Saturday, September 22, 2018

(In)finitude's Score: On André Tosel



In some sense this is a belated response to André Tosel's passing last year. When Tosel died I was only vaguely aware of his name, I may have read an essay on Spinoza or Balibar here or there, but only knew his work by reputation. It was the initial wave of responses to Tosel's death especially this interview on Revue Période that got me interested in reading Tosel. I started by reading Spinoza ou l'autre (in)finitude and have gone through the little Emancipations aujourd'hui? Études sur Marx (et Engels), Du Retour du Religieux, and Le Marxisme du 20e Siècle, with a few more on the way.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Real World Experience: On Yves Schwartz's Experience et Connaissance du Travail.

Image from the Simpsons and Frinkiac. 

Two thoughts immediately come to mind when considering Yves Schwartz's Experience et Connaissance du Travail. The first, which provides the inspiration for the image above, is the absurdity of dragging around a nearly nine hundred French book on worker's experience and knowledge. The second, somewhat more relevant thought, is that the book in some way feels like a missing element from my education. I never heard it mentioned before I dug deep into some of the writing on work coming out of France, but I know its references from Georges Canguilhem, who wrote the introduction, to Althusser, Foucault, Levi-Strauss, and Bourdieu. I partially understand why it never was translated or made it across the Atlantic, aside from the length it is indebted to many figures that never became part of "theory," Lucien Sève for one, but the fact that it is a book on experience written under the direction of Georges Canghuilhem should at least be of interest. Foucault famously posited a line of demarcation between philosophers of experience, existentialism and phenomenology, and philosophers of the concept, Canghuilhem, the philosophy of science. Schwartz is describing an experience that is irreducible to lived experience because it exceeds and situates life, or more to the point, living labor. 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Imaginary But For Real: On Blackkklansman



Blackkklansman has come under criticism for twisting its true story into the shape of a cop film, warping any criticism of the structural violence of racism beyond recognition in the process. As Joshua Clover writes, "It is a police film the way Get Out is a horror film, adopting genre conventions to think through a particular set of problems about blackness." Except whereas Get Out uses horror to drive home the horrors of race, Blackkklansman would seem to defuse any critical force it might have in the morality and politics of the cop film.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Conscious Organs: Toward an Anthropology of Labor Power

Presented in Rome in May 2018
Conference Draft 

Buried in the back of Volume Three of Capital, Marx puts forward a thesis of determination that is different from the familiar assertion of a base. As In Volume Marx writes, 

It is in each case the direct relationship of the owners of production to the immediate producers—a relationship whose particular form naturally corresponds always to a certain level of development of the type and manner of labour, and hence to its social productive power—in which we find the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the entire social edifice and hence also the political form of the relationship of sovereignty and dependence, in short, the specific form of the state in each case. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Cold Call Man: On Sorry to Bother You


There is no film this year that I have anticipated more than Sorry to Bother You. I have been a fan of Boots Riley since I first learned about The Coup years ago. I have heard about this film for years; bought the album but eschewed reading the published screenplay. The latter seemed like admitting defeat and I desperately wanted to see this film get made. The first rule of movies, at least in Hollywood, is that anticipation is the enemy of enjoyment. Of course this is usually because most films fail to meet our expectations, the trailer would have been enough; it is rare that a film not only exceeds our expectations but calls them into question. 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

How Voluntary is Your Servitude? Voluntary Servitude from La Boétie to Marx




I have always been fairly comfortable with Deleuze and Guattari's assertion of the fundamental political question, drawing a line from Spinoza through Reich to their own writing. As Deleuze and Guattari write. 


"Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as if it were their own salvation? How can people possibly reach the point of shouting “More taxes! Less bread!”?…The astonishing thing is not that some people steal or that others occasionally go on strike, but rather that all those who are starving do not steal as a regular practice, and all those who are exploited are not continually out on strike"


Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Primitive Accumulation of Prehistory: On the Jurassic Park films



As a kid I was obsessed with dinosaurs. I know that there is nothing unique about this and that is precisely why I relate it. My obsession took place at a time before there was an adequate pop culture outlet for that expression. It was before the Jurassic Park films before even The Land Before Time films. So I sought out every dinosaur film I could whenever they played on the afternoon or late night movie, The Land that Time Forgot, The Last Dinosaur, Dinosaurus, etc., These films were hard to come by, and many of them are not very good at all. There is a story told in my family, a legend of sorts, of the night we all ended up in a motel while taking the yearly pilgrimage to visit the grandparents, flipped through channels only to stumble upon a showing of the  Valley of the Gwangi.  Not a great dinosaur film but one that nonetheless benefitted from the work of Ray Harryhausen. It was a different time, one defined by the scarcity of cultural products rather than their proliferation. Dinosaur films were hard to come by, and good ones less so, so a dinosaur obsessed kid took what they could.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Calling Bullshit: On Graeber's Bullshit Jobs



Graeber's book Bullshit Jobs is the kind of book I generally avoid. It is an expanded version of an essay originally published in Strike magazine. For the most part I find articles turned into books to be largely filler. The original essay or article made the point, and did so succinctly; expanding it into a book largely entails adding more and more examples with maybe a little bit of context and clarification. However, Graeber's essay was provocative enough, and close enough to my interests that I decided to read it. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Philosophers at Work: On Alexis Cukier's Que'est-ce que le travail?




Kathi Week's book The Problem with Work opens with a paradox of sorts: political theorist should be interested in work, work makes up the most immediate and daily experience of power, hierarchy, and command, but work is considered private and social rather than political so it falls outside of the purview of political theory. A similar paradox could be said to open Alexis Cukier's book, Qu'est-ce que le travail?. Philosophers should be interested in work, work and labor are intimately implicated in not only our concepts of subjectivity and society but also transformation and change, but seldom are. Work is simultaneously too quotidian and too contingent to generate much philosophical interest.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Divisions of the Imagination: Imaginations of Division



What follows is neither the presentation I gave in Milan (in the picture above), nor the one from Rome (indicated in the picture below), but a combination of both, or more importantly, of the thoughts that emerge from the questions and conversations that followed each presentation. Why would we go to conferences after all if not to have our thoughts confronted and transformed by the ideas of others? 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Slogans and Concepts: More on The Young Marx



I was asked to write a longer review of The Young Marx to be published in Italian. I am posting the English here.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Wave of Mutilation: Marx and Spinoza in Fischbach's Philosophies de Marx


Nothing in the title or the structure of Franck Fischbach's Philosophies de Marx suggests a return to the Marx/Spinoza relation explored in La Production des hommes: Marx Avec Spinoza. The title plainly states that it is a consideration of Marx's philosophy, and the book is organized to consider Marx's philosophical practice through three different philosophical intersections, hence the plural, the philosophy of activity, social philosophy, and critical philosophy. Despite this focus on Marx, and Fischbach's turn away from the specificity of the Marx/Spinoza relation in later works that have broadened the considerations of questions of activity and the social to include everything from Heidegger to Dewey, the book on Marx ends up returning to the productivity of the Marx/Spinoza relation in the margins. 

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Biographies Real and Imagined: On Peck and Barker



When I was in college I took a class on Contemporary Political Thought with Dana Villa. He would introduce every thinker, from Nietzsche to Foucault, with a few anecdotes told manly to amuse, stories of Adorno's meeting with Chaplin and the caricature of Lukács in Magic Mountain. Once the biographical gossip was dispensed with we could move onto discussing the text at hand. It is perhaps because of this that I have never been much interested in biography. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Means of Individuation: Castel on the Dialectics of Individuality





In the essay publishes as the conclusion to La Montée des Incertitudes: Travail, Protections, statut de l'individu Robert Castel gives a genealogy of the contemporary individual. First, in a line of thinking that would seem to parallel Etienne Balibar because it is one of his sources, Castel argues that the modern individual is founded upon property. As Locke argued, Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself." As Castel stresses this connection between property and individuation is not a theoretical assertion but a practice as well. Bourgeois modernity is founded upon the reciprocal connection of the individual and property.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Spectacular Compromise: Or, On the Accuracy of Broken Clocks




Much to my surprise I am going to begin this post with a citation of Ross Douthat. In recent column "Woke Capital" Douthat argues that the current social consciousness of some corporations should be read along the lines of the the "Treaty of Detroit," in which the UAW agreed not to strike in exchange for benefits and cost of living increases. That Fordist compromise frames the basis by which we should understand the contemporary neoliberal compromise, a compromise not based on wages or productivity but image and identity. As Douthat writes, 

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Anti-Aesthetics: Or, Towards a Spinozist Theory of Cultural Production



In all of the various attempts to produce and reproduce Spinozism, creating a Spinozist account of society, economy, and politics, little attention has been paid to Spinoza's aesthetics, or really anti-aesthetics. This Anti-Aesthetics is sketched between a few scattered propositions, scholium, and other remarks that address the basis of judgements of taste and value, at every point it shows that any aesthetics is at best an inadequate idea, making effects into causes, and at worst a kind of alienation. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Losing Strategies: Negative Solidarity as Practice



Once in class a student said, "Bernie Sanders wants to give free tuition to everyone: I can't pay for everyone else's tuition I am having a hard enough time just paying for my own." My interest in this statement has less to do with the merits of Bernie Sanders campaign, or such promises, than its strange logic. I admit that I almost had a stifle a laugh when this was uttered in class. I wasn't trying to be mean, but I thought that the student must by joking. When I saw that he wasn't, that he did not grasp the contradiction at the heart of what he was saying, it struck me as a stunning example of negative solidarity. 

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Work Like It is 1999: A Year of the Refusal of Work in Film



On first glance nothing much connects American Beauty, Fight Club, and Office Space except the fact that they came out in the same year, 1999. They are distinct in terms of their genres, middle brow prestige picture, pseudo underground action thriller, and comedy, and their reception; the first was a critically lauded Oscar winner, the second a critically reviled cult film, while the third found its audience through repeat viewings on cable, making it a more passive sort of cult film. Despite these differences of genre and audience they are linked in that all films about the refusal of work. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Make Monsters Great Again: Timeliness and Untimeliness in The Shape of Water



Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water is an odd and improbable creature, a monster movie that is a critical darling. The critical responses for the movie have themselves understood the movie as a different sort of chimera, a combination of "fairy tale" and nostalgia film, something at once timeless and caught in its own relation to a vanishing past. 

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Dead Ideas Live On: On Elizabeth Anderson's Private Government



I decided to illustrate this post with images from


Reading Elizabeth Anderson's Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk About It) was an interested and somewhat bewildering experience. At first I thought that I agreed with everything she said, but only differed in how I would say it--a difference of philosophical style or orientation--but, the more I read, the more I thought that there might be some substance to this difference of style.