Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Economism These Days: On Kids These Days

I started reading Malcolm Harris' Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of  Millennials in probably the ideal location and context. I was visiting my mother at a retirement community in Florida for Christmas. I was reading it by the pool when I actually overheard someone go on about "kids today" and their phones and video games. The general worry about the current generation was all around me. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Small Concept: On Downsizing

Matt Damon has the odd distinction of staring in two science fiction dystopias, one bleak action movie the other farce, that are absolutely confused on the role of work and capitalism. The first was Elysium and the most recent is Downsizing. The confusion is not just a product of the director or screenwriter's particular confusion, but is in some sense symptomatic of a more general ideological elision in which capitalism is lived but never named, or, more to the point, never named because it is lived--just like the proverbial fish in water. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Immanent Cause: Between Reproduction and Nonreproduction

Presented in Santiago, Chile 

Of all the various provocations in Lire le Capital there is perhaps none more provocative than structural causality. In this case the provocation can be measured in this case in the gap between the implications of the concept, its effects on social relations, subjectivity, and history, and its formulation, which is provisional and partial—mutilated as Spinoza might say. Structural or metonymic causality posits that the economy and society, base and superstructure, is neither a linear transitive cause, nor a relation of expression, but a cause which only exists in and through its effects. Or, put otherwise, the effects of the economy in the spheres of ideology must be thought of as causes as much as effects, as conditions of its reproduction. Framed in this way the concept of “structural (or immanent) causality” is not just a concept limited to its appearance in Lire le Capital, but it becomes integral to Althusser’s later examination of ideology and reproduction. Reproduction is the necessary condition for seeing ideology as not just an effect of economic structures but their necessary precondition. Reproduction is another way of viewing the immanent nature of the mode of production, how its effects in the sphere of subjectivity and social relations, become necessary conditions.  Althusser’s writing shows a different trajectory, not only did reproduction become the specific theme of Sur la Reproduction, but the manuscripts on “aleatory materialism” also return to reproduction, thinking necessity from contingency, as the becoming necessary of the encounter. It is a matter of thinking the coexistence of reproduction and non-reproduction, which is to say class struggle, without resorting to a voluntarist conception of political action. Non-reproduction must be as immanent as reproduction, the conditions of the unraveling of a given mode of production must be as integral to it as its perpetuation. It is this trajectory which has been taken up by subsequent readers of not only Althusser, but of Spinoza and Marx as well. 

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Conscienta Sive ideologia: The Spontaneity of Ideology

A Bento/Marx image

In Des Universels Etienne Balibar writes, “Conscientia sive ideologia” (Consciousness, that is ideology). Balibar’s formulation is applied to Marx, specifically to the theorization of ideology from The German Ideology, but its word brings to mind Spinoza’s famous Deus sive natura, his strategy of the sive in which philosophical oppositions are overcome with the assertion of their fundamentally interchangeability. It is at once a Spinozist injoke and a provocation, the strategy of the “sive” does not just identify two terms, but opens the question of their identity and difference. Between the joke and the provocation is of course Louis Althusser, not just because Althusser was both a Spinozist and a Marxist, but because Althusser’s various formulations of ideology, formulations indebted to both Spinoza and Marx, continually thought ideology in both its spontaneity and its universality, seeing it as coexistent experience and consciousness. Such an assertion, as with all strategies of the sive, raises as many difficulties and questions as it resolves. These questions hinge on the way in which the concept of ideology is caught between universality and specificity, structural condition and particular content, or, ultimately, between necessity and contingency, an integral element of experience or a particular effect of a given social formation. The closer ideology gets to being coextensive with consciousness, the more it loses its socio-historical specificity, becoming something like a constitutive error, or antinomy of thought. The extension on the epistemic register is not without its effects on politics, if ideology is coextensive with consciousness, than what possibilities are there for radical critique and change? The opposite pole is no less fraught with difficulties, ideologies considered in terms of its specific content and concepts, as bourgeois, capitalist, or neoliberal, raises the question of its conditions of production and dissemination, at worst collapsing into a kind a conspiracy. Ideology is caught between the poles of necessity and contingency, form and content, and structure and history. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Macabre Goes Mainstream: A Halloween Story

I will begin with the personal story. At some point in my awkward adolescent years when I was too old to trick or treat yet not yet old enough to do anything else on Halloween I was left with the responsibility of giving out candy. Left alone and somewhat bored I decided to make it fun. In between rings of the doorbell I gathered up an old "Creature from the Black Lagoon" mask and my "Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House." The record supplied atmosphere and then I would jump out from behind the door. As the night went on I became more creative, leaving a hatchet covered in ketchup in view of the door, placing an iron black cat doorstop in the window, and so on. My brother soon came home and found scaring kids to be way more fun than going door to door getting candy.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Scenes of Violence: Between Ultraobjective and Ultrasubjective Forms of Violence

How to make sense of the daily brutality that seems to surround us? Balibar's Violence and Civility can be seen as offering a sort of solution to this problem. Balibar's solution is framed in terms of three moves. First, he dubs inconvertible violence cruelty, the name suggests an excess, or in Balibar's terms inconvertible form of violence; it is violence that cannot be placed on any trajectory of progress, even the cunning of reason. Second, cruelty is differentiated in terms of ultraobjective violence, the violence of populations that are exposed to natural disasters, wars, or the effects of the market. This is violence without a face or name.  Ultraobjective is contrasted to the cruelty of ultrasubjective violence, violence that is not only intended, with a face and name, but often is aimed a particular group. Third, and this is the most important point, there is the question of the relation between these two forms of violence, unified under the same name, but differentiated.  As Balibar writes,

Saturday, October 07, 2017

How Can It Not Know What It Is? On Blade Runner 2049

I think that I may have grown up watching Blade Runner. I do not mean that I watched the film several times growing up, although that is probably the case, but something happened when I first watched it that was integral to growing up. All of this is because I grew up, in the first sense, watching Harrison Ford play a hero; Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark were a big part of my childhood imagination. I had the toys and I am sure I went as Indiana Jones one Halloween. So when I saw Blade Runner for the first time, I think on VHS, I expected the same comic book morality of good versus evil and the same wisecracking character (Let's just be honest and admit that Han Solo and Indiana Jones are basically the same character). The movie both thwarted and ultimately exceeded my expectations: in its failure to live up to my action packed expectations it redefined what made a good film. I do not think that I could watch films again in the same way; incidentally, I am fairly sure that it was my attempt to see the film on the big screen a few years later that drew me to my local art house theater, the Cleveland Cinematheque. It is not just that Blade Runner has a formal connection to film noir and larger film world, for me it had an anecdotal one as well. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Said and Unsaid: From the Critique of Hypocrisy to Symptomatic Reading

The critique of hypocrisy did not begin with Trump, but it has been fueled by his campaign and presidency. It is hard not to see signs of hypocrisy everywhere, in the leaders of the evangelical community who have rallied behind a philanderer who has admitted sexual abuse; in generals who have stood behind the tough guy rhetoric of a draft dodger whose idea of discipline is getting seconds on dessert; and even in so-called business leaders who kowtow to a man who has gone bankrupt six times running a casino (you know, where the house always wins). As much as Trump represents the culmination of hypocrisy critique he also represents its limit. None of these critiques have stuck. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Knock-off Soviet Kitsch: On Comrade Detective

Has Slavoj Zizek written about Comrade Detective yet? It seems to be the perfect show for him, not just for its setting behind the iron curtain, but its central premise is that of a "subject supposed to believe." Comrade Detective is a show streaming on Amazon. Its central premise, or gag, is that it is ersatz Soviet Bloc propaganda. The show is made to look as if it is a Romanian detective show from the nineteen-eighties; it is shot with Romanian actors (but modern production values) the dialogue is then dubbed by actors such as Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Beyond Enslavement and Subjection: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari

Paper Presented at the above conference. 
Since publication plans have fallen through 
I am posting a draft of it here

One of the minor theoretical interventions of A Thousand Plateaus, minor because it seems to retrace and recapitulate arguments made by others, is the distinction between social subjection and machinic enslavement. As Deleuze and Guattari write,

There is enslavement when human beings themselves are constituent pieces of a machine that they compose among themselves and with other things (animal, tools), under the control and direction of a higher unity. But there is subjection when the higher unity constitutes the human being as a subject linked to a new exterior object, which can be an animal, a tool, or even a machine. [1]

This distinction is made in the plateau titled “Apparatus of Capture”, and it is subordinated to the larger focus of articulating the relation between the state and market. It makes up no more than two pages, and in many senses seems to borrow from its general theoretical milieu of the sixties and seventies. Machinic enslavement would seem to carry with it the entire history of alienation of dehumanization that makes the individual part of the machine. Social subjection bares traces of Althusser’s famous declaration that “ideology interpellates individuals as subjects,” or of the general “critique of the subject” developed through Althusser and Foucault. Its only innovation, the only point that goes beyond a general citation of concepts that are the general background of Deleuze and Guattari’s particular conceptual innovations, is in presenting these concepts less as theoretical alternatives, pitting humanism against post-humanism, than as different aspects of the same machine, the same apparatus of capture. That is perhaps not the only philosophical innovation and transformation, the distinction between enslavement and subjection carries with it a larger series of references, not just the immediate precursors of Althusser and Foucault but more distant antecedents of Marx and Gilbert Simondon, but its implications exceed the distinction between part and whole to encompass not only the already mentioned division between the state and market, but also the intersection between technology and politics. Far from being a simple terminological distinction the division between enslavement and subjection opens up a way to think the history of different formations of subjectivity, and the tensions internal to them in their historicity.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Pop Nazi: History and Repetition

In The Atlantic Ta-Nehisi Coates writes the following about HBO's plans to create a show called Confederate about an alternate reality in which the south won the civil war,

Knowing this, we do not have to wait to point out that comparisons between Confederate and The Man in the High Castle are fatuous. Nazi Germany was also defeated. But while its surviving leadership was put on trial before the world, not one author of the Confederacy was convicted of treason. Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop was hanged at Nuremberg. Confederate General John B. Gordon became a senator. Germany has spent the decades since World War II in national penance for Nazi crimes. America spent the decades after the Civil War transforming Confederate crimes into virtues. It is illegal to fly the Nazi flag in Germany. The Confederate flag is enmeshed in the state flag of Mississippi.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Three Interpretations In Search of a Proposition: A Sketch of Spinozist Materialism

As I have stated on this blog, and elsewhere, a materialist reading of Spinoza perhaps begins with EIIP7 and its related demonstrations and scholium. "The order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things." In place of hierarchy and causal impact Spinoza places ideas and things in a relation of identity and non-identity. How exactly to articulate this relation has lead to multiple interpretations. I would like to highlight three, Deleuze, Macherey, and Jaquet. The selection and order of authors reflects my own encounters and reading, the seemingly contingent order of nature, and not a necessary conceptual progression. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Putting the Living Back into Living Labor, Part One: Dejours and the Psychodynamics of Work

In the introduction to Travail Vivant et Théorie Critique: Affects, Pouvoir, et Critique du Travail Alexis Cukier argues that the critique of the domination of "dead labor" over "living labor" cannot remain at the level of social relations, as a critique of the wage form and employment, but must descend into the "black box" of labor, and produce a theory of "living labor."

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Role of Revolution in the Transition from Man to Ape (and back again): On War For The Planet of the Apes

Perhaps the new ape films should be considered as one long remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. Initially, this seemed to be limited to the first film, but the subsequent sequels have extended the revolutionary moment. Ape versus humans is no longer a chapter in the story, but the entire story. The first film, which seem like a risky one off when it was first released, had a few "easter eggs"alluding to a missing mission to Mars that set up the original films. With the film's success there was the need to continue the story, converting easter eggs to plot points, to provide the full story of the transformation of our world into a world of apes. This makes the recent ape films unique in the world of apocalypses and dystopias; the film does not present a new world already made, but the conditions of its making. That the final in what is now being called a trilogy comes out in 2017 on July 14th, hitting two revolutionary anniversaries, Bastille Day and the Russian Revolution of 1917, would only seem to underscore the point of revolution.They attempt to show how the planet of the apes came into being, revealing the causes and the contingency of what the original presented as necessity.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Universal History of Villainy: A Brief Remark on Spider-Man: Homecoming

In Jameson's essay on The Wire there is an interesting digression (and in Jameson it is mainly the digressions which are interesting) on the problem of evil in popular culture. Jameson takes up the question of evil, of villains, more broadly, reflecting on both their decline and centrality to popular culture. To quote a long passage, or at least the important parts:

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

The Golden Pig: Okja and the limits of Satire

Critics of Okja have been quick to point out its jarring tonalities, one part satire of the world of corporations and branding events and one part touching story of a girl and her (giant mutant) pig. This seems to be off for at least two reasons. Tonal shifts seem to be something Bong Joon-Ho revels in. The Host also melded horror, a family drama, and a scathing account of the US involvement in South Korea, and Snowpiercer reveled in shifting tones, as every new railcar opened to a new scene and a new mood, from its own satire of the ideological state apparatus to the horrorific scene of black hooded executioners of the repressive state apparatus. A kind of jarring tonal shift is not new to this movie. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Old Time Religion: On American Gods the book and TV show

The following passage from Marx's Grundrisse could serve as a fairly accurate pitch meeting for American Gods:

Let us take e.g. the relation of Greek art and then of Shakespeare to the present time. It is well known that Greek mythology is not only the arsenal of Greek art but also its foundation. Is the view of nature and of social relations on which the Greek imagination and hence Greek [mythology] is based possible with self-acting mule spindles and railways and locomotives and electrical telegraphs? What chance has Vulcan against Roberts and Co., Jupiter against the lightning-rod and Hermes against the Crédit Mobilier? All mythology overcomes and dominates and shapes the forces of nature in the imagination and by the imagination; it therefore vanishes with the advent of real mastery over them...

From another side: is Achilles possible with powder and lead? Or the Iliad with the printing press, not to mention the printing machine? Do not the song and the saga and the muse necessarily come to an end with the printer’s bar, hence do not the necessary conditions of epic poetry vanish?

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Original Sin of Accumulation: Trying to Say Something Original About Ursprüngliche Akkumulation

Red May Seattle

A bit of context: last weekend I was asked to participate in Red May Seattle, contributing to both its Marx-a-thon, a day long reading group on Capital and the Grundrisse, as well as discussing neoliberalism, science fiction, and the current struggles. What follows here is neither the text of what I presented on primitive accumulation, nor a kind of follow up self critique; it is an attempt to jot down some thoughts that were generated in collective discussion and reflection before they dissipate. It is red in practice and in theory, or, at the very least red in theoretical practice. What follows owes a great deal to all of those present at Red May. Names are withheld because I may have completely misunderstood what they were saying. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Yet Another Effort, Spinozists, If You Would Become Marxists: Marxist Spinozism Against Enlightenment Spinozism

Me at PAF talking about Spinoza and Transindividuality 
(I am running out of Spinoza/Marx graphics)

In a recently published piece in Jacobin (which is a response to this piece in Viewpoint) we see the following statement:

"Precisely because of what we affirm in Spinoza, we view his French reception in the twentieth century skeptically. Thinkers such as Deleuze and Althusser largely reject Spinoza’s rationalism, monism, and determinism, reducing his substance to a swirl of anarchic forces, whether in Deleuze’s nomads or in Althusser’s aleatory materialism. These readings perform a kind of “substance abuse,” replacing Spinoza’s objective metaphysics with a Nietzschean play of forces.

But a different tradition of Marxist Spinozism doesn’t fall into this trap. Starting with Joseph Dietzgen and Georgi Plekhanov and proceeding with the Soviet Spinozists, A. M. Deborin and Evald Ilyenkov, these writers treat Spinoza as a dialectical thinker avant la lettre. They participate in the tradition of the left-Hegelians Heine, Feuerbach, and Hess, who hailed Spinoza as the real godfather of German Idealism. As such, they did not reject Spinoza’s humanism for a Heideggerian inspired antihumanism. Instead, they sought to affirm human power and dignity through an understanding of the material world."

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Dialectic of the Donald: Or, Not Trump Again

The Owl of Minerva might fly at dusk, but her eagle works the day shift 

Let us begin with negation. You did not want to read this, you even told yourself that you were done, no more Trump think pieces, tweets, or articles. After all there are more important things to think about, and thinking about Trump, thinking about politics in age of Trump, seems almost to be a contradiction, like trying to think one's very inability to think. I get that, dear reader, I did not want to write this either, but I did--drawn in and repelled. Trump is not just the car wreck that you feel compelled to gaze upon. Trump is like slowing to watch a car crash and then going home to read a dozen articles on the dangers of drunken driving and digital distraction on today's highways, knowing all the while that all the articles in the world won't change the world. 

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Triptych of a Tree: Memoirs of a Film Goer

That Hitchcock's Vertigo  has been imitated multiple times is not surprising, but it is slightly curious that the same tree appears in two other films. The original scene takes place as Scottie Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) takes Madeline (Kim Novak) to the redwoods. It is a fiction within a fiction, we later learn that it is actually Judy imitating Madeleine who, at the moment, is channeling Carlotta Valdez a woman who lived decades prior. The lines on the tree make it possible for Madeleine to present a life that began before her life. The lines in its bark is a memory before memory. The tree stands as a mute witness to a life that has passed before. It is a living fossil of a life not lived. 

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Sidekick No More: Horkheimer on Work

In Max Horkheimer's critically underrated (and out of print) Dawn and Decline we find the following aphorism:

Monday, February 27, 2017

"You'd be a Beast": Get Out and Race

As most people reading this already know, the central story of Get Out begins when Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) brings her boyfriend Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) home to meet her parents. What begins as a racial comedy of manners, a satire of well intentioned liberalism, quickly descends into horror, but the question is what kind of horror? what is the dark secret waiting for Chris? The question of narrative is inseparable from the theme of the film. What kind of horror movie it is cannot be separated from what horror of racism it will depict.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Undercover Worker: Workers Inquiry after the End of the Working Class

An afternoon reading in San Francisco

If it is possible to learn one thing from the various invocations of the "white working class" that were summoned after the election of Trump, the more the term is invoked, the less one actually knows about work, class, and race. The "white working class" exists as a kind of hobgoblin of bourgeois conscience, as a creature both hated and pitied, the racist who cannot help being one. It appears in a few soundbites and pull quotes gathered by journalists and a few stock photos of construction and factories. Against this spectacle of the working class, a hardhat and a few stereotypes about attitudes, there stands the tradition of workers' inquiry, the examination of the conditions, perspectives, trials and tribulations of the working class. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

War is Truth: 1984 is Back

Several stories have reported that 1984 is being read, or at least bought, again, becoming an unlikely best seller. This is ambiguous news at best. The book is sophomoric enough to deserve its place on every high school's sophomore's reading list. Its politics are dubious, and its philosophy is even worse, its picture of a totalitarian society based on hate and universal deception always seemed more of something to reassure members of liberal capitalist society that everything was alright in their society than a warning. There is thus something amusing about this particular chicken coming home to roost, of cold war ideology become the basis, however, impoverished of a critique of ideology. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Limited Efficacy of Facts Insofar as They are Facts: A Spinozist Reflection on Fake News

Nothing could be more foolish, further from the letter and spirit of Spinoza's writing than to proclaim that a given proposition is the most important. Spinoza's thought is in the movement and relation of the different propositions, axioms, and definitions, not this or that proposition. His thought is systematic, not aphoristic, which is why his thought does not lend itself to tweets, memes, or bumperstickers. However, there is one particular proposition which remains a personal favorite. It is Proposition One of Part Four, "Nothing positive which a false idea has is removed by the presence of the true insofar as it is true." This idea always seemed important to me in that it offers a corrective to the spontaneous philosophy of philosophers, the idea that true ideas and well reasoned arguments have a force in and of themselves. 

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Affective Normalization: Between Lordon and Trump

Trump's election was met with an insistent demand on the part of those who opposed him, a demand not to "normalize" his election and his presidency. The use of this term "normalize" is curious and telling. The word is not legitimize, although one could argue that the debates about the Electoral College and the popular vote, were in some sense debates about the nature, and limits, of democratic legitimacy. Or, more to the point, the legitimacy of what counts as democratic legitimacy in the US. The word "normalize" suggests something different, something broader and more inchoate than legimitacy, less a matter of constitutional checks and balances than a prevailing sentiment or structure of feeling.  In some sense the slogan draws off of the existing opposition to Trump, the inability of many to see him as anything other than a crude narcissist more befitting the world of reality TV than Realpolitik, and demanding to extend the protests and jokes into opposition. It is a politics of a affect, the attempt to make a prevailing sensibility into a politics.