Friday, December 12, 2014

The Ideology of Norms: On Macherey's Le Sujet des Normes

What does it mean to be subjected to norms, or, more to the point, to be a subject whose very existence is constituted in and through norms. This is the question of Macherey's Le Suject des Normes. While sections of this book have appeared in some form on his Philosophe au sens large website, this is a book very much unlike many of the past books on "everyday life," "the university," and "utopia." Those books were more like seminars--examinations of a central problem through a series of philosophical, literary, and sociological texts--this book is an intervention. It intervenes in a field of problems that is both old, returning Macherey to Althusser and to Marx, and contemporary, asking the fundamental question of contemporary society, of a society which has given up any grand narratives, or dominant ideology, but functions all the more efficiently through protocols and norms of action. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Paying Attention in an Age of Distraction: On Yves Citton's Pour Une Écologie de l'Attention

Yves Citton's Pour une Écologie de l'Attention is something of a companion volume to L’Économie de l’attention. Nouvel horizon du capitalisme? a book edited by Citton. Many of the essays in the latter cite the former. However, the different titles, and the question mark in the latter suggest a divergence around a central question. Both books work from the central provocation that we are living through a profound mutation in the nature of attention, never have we had so many distractions or devices soliciting our attention. What remains in question is first whether or not this transformation is best of all understood as a new economy of attention? Terms such as "paying," "cost," and "investment" regularly suggest themselves when it comes to discussing attention. Attention appears as a scarce resource and it is quite easy to speak of losses and gains when it comes to attention, as every moment spent reading tweets is not spent reading books. The more important question is whether or not attention can be understood as an economy of sorts, but whether we have entered a new phase of capitalism in which attention itself is productive of value. Metaphor meets mode of production.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Ends of Man: Cynicism and Sentiment in Nightcrawler and Interstellar

OK. I am going to make this quick. I saw two films this weekend, Nightcrawler and Interstellar,  and since I am me, many people expected me to blog about them. I am way too busy for such things, but like Louis Bloom (Tiqqun reference?) pictured above, I aim to please my fans and my own craven ego, I thought that I would try a quick post wrapping up my impressions of both films. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Rewiring Genre: On Linda Williams' On The Wire

Like many fans of The Wire I have a fantasy of re-watching the entire series from beginning until the end. It is something that I will do someday, once I can clear my schedule enough for multiple nights on end of three hours plus of watching. Until then reading something like Linda Williams’ On The Wire is perhaps the next best thing. It makes it possible to revisit the series without revisiting the trials and tribulations of binge watching.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Breaking with Breaks: Or, Reading Capital 2 Electric Boogaloo

Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval's Marx, Prénom: Karl is yet another attempt to take stock of the work of Marx. As the title suggests, this book is an attempt to get beyond the myth of Marx, the Grandeur of Marx; t it does so not through the biography of the man named Karl, but through the question of Marx's relations to its sources.  (The title is a bid odd, and I can't help but think of James Bond every time I glance at it."Marx, Karl Marx") 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Intellectual Firmament: From Censorship to Attention

First, a note about teaching. Teaching undergraduates, especially teaching introductory classes or classes that fulfill general education requirements, often leads to a strange kind of double speak in which texts that are more "teachable," more appropriate to general audiences, become the basis to address other points raised by more difficult and demanding texts.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dialectics of the Other Other Scene: On Balibar and Macherey (with apologies to Kanye)

"Last week I was in my other other Benz"--Kanye West

While I would never want to reduce the work of Etienne Balibar and Pierre Macherey to simply being that of "students of Althusser," there is a certain way in which their work continues certain themes and problems from the latter's work. This can be seen not only in the topics chosen, the studies on Marx and Spinoza, but, as I am going to examine here, with a certain reworking of the question of the dialectic.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Taking Form: Morfino and Zourbachvili Encounter Spinoza

The translation of Vittorio Morfino's Plural Temporality: Transindividuality and the Aleatory Between Spinoza and Althusser deserves to be considered an event in its own right. Morfino is not very well known in the Anglo-American world, but those who have heard him speak at the annual Historical Materialism conference in London know how important his work is. Morfino has the rather singular talent of drawing together seemingly incongruous streams of thought into relation. Morfino is not to content to remain with the apparent points of opposition, nor does he simply declare some secret unity between disparate thinkers. In one of my favorite conference presentations, I remember Morfino declaring that the presence of Spinoza in Marx's thought was nothing but a "scholarly residue," the notebooks on the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus and other references nothing more than the dutiful work of a German philosopher in the 19th century, but that this of course makes the connection between Marx and Spinoza interesting. Since the contours of this connection cannot not be found in the typical anxiety of influence, it can only be invented in connections and relations of tendencies and presuppositions. (For examples of this invention of the Marx/Spinoza encounter see Negri, Lordon, Fischbach, etc.) 

Friday, July 11, 2014

War Has Already Begun: On Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

There is by now a predictable seasonable distribution of Hollywood films. Not only are special effects blockbusters released in the summer, and awards bait prestige films released in the fall, but those seasonal divisions are further gradated to the point where every summer begins with a few contenders in May, peaks in July with the biggest explosion of effects and stars, and tapers off into a series of remakes and more dubious summer properties in August. Whereas past generations had their divisions of A and B pictures, we have May films and August films. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was one such August film, a remake/reboot of a lesser known entry of a mostly forgotten series, it managed to surprise many in actually being more interesting than one would have expected and more entertaining than one hoped.  The release of its sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the apes in July then signifies something of increased brand visibility if not increased quality.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Hijacking a Train: Revolution and its Limits in Snowpiercer

I scrupulously avoided reading any reviews of Snowpiercer once I became intrigued by the basic premise. Despite this, and not reading anything after seeing it this afternoon, I was aware, in that way we become aware of things through an almost social media osmosis, that it was quickly being heralded as a new film about the 99% and the 1%, about social inequality, and, more importantly, about revolution. In what follows I would like to explore these allegories for at least two reasons. The first, and most basic, is that the film openly invites such readings. Its particular premise, the Earth is frozen after a failed attempt to solve global warming and all of the survivors are left stranded on globe circling train, is so thin in terms of any pretense at credibility, and so packed with allusions and images, I am not sure it is even possible to watch it as "just a movie." Second, and more importantly I am interested in what it means to make or interpret a film as allegory of the present, recognizing of course that the line between making and interpreting can never be rigidly defined. (Spoilers follow)

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Men without Qualities: Spinoza, Marx, Balibar and Philosophical Anthropology

This post is an attempt to draw together two different philosophical precursors to Balibar's philosophical anthropology. That Spinoza and Marx are the precursors in question is news to no one, at least no one familiar with Balibar's work, and yet the particular way they intersect, extend, or complicate each other is often unexamined. Examining them will help develop both the promise and limits of Balibar's philosophical anthropology, as well as set it apart from other philosophical anthopologies after the death of man.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Workers without Work: Vonnegut's Player Piano and the Fragment on Machines

In a great little text on the "Fragment on Machines" Paolo Virno makes a comparison between Marx's text and the versus of scripture cited by heroes in Westerns. As Virno states, these scripture verses were cited in such a way that they always seemed appropriate, their meaning shifting with every context. (A more contemporary example of this situational hermeneutic can be found in Pulp Fiction in the scene in which Jules reconsiders his particular scriptural fragment.) As Virno argues the "Fragment on Machines" has been used to develop various theoretical positions, from a critique of the supposed neutrality of scientific knowledge, to the "end of work," only to become, through Virno's work and others, a foundational text in formulating the "general intellect" as a productive force and basis for a new collective subjectivity. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Subjectification, Individuation, and Politics: On Bernard Aspe's Simondon, Politique du Transindividuel

I am going to refrain from beginning this review by pointing out the similarities between Aspe's Simondon, Politique du transindividuel and the manuscript I am currently finishing. Suffice to say I am glad that this book was published towards the end of working on the book, when the differences between my perspective and his can only refine the conclusion and revisions, and not at the beginning of conceiving of the project, when its very existence would put the whole thing into jeopardy. Reading the book can thus be considered an example of the standard practice of transindividuation--the simultaneous constitution of a group of people interested in the same sets of questions and thinkers and of a unique perspective on those questions.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Books are from Mars, Movies are from Venus: Anthropological Difference in Under the Skin (the book and movie)

A few weeks ago I saw the film Under the Skin, a film that was better than I expected. The film unnerved me in a way that made it difficult to forget. The film is minimalist in dialogue, evocative in its use of images, and ambivalent in its overall meaning. Its basic plot concerns what is ostensibly an alien in human form (played by Scarlett Johansson), who travels around the Scottish countryside picking up men and…eating them? It really is unclear in all of the details of this alien on earth, there is no voiceover exposition, no scientist who figures it all out, just a series of scenes of uneasy seduction.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Affective Economy: Producing and Consuming Affects in Deleuze and Guattari

Erasmus University Rotterdam

The thought of Gilles Deleuze (and Félix Guattari) bears on ambiguous relation with respect to the “affective turn” in social and political thought that it supposedly helped initiate. This ambiguity touches on the very role and meaning of affects. From Deleuze’s writings on Nietzsche and Spinoza through the collaborations of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuze and Guattari insist on the central role of the affects, joy, sadness, fear, and hope, as structuring individual and collective life. In that sense, Deleuze and Guattari are rightfully hailed as central figures in a turn towards affect. However, if, as some argue, the “affective turn” is a turn towards the lived over the structural and the intimate over the public, then Deleuze and Guattari’s thought has a much more complex relation to affects. The broader polemical target of Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, beyond the specific polemics with psychoanalysis, is any explanatory theory that would reduce social relations to expressions of individual passions and desires. Deleuze and Guattari’s claim that there is only “the desire and the social, and nothing else” is oriented against such individualistic accounts of subjectivity. Moreover, Deleuze and Guattari define capitalism as a socius that it reproduces itself in and through the encounter of abstract quantities of money and labor power, and as such is  is indifferent to the beliefs, feelings, and meaning that we attach to it. Thus, if affect is central to Deleuze and Guattari’s thought it is necessary to add the caveats that affect must be thought of as anti-individualistic, as social rather than intimate, and as impersonal, reflecting the abstractions that dominant life. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Abstract Materialism: Sohn-Rethel and the Task of a Materialist Philosophy Today

This is the longer version of an old conference paper. It never quite became publishable; it is left here to the gnawing criticism of digital mice.

Materialism has always been the bastard stepson of philosophy. Its very position is paradoxical, if not impossible. It must use concepts and arguments to conceptualize and argue against the primacy of concepts and argument. This perennial problem is even worse today. If Marx was in some sense the most sophisticated materialist philosopher, elevating the material beyond the brute materiality of the body, to locate the material in the reality of production and the conflicted terrain of social relations, then one could argue that even this version of materialism is in jeopardy today. The economy, the last instance of materialist philosophy after Marx, can no longer be identified with the machines and noise of the factory, it has become digital, immaterial. What then remains of materialism when the economy has become ideal, determined more and more by the idealist category par excellence, speculation, and even labor has been declared immaterial, intersecting with beliefs and desires? At least the beginning of a response can be found in the seemingly paradoxical concept of “real abstraction.” This term, introduced by Marx, takes on a central importance in the work of Alfred Sohn-Rethel, where it is no longer a methodological necessity, but the cornerstone of a philosophy that seeks to understand the material basis of abstraction itself.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Affect and/or Emotions: Differentiation or Dialectic

Theories of affect tend to articulate the term affect in relation to some idea of emotion. Perhaps the locus classicus of this distinction is to be found in Brian Massumi's work on affect. As Massumi writes,

"An emotion is a subjective content, the sociolinguistic fixing of the quality of an experience, which is from that point onward defined as personal. Emotion is qualified intensity, the conventional consensual point of insertion of into intensity into semantically and semiotically formed progressions, into narrativizable action-reaction circuits, into function and meaning. It is owned and recognized. It is crucial to theorize the difference between affect and emotion."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Life During Wartime: Remarks on The Americans

I was initially surprised to learn that FX had developed a show about KGB sleeper agents, more so when I learned it is something of a hit. In retrospect I should not have been so surprised; the anti-hero had become such a staple of "long form television" that KGB agents are no more surprising subjects for a show than mobsters, bootleggers, advertising executives, serial killers, and drug kingpins. KGB agents could be considered to be yet another variant of the popular sociopath. Thus, a show about KGB agents does not suggest some kind of immediate revision of cold war history and propaganda, but it does revisit a period of recent history.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Utopia Now: on Pierre Macherey's De L'Utopie!

Pierre Macherey’s De L’Utopie! follows a pattern similar to his other books that have come out of his "philosophie au sense large" seminars. As with other seminars, what is stake is the tracing of a concept or idea, that of the university, the quotidian, or, in this case, utopia, is less a matter of producing a definitive interpretation of the concept in question than it is of exploring the idea in its essential errancy and historicity. Whereas Macherey’s other books included in their trajectory a survey of philosophical, sociological or psychological works, and literature, De L’Utopia is concerned with that particular genre of writing that defines utopia. Although Macherey does consider various theories of utopia, and includes an appendix on Brecht’s opera the Rise and Fall of the City of Mahoganny, his primary concern is the particular form of writing that defines utopia. There is no need to contrast philosophical theories and literary texts because this tension of the philosophical, or sociological, and the literary is internal to utopian writing itself. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

We Can Remake Him: Robocop Redux

It seems fair to begin this review with a confession as to why I love the original Robocop. It has as much to do with how I saw it as with its satirical take on corporations and American politics. I snuck in, or, more precisely, my father snuck my brother and I in. We were on vacation in Maine for the summer and one rainy day forced us to see a movie (Although I must confess the rainy day movies were as much a highlight of summer vacations growing up as hikes and rafting trips). We picked the godawful Jaws: The Revenge and just as we were walking out, the sounds of a shark that roared still ringing in our ears, my father turned to my brother and I, whispered "they owe us," and escorted us into another screen in the multiplex. This always struck me as appropriate: Robocop snuck its satire into a sci-fi action premise, and we snuck into see it. 

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Divisions: Theorizations and Repudiations of the Division of Mental and Manual Labor

If there was a column listing the what is hot and what is not of contemporary Marxism (and why shouldn't there be?), then the division of mental and manual labor would definitely be in the "not" column. There are multiple reasons for this not the least of which is that the division, especially as it was developed into "the separation of execution from conception," was identified with the factories of Taylorism and Fordism. The separation of mental and manual labor was something that our age, an age of "immaterial labor" or "cognitive capitalism" was supposed to have surpassed.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Commonalities: On Gilbert's Common Ground

Full disclosure: I met Jeremy Gilbert at a Deleuze conference in Wales in the summer of 2008. He gave an interesting paper on Deleuze, Guattari, and Gramsci and I ended up talking to him at pub. The conversation was one of shared interests that went beyond Deleuze, it was a Deleuze conference after all, to include Simondon, transindividuality, and the broader problem of reimagining collectivity in individualistic (and individuated) times. As anyone in academia knows, the experience of meeting someone with shared interest is often ambivalent. There is the joy of finding someone to talk to, of feeling less alone in the wilds of academia, coupled with the sadness of feeling less original, less insightful. The latter feeling is of course intensified by a publishing culture that is predicated less on collective projects and more on developing a highly individuated name for oneself. In the years since then, as our projects progressed (his made it toprint first) we joked about constituting a new school of thought, Transindividual Ontology and Politics (TOP)?

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

What Does the University Say? On Macherey's La Parole Universitaire

The fundamental structure of Macherey’s book on the university is familiar to readers of his recent publications on “everyday life” and utopia, as well as anyone who has followed his website “Philosophe au sense large.” As with those works (and courses) a central idea or problem, in this case the idea of the university, is subject to a broad thematic investigation that encompasses philosophy (Kant, Hegel, Heidegger), sociology and psychoanalysis (Bourdieu and Lacan), and literature (Rabelais, Hardy, Nabokov). This is “philosophy in the largest” sense, to borrow the name of Macherey’s course; the different registers and disciplines and knowledge problematize and negate each other as much as they expand upon the central topic.