Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Politics of Transindividuality: Some Preliminary Remarks on Citton's Renverser l'insoutenable

The revival of interest in Simondon's term transindividuality to thematize social relations has raised the question of what a politics of transindividuality would mean, or what the very concept of transindividuality offers for politics. As Alberto Toscano argues, this question has as its basis the lack of any real political dimension to Simondon's thought. Despite this lack, or maybe because of it, much of the contemporary revival of Simondon in such thinkers as Stiegler, Virno, Balibar, and Citton, is political, or social-political in orientation. That last qualification is important, because it is my contention  that what is at stake in Simondon's concept of transindividuality is not just a rethinking of "the political" (do we really need another?) but a rethinking of the relation between politics and economy.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Insiders and Outsiders: Season Three of Treme

Season Three of Treme is perhaps the season in which the show final came into its own, developing its own particular narrative structure. Sadly it will also be the last full season of the show. Comparisons with The Wire are still unavoidable, but at least at this point they suggest a real difference--a different idea--and not just the relation of lauded original to failed copy. David Simon initially suggested that the difference between these shows was one of positive and negative. As Simon states, Treme is in part an argument for the city.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Towards a Spinozist Critique of Political Economy

The encounter between Marx and Spinoza that ran through late twentieth century Marxist thought was primarily organized around three axes. The first, or at least most well known, is Althusser's use of Spinoza's critique of teleology, anthropomorphism, and anthropocentricism to develop the matrix of every possible theory of ideology, effectively shifting ideology from a critique of this or that content of thought to its fundamental orientation, The second, at least in terms of notoriety, is Negri's expansion of living labor into constitutive power through Spinoza's concept of the conatus. Spinoza makes it possible to see the productive labor underlying every institution and imaginary representation, becoming adequate to the age of real subsumption. A third direction could be represented by Alexandre Matheron who develops both a Spinozist account of social relations, a transindividuality avant la lettre, and an expanded definition of alienation. This set of labels is admittedly reductive, but it has the sole merit of underscoring the fact that much of the Marxist engagement with Spinoza has been on the terrain of politics or ideology rather than economy.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Negative Prefiguration: Flexibility, Capitalism, Imagination

During my last few years of High School I worked at coffee shop, part time during the school year and full time during the summers. This job continued through the first few summers of college. My shifts were eight hours, from either six in the morning or three in the afternoon, with two fifteen minute breaks, and a half-hour lunch break. These shifts had the usual peaks and lulls that defined the food industry, mornings would begin with a rush of office workers ordering coffee and bran muffins and evenings would begin with people ordering coffee and desert before dissipating into a crowd of those too young to frequent bars as well as the late night writers, scribblers, and mumblers. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Screening Responsibility: On Compliance

If you have heard about Compliance, you have probably heard one or more of three things about it, that it is based on a true story, that it covers the same issues of authority and obedience that were explored in the famous Milgram experiments, and that the film provoked people to walk out of its Sundance premiere. These three facts triangulate in particular ways, and some might argue that the first two explain, or ameliorate, the third. This is especially true of the claim “Based on True Events," which flashes in bold letters during the opening credits. Veracity functions as an alibi. Horrible things can be shown because they are true. 

Monday, October 08, 2012

Our Nature is to Change Our Nature: Bertrand Ogilvie and Political Anthropology

"Nature and education are somewhat similar. The latter transforms man, and in so doing creates a second nature." Democritus

The idea of “second nature” is one of the longest standing philosophemes in the history of philosophy. Its origin can be traced to Democritus’ writing on education and habit and from that point onward it appears quite frequently in the history of philosophy, reappearing in the a long history of thinkers that includes Aristotle, Pascal, and Hegel. Given that the theme often asserts both a default, a lack of instinctual determination, and an excess, the possibility of constituting memory and habits, it is possible to argue that “second nature” is the concept of the human underlying any humanism. As longstanding as the concept is, however, it often functions as that which is implicit in a discussion of habit or memory, rather than an explicit theme. The philosopheme names and enacts a relation between excess and default. Bertrand Ogilvie has broken this trend, placing the concept front and center in his new book, La Second Nature du Politique: essai d’anthropologie négative. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

After the Future(s): On Looper

"The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language."--Karl Marx

"Time travel has not yet been invented. But thirty years from now, it will have been," is the opening narration that sets up Rian Johnson's Looper. The movie is set in 2044, a time before the invention of time travel but after its effects. It is a movie with two futures, neither particularly good. Time travel, it appears, was no sooner invented than it was outlawed. It is only used by criminal syndicates some thirty years in the (second) future, where it is apparently easier to send a man back in time than it is dispose of a body. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

"Be More Productive": Marx, Foucault, Macherey

Crappy image of a Foucault Loves Marx T-Shirt

"La nécessité dans la liberté : c’est la grande invention du capitalisme." Pierre Macherey

The good folks at Viewpoint have published a (new) translation of Michel Foucault's "Les Mailles du Pouvoir." This was originally a lecture that Foucault gave in Salvador, Brazil. It was published in Dits et Écrits, but was not included in the truncated Essential Works of Michel Foucault, a collection which is less an abridged version of the comprehensive French collection than it is a repackaging of Foucault's already published works. Unfortunately, "Essential" is less a descriptive term than it is a performative one, and this collection will probably be the official word on Foucault's writing. Which is too bad, the "Mesh of Power" (to use the name of the translation) is one of those texts that, to borrow a phrase from Foucault, would have saved many of us a lot of time. By "us" I mean those that were interested in the relation between Marx and Foucault.

Friday, September 07, 2012

The Previous Post Continued: Parting Thoughts on Breaking Bad's Fifth Season

In Book Two of  the Politics Aristotle famously criticizes those who pursue wealth without limit, those who fail to understand that wealth acquisition should be subordinated to household management. Much of the discussion on this passage focuses on the distinction between "proper" and "improper" use as precursors of use value and exchange value. The proper use of a shoe being wearing it and the improper use being its exchange. Those who pursue wealth, who endlessly accumulate, forget that the proper use of money is a means of exchange, not accumulation.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Be Your Own Boss: Breaking Bad and the Entrepreneur

The arc of Breaking Bad has been described by its creator, Vince Gilligan as going from "Mr. Chips to Scarface" as Walter White, the show's central character, makes the transition from high school chemistry teacher to drug kingpin. This probably best describes the show in a nutshell, and I would say that even at that the level the show is fairly innovative. Repetition defines television, and crafting a show in which the protagonist becomes a villain is a provocative experiment, flying in the face of conventional wisdom which sees any deviation from a show's initial premise as "jumping the shark." However, I think that show becomes even more interesting if you scratch beneath the surface, and see how much it has to do with work and the ideal of liberating oneself from work through the fantasy of being an entrepreneur. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Is it Simple to be a Philosopher in Marxism?

In nineteen seventy-five Louis Althusser presented one of his best, and underrated essays, titled “Est-il simple d’étre marxiste en philosophie?” Intended as part of his Doctorat d’ État, and thus functioning as a summary of much of his writing up until that date, the essay outlined the conflict between the demands of philosophy and Marxism. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Endless Mutation: Reboots and Sequels

All illustrations of this post from 4 Color Process. 

This review begins with a thesis, which is not a hypothesis since it is not my intent to test it but to apply it. The theses is as follows: cinematic reboots are the screening of the relation between the forces and relations of production. At the level of forces there is the ceaselessly revolutionizing technology of special effects, which date everything instantly, justifying a new reboot every few years. However, this technological upgrade can only be successful, can only become a film, if it manages to capture some shift in the political and cultural climate, therelations of production.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Strong Interpretation: Citton’s L’Avenir des Humanités

It is perhaps a matter of common knowledge that the humanities, philosophy, literature, classics, art history, as well as history and the “soft” social sciences, are under attack. This attack is generally framed in terms of the general logic of austerity, which views the idea of any education that is not directly and immediately job preparation, as something which we as a society could afford once but can afford no more. The humanities are seen as luxuries of more opulent times, a claim that may surprise anyone who has actually worked in the humanities. Against this brutal logic of austerity, which also views retirement benefits and dental plans as “luxuries,” there have attempts to defend the humanities. These defenses generally take two forms: some accept the premise that argues that higher education is job preparation, arguing for the marketable nature of the core skills of the humanities, such as critical reading, writing, and thinking; while a second set of arguments rejects the premise of marketability, arguing instead that higher education has lofty goals than just preparing workers. Critical reading and writing train political subjects, the citizens rather than employees of tomorrow.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Corporate Imaginations: In Praise of Weyland-Yutani

The films Alien, Aliens, Bladerunner, Terminator, They Live and Robocop were, in varying degrees, all formative films for me. This is in part their timing, all of the films were produced and released in the late 70s and 80s, and readily available in the decade of the VHS player. They are the films of my adolescence and thus helped me transition from my youthful love of robots and Star Wars into more sophisticated ideas of what science fiction was capable of. These films were gateway drugs to Philip K Dick and Frederick Pohl (and, much later, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ken Macleod, and China Mieville). In some sense this period was a kind of renaissance of sci-fi film, situated between the rise of special effects and the decline of the globalized film into sequels, prequels, and remakes, and I was at the perfect age to enjoy it. Beyond timing, these films all have one thing in common, they all deal with the corporation as something of an antagonist Weyland-Yutani, The Tyrell Corporation, Cyberdine Systems, and Omni Consumer Corp are as much the villains as the aliens, androids, and robots. My enjoyment of them was also a shift in my understanding of the world. They were my transition from evil empires to exploitation, from Star Wars to class war. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Centaurs and Bloodworms: Multitude and Nature in del Lucchese and Sharp’s Studies of Spinoza

We must be living in a renaissance of Spinoza studies. The “dead dog” of past generations has becoming a thriving pack. I refer not just to the often cited studies of Matheron, Macherey, Negri, Balibar, and Morfino, but the new books that appear every year. What does this turn to Spinoza mean for philosophy? Or, what does it mean to be a Spinozist today? I ask this question to interrupt the unstated stakes of nearly interpretation of a philosophy, which is often nothing other than a battle for “intellectual hegemony.” This battle takes two forms: first, one argues for the superiority of a specific philosopher, Spinoza, Hegel, Heidegger, or whoever, then one argues as to why their particular interpretation of the philosopher in question is the correct one. It is game with diminishing returns, one might gain a few new acolytes but the audience gets smaller and smaller. Despite the diminishing returns, this remains the primary business model for philosophical work.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Sing Me Spanish Techno: Spinoza and Stiegler on the Politics and Semiotics of Disindividuation

Spinoza and Stiegler are both transindividual thinkers. In the first case this is avant la lettre, Spinoza innovative conceptualization of desire, affects, and individuation preceded Simondon’s particular conceptual neologism. In contrast to this, Stiegler announces his debt to Simondon’s concept on practically every page, transindividuality remains a central conceptual point of theoretical reference, remaining constant in the readings of Husserl, Heidegger, Freud, and Leroi-Gourhan.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Avenge Me: The Avengers and the Culture Industry

I did not think that I was going to write anything about The Avengers. This is partly because I am too busy writing, book writing, to really do much blogging, but also because I did not think anything of it. I enjoyed, but I did so in a kind of moment of absolute regression. The Hulk smashed things, Thor wielded his hammer, humorous quips were uttered, and things went boom. To quote Adorno, "It is no coincidence that cynical American film producers are heard to say that their pictures must take into consideration the level of eleven-year-olds. In doing so they would very much like to make adults into eleven-year-olds." On that level the film succeeded, I felt exactly like I did leafing through marvel comics at Comics Closet or reading comics in the back of the bus with Chip Carter. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Revolution in Theory/Theorizing Revolution: On Hardt and Negri's Declaration

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Image from Artnet

It is easy to imagine Hardt and Negri's Declaration as something like a revolution in terms of at least the form and content of its publication. In terms of form, it is a self-published text, appearing first on Kindle, then on Jacobin, all of which should be followed by a pamphlet (and no doubt multiple pirated versions on scribd and other sites). Two things can be said about this format. First, it is something of a reversal of the event that was Empire, in which Antonio Negri co-published a book with Harvard Press, bringing autonomia into the mainstream. Over ten years ago it was an event that one of the most notorious figures of the Italian left was publishing with the bastion of academic respectably: now it is a matter of two of the biggest names on the left publishing on their own. However, it is still a publication; as cheap as the 99¢ price is, it is still a price. The ebook/pamphlet is copyrighted. That it is a work arguing for the common appears under the rules of private property is a point that has already generated some criticism. This transformation of format is matched at the level of content, Declaration opens with a declaration that it is not a manifesto. Once again, this is a point of distinction with Empire, which was hailed or lambasted as the new "communist manifesto." The difference here is not one of analysis, but of the changing social and political terrain. As Hardt and Negri write, "Today’s social movements have reversed the order, making manifestos and prophets obsolete." Declaration reflects, albeit in a somewhat distorted way, some of the shifts in theoretical production provoked by the series of struggles from Arab Spring to OWS, namely the shift from books to websites and pamphlets.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Kampus Life: The University in the Age of Austerity and Neoliberalism

Once, years ago, I happened to read a science fiction novel called Kampus by James Gunn. I am not sure why, other than the fact that I used to read a lot of science fiction. I probably picked it up at a used bookstore, enticed by the cover. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

After Alienation: Activity and Passivity in Work and Consumption

Debates about alienation with respect to Marx tend to focus on its philosophical underpinning, its humanism and essentialism. This is perhaps due to the immense influence of Althusser. Philosophically Althusser was right in turning our attention away from the half worked out notebooks on alienation, burdened by various anxieties of influence, and towards Capital, towards exploitation and the value form. However, their is an affective dimension to alienation as well, and part of its appeal, its long history in the works of the Frankfurt School, existentialism, punk rock and comic books, has to do with the way it captured a particular sensibility, a particular structure of feeling. This particular feeling appears to have been on the wane for quite sometime.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Meta-Fiction: The Comic Book (Politics and Narrative, Part Two)

Lets begin with a story, I decided to read Yves Citton's Mythocratie because I was interested in his reading of Spinoza that I encountered in other contexts. It just so happened that soon after I wrote the blog post on that book I also received a copy of Christian Salmon's Storytelling: Bewitching the Modern Mind which Citton cites (actually two copies, but that is another story). As the title suggests, Salmon's book is also about narrative as a tool for marketing, management, and politics. At this time I also started reading Mike Carey and Peter Gross' The Unwritten series based on a recommendation from my local comics shop, which also deals with the stories and their power. Narrative is not something that I am "working on," Spinoza, or post-Spinozist understandings of transindividuality are, but one thread led to another, and ended up intersecting with my reading of comics, something I rarely blog about (no one can confess everything). These two errant threads began to connect in something that suggested more than serendipity when the latest collected volume of The Unwritten was titled "On to Genesis," a pun that would seem to invoke Simondon's ontogenesis. So as my work and entertainment intersected I decided to make a "busman's holiday" of it and write about The Unwritten.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Owls at Dawn: Hegel, Weeks, and the Problem with Work

Hegel famously proclaimed that the owl of Minerva flies at dusk, that an age could only be comprehended in thought as it fades. Any attempt to extract predictions or descriptions of the present from his writing seems doomed from the beginning. However, Hegel’s Philosophy of Right offers an account of the contradiction of work that would seem to contain a kernel of the present. This contradiction comes to light in any attempt to resolve the problem of the rabble, of those who have lost their jobs to the perfection of the division of labor.  The rabble have not only lost their income but their social standing. As Hegel writes: 

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Starting from Year Zero: Occupy Wall Street and the Transformations of the Socio-Political

Day and Night, by Occuprint

To consider what Occupy Wall Street has to do with philosophy, to Occupy Philosophy, is already to depart from one of the longstanding dictums of the relationship between philosophy and political invents. I am thinking of Hegel, who as much as he argued that philosophy is its own time comprehended in thought, also famously argued that philosophy can only comprehend its own time retrospectively, can only paint grey on grey once the ink has dried. Occupy, or OWS to use a preferred moniker, preferred not because it ties the movement to the hashtag, making it one of the many instances of the supposed twitter revolutions, but because it abstracts the movement from a specific place making it a general political transformation and not a specific occupation, is very much an active movement. Any statement about it, about its ultimate meaning, possibility, or limitations, must confront the fact that it is still in the process of shaping and forming.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Finite Dialectics: Hegel in Balibar's Citoyen Sujet

As I have noted elsewhere, Balibar includes Hegel in his list of transindividual thinkers, but as such he is something of an exception to the list that also encompasses Spinoza, Marx, and Freud. The latter three are foundational to Balibar’s project, appearing as early as Lire le Capital, albeit some between the lines, and have been the subject of books and essays. Hegel has always been an outlier in this sequence, the enemy of Althusser’s early project and only occasionally showing up in later works. This has changed a bit as of late. 

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Futures Past: Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol and Hugo

Two quick capsule reviews/analyses:

The Mission: Impossible films come closest to realizing the ideal of a film franchise. They are barely sequels, with minimal narrative threads connecting them, and cannot even be considered remakes or reboots. They are the same basic formula, international intrigue and high tech gadgetry, offered to a series of different directors, DePalma, Woo, Abrams, and now Bird, who become regional managers, adding their own panache and style to the central brand.