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. 

Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Use and Abuse of Alienation for Life: A few Remarks on Marx

I give twitter credit for making this joke, 
but if you ask me the movie did not do enough with this great title

What follows are a few reflections on "alienation" drawn in part from a paper I presented at Wabash College last Spring in a virtual campus visit.  Posted as a response to the current debate about the concept online. 

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.