civil society, even if these are good or excellent”.33

But the second consequence lies in the implicit suggestion that the politics of emancipation, having rescinded the project of power (in short, the dictatorship of the proletariat) is externally conditioned (‘in times of peace’) by a kind of liberal frame. Here lies the entire ambiguity of Badiou’s later problematic of “politics at a distance from the State’34 – which both maintains the antagonism against “existing society” and, to an extent, the problem of how to change it, but (perhaps in a simply provisional way) combines this seemingly stark antagonism with the toleration of the symbolic framework provided by the very same society: “We therefore continue to demand modern freedom (symbolic according to nonprohibition) from within which we work towards contemporary equality (real, according to the impossible)”.35 Is this to say that Marxist politics can only persist from within a liberal envelope? Can we “reformulate from within politics the synthetic vision of the backwards and nefarious character of our society and its representations” and maintain the “difficult” problem of “changing existing society”, if we do not unequivocally pose the problem of the tension between liberty (in the state) and equality (in politics), together with their mediation by issues of power and authority? To put it otherwise, can a post-Leninist radical politics of equality afford to be entirely post-revolutionary?

At times, Badiou’s 1980s “expatriation” of Marxism, which already presupposes a distance between Marxist politics and the Marxist critique of political economy, seems entirely to dissolve any consistency characterising the Marxist project, casting doubt on the very possibility of holding onto the term Marxism. After all, won’t Badiou, in Metapolitics, peremptorily declare that “Marxism doesn’t exist”,36 in the sense that its political instances – its “historical modes” to use Sylvain Lazarus’s terminology – are absolutely inconsistent? And yet, throughout the 1980s, prior to the publication of Being and Event, Badiou seems to maintain the liminal validity of the notion of “Marxist politics”, at least in the sense that it is only by rigorously undergoing its destruction (and not its ironic deconstruction) that a new politics of emancipation will be “recomposed”. What is at stake in this retention, in extremis, of the name of Marxism (or of “Marxist politics’)? If anything, the Anglophone vogue for post-Marxism was driven by a rejection of the articulation between social class and revolutionary politics, which reduced the idea of the proletariat to a mere contested and hegemonically posited identity among others.

Once again, despite surface similarities, the move beyond class operated by Badiou and his cohorts is based on an intra-political and historical judgment, i.e. on the idea of a lost efficacy of the “classist” mode of politics (dominated by the category of contradiction, and the transitivity between society and politics).37 This also why Badiou declares that there are more things in the crisis of Marxism than anti-Marxism can dream of – in the main because anti-Marxism merely registers an objective crisis without being able to think through its primary, subjective aspect.38This means, on the one hand, that an orthodox defence of Marxism comes down to repeating the old refutation of old objections, therefore remaining on the terrain of anti-Marxism, and, on the other, that the crisis must be experienced not as a way of merely pluralising or dissolving Marxism, but as an opportunity to radicalise its emancipatory, egalitarian core.39 This  radicalisation or purification of Marxism into a minimal, heterodox Marxist politics (what Badiou has elsewhere referred to as a communism of singularities), is all the more interesting to us inasmuch as it explicitly wards off the possibility of a post-Marxist turn. For whilst Badiou and his comrades appear definite about the end of the working class as a sociopolitical class (making no such claims for the end of social class per se), they are equally definite that no emancipatory politics can bypass workers.

This plea for a minimal Marxism can be observed in two steps. The first involves what Badiou, explicitly harking back to the Kant of the Critique of Pure Reason, calls a “refutation of idealism”. If Marxist politics is detached from the social as the “places of bonds” [les lieux des liens], what prevents the kind of idealist pluralism according to which any site and any subject, unbound from the requirements of transitivity with an ordered and ontologically grounded social structure, can be the locus of emancipation? Badiou is very aware that having abandoned a dialectics of social latency and political subjectivation he cannot depend on the “substantial presupposition” of a political privilege of workers. And yet, he knows that a “maximal” interpretation of his political axiomatic could lead to declaring the emergence of a political subject to be possible at any point. To counter this prospect, Badiou engages in a minimal inscription of the egalitarian wager-intervention on an event, in what he calls “prepolitical situations”.40 Whilst this minimal, anticipatory interregnum between the social and politics does not allow a pre-emptive construction of political subjectivity (e.g. the party of the working class), it allows, by analogy with Kant, a merely negative reductio ad absurdum of the maximal claim of political contingency (any subjects, anywhere).

Forbidding himself any substantive resort to social ontology, Badiou nevertheless wants to argue that to elude “worker singularities” in the formation of a political subject would be to suppose that a politics of emancipation could deploy itself without including in its trajectory any of the places or points where the dominated are the majority of the inhabitants. Whence the following “theorem”:

Political intervention under current conditions, i.e. modern politics, cannot strategically avoid being faithful to events, whose site is worker or popular. Let us suppose that it can. Since the axiomatic hypothesis is that of a politics of emancipation, that is, of a non-statist subjective politics under the aegis of non-domination, it would follow that this politics could deploy itself without ever including in its immediate field places where the mass (whatever its number) of the dominated – in modern conditions – materially exists, i.e. in factories, in the estates in the banlieues, in immigrant housing, in the offices of repetitive IT work. Especially if we consider factories, the exception would be radical, since we can easily establish that factories are separated from civil society and from the moderating laws that sustain its social relations. According to this supposition, the politics of non-domination would only exist, for the dominated themselves, in the form of representation, since no event giving rise to an intervention would include them in terms of its site.41

The point is not simply that an emancipatory politics must include the lowest rungs, the excluded, the oppressed, but that they and their “site” must be directly involved – in other words “presented” – by the emergent political subject. Otherwise, we remain at the level of the State, or, in Badiou’s politico-philosophical terms, of representation. So this refutation of idealism does not simply attack (or literally reduce to absurdity) the “new social movements” ideology according to which emancipation may take place anywhere, anytime, by anyone. It also undermines any Left (or even Marxist) notion that the dominated may be represented in a political programme without partaking of political action themselves.42

It is moving from this idea of a pre-political “site”, and warding off both an idealist pluralism and any kind of “speculative leftism”,43 that Badiou will give a metaontological solution to these problems of Marxist politics in Being and Event. Starting from the intuition of a reductio ad absurdum of anti-worker political idealism, Badiou initially develops his theory of the event-site – a crucial component of his mature philosophy – in terms of the factory and of the worker as the subjective figure of politics. This is the second step, as it were, in the argument for a Marxist politics that would be capable of following its own metaphysical destruction. In “The Factory as Event-Site”, a text published in Le Perroquet in 1987 and originally intended for inclusion in Being and Event, we encounter both a potent distillate of Badiou’s overall doctrine and his last explicit attempt to defend, in however minimal a fashion, a notion of Marxist politics.44 That article’s argument is philosophically far more intricate and challenging than the prescriptive and axiomatic positions rehearsed hitherto, showing a speculative daring far greater than the clever repetition of Kant’s refutation. In a sense, what my own presentation has sought to do is to demonstrate the internal theoretical and political necessity leading to this work on the event-site and, in so doing, to show how Badiou’s intimate confrontation with Marxism is at the very foundation (albeit a vanishing one, since he eventually chose to omit this “example’) of the project crystallised in Being and Event. A closer investigation of the links between “The Factory as Event-Site” and Badiou’s further work should of course be carried out, but for the purposes of this paper, I would simply like to indicate the work that the concept of the event-site does in Badiou’s attempt to maintain a minimal, liminal Marxism.

Far more than any of the other texts in Le Perroquet, this excised fragment of Being and Event pleads for a return to Marx (and Engels) that would even seem to bypass the post-Leninist reference. In “The Factory as Event-Site” Badiou puts his metaontological and metapolitical investigation under the aegis of two  conceptual inheritances of the Marxian thinking of worker politics, which the attempt to “recompose” a Marxist politics seeks to weave together. These are the void, which in the Marxist apparatus is connected to the peculiarity of the proletarian (having nothing to sell but his labour-power, the proletarian is the bearer of a generic capacity), and the site, which Badiou links to Engels’s inquiries into the localised conditions whereby exploitation is organised and countered. In a pithy declaration, Badiou will define his philosophical undertaking precisely in terms of a different articulation, a different dialectic, of these two terms, one that moves beyond the “fictions” of orthodox Marxism: “at the very heart of the objectivist version of the necessity of a worker reference, we encounter two terms, the void and the site, which as we will see only acquire their full meaning once we decentre toward the subjective the vision of politics”.45 Without entering into the details of Badiou’s exposition, we should note that in asserting that a political event can only take place if it takes into account the factory as event-site, Badiou aims to provide a kind of minimal objectivity (i.e. another refutation of idealism) without making the intervention of politics and of political subjectivation transitive to a socio-economic datum. As he puts it: “The paradoxical statement I am defending is finally that the factory, by which I mean the factory as a workers” place, belongs without doubt to the socio-historical presentation (it is counted-as-one within it), but not the workers, to the extent that they belong to the factory. So that the factory – as a workers” place – is not included in society, and the workers (of a factory) do not form a pertinent “part”,  available for State counting.’46This is the sense in which the factory is not the hidden abode of a production that could be reappropriated and disalienated, but a pre-political site “at the edge of the void” (of the unpresented fact of domination), into which politics can intervene. The correlate of this notion is that the (proletarian) void itself is detached from an expressive logic of (dis)alienation and rearticulated to the notion of a production of the Same, a production of communism no longer immanently bound to a communism of production.47It is on the basis of the speculative trajectory laid out in “The Factory as Event-Site” that Badiou can then reassert his (contorted, heterodox, errant) fidelity to Marxism:

Reduced to its bare bones, Marxism is jointly the hypothesis of a politics of non-domination – a politics subtracted from the statist count of the count – and the designation of the most significant event sites of modernity, those whose singularity is maximal, which are worker sites. From this twofold gesture there follows that the intervening and organised experimentation of the hypothesis must ceaselessly prepare itself for the consideration of these sites, and that the worker reference is a feature of politics, without which one has already given up subtracting oneself from the State count. That is the reason why it remains legitimate to call oneself a Marxist, if one maintains that politics is possible.48

To the extent that Badiou’s subsequent work remains more or less wholly consistent with the research programme of this 1987 article, we could consequently hazard to read it as an attempt to think Marxism “reduced to its bare bones”.

Inasmuch as the above has added some intelligibility to the vicissitudes of Badiou’s (meta)political thinking, its leave-taking from Marxism-Leninism and its (re)commencement of Marxism, I hope it has also given rise to certain perplexities which can be made to resonate with the rest of Badiou’s work and its ongoing political interpretations. Simply by way of conclusion, I would like to touch on two problems that are especially acute in this phase of Badiou’s production. The first concerns the manner in which Badiou remains faithful to a certain intuition of Marx’s about proletarian subjectivity and its political dynamics. Badiou, after all, defines the continuity-in-separation between the Marxian legacy and his (re)commencement as follows: “we (re)formulate the hypothesis of a proletarian political capacity”.49 However, the refutation of idealism and maintenance of the “worker reference” in other texts seems to demand the evacuation of any  pre-political subjective privilege to workers per se (politics must touch on their sites, but they are not latent political subjects qua workers). Can the void of the situation be equated with a political capacity? And if this capacity is only the retroactive effect of a postevental intervention (the politicisation of the factory axiomatically determines that “workers think’) is the term “capacity” really viable, considering its inescapable links to notions of disposition and potential and to the theory of (dis)alienation? I would suggest that Badiou’s philosophical conceptualisation of the concept of the generic in Being and Event may be read as an attempt to transcend what appear to be tensions in his earlier “Marxist politics” by maintaining the link between the void, equality and the subject without relying on any latency whatsoever.50

The second problem is connected to the sources, as it were, of emancipatory politics. Badiou obviously wishes to purify and politicise the concept of equality, sever its dependence on merely material criteria. But, in his allergy to the socialising fictions of orthodox Marxism, he seems to step back from contemporary criteria of politics to merely modern ones by framing his entire vision of Marxist politics in terms of the politico-philosophical concepts of exclusion, domination and representation. In a manner which is perhaps most obvious in the section on the “ontology of the site” in “The Factory as Event-Site”, Badiou seems to deny the possibility that the concept of exploitation may be an uncircumventable touchstone of any contemporary politics. As I’ve suggested elsewhere, the difference between a politics at a distance from the state and a politics against capital might lie in the fact that the latter cannot be encompassed by the question of representation, inasmuch as capitalist power, while reliant on mechanisms of representation, also works “directly” on singularities themselves, in ways that cannot be easily mapped in terms of exclusion, invisibility or domination.51 This is precisely what is at stake in the vicissitudes of the concept of value in the critique of political economy, a concept which I would suggest cannot be easily harnessed by the logic of re/presentation. The resulting (and rather formidable) challenge would be to combine the immediate politicisation of exploitation that characterises Marx’s own work,52with some of the metaontological and metapolitical tools provided by texts such as “The Factory as Event-Site”. A traversal of the logic of exploitation and its effects on our  thinking of political subjectivity would also allow us to ward off the possibility of an “aristocratic” solution, distantly reminiscent of Hannah Arendt’s republican and councilist advocacy of the autonomy of politics against the disastrous impingements of the “social question”.53 This would of course force us to face head on one of the most arresting questions raised by Badiou’s “expatriation” of Marxism: is contemporary politics (the politics of positive equality) compatible with the continuation of modern, statist politics (the politics of negative freedom)? Or must it risk being “anti-modern”, and work on equality not just at a distance from, but against the State? This is not to suggest that Marx, like a political Odysseus, may soon be repatriated, and that we, faithful Penelopes warding off our post-Marxist suitors, can finally recognise him under unfamiliar garb. More modestly, let us suggest that Badiou’s connection between the expatriation of Marxism and the (re)commencement of a Marxist politics is a salutary alternative to the quarrels between the antiquarians and the renegades, as well as a unique philosophical platform from which to (re)think Marx’s politics.

Notes

1 It is worth noting from the outset that Badiou – who does not seem to hold much truck with the term nowadays – put his work in the mid-1980s under the aegis of “radicalism”, often in terms redolent of a certain Kantian atmosphere that suffused the French debate on the retreat of the political and political judgment: “What is a radical politics, which goes to the root, which refuses the administration of the necessary, which reflects on ends, upholding and practicing justice and equality, and which nevertheless assumes the time of peace, and is not like the empty wait for a cataclysm? What is a radicalism that is at the same time an infinite task?” (Alain Badiou, Peut-on penser la politique?, Paris, Seuil, 1985, p. 106). Showing the momentary influence of Lyotard, Badiou even links his notion of an axiomatic politics to Kant’s treatment of aesthetic judgment in terms of “reflective universality” (which, we could hazard, also affects the temporality of the future perfect, which is still at work in the concept of the generic). See Peut-on penser la politique?, p. 76. It should also not be forgotten that Peut-on penser la politique?, like Lyotard’s L’enthousiasme, was occasioned by an invitation from Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe’s Centre d’étude philosophique du politique, and is in (polemical) dialogue with the problems identified by these philosophers.

2 Bruno Bosteels, “Post-Maoism: Badiou and Politics”, positions: east asia cultures critique vol. 13, No. 3, 2005, pp. 575-634. This is arguably the most thorough engagement with Badiou’s politics to date.

3 Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, London, Verso, 1985; Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Retreat from Class: A New “True” Socialism, 2nd ed. London: Verso, 1998. As a future task, it would be very interesting indeed to gauge how well Badiou’s own post-Leninist turn would fare under Wood’s criticism – especially insofar as Wood, rather than simply rehashing “orthodox” criticism, is able, in a Marxian spirit, really to bring out the importance of the Marxian critique of political economy to a definition of such crucial concepts as freedom and equality.

4 Slavoj Zizek, The Ticklish Subject, London: Verso, 1999, p. 172.

5 Slavoj Zizek, “Psychoanalysis in Post-Marxism: The Case of Alain Badiou”, The South Atlantic Quarterly 97, 2, 1998, pp. 235-61.

6 “La figure du (re)commencement”, Le Perroquet 42, 1984, p. 8 or Alain Badiou, Peut-on penser la politique?, p. 61.

7 Peut-on penser la politique?, p. 12.

8 Peut-on penser la politique?, p. 13.

9 Peut-on penser la politique?, p. 14.

10 Ibid.

11 Peut-on penser la politique?, p. 13. See also the Mallarmé quote that Badiou adduces for this stance: “le rapport social et sa mesure momentanée, qu’on la serre ou l’allonge en vue de gouverner, est une fiction.”

12 Peut-on penser la politique?, p. 67. On the event as “ultra-one”, see Alain Badiou, Being and Event, trans. Oliver Feltham, London: Continuum, 2006, pp. 178-83.

13 See Paul Sandevince (a.k.a. Sylvain Lazarus), “Les formes de conscience” (Octobre 1980), Le Perroquet 42, 1984.

14 Being and Event, pp. 327-43.

15 Alain Badiou, Ethics, trans. Peter Hallward, London: Verso, 2001, pp. 25-7.

16“Les formes de conscience”, p. 5. UCFML refers to the “Groupe pour la formation d’une Union des communistes de France marxiste-leniniste”. In 1985, the UCFML disbanded and was succeeded by L’Organisation politique, a non-party organisation. See Hallward’s Badiou and Bosteels’s “Post-Maoism” for more detailed information.

17 This is argued in particular in Sandevince’s “La politique sous condition”, Le Perroquet 42, pp. 1-3. According to him, there is no positive meaning of Marxism-Leninism after the termination of the Cultural Revolution, and in the end “one cannot extirpate Marxism-Leninism from its Stalinist matrix”. But the line taken by Le Perroquet is that it is necessary to maintain the Leninist break or division between social being and political consciousness. Thus, while moving beyond Lenin in terms of organisation (and indeed in terms of the link between class and revolution) there is a fidelity to a kind of Leninism of capacities, of thought. Politics under condition, in Sandevince-Lazarus’ definition, is politics separated from the social. Can a certain Leninism be maintained beyond the partyform? Is the party-form a restraint on the virtuosity of political subjectivity? This of course raises the question of how political capacity can be fostered and rendered efficacious outside of the party-form.

18 Georges Peyrol (a.k.a. Alain Badiou), “30 moyens de reconnaître à coup sûr un vieux-marxiste”, Le Perroquet 29-30, 1983, p. 5. in Peut-on penser la politique?, Badiou puts the point as follows: “Communist politics must be wagered: you will never deduce it from Capital” (p. 87). Of course, it could be argued that far from signalling a caesura, this “long wager” (p. 90) is a feature of Marx’s own original thought, which never held to such a chimerical “deduction”. See Stathis Kouvelakis, “Marx et sa critique de la politique. Des révolutions de 1848 à la Commune de Paris, ou le travail de la rectification”, available at: <http://semimarx.free.fr/article.php3?id_article=8&gt;. The idea of Marxism as promoting a “deduction” of politics from the critique of Capital runs the risk of converging with the “straw-Marxism” denounced by Wood. See The Retreat from Class, p. 187.

19 Peut-on penser la politique?, p. 20. This rethinking of the notion of capacity, it should be noted, is “eventally” bound to the Polish workers’ movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s. See the section of Peut-on penser la politique? precisely entitled “Universal meaning of the Polish workers” movement”, pp. 45-8, as well as Renée Lebovici, “Shangaï et Gdansk”, Le Perroquet 29-30, and many other pieces in the same publication throughout the 1980s.

20 However, Sandevince-Lazarus’ way of posing the crisis is slightly more theoretical than historical. In fact he too designates three referents, but substitutes Marxism-Leninism itself for Badiou’s focus on anti-imperialist wars: “The referents are principally of three orders”, he writes, “the socialist State, the worker capacity to practice and formulate a revolutionary politics, and finally Marxism-Leninism”. Marxism-Leninism is also defined here as a “precarious political amalgam”, and there is a sense in some of the work in Le Perroquet of a political “return to Marx”, a (re)commencement of Marx that would sublate the Leninist experience. Moreover, Sandevince-Lazarus also emphasises that this is a political crisis: “Marxism is in its nature a politics – as Marx himself clearly specifies in his letter to Weydemeyer – communist politics (for communism, the abolition of the wage, the reduction of great differences, the extinction of the State and political parties), a communist politics that is irreducibly antagonistic to bourgeois politics (for capitalism, imperialism, and the State). If there is a crisis of Marxism, it is the crisis of a politics, of a politics for communism, what we call, strictly speaking, Marxist politics.” “La fin des références” (May 1982), Le Perroquet 42, 1984, p. 10. But see especially “Le Marxisme comme politique, Interview, par Le Perroquet, du Sécretariat central de l’U.C.F.”, Le Perroquet 29-30, 1983, pp. 1-3. The whole issue, under the heading “Un Perroquet-Marx”, marking the hundredth anniversary of Marx’s death, is devoted to these questions.

21 Peut-on penser la politique?, p. 26.

22 Peut-on penser la politique?, p. 27. Post-Leninism is thus defined by the break with “reason of state” in all its forms, a break that draws its sustenance from the founding drive of Marxism itself: “It is not the State which is the principle of universality of Marxist politics, but rather the communist process in the deployment of class struggles and revolutions”. “La fin des références”, p. 10.

23 Peut-on penser la politique?, p. 28.

24 Peut-on penser la politique?, p. 29.

25 Ibid.

26 “La figure du (re)commencement”, p. 1. Badiou also refers to this issue in terms of the separation of Marxism from the history of the “marxisation” of the workers’ movement, now that it is no longer “a power of structuration of real history”, meaning that politics may be freed from “the marxed [marxisée] form of the political philosopheme”. Hence the radical caesura vis-à-vis the previous periodisation of Marxist politics, and the proposal of the figure of  (re)commencement. See Peut-on penser la politique?, pp. 58-59.

27 Another crucial moment is of course to be registered in the death-knell of the sequence begun in the Cultural Revolution. See Bosteels’s “Post-Maoism” and Badiou’s Le Monde editorial on the trial of the Gang of Four, “The Triumphant Restoration”, trans. Alberto Toscano, positions: east asia cultures critique vol. 13, No. 3, 2005, pp. 659-62.

28 See, for instance, this characteristic pronouncement: “The discourse of radical democracy is no longer the discourse of the universal; the epistemological niche from which “universal” classes and subjects spoke had been eradicated, and it has been replaced by a polyphony of voices, each of which constructs its own irreducible discursive identity. This point is decisive: there is no radical and plural democracy without renouncing the discourse of the universal and its implicit assumption of a privileged point of access to “the truth”, which can be reached only by a limited number of subjects.” Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, p. 191.

29 Badiou’s condemnation of the past two decades as a new post-revolutionary “Restoration” is summed up in Le siécle, Paris: Seuil, 2005.

30 Alain Badiou, “À bas la société existante! (1)”, Le Perroquet 69, 1987, p. 2. See also the section in Peut-on penser la politique? entitled “The reactive meaning of contemporary anti-Marxism”, pp. 48-51.

31 “It is certain that [the Marxist] montage is exhausted. There are no longer socio-political subjects, the revolutionary theme is desubjectivated, History has no objective meaning. All of a sudden, the antagonism of two camps is no longer the right projection for global hostility to existing society”. “À bas la société existante! (1)”, p. 3.

32 Ibid.

33 Peut-on penser la politique?, p. 20.

34 Metapolitics, trans. Jason Barker, London: Verso, 2005, pp. 150-1. It is worth noting that Badiou does maintain that this thematic of distance is not simply placed “after” historical communism, but is intrinsically post-Leninist. In an interview following the publication of Being and Event, he declares that his “horizon remains that of the withering away of the State” and is driven by the attempt to generate an “intra-popular democratic process”. See Alain Badiou, “L’être, l’événement, la militance” (interview with Nicole-Édith Thévenin), Futur Antérieur 8, 1991, available at: <http://multitudes.samizdat.net/L-etrel-evenement-la-militance.html&gt;. But this withering away is detached from the question of taking power, as the state is transformed into a non-political referent in the field of politics, so that an intrapopular process does not issue into a Leninist notion of proletarian democracy, which would require not a distance from, but the smashing of the State.

35 “À bas la société existante! (1)”, p. 3. In the French revolutionary triad, equality always maintains precedence for Badiou. As “the authority of the Same”, it trumps freedom (which is too close to opinion) and fraternity (which flirts too much with the substance of community). In brief, the virtue of equality lies in its abstraction – the very abstraction that Badiou will describe in terms of a prescriptive axiom of equality. See “Philosophie et politique”, in Conditions, Paris: Seuil, 1991, p. 248.

36 Metapolitics, p. 58.

37 See Sylvain Lazarus, “Dans quel temps de la politique sommes nous? (éditorial)”, Le Journal Politique 2, March 2005, available at: <http://www.orgapoli.net/article.php3?id_article=5 7>. This theme of “classism” is dealt with in numerous interventions in Le Perroquet, its successor publication La Distance politique, and now in Le Journal politique.

38 Peut-on penser la politique?, p. 51.

39 Which is why Badiou declares, paradoxically, that “the contemporary being of what will articulate the new figure of politics, and which will still be able to call itself “Marxism” in being able to continue the emancipatory hypothesis, is nothing other than the complete thinking of its destruction” (ibid.). Badiou can say this to the extent that Marxism has always been for him synonymous with political militancy and not social analysis; it is not a doctrine, but “the life of a hypothesis”, and this life can take the form of a protracted process of destruction and recomposition.

40“I call pre-political situation a complex of facts and statements in which the collective involvement of worker and popular singularities is felt, and in which the failure of the regime of the One is discernable”. Peut-on penser la politique?, p. 76.

41Peut-on penser la politique?, pp. 81-2.

42In this sense, though Wood’s arguments, levied against post-Marxism, regarding the evacuation of power and exploitation from its political horizon might be thrown at Badiou, the latter is certainly immune to the devastating conjunctural charge made by Wood against the post-Marxists, or new “true” socialists, to wit: that their “deconstruction” of Marxist metaphysics is functional to an option for ideological battles and alliances focalised around electoral contests, and “the logic of their argument is an electoralist logic” (The Retreat from Class, p. 190). While post-Marxism, with its open sympathies for Austro-Marxism and the second International, signals a definite, if particularly elliptical, option for reform over revolution, Badiou’s “Marxist politics” of the 1980s – and, we could argue, his current thinking and practice – appears entirely indifferent to this alternative. However, such a stance is founded on a drastic separation from the idea of a political “programme” (as a mediation between subjective will and objective transformation) which would render his position deeply inimical to the likes of Wood.

43See Bruno Bosteels, “The Speculative Left”, South Atlantic Quarterly 104, 4, 2005, pp. 751-67. All of Bosteels’ work, and especially his forthcoming book Badiou and Politics (Duke University Press), should be consulted for further insights into the questions sketched out in this paper. See also, for background and analysis, Peter Hallward’s chapter on politics in Badiou: A Subject to Truth, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004, as well as his important article on “The Politics of Prescription” in the same issue of SAQ.

44 “L’usine comme site événementiel”, Le Perroquet 62-63, pp. 1 and 4-6.

45 Ibid.

46 Ibid.

47 On these terms, and many of the issues having to do with the shifts in Badiou’s thinking, see my article in Prelom No. 6/7.

48 “L’usine comme site événementiel”.

49 “La figure du (re)commencement”, p. 8.

50 At the same time, I think that Badiou’s farewell to political anthropology may be somewhat premature. For an initial statement of this problem, see Nina Power and Alberto Toscano, “Think, Pig!: An Introduction to Badiou’s Beckett”, in Alain Badiou, On Beckett, Manchester: Clinamen Press, 2003. See also Nina Power, “What is Generic Humanity?: Badiou and Feuerbach”, Subject Matters vol. 2, No. 1, 2005, pp. 35-46.

51 See “From the State to the World?: Badiou and Anti-capitalism”, Communication and Cognition vol. 37, No. 3/4, 2004, pp. 199-224, also available at: <http://www.goldsmiths.ac.uk/csisp/papers/toscano_stateToWorld.pdf&gt;.

52 See Kouvelakis, op. cit., as well as Massimiliano Tomba’s “Differentials of Surplus-Value”, Historical Materialism (forthcoming).

53Hannah Arendt, On Revolution, London: Penguin, 1963, chapter 6: “The Revolutionary Tradition and its Lost Treasure”.

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