Saturday, January 15, 2022

Despair and Indignation: The Inevitable Reflection on Covid (with Marx and Spinoza)

 The last thing anyone needs is another hot take on Covid. At least that is how things appear, in the early months of the pandemic there were a series of reflections that came too soon and undercooked, as everyone reached into familiar concepts such as "biopower"  or "totalitarianism" to make sense of what was happening. It seemed to be in good taste to not say anything to go on as if things would return to normal, but now, two years in, not saying anything about COVID feels a little like watching one of the films or television shows that have gone in production since the pandemic started, in which the actors inhabit a pre-covid world while the masks and precautions stay off of camera. The reality of these images has begun to appear as fantastic as any CGI trip to a far off planet or the distant past. All television and film, not just those set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the Star Wars Universe, begin to appear as a depiction of an alternate timeline, one in which the COVID pandemic did not take place. 

Monday, December 27, 2021

Get Meta With Me: On Matrix Resurrections


The Matrix is a film about work. Long before Neo escapes the matrix he has to break out of a much more mundane space of confinement, the office cubicle. The film is thus part of that odd series of films that came out in 1999 that were about the confines of the cubicle and the working day, a list that includes Office Space, Fight Club, and American Beauty (and Being John Malkovich). It was an odd year, in the midst of the dot-com bubble and the Clinton third way, a year that on the surface was good for capitalism, the movies were telling a different story, a story in which work and the office was sucking the life out of people. An idea which The Matrix made literal in its dystopian future of energy sucking pods, in other words, cubicles 2199. 

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Red Spinozism II: Lordon Vs. Fischbach

My Spinoza and Marx finger puppets 

 This is a follow up to a few previous posts, most importantly my previous post on alienation in Marxist-Spinozist Thought. It is also an effect of my continuing work translating Franck Fischbach's La Production des hommes: Marx Avec Spinoza. I have never translated a whole book before and the experience is a little like some kind of possession or mind meld, in the best possible way, where I find myself thinking in and through another person's writing. Of course this is often the case when writing on someone, but translation takes it to a different level. To update a hierarchy familiar to a lot of people, there are books that I have read, books that I have read and taught, books that I have read and written about, and now, standing above the rest, a book I have translated. 

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Homework: Three Recent Books on Work


Because I regularly teach a class on work, and have my own book on work coming out, I make it a habit to keep up on all of the writing on work, from theoretical studies and polemics, to ethnographies and studies of contemporary political economy. It is getting to be quite a lot to keep up with, what seemed like a slow trickle a decade or so ago when Kathi Weeks The Problem with Work came out, has become a steady stream of books. What follows is a short review of three of the recent ones.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Shine On: We Are All in Room 237 Now


Danny Lloyd rocking the same haircut I had as a kid

Of all of the various concepts and neologisms that populate A Thousand Plateaus that of the "regime of signs" is one that never really caught on. It has not had the same effects as nomadology, rhizome, virtual, assemblage, body without organs, become etc., If I had to offer a quick explanation of  this it is perhaps because the idea of the sign, and of a regime of signs, still seems like a remnant of an earlier period, more structuralist than post-structuralist. It is for that reason that it has remained something of a B-side or a deep cut, taking a clue from Deleuze and Guattari's assertion that the book is more like album with different plateau songs than a linear progression. 

Friday, November 12, 2021

Other Scenes: Balibar and Tosel on Class Struggle and the Struggle over Identity

Intersection of base and superstructure 


One of the pressing issues of recent years has been the relationship between class struggle, or the struggle against capitalism more broadly and the struggle over identity. While this relationship has taken on ridiculous, and almost caricatured forms in the left quasi-public sphere in the US, becoming the split between Bernie Bros and the supposed identity politics of the democratic party, or between “the dirtbag” and “woke left.” It raises serious issues about the relationship between the state, as the manager of ethnic and racial identities, and the economy as the hidden abode of exploitation. What I propose here is less an entry into the fray of current debates between identity politics and class struggle, but to look at the way in which two Marxist philosophers, Etienne Balibar and André Tosel, tried to think both the interrelation and irreducibly of identity struggle and class struggle. Balibar and Tosel do so by drawing from the philosophical resources of Marx and Spinoza, but in different ways. For Balibar it is a matter of thinking of “the other scene” of economic struggle, the imaginary constitution of national identities that all economic struggles necessarily pass through. There is no class struggle that does not pass through the struggle of identities, just as there is no struggle over identities that does not pass through economic relations. In a different manner, Tosel focuses less on the relation between imaginary and real, taken as the state and the economy, than on the relation between what could be considered generic struggles over the very conditions of subjectivity, and conflicts over the very nature of identity. The first have to do with struggles over our basic capacities, to live, work, and speak, while the latter has to do with the way in which living, working, and speaking are always actualized in specific identities and communities. The two struggles cannot be separated. I argue that read together, Balibar and Tosel’s political anthropologies offer a way to not only theorize the intersection of class conflict and identity conflict, but a way to think the relation between the state and economy.

Friday, October 01, 2021

Coming Soon (well soonish): The Double Shift


I have submitted the (hopefully) final changes of the manuscript of my third book* to Verso. As an answer to the question, What is your book about? and as part of the labor of self-promotion that is required of all of us in the twenty-first century, even those published with radical presses, I am posting part of the introduction here: 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Reworking Hegel: Philosophies of Work in Macherey's Petit Riens


Images from Property is No Longer Theft 

There is a line that I used to attribute to Roland Barthes, "those who do not reread are doomed to read the same book over and over again." I liked the riddle like nature of the phrase, and the way it seemed to posit a first read which is often a restating of one's already existence preconceptions, hence the rereading of the same book under different covers, against a rereading that discovers difference in repetition. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Fighting for Subjection as if it was Rebellion: Spinoza and Servitude Today


I am illustrating this post with images of the Punisher as a symbol of authority as rebellion

As I have already indicated on this blog more than once, Spinoza's formulation of subjection remains in some sense a guiding question for me. 

"...the supreme mystery of despotism, its prop and stay, is to keep men in a state of deception, and with the specious title of religion to cloak the fear with which they must be held in check, so that they will fight for their servitude as if for salvation, and count it no shame but the highest honour, to spend their blood and lives for the glorification of one man…" --Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus 1670

So much so that I would be willing to agree with Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari when they repeated it three hundred years later. 

"That is why the fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one that Spinoza saw so clearly, and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered: “Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?” --Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia 1972

However, I have begun to think that it is time to update the question, or at least change its formulation, it increasingly seems to me that in the current era it is not so much servitude that is fought for as salvation, but subjection that is fought for as rebellion, or misrecognized as rebellion.