Monday, December 27, 2021

Get Meta With Me: On Matrix Resurrections


The Matrix is a film about work. Long before Neo escapes the matrix he has to break out of a much more mundane space of confinement, the office cubicle. The film is thus part of that odd series of films that came out in 1999 that were about the confines of the cubicle and the working day, a list that includes Office Space, Fight Club, and American Beauty (and Being John Malkovich). It was an odd year, in the midst of the dot-com bubble and the Clinton third way, a year that on the surface was good for capitalism, the movies were telling a different story, a story in which work and the office was sucking the life out of people. An idea which The Matrix made literal in its dystopian future of energy sucking pods, in other words, cubicles 2199. 

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Red Spinozism II: Lordon Vs. Fischbach

My Spinoza and Marx finger puppets 

 This is a follow up to a few previous posts, most importantly my previous post on alienation in Marxist-Spinozist Thought. It is also an effect of my continuing work translating Franck Fischbach's La Production des hommes: Marx Avec Spinoza. I have never translated a whole book before and the experience is a little like some kind of possession or mind meld, in the best possible way, where I find myself thinking in and through another person's writing. Of course this is often the case when writing on someone, but translation takes it to a different level. To update a hierarchy familiar to a lot of people, there are books that I have read, books that I have read and taught, books that I have read and written about, and now, standing above the rest, a book I have translated. 

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Homework: Three Recent Books on Work


Because I regularly teach a class on work, and have my own book on work coming out, I make it a habit to keep up on all of the writing on work, from theoretical studies and polemics, to ethnographies and studies of contemporary political economy. It is getting to be quite a lot to keep up with, what seemed like a slow trickle a decade or so ago when Kathi Weeks The Problem with Work came out, has become a steady stream of books. Perhaps this is a sign of changing ideas about work, but at the very least it means that there is a lot to keep up with in reading critical studies of work. What follows is a short review of three of the recent ones.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Shine On: We Are All in Room 237 Now


Danny Lloyd rocking the same haircut I had as a kid

Of all of the various concepts and neologisms that populate A Thousand Plateaus that of the "regime of signs" is one that never really caught on. It has not had the same effects as nomadology, rhizome, virtual, assemblage, body without organs, become etc., If I had to offer a quick explanation of  this it is perhaps because the idea of the sign, and of a regime of signs, still seems like a remnant of an earlier period, more structuralist than post-structuralist. It is for that reason that it has remained something of a B-side or a deep cut, taking a clue from Deleuze and Guattari's assertion that the book is more like album with different plateau songs than a linear progression. 

Friday, November 12, 2021

Other Scenes: Balibar and Tosel on Class Struggle and the Struggle over Identity

Intersection of base and superstructure 


One of the pressing issues of recent years has been the relationship between class struggle, or the struggle against capitalism more broadly and the struggle over identity. While this relationship has taken on ridiculous, and almost caricatured forms in the left quasi-public sphere in the US, becoming the split between Bernie Bros and the supposed identity politics of the democratic party, or between “the dirtbag” and “woke left.” It raises serious issues about the relationship between the state, as the manager of ethnic and racial identities, and the economy as the hidden abode of exploitation. What I propose here is less an entry into the fray of current debates between identity politics and class struggle, but to look at the way in which two Marxist philosophers, Etienne Balibar and André Tosel, tried to think both the interrelation and irreducibly of identity struggle and class struggle. Balibar and Tosel do so by drawing from the philosophical resources of Marx and Spinoza, but in different ways. For Balibar it is a matter of thinking of “the other scene” of economic struggle, the imaginary constitution of national identities that all economic struggles necessarily pass through. There is no class struggle that does not pass through the struggle of identities, just as there is no struggle over identities that does not pass through economic relations. In a different manner, Tosel focuses less on the relation between imaginary and real, taken as the state and the economy, than on the relation between what could be considered generic struggles over the very conditions of subjectivity, and conflicts over the very nature of identity. The first have to do with struggles over our basic capacities, to live, work, and speak, while the latter has to do with the way in which living, working, and speaking are always actualized in specific identities and communities. The two struggles cannot be separated. I argue that read together, Balibar and Tosel’s political anthropologies offer a way to not only theorize the intersection of class conflict and identity conflict, but a way to think the relation between the state and economy.

Friday, October 01, 2021

Coming Soon (well soonish): The Double Shift


I have submitted the (hopefully) final changes of the manuscript of my third book* to Verso. As an answer to the question, What is your book about? and as part of the labor of self-promotion that is required of all of us in the twenty-first century, even those published with radical presses, I am posting part of the introduction here: 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Reworking Hegel: Philosophies of Work in Macherey's Petit Riens


Images from Property is No Longer Theft 

There is a line that I used to attribute to Roland Barthes, "those who do not reread are doomed to read the same book over and over again." I liked the riddle like nature of the phrase, and the way it seemed to posit a first read which is often a restating of one's already existence preconceptions, hence the rereading of the same book under different covers, against a rereading that discovers difference in repetition. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Fighting for Subjection as if it was Rebellion: Spinoza and Servitude Today


I am illustrating this post with images of the Punisher as a symbol of authority as rebellion

As I have already indicated on this blog more than once, Spinoza's formulation of subjection remains in some sense a guiding question for me. 

"...the supreme mystery of despotism, its prop and stay, is to keep men in a state of deception, and with the specious title of religion to cloak the fear with which they must be held in check, so that they will fight for their servitude as if for salvation, and count it no shame but the highest honour, to spend their blood and lives for the glorification of one man…" --Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus 1670

So much so that I would be willing to agree with Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari when they repeated it three hundred years later. 

"That is why the fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one that Spinoza saw so clearly, and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered: “Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?” --Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia 1972

However, I have begun to think that it is time to update the question, or at least change its formulation, it increasingly seems to me that in the current era it is not so much servitude that is fought for as salvation, but subjection that is fought for as rebellion, or misrecognized as rebellion. 

Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Use and Abuse of Alienation for Life: A few Remarks on Marx

I give twitter credit for making this joke, 
but if you ask me the movie did not do enough with this great title

What follows are a few reflections on "alienation" drawn in part from a paper I presented at Wabash College last Spring in a virtual campus visit.  Posted as a response to the current debate about the concept online. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

What Does it Mean to be a Materialist: Thoughts After Spinoza after Marx


Of all of the zoom events, conferences, and presentations that I have attended (zoomed?) this year the one dedicated to Spinoza after Marx was the most engaging, the one most capable of breaking through the zoom screen that makes everything feel further away even as it is so close, inches away even. This is in part because of the participants, but it was also due to the work of the organizers who, in an interesting variation on organizing around a common theme, presented a common set of theses that were discussed and debated over the course of the three days. Of course as great as this was as an online event it is hard not to think about how those conversations would have continued over dinner, at bars, and coffee shops. The event did create a collective act of thought, of thinking in common, but as Spinoza and Marx both know there is no thinking together, thinking in common, without acting and feeling in common.

Saturday, July 03, 2021

Self-Interest is the Sincerest Form of Flattery: On No Sudden Move

Posted in memory of Lauren Berlant who once took time out of her busy schedule to debate a previous post about Soderbergh. 


After a mercurial career Steven Soderbergh seems to have more or less settled into the heist film. The three Oceans films, Logan Lucky (dubbed Oceans 7-11 for the way it transposed those films into a different class milieu), and now No Sudden Move. The return to the same genre does not dispense with the shifts and shimmers through other genres and styles, the latest is a noir period piece set in fifties Detroit, and with that shift comes another shift. Jameson states that heist films are in some sense about the representation of work. Or, more to the point, he states that they are about unalienated work. However, I would like to turn his assertion, as offhand as it is, into a question. How does the heist film represent work, and how does this representation relate to the question of how work is undertaken and understood in capitalism.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Theological Breaks: Tosel on Marx's Critique of Religion


I never really knew what to do with this meme, but it fits the topic. 
Also sorry. 

At the beginning of his trajectory of criticism Marx wrote, "the criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism." There is perhaps no contemporary philosopher who has taken up that challenge than André Tosel. Tosel has returned to the question not just of Marx and religion, but more broadly of the role of the critique of religion in radical thought from Spinoza onward. Tosel's trajectory in some sense begins and ends with the question of the critique of religion, beginning with Spinoza ou le crépuscule de la Servitude : Essai sur le Traité Théologico-Politique and nearly ends with Nous citoyens laïques et fraternels? : dans le labyrinthe du complexe économico-politico-théologique (I realize that the book on Gramsci and the little book on Emancipation came out afterwards). Throughout his life Tosel was interested in thinking through the relationship between religion and capitalism, and to what extent the critique of religion could be used to make sense of our subjection and attachment to capitalism. 

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Anti-Hobbes: Waging War on the War of All Against All


Top Image The Road Warrior, bottom image people in the US putting gasoline in plastic bags

I am going to assume that most readers of a blog like this are familiar with Hobbes' description of the state of nature as "nasty, brutish, and short." His assertion that without an overwhelming authority human beings will engage in a life of perpetual strife and war, killing each other for whatever their desire. Hobbes gives what could be considered three proofs for this state of nature, the first is the new world, or at least an armchair speculative colonial imagination of it, the second is the behavior of kings and states towards each other, but the third, which actually appears first, is the presence of this state of nature in civilized state breaking through, like weeds through concrete. As Hobbes writes, 

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Put Your Halo On: Marx’s Critiques of Moralism

Not a good episode, but a great observation

There are those that claim that Marx’s criticism of capitalism is ultimately grounded in a moral or ethical consideration of humanity, that notions such as alienation, exploitation, and so on, only make sense against the backdrop more often assumed rather than asserted, of some kind of morality, of a picture of an ideal life, in which human beings are treated more or less as ends in themselves. Marx investigations of the horrendous working conditions of early capitalism, from child labor to deadly working conditions, would seem to have as its critical basis a moral understanding of humanity. However, what I would like to propose is that Marx’s thought, at least at its most provocative, is less a moral criticism of capitalism, than a materialist criticism of moralism. 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Woke Capital and Twilight of the Bourgeoisie (How is that for a title?).


For anyone who has any historical memory whatsoever the controversies around woke seem like just a remake, or possible a reboot, of the panic around political correctness a generation before. It is a matter of the same fears, the same threats, and the same bad guys and good guys. College campuses and postmodernism are once again to blame, and the same hallowed traditions are threatened. On one reading, and it is a fairly plausible one, is that this is just a repetition. The only reason that the names have been changed, the only reason terms like "woke" have replaced "political correctness" is that repeating the old name would be admitting that this new threat is quite old. Political correctness came and went, but the skies did not darken and the rivers did not run red with blood. New logo, same package. There are, however, some differences and these differences have something to say about the changing nature of culture and power.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Go Figure: On Lordon's Figures du Communisme


Frédéric Lordon has published four books since Capitalisme, désire, et Servitude in 2010, not counting collections of essays, edited volumes and even a play. I have reviewed them all here, and continued to use Lordon's writing in my research on the intersection of affect, imagination, and work in capitalism. I remain profoundly influenced by his interventions. However, I will be honest, prolific authors make me skeptical, even nervous. Sometimes publishing overtakes thinking and one ends up with a kind of diminishing returns as later books only put finishing touches on earlier innovations. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

How the World of Fiction Became True: On The Department of Truth


From The Department of Truth by James Tynion and Martin Simmonds

I have not been to my local comic book shop in a year. I went once in the summer to pickup a few things curbside, but that limited to me to pick up a few things in my pull list. I have not walked idly through the racks looking at new comics, searching for that elusive new thing that would be worth reading in a long time. I have even spent some time going back and reading old comics (as I blogged about here.) The collected trade of the first five issues of The Department of Truth is the first thing that I have read in months to break this pandemic imposed interruption of comics.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Althusser Effects: Philosophical Practices


I have more copies of Reading Capital than any other book

One of the most damming things anyone has ever said, to me at least, about academic philosophy was something like the following, "philosophy at universities today is to doing philosophy what art history is to making art." The implication being that emphasis in the modern university is on following different philosophers; tracing their influences and transformations the way that a historian my trace the different periods of an artist. It seemed damming, but not inaccurate, especially with respect to the way that there seems to be a trajectory, at least in continental programs of setting oneself up as [blank] guy, following a philosopher, interpreting, commenting and translating. There are a lot of questions that can be posed about this model, especially now, as philosophy continues to be pushed outside of the university, and forced to reinvent itself in new spaces and publications. 

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Everyone is Disposable: On Ogilvie's L' Homme Jetable

Yesterday, two things happened, one I spent a better portion of the day preparing a lecture on James Boggs' The American Revolution ; Pages from a Negro Worker's Notebook (You can listen to it here for what it is worth) and thinking about his description of automation and the creation of a surplus population. At the same time I was also thinking about the governor of Texas decisions to "open up" the state in the middle of a pandemic, ending all restrictions and social distancing measures. Together this made me think of Ogilvie's concept of a "disposable human being," (l'homme jetable), a concept, or rather mode of investigation that seems all the more important in an age in which much of the world is being treated as disposable. I was surprised to see that I had never directly blogged about this concept despite the fact that I had written about Ogilvie before. I did, however, have a reader's report I wrote on Ogilvie's book, arguing that it should be translated. It is a thorough review, but not the most engaging. I decided to repost it here in the spirit of generating interest in Ogilvie's work. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Reduction to Ignorance: Spinoza in the Age of Conspiracy Theories

I was obsessed with conspiracy theories at some point in my adolescence. I listened to late night radio shows dedicated to alien abductions, satan messages on records, and a more local phenomena known as the mellonheads. These were jokes to me, or at least half jokes, I never took any of them seriously. However, they did contribute to growing sense that there was more to the world than what I was told. Adolescence and conspiracy theories go well together. In recent years, however, it increasingly seems like conspiracy theories have moved from the periphery to the mainstream, and from entertainment to politics. It is hard to avoid the fact that we are living through a profound transformation of knowledge, authority, and politics, and a revival of mystical and mythic forms of knowledge that go beyond any dialectic of enlightenment. It may then turn out that the old arguments regarding superstition have taken on a new relevance. As is often the case on this blog, I am starting here with Spinoza, I have a plan to continue this with a post on Hegel and then Marx, (we will see how it goes).

Monday, February 15, 2021

What's Love Got to Do With It? On Sarah Jaffe's Work Won't Love You Back

For the past ten years I have been teaching a class called The Politics and Philosophy of Work. At least once a semester someone mentions the phrase, or mantra, "Do what you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life." This bit of wisdom, which has been attributed to various different sources, is offered as the solution to all of the problems of work and of life. Like similar phrases of popular philosophy imploring us to live in the moment, or live each day like it is our last, its popularity is directly proportional to its disconnect with anything resembling reality.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Ghosting: The Long Life of Red Scares


from facebook

This post could be considered a follow up to my previous post on The Communist Manifesto.  In each case it is a matter of what could be considered an error of the Manifesto. I know that it seems wrong to pick on the Manifesto a text which is less an attempt to state everything than an intervention in a specific theoretical and political conjunction--a stunning one. My one real criticism of the Manifesto is that its length has led to be being seen as THE summation of Marx's position so that even Jordan Peterson can read it before debating Zizek. However, it is a useful text to confront some of the limitations of Marxist thought. As I argued in the previous post, the assertion of the ruthlessly modernizing of the bourgeois mode of production makes it difficult to grasp the way in which not all that is solid melts into air, some of keeps coming back. 

Friday, January 01, 2021

Everybody is a Troll to Somebody: On Chris Beckett's Two Tribes (partially)


More than once I have made the joke that if philosophy really wanted to go back to its Platonic (or Socratic roots) then it most recognizing trolling as the new sophists. Trolling seems to be a more relevant form of "anti-philosophy," to use Badiou's term, than Wittgenstein or Nietzsche if only because the former is more prevalent, shaping the arguments that make up what passes for the public sphere, and not just a few philosophy classrooms.