Friday, March 17, 2023

Between Micro-Politics and Mute Compulsion: Reflections on a Problem


Detail of Rapture by Jon Read

Since it was published I have taught Kathi Weeks' book The Problem with Work in my Politics and Philosophy of work class. When I introduce the book, stressing that it is written by a political theorist and not, as in the case of many of our readings, by a philosopher, sociologist or historian, I ask the two questions that Weeks asks: namely, why should a political theory consider work? why does work seem to be outside of politics? What I am trying to provoke with these questions is a particular aporia in which work is for many people the central experience of power, authority, control and subjection, but because it is seen as private and natural it is seen as outside of politics, as apolitical. I remember very well a student responding to the second part of the question by saying that work was not political because "no one made you do it." At first I found this formulation strange given all of the ramifications and consequences of not working from homelessness to starvation, but the more I thought about his response the more it made its own particular sense. The compulsion to work, to sell one's labor power, was in some sense mute, unspoken, there was no particular agency or institution in society demanding it, and there was no particular institution or agency in society enforcing it--in part because it is diffuse spread throughout society. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Translating Transclass: Or Teaching Eribon in America

Since this is a post about class, family, and returns
I thought that I would illustrate it with pictures illustrating
the fact that I now live in the same neighborhood my mother lived in, 
but the neighborhood has changed except this old fishing/gun store


I have often considered teaching to be a kind of translation and not just because much of the history of philosophy is written in different languages. Part of what one does in teaching is try to take the questions and concerns of a different time and figure out some way to bridge that gap, while at the same time being faithful to its original sense and meaning (just like translation). These thoughts occurred to me again when I decided to teach Didier Eribon's Returning to Reims.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Team Transindividuality: on Vittorio Morfino and Bernard Aspe


Jeremy Gilbert and I sometimes joke about TOP, the Transindividual Oriented Philosophy. The reference is obviously to the phenomenon of OOO (Object Oriented Ontology) in the early part of the millennium. As much as our joke has to do with sort of doctrinaire and polemical way the former arrived on the scene and our lack of interest in any such thing. (I should say in a parenthetical that is way too late, one of the things that always troubled me about OOO is that it emerged and thrived on blogs, but blogs with their intersection of the social and the technological seemed the last thing that the last thing that the crowd wanted to think about. Part of what makes me irredeemably a historical materialist is that I think the question of understanding where one is thinking from is paramount even if a bit quixotic--one can never see the ground that one speaks from). Despite this joke transindividuality, at least in terms of contemporary writers who use the concept, less a school of thought than a series of intersecting critiques and articulations. Or, if one wanted to be clever about it, the collection of writers who work on transindividuality are all part of a general orientation that is individuated differently in each of their specif philosophical articulations. I would say more about this but I feel like this is something that I tried to say with the examination of Balibar, Stiegler, and Virno in The Politics of Transindividuality.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Go West, Young Man: A Lingering Postscript on Nope


I was invited to write a piece for the APA's blog about film. I decided to write about Nope a movie that has become one of my favorites of the year. I am generally pleased by how the piece came out. In the piece I generally viewed the film through the way in which it is framed in relation to the science fiction film. I think that one of the way in which the film addresses the dominance of the spectacle is that both the characters in the film as well as the audience views the film from the perspective of the "first contact" film. Of course the film subverts these expectations, illustrating that what we see and understand is itself already dominated by the dead images that overwhelm our vision. We see a silver disc as a flying saucer and expect it to be filled with "viewers' because so many films have taught us to see things that way. That the film ultimately forces us to confront the limitation of that way of seeing suggests that this film is in some sense about unlearning what the spectacle teaches us to see. 

Sunday, January 08, 2023

The Imaginary Institution of Society: Spinoza's Version

When I was in graduate school "the imaginary" was one of those words that circulated all the more often because it was untethered to any specific theoretical source. It borrowed bits from Lacan and bits from Castoriadis to suggest some historically specific articulation of the very capacity to imagine. There were multiple imaginaries, political, social, technical etc., As someone who was getting interested in Spinoza at the time I tried to connect his writing on the imagination with this idea to no avail.

Friday, December 23, 2022

The Spontaneous Ideology of Conspiracy: This One on Marx


Sometime awhile ago I came up with the idea of doing a trilogy of posts on conspiracy theory, or modern conspiracy thought, read through Spinoza, Hegel, and Marx. I am not exactly sure why the idea appealed to me, in part because I increasingly consider Spinoza, Hegel, and Marx to be the cornerstones of my philosophical thought, even if these cornerstones come through the mediations of Tosel, Jameson, and Althusser (to name a few), but in this case, more specifically it seemed worth asking what would three critics of the mystifications of their day make of our modern mystifications.

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

A Translation Exercise: The Marxists Uses of Spinoza: Lessons of Method by André Tosel


As a bit of an experiment, coupling my interest in André Tosel and my work on translation, I have decided to try my hand at a few translations of the former when I get the time. These are totally unauthorized, and rough drafts posted for edification and entertainment purposes only. I started on this piece because it is short, and because it works on an area that I need to learn more about, the history of Marxist-Spinozism before Matheron or Althusser. However, the more I worked on this piece, the more I thought that this split between Plekhanov and Labriola, still exists, in the divide between neo-enlightenment Spinozists and what some might call post-modern, but I prefer to call Marxist Spinozists. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Strange Bedfellows: On Vaysse's Totalité et Finitude: Spinoza et Heidegger


Translation is the closest that I have ever come to demonic possession. Let me explain, I used to think that there were books I read, books I wrote about, and books I taught, each category representing a deeper level of familiarity, even intimacy to the point where it is harder and harder to tell where the book's thoughts end and my thoughts begin. Translation, however, is on a whole different level. It is thinking someone else's thoughts. 

Friday, October 28, 2022

We Have Met the Barbarians and they are...: On Barbarian


Every mention of the film Barbarian carries with it the warning to not spoil anything, to experience it completely ignorant so as to be best frightened by its particular twists and turns. [Fair Warning: I will spoil everything here] For that reason it is not entirely clear if the title refers to anything. It could just be a vaguely menacing word. Many horror movies from the last few years seem to take their title from a series of such words, Insidious, Malignant, Terrifier, as if someone was just looking up “evil” or “scary” in a thesaurus. The opening scenes of the film, however, suggest that this title is not just a vaguely scary word, after all, it would be an odd choice suggesting that the we are running out of synonyms for scary, but that the film is very much about what it means to be a barbarian and what it means to be civilized.