Monday, July 19, 2021

What Does it Mean to be a Materialist: Thoughts After Spinoza after Marx


Of all of the zoom events, conferences, and presentations that I have attended (zoomed?) this year the one dedicated to Spinoza after Marx was the most engaging, the one most capable of breaking through the zoom screen that makes everything feel further away even as it is so close, inches away even. This is in part because of the participants, but it was also due to the work of the organizers who, in an interesting variation on organizing around a common theme, presented a common set of theses that were discussed and debated over the course of the three days. Of course as great as this was as an online event it is hard not to think about how those conversations would have continued over dinner, at bars, and coffee shops. The event did create a collective act of thought, of thinking in common, but as Spinoza and Marx both know there is no thinking together, thinking in common, without acting and feeling in common.

Saturday, July 03, 2021

Self-Interest is the Sincerest Form of Flattery: On No Sudden Move

Posted in memory of Lauren Berlant who once took time out of her busy schedule to debate a previous post about Soderbergh. 


After a mercurial career Steven Soderbergh seems to have more or less settled into the heist film. The three Oceans films, Logan Lucky (dubbed Oceans 7-11 for the way it transposed those films into a different class milieu, and now No Sudden Move. The return to the same genre does not dispense with the shifts and shimmers through other genres and styles, the latest is a noir period piece set in fifties Detroit, and with that shift comes another shift. Jameson states that heist films are in some sense about the representation of work. Or, more to the point, he states that they are about unalienated work. However, I would like to turn his assertion, as offhand as it is, into a question. How does the heist film represent work, and how does this representation relate to the question of how work is undertaken and understood in capitalism.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Theological Breaks: Tosel on Marx's Critique of Religion


I never really knew what to do with this meme, but it fits the topic. 
Also sorry. 

At the beginning of his trajectory of criticism Marx wrote, "the criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism." There is perhaps no contemporary philosopher who has taken up that challenge than André Tosel. Tosel has returned to the question not just of Marx and religion, but more broadly of the role of the critique of religion in radical thought from Spinoza onward. Tosel's trajectory in some sense begins and ends with the question of the critique of religion, beginning with Spinoza ou le crépuscule de la Servitude : Essai sur le Traité Théologico-Politique and nearly ends with Nous citoyens laïques et fraternels? : dans le labyrinthe du complexe économico-politico-théologique (I realize that the book on Gramsci and the little book on Emancipation came out afterwards). Throughout his life Tosel was interested in thinking through the relationship between religion and capitalism, and to what extent the critique of religion could be used to make sense of our subjection and attachment to capitalism. 

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Anti-Hobbes: Waging War on the War of All Against All


Top Image The Road Warrior, bottom image people in the US putting gasoline in plastic bags

I am going to assume that most readers of a blog like this are familiar with Hobbes' description of the state of nature as "nasty, brutish, and short." His assertion that without an overwhelming authority human beings will engage in a life of perpetual strife and war, killing each other for whatever their desire. Hobbes gives what could be considered three proofs for this state of nature, the first is the new world, or at least an armchair speculative colonial imagination of it, the second is the behavior of kings and states towards each other, but the third, which actually appears first, is the presence of this state of nature in civilized state breaking through, like weeds through concrete. As Hobbes writes, 

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Put Your Halo On: Marx’s Critiques of Moralism

Not a good episode, but a great observation

There are those that claim that Marx’s criticism of capitalism is ultimately grounded in a moral or ethical consideration of humanity, that notions such as alienation, exploitation, and so on, only make sense against the backdrop more often assumed rather than asserted, of some kind of morality, of a picture of an ideal life, in which human beings are treated more or less as ends in themselves. Marx investigations of the horrendous working conditions of early capitalism, from child labor to deadly working conditions, would seem to have as its critical basis a moral understanding of humanity. However, what I would like to propose is that Marx’s thought, at least at its most provocative, is less a moral criticism of capitalism, than a materialist criticism of moralism. 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Woke Capital and Twilight of the Bourgeoisie (How is that for a title?).


For anyone who has any historical memory whatsoever the controversies around woke seem like just a remake, or possible a reboot, of the panic around political correctness a generation before. It is a matter of the same fears, the same threats, and the same bad guys and good guys. College campuses and postmodernism are once again to blame, and the same hallowed traditions are threatened. On one reading, and it is a fairly plausible one, is that this is just a repetition. The only reason that the names have been changed, the only reason terms like "woke" have replaced "political correctness" is that repeating the old name would be admitting that this new threat is quite old. Political correctness came and went, but the skies did not darken and the rivers did not run red with blood. New logo, same package. There are, however, some differences and these differences have something to say about the changing nature of culture and power.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Go Figure: On Lordon's Figures du Communisme


Frédéric Lordon has published four books since Capitalisme, désire, et Servitude in 2010, not counting collections of essays, edited volumes and even a play. I have reviewed them all here, and continued to use Lordon's writing in my research on the intersection of affect, imagination, and work in capitalism. I remain profoundly influenced by his interventions. However, I will be honest, prolific authors make me skeptical, even nervous. Sometimes publishing overtakes thinking and one ends up with a kind of diminishing returns as later books only put finishing touches on earlier innovations. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

How the World of Fiction Became True: On The Department of Truth


From The Department of Truth by James Tynion and Martin Simmonds

I have not been to my local comic book shop in a year. I went once in the summer to pickup a few things curbside, but that limited to me to pick up a few things in my pull list. I have not walked idly through the racks looking at new comics, searching for that elusive new thing that would be worth reading in long time. I have even spent some time going back and reading old comics (as I blogged about here.) The collected trade of the first five issues of The Department of Truth is the first thing that I have read in months to break this pandemic imposed interruption of comics.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Althusser Effects: Philosophical Practices


I have more copies of Reading Capital than any other book

One of the most damming things anyone has ever said, to me at least, about academic philosophy was something like the following, "philosophy at universities today is to doing philosophy what art history is to making art." The implication being that emphasis in the modern university is on following different philosophers; tracing their influences and transformations the way that a historian my trace the different periods of an artist. It seemed damming, but not inaccurate, especially with respect to the way that there seems to be a trajectory, at least in continental programs of setting oneself up as [blank] guy, following a philosopher, interpreting, commenting and translating. There are a lot of questions that can be posed about this model, especially now, as philosophy continues to be pushed outside of the university, and forced to reinvent itself in new spaces and publications. 

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Everyone is Disposable: On Ogilvie's L' Homme Jetable

Yesterday, two things happened, one I spent a better portion of the day preparing a lecture on James Boggs' The American Revolution ; Pages from a Negro Worker's Notebook (You can listen to it here for what it is worth) and thinking about his description of automation and the creation of a surplus population. At the same time I was also thinking about the governor of Texas decisions to "open up" the state in the middle of a pandemic, ending all restrictions and social distancing measures. Together this made me think of Ogilvie's concept of a "disposable human being," (l'homme jetable), a concept, or rather mode of investigation that seems all the more important in an age in which much of the world is being treated as disposable. I was surprised to see that I had never directly blogged about this concept despite the fact that I had written about Ogilvie before. I did, however, have a reader's report I wrote on Ogilvie's book, arguing that it should be translated. It is a thorough review, but not the most engaging. I decided to repost it here in the spirit of generating interest in Ogilvie's work.