Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dialectics of the Other Other Scene: On Balibar and Macherey (with apologies to Kanye)


"Last week I was in my other other Benz"--Kanye West

While I would never want to reduce the work of Etienne Balibar and Pierre Macherey to simply being that of "students of Althusser," there is a certain way in which their work continues certain themes and problems from the latter's work. This can be seen not only in the topics chosen, the studies on Marx and Spinoza, but, as I am going to examine here, with a certain reworking of the question of the dialectic.


Friday, August 08, 2014

Taking Form: Morfino and Zourbachvili Encounter Spinoza


The translation of Vittorio Morfino's Plural Temporality: Transindividuality and the Aleatory Between Spinoza and Althusser deserves to be considered an event in its own right. Morfino is not very well known in the Anglo-American world, but those who have heard him speak at the annual Historical Materialism conference in London know how important his work is. Morfino has the rather singular talent of drawing together seemingly incongruous streams of thought into relation. Morfino is not to content to remain with the apparent points of opposition, nor does he simply declare some secret unity between disparate thinkers. In one of my favorite conference presentations, I remember Morfino declaring that the presence of Spinoza in Marx's thought was nothing but a "scholarly residue," the notebooks on the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus and other references nothing more than the dutiful work of a German philosopher in the 19th century, but that this of course makes the connection between Marx and Spinoza interesting. Since the contours of this connection cannot not be found in the typical anxiety of influence, it can only be invented in connections and relations of tendencies and presuppositions. (For examples of this invention of the Marx/Spinoza encounter see Negri, Lordon, Fischbach, etc.) 

Friday, July 11, 2014

War Has Already Begun: On Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


There is by now a predictable seasonable distribution of Hollywood films. Not only are special effects blockbusters released in the summer, and awards bait prestige films released in the fall, but those seasonal divisions are further gradated to the point where every summer begins with a few contenders in May, peaks in July with the biggest explosion of effects and stars, and tapers off into a series of remakes and more dubious summer properties in August. Whereas past generations had their divisions of A and B pictures, we have May films and August films. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was one such August film, a remake/reboot of a lesser known entry of a mostly forgotten series, it managed to surprise many in actually being more interesting than one would have expected and more entertaining than one hoped.  The release of its sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the apes in July then signifies something of increased brand visibility if not increased quality.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Hijacking a Train: Revolution and its Limits in Snowpiercer


I scrupulously avoided reading any reviews of Snowpiercer once I became intrigued by the basic premise. Despite this, and not reading anything after seeing it this afternoon, I was aware, in that way we become aware of things through an almost social media osmosis, that it was quickly being heralded as a new film about the 99% and the 1%, about social inequality, and, more importantly, about revolution. In what follows I would like to explore these allegories for at least two reasons. The first, and most basic, is that the film openly invites such readings. Its particular premise, the Earth is frozen after a failed attempt to solve global warming and all of the survivors are left stranded on globe circling train, is so thin in terms of any pretense at credibility, and so packed with allusions and images, I am not sure it is even possible to watch it as "just a movie." Second, and more importantly I am interested in what it means to make or interpret a film as allegory of the present, recognizing of course that the line between making and interpreting can never be rigidly defined. (Spoilers follow)

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Men without Qualities: Spinoza, Marx, Balibar and Philosophical Anthropology


This post is an attempt to draw together two different philosophical precursors to Balibar's philosophical anthropology. That Spinoza and Marx are the precursors in question is news to no one, at least no one familiar with Balibar's work, and yet the particular way they intersect, extend, or complicate each other is often unexamined. Examining them will help develop both the promise and limits of Balibar's philosophical anthropology, as well as set it apart from other philosophical anthopologies after the death of man.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Workers without Work: Vonnegut's Player Piano and the Fragment on Machines


In a great little text on the "Fragment on Machines" Paolo Virno makes a comparison between Marx's text and the versus of scripture cited by heroes in Westerns. As Virno states, these scripture verses were cited in such a way that they always seemed appropriate, their meaning shifting with every context. (A more contemporary example of this situational hermeneutic can be found in Pulp Fiction in the scene in which Jules reconsiders his particular scriptural fragment.) As Virno argues the "Fragment on Machines" has been used to develop various theoretical positions, from a critique of the supposed neutrality of scientific knowledge, to the "end of work," only to become, through Virno's work and others, a foundational text in formulating the "general intellect" as a productive force and basis for a new collective subjectivity. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Subjectification, Individuation, and Politics: On Bernard Aspe's Simondon, Politique du Transindividuel

I am going to refrain from beginning this review by pointing out the similarities between Aspe's Simondon, Politique du transindividuel and the manuscript I am currently finishing. Suffice to say I am glad that this book was published towards the end of working on the book, when the differences between my perspective and his can only refine the conclusion and revisions, and not at the beginning of conceiving of the project, when its very existence would put the whole thing into jeopardy. Reading the book can thus be considered an example of the standard practice of transindividuation--the simultaneous constitution of a group of people interested in the same sets of questions and thinkers and of a unique perspective on those questions.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Books are from Mars, Movies are from Venus: Anthropological Difference in Under the Skin (the book and movie)


A few weeks ago I saw the film Under the Skin, a film that was better than I expected. The film unnerved me in a way that made it difficult to forget. The film is minimalist in dialogue, evocative in its use of images, and ambivalent in its overall meaning. Its basic plot concerns what is ostensibly an alien in human form (played by Scarlett Johansson), who travels around the Scottish countryside picking up men and…eating them? It really is unclear in all of the details of this alien on earth, there is no voiceover exposition, no scientist who figures it all out, just a series of scenes of uneasy seduction.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Affective Economy: Producing and Consuming Affects in Deleuze and Guattari



Erasmus University Rotterdam

The thought of Gilles Deleuze (and Félix Guattari) bears on ambiguous relation with respect to the “affective turn” in social and political thought that it supposedly helped initiate. This ambiguity touches on the very role and meaning of affects. From Deleuze’s writings on Nietzsche and Spinoza through the collaborations of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuze and Guattari insist on the central role of the affects, joy, sadness, fear, and hope, as structuring individual and collective life. In that sense, Deleuze and Guattari are rightfully hailed as central figures in a turn towards affect. However, if, as some argue, the “affective turn” is a turn towards the lived over the structural and the intimate over the public, then Deleuze and Guattari’s thought has a much more complex relation to affects. The broader polemical target of Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, beyond the specific polemics with psychoanalysis, is any explanatory theory that would reduce social relations to expressions of individual passions and desires. Deleuze and Guattari’s claim that there is only “the desire and the social, and nothing else” is oriented against such individualistic accounts of subjectivity. Moreover, Deleuze and Guattari define capitalism as a socius that it reproduces itself in and through the encounter of abstract quantities of money and labor power, and as such is  is indifferent to the beliefs, feelings, and meaning that we attach to it. Thus, if affect is central to Deleuze and Guattari’s thought it is necessary to add the caveats that affect must be thought of as anti-individualistic, as social rather than intimate, and as impersonal, reflecting the abstractions that dominant life. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Abstract Materialism: Sohn-Rethel and the Task of a Materialist Philosophy Today


This is the longer version of an old conference paper. It never quite became publishable; it is left here to the gnawing criticism of digital mice.

Materialism has always been the bastard stepson of philosophy. Its very position is paradoxical, if not impossible. It must use concepts and arguments to conceptualize and argue against the primacy of concepts and argument. This perennial problem is even worse today. If Marx was in some sense the most sophisticated materialist philosopher, elevating the material beyond the brute materiality of the body, to locate the material in the reality of production and the conflicted terrain of social relations, then one could argue that even this version of materialism is in jeopardy today. The economy, the last instance of materialist philosophy after Marx, can no longer be identified with the machines and noise of the factory, it has become digital, immaterial. What then remains of materialism when the economy has become ideal, determined more and more by the idealist category par excellence, speculation, and even labor has been declared immaterial, intersecting with beliefs and desires? At least the beginning of a response can be found in the seemingly paradoxical concept of “real abstraction.” This term, introduced by Marx, takes on a central importance in the work of Alfred Sohn-Rethel, where it is no longer a methodological necessity, but the cornerstone of a philosophy that seeks to understand the material basis of abstraction itself.