Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Original Sin of Accumulation: Trying to Say Something Original About Ursprüngliche Akkumulation



Red May Seattle

A bit of context: last weekend I was asked to participate in Red May Seattle, contributing to both its Marx-a-thon, a day long reading group on Capital and the Grundrisse, as well as discussing neoliberalism, science fiction, and the current struggles. What follows here is neither the text of what I presented on primitive accumulation, nor a kind of follow up self critique, it is an attempt to jot down some thoughts that were generated in collective discussion and reflection before they dissipate. It is red in practice and in theory, or, at the very least red in theoretical practice. What follows owes a great deal to all of those present at Red May. Names are withheld because I may have completely misunderstood what they were saying. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Yet Another Effort, Spinozists, If You Would Become Marxists: Marxist Spinozism Against Enlightenment Spinozism

Me at PAF talking about Spinoza and Transindividuality 
(I am running out of Spinoza/Marx graphics)


In a recently published piece in Jacobin (which is a response to this piece in Viewpoint) we see the following statement:

"Precisely because of what we affirm in Spinoza, we view his French reception in the twentieth century skeptically. Thinkers such as Deleuze and Althusser largely reject Spinoza’s rationalism, monism, and determinism, reducing his substance to a swirl of anarchic forces, whether in Deleuze’s nomads or in Althusser’s aleatory materialism. These readings perform a kind of “substance abuse,” replacing Spinoza’s objective metaphysics with a Nietzschean play of forces.

But a different tradition of Marxist Spinozism doesn’t fall into this trap. Starting with Joseph Dietzgen and Georgi Plekhanov and proceeding with the Soviet Spinozists, A. M. Deborin and Evald Ilyenkov, these writers treat Spinoza as a dialectical thinker avant la lettre. They participate in the tradition of the left-Hegelians Heine, Feuerbach, and Hess, who hailed Spinoza as the real godfather of German Idealism. As such, they did not reject Spinoza’s humanism for a Heideggerian inspired antihumanism. Instead, they sought to affirm human power and dignity through an understanding of the material world."

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Dialectic of the Donald: Or, Not Trump Again

The Owl of Minerva might fly at dusk, but her eagle works the day shift 


Let us begin with negation. You did not want to read this, you even told yourself that you were done, no more Trump think pieces, tweets, or articles. After all there are more important things to think about, and thinking about Trump, thinking about politics in age of Trump, seems almost to be a contradiction, like trying to think one's very inability to think. I get that, dear reader, I did not want to write this either, but I did--drawn in and repelled. Trump is not just the car wreck that you feel compelled to gaze upon. Trump is like slowing to watch a car crash and then going home to read a dozen articles on the dangers of drunken driving and digital distraction on today's highways, knowing all the while that all the articles in the world won't change the world. 

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Triptych of a Tree: Memoirs of a Film Goer


That Hitchcock's Vertigo  has been imitated multiple times is not surprising, but it is slightly curious that the same tree appears in two other films. The original scene takes place as Scottie Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) takes Madeline (Kim Novak) to the redwoods. It is a fiction within a fiction, we later learn that it is actually Judy imitating Madeleine who, at the moment, is channeling Carlotta Valdez a woman who lived decades prior. The lines on the tree make it possible for Madeleine to present a life that began before her life. The lines in its bark is a memory before memory. The tree stands as a mute witness to a life that has passed before. It is a living fossil of a life not lived. 

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Sidekick No More: Horkheimer on Work


In Max Horkheimer's critically underrated (and out of print) Dawn and Decline we find the following aphorism:

Monday, February 27, 2017

"You'd be a Beast": Get Out and Race



Yes, yes, we all know that Get Out is in some sense about race, but it is at the same time not only a horror movie, but a horror movie that follows the formal conventions of a particular kind of horror film. I am not sure exactly what to call this sub-genre, perhaps "the outsider and the community with a secret," or "betrayal horror." The best examples of this genre, examples the writer and director Jordan Peele knows well, are films like The Stepford Wives  and Rosemary's Baby.  To perhaps take it seriously as both a movie about race and a movie steeped in its genre is to examine the way in which the latter shapes the former. In other words, to take it seriously as an examination of the nightmare of race is to examine the way in which the genre does a kind of dream work, shaping and transforming its primary trauma. (One could even use such a method to examine the various "horror of racism" novels that have appeared in the last year, such as The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle and Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, both of which take Lovecraft and thus a different sub-genre of horror as their point of entry). 

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Undercover Worker: Workers Inquiry after the End of the Working Class

An afternoon reading in San Francisco

If it is possible to learn one thing from the various invocations of the "white working class" that were summoned after the election of Trump, the more the term is invoked, the less one actually knows about work, class, and race. The "white working class" exists as a kind of hobgoblin of bourgeois conscience, as a creature both hated and pitied, the racist who cannot being one. It appears in a few soundbites and pull quotes gathered by journalists and a few stock photos of construction and factories. Against this spectacle of the working class, a hardhat and a few stereotypes about attitudes, there stands the tradition of workers' inquiry, the examination of the conditions, perspectives, trials and tribulations of the working class. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

War is Truth: 1984 is Back


Several stories have reported that 1984 is being read, or at least bought, again, becoming an unlikely best seller. This is ambiguous news at best. The book is sophomoric enough to deserve its place on every high school's sophomore's reading list. Its politics are dubious, and its philosophy is even worse, its picture of a totalitarian society based on hate and universal deception always seemed more of something to reassure members of liberal capitalist society that everything was alright in their society than a warning. There is thus something amusing about this particular chicken coming home to roost, of cold war ideology become the basis, however, impoverished of a critique of ideology. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Limited Efficacy of Facts Insofar as They are Facts: A Spinozist Reflection on Fake News



Nothing could be more foolish, further from the letter and spirit of Spinoza's writing than to proclaim that a given proposition is the most important. Spinoza's thought is in the movement and relation of the different propositions, axioms, and definitions, not this or that proposition. His thought is systematic, not aphoristic, which is why his thought does not lend itself to tweets, memes, or bumperstickers. However, there is one particular proposition which remains a personal favorite. It is Proposition One of Part Four, "Nothing positive which a false idea has is removed by the presence of the true insofar as it is true." This idea always seemed important to me in that it offers a corrective to the spontaneous philosophy of philosophers, the idea that true ideas and well reasoned arguments have a force in and of themselves. 

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Affective Normalization: Between Lordon and Trump


Trump's election was met with an insistent demand on the part of those who opposed him, a demand not to "normalize" his election and his presidency. The use of this term "normalize" is curious and telling. The word is not legitimize, although one could argue that the debates about the Electoral College and the popular vote, were in some sense debates about the nature, and limits, of democratic legitimacy. Or, more to the point, the legitimacy of what counts as democratic legitimacy in the US. The word "normalize" suggests something different, something broader and more inchoate than legimitacy, less a matter of constitutional checks and balances than a prevailing sentiment or structure of feeling.  In some sense the slogan draws off of the existing opposition to Trump, the inability of many to see him as anything other than a crude narcissist more befitting the world of reality TV than Realpolitik, and demanding to extend the protests and jokes into opposition. It is a politics of a affect, the attempt to make a prevailing sensibility into a politics.