Friday, November 17, 2017

Immanent Cause: Between Reproduction and Nonreproduction

Presented in Santiago, Chile 

Of all the various provocations in Lire le Capital there is perhaps none more provocative than structural causality. In this case the provocation can be measured in this case in the gap between the implications of the concept, its effects on social relations, subjectivity, and history, and its formulation, which is provisional and partial—mutilated as Spinoza might say. Structural or metonymic causality posits that the economy and society, base and superstructure, is neither a linear transitive cause, nor a relation of expression, but a cause which only exists in and through its effects. Or, put otherwise, the effects of the economy in the spheres of ideology must be thought of as causes as much as effects, as conditions of its reproduction. Framed in this way the concept of “structural (or immanent) causality” is not just a concept limited to its appearance in Lire le Capital, but it becomes integral to Althusser’s later examination of ideology and reproduction. Reproduction is the necessary condition for seeing ideology as not just an effect of economic structures but their necessary precondition. Reproduction is another way of viewing the immanent nature of the mode of production, how its effects in the sphere of subjectivity and social relations, become necessary conditions.  Althusser’s writing shows a different trajectory, not only did reproduction become the specific theme of Sur la Reproduction, but the manuscripts on “aleatory materialism” also return to reproduction, thinking necessity from contingency, as the becoming necessary of the encounter. It is a matter of thinking the coexistence of reproduction and non-reproduction, which is to say class struggle, without resorting to a voluntarist conception of political action. Non-reproduction must be as immanent as reproduction, the conditions of the unraveling of a given mode of production must be as integral to it as its perpetuation. It is this trajectory which has been taken up by subsequent readers of not only Althusser, but of Spinoza and Marx as well. 

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Conscienta Sive ideologia: The Spontaneity of Ideology

A Bento/Marx image

In Des Universels Etienne Balibar writes, “Conscientia sive ideologia” (Consciousness, that is ideology). Balibar’s formulation is applied to Marx, specifically to the theorization of ideology from The German Ideology, but its word brings to mind Spinoza’s famous Deus sive natura, his strategy of the sive in which philosophical oppositions are overcome with the assertion of their fundamentally interchangeability. It is at once a Spinozist injoke and a provocation, the strategy of the “sive” does not just identify two terms, but opens the question of their identity and difference. Between the joke and the provocation is of course Louis Althusser, not just because Althusser was both a Spinozist and a Marxist, but because Althusser’s various formulations of ideology, formulations indebted to both Spinoza and Marx, continually thought ideology in both its spontaneity and its universality, seeing it as coexistent experience and consciousness. Such an assertion, as with all strategies of the sive, raises as many difficulties and questions as it resolves. These questions hinge on the way in which the concept of ideology is caught between universality and specificity, structural condition and particular content, or, ultimately, between necessity and contingency, an integral element of experience or a particular effect of a given social formation. The closer ideology gets to being coextensive with consciousness, the more it loses its socio-historical specificity, becoming something like a constitutive error, or antinomy of thought. The extension on the epistemic register is not without its effects on politics, if ideology is coextensive with consciousness, than what possibilities are there for radical critique and change? The opposite pole is no less fraught with difficulties, ideologies considered in terms of its specific content and concepts, as bourgeois, capitalist, or neoliberal, raises the question of its conditions of production and dissemination, at worst collapsing into a kind a conspiracy. Ideology is caught between the poles of necessity and contingency, form and content, and structure and history. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Macabre Goes Mainstream: A Halloween Story



I will begin with the personal story. At some point in my awkward adolescent years when I was too old to trick or treat yet not yet old enough to do anything else on Halloween I was left with the responsibility of giving out candy. Left alone and somewhat bored I decided to make it fun. In between rings of the doorbell I gathered up an old "Creature from the Black Lagoon" mask and my "Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House." The record supplied atmosphere and then I would jump out from behind the door. As the night went on I became more creative, leaving a hatchet covered in ketchup in view of the door, placing an iron black cat doorstop in the window, and so on. My brother soon came home and found scaring kids to be way more fun than going door to door getting candy.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Scenes of Violence: Between Ultraobjective and Ultrasubjective Forms of Violence


How to make sense of the daily brutality that seems to surround us? Balibar's Violence and Civility can be seen as offering a sort of solution to this problem. Balibar's solution is framed in terms of three moves. First, he dubs inconvertible violence cruelty, the name suggests an excess, or in Balibar's terms inconvertible form of violence; it is violence that cannot be placed on any trajectory of progress, even the cunning of reason. Second, cruelty is differentiated in terms of ultraobjective violence, the violence of populations that are exposed to natural disasters, wars, or the effects of the market. This is violence without a face or name.  Ultraobjective is contrasted to the cruelty of ultrasubjective violence, violence that is not only intended, with a face and name, but often is aimed a particular group. Third, and this is the most important point, there is the question of the relation between these two forms of violence, unified under the same name, but differentiated.  As Balibar writes,

Saturday, October 07, 2017

How Can It Not Know What It Is? On Blade Runner 2049


I think that I may have grown up watching Blade Runner. I do not mean that I watched the film several times growing up, although that is probably the case, but something happened when I first watched that was integral to growing up. All of this is because I grew up, in the first sense, watching Harrison Ford; Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark were a big part of my childhood imagination, I had the toys and I am sure I went as Indiana Jones one Halloween. So when I saw Blade Runner for the first time, I think on VHS, I expected the same comic book morality of good versus evil and the same wisecracking character (Let's just be honest and admit that Han Solo and Indiana Jones are the same character). The movie both thwarted and ultimately exceeded my expectations: in its failure to live up to my action packed expectations it redefined what made a good film. I do not think that I could watch films again in the same way; incidentally, I am fairly sure that it was my attempt to see the film on the big screen a few years later that drew me to my local art house theater, the Cleveland Cinematheque. It is not just that Blade Runner has a formal connection to film noir and larger film world, for me it had an anecdotal one as well. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Said and Unsaid: From the Critique of Hypocrisy to Symptomatic Reading


The critique of hypocrisy did not begin with Trump, but it has been fueled by his campaign and presidency. It is hard not to see signs of hypocrisy everywhere, in the leaders of the evangelical community who have rallied behind a philanderer who has admitted sexual abuse; in generals who have stood behind the tough guy rhetoric of a draft dodger whose idea of discipline is getting seconds on dessert; and even in so-called business leaders who kowtow to a man who has gone bankrupt six times running a casino (you know, where the house always wins). As much as Trump represents the culmination of hypocrisy critique he also represents its limit. None of these critiques have stuck. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Knock-off Soviet Kitsch: On Comrade Detective



Has Slavoj Zizek written about Comrade Detective yet? It seems to be the perfect show for him, not just for its setting behind the iron curtain, but its central premise is that of a "subject supposed to believe." Comrade Detective is a show streaming on Amazon. Its central premise, or gag, is that it is ersatz Soviet Bloc propaganda. The show is made to look as if it is a Romanian detective show from the nineteen-eighties; it is shot with Romanian actors (but modern production values) the dialogue is then dubbed by actors such as Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Beyond Enslavement and Subjection: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari

Paper Presented at the above conference. 
Since publication plans have fallen through 
I am posting a draft of it here



One of the minor theoretical interventions of A Thousand Plateaus, minor because it seems to retrace and recapitulate arguments made by others, is the distinction between social subjection and machinic enslavement. As Deleuze and Guattari write,

There is enslavement when human beings themselves are constituent pieces of a machine that they compose among themselves and with other things (animal, tools), under the control and direction of a higher unity. But there is subjection when the higher unity constitutes the human being as a subject linked to a new exterior object, which can be an animal, a tool, or even a machine. [1]

This distinction is made in the plateau titled “Apparatus of Capture”, and it is subordinated to the larger focus of articulating the relation between the state and market. It makes up no more than two pages, and in many senses seems to borrow from its general theoretical milieu of the sixties and seventies. Machinic enslavement would seem to carry with it the entire history of alienation of dehumanization that makes the individual part of the machine. Social subjection bares traces of Althusser’s famous declaration that “ideology interpellates individuals as subjects,” or of the general “critique of the subject” developed through Althusser and Foucault. Its only innovation, the only point that goes beyond a general citation of concepts that are the general background of Deleuze and Guattari’s particular conceptual innovations, is in presenting these concepts less as theoretical alternatives, pitting humanism against post-humanism, than as different aspects of the same machine, the same apparatus of capture. That is perhaps not the only philosophical innovation and transformation, the distinction between enslavement and subjection carries with it a larger series of references, not just the immediate precursors of Althusser and Foucault but more distant antecedents of Marx and Gilbert Simondon, but its implications exceed the distinction between part and whole to encompass not only the already mentioned division between the state and market, but also the intersection between technology and politics. Far from being a simple terminological distinction the division between enslavement and subjection opens up a way to think the history of different formations of subjectivity, and the tensions internal to them in their historicity.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Pop Nazi: History and Repetition


In Ta-Nehisi Coates writes the following on HBO's Confederates,

Knowing this, we do not have to wait to point out that comparisons between Confederate and The Man in the High Castle are fatuous. Nazi Germany was also defeated. But while its surviving leadership was put on trial before the world, not one author of the Confederacy was convicted of treason. Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop was hanged at Nuremberg. Confederate General John B. Gordon became a senator. Germany has spent the decades since World War II in national penance for Nazi crimes. America spent the decades after the Civil War transforming Confederate crimes into virtues. It is illegal to fly the Nazi flag in Germany. The Confederate flag is enmeshed in the state flag of Mississippi.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Three Interpretations In Search of a Proposition: A Sketch of Spinozist Materialism


As I have stated on this blog, and elsewhere, a materialist reading of Spinoza perhaps begins with EIIP7 and its related demonstrations and scholium. "The order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things." In place of hierarchy and causal impact Spinoza places ideas and things in a relation of identity and non-identity. How exactly to articulate this relation has lead to multiple interpretations. I would like to highlight three, Deleuze, Macherey, and Jaquet. The selection and order of authors reflects my own encounters and reading, the seemingly contingent order of nature, and not a necessary conceptual progression.