Monday, November 26, 2018

Transvaluation of Values: On Lordon's La Condition Anarchique

A glimpse of the cover, title, and timing of Lordon's latest book, La Condition Anarchique might lead one to suspect that the anarchic condition it refers to has something to do with financial crises. Which goes to reaffirm what they say about books and covers. The anarchic condition that Lordon is writing about not only has nothing to do with anarchism, nor with some kind of chaos, but with the very existence of values and norms. 

Lordon makes a distinction that you would expect to find in a book by a Heideggerian, between arkhé as first principle, as authority, and order, and cratos, as force of domination. We live in a world devoid of arkhé but defined by cratos, by various sorts of rule. This anarchy not a historical condition, but in some sense the human condition. As Lordon writes, "Anarchy becomes the concept not for a political science but for a critical axiology."

Lordon is a Spinozist not a Heideggerian so the basis for this inspiration is not some "anarchic" ontological condition, but Spinoza's statement in EIIIP9S. As Spinoza writes, ‘it is clear that we neither strive for, nor will, neither want, nor desire anything because we judge it to be good; on the contrary, we judge something to be good because we strive for it, will it, want it, and desire it.’ This inversion of values, from qualities of things to effects of desire is complete by Spinoza's examination of the conditions of desire. Desire is shaped by the affects, by the encounters and relations that make up social life, and for Lordon, most notably for the common affects that define political life. As Spinoza defines them in the Political Treatise, 

"Since men, as we have said, are led more by passion than by reason, it naturally follows that a people will unite and consent to be guided as if by one mind not at reason’s prompting but through some common emotion, such as a common hope, or common fear, or desire to avenge some common injury."

Lordon's critical axiology turns away from the arkhé of values in themselves, looking for their sources in the different affects, the different sentiments, that shape and are shaped by collective life. Spinoza's moves from objects to desires, and from desires to relations consitutive of desires, makes possible a way out of the impasse of values in an increasingly individualistic society. As Lordon defines the contemporary condition, 

"Paradoxically, the anthropological sequence of individualism, particularly in its contemporary period, in which it is the most unbridled, is realized in a contradictory combination from the biggest lie, when individual self-sufficiency is proclaimed, and the greatest suffering, when individual inadequacy is lived."

Spinoza situates us in a world in which all values, all evaluations, are necessarily transindividual, collective and individual. As such all values, all strivings, have the exact same ontological standing, the drunkard and the wise man all strive for the good, even if they are different ontically, it is better to be a wise man than a drunk. Just as it is better to be a communist proletarian than a docile worker. In each case the devalued term is passive and the valued term is active. (The use of the ontological/ontic distinction is the second oddly Heideggerian  aspect of this book).

The most interesting effects of this axiology is Lordon's discussion of the transformation and revaluation of values. As Lordon argues Spinoza's Ethics is in some sense all about such a transformation,  the shift from passive sad affects to active affects. A transformation which has as one of its necessary conditions the transformation of the very notion of values. Spinoza famously argues that good and bad are nothing but confused projections of our desires in the Appendix to Part One of the Ethics only to reassert them on more practical grounds at the beginning of Part Four. As Lordon sums up this transformation, 

 "If there is a place for the “dialectic” in the entirety of the Ethics, which otherwise excludes all that would be organized by the work of contradiction (without excluding that the world changes) it would be here: we must re-establish good and evil to construct a way to overcome good and evil, to propose a standard of living to free ourselves from all norms, or, one could say, to know only the immanent norm of the conatus."

Lordon demonstrates how all transformations of values, aesthetic, ethical, or political, is never a creation ex nihilo but always a transformation of what already exists. In politics this often involves expanding (or contracting) the objects of existing values, while in aesthetics it is a matter of expanding and changing the sensibility, making it possible to see and sense new things. As Spinoza writes, a body that does more things, perceives more things, makes it possible to think more things. In each case the revaluation must necessarily pass through the old values. 

Lordon's remarks about art creating and transforming new sensibilities, a statement that might comprise the entirety of Spinoza's aesthetics, reminded me of another philosopher who said little about aesthetics, namely Karl Marx. As Marx writes,

"Hunger is hunger, but the hunger gratified by cooked meat eaten with a knife and fork is a different hunger from that which bolts down raw meat with the aid of hand, nail and tooth. Production thus produces not only the object but also the manner of consumption, not only objectively but also subjectively. Production thus creates the consumer."

One could imagine, and others have pursued, this idea of the production of objects and subjects. That is not the direction Lordon goes in, but he does, however, briefly mention EIP36 "Nothing exists from which some effect does not follow," to refer to the general relations of social production that exceed their capture by labor and the wage form.

The reference to Marx and wages is just a roundabout way to ask the question as to where does value, surplus value, exchange value, and use value, fit into this inquiry of values. Lordon dedicates one chapter to economics. In Capitalisme, désir, et servitude Lordon had already identified a chasm that separated Marx and Spinoza's concept of value. In the former value is objective while in the latter it is not exactly subjective, or if it is it is in the sense that value is the production and the expression of subjectivity of desire. In La Condition Anarchique Lordon argues that Marx’s theory of fetishism is ambiguously torn between a criticism of any substantialization of value, positing relations against reification, and a criticism that posits labor power as the true measure. In the former it is a matter of dispensing with substance in favor of a relational concept, while in the latter it is a matter of dispensing with the illusion of the commodity to arrive at its true substance, labor. Lordon is indebted to André Orlean's distinction in The Empire of Value between substantialist and relational concepts of value.

It is in this context that Lordon briefly takes up Wertkritik, Value theory, specifically Anselm Jappe. Lordon notes a fundamental difference between the way that the abstraction of the value form functions in value theory, as an abstraction indifferent to any quality, and Spinoza's account of money. For Spinoza "money occupies the mind of the multitude more than anything else"precisely because it can be attached to any object, any desire. One subjectively experienced and lived while the other "goes on behind peoples backs." Lordon sees this as a failing of value theory, preferring instead his concept of "energetic structuralism" in which institutions must be lived, must be affectively felt in order to be effective. However, in doing so, in pursuing a unified theory of value that is dependent upon the affects, Lordon overlooks the tension and the promise of Marxist/Spinozism. Spinoza may give us a theory of the transindividual nature of the affects, explaining the desires that produce and reproduce social relations, but Marx's abstractions, abstract labor and the commodity form, are real in precisely the way in which they are indifferent to our striving. The more Lordon increasingly turns to Spinoza, and not just Spinoza but specifically and exclusively the affects, the more he makes an argument despite himself of putting some Marx back into Marxist Spinozism.

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