Monday, December 25, 2023

Philosophy and/as Politics: In Memory of Toni Negri


Like so many I was saddened to learn of the death of Toni Negri. I never really knew him as a person, only very awkwardly meeting him once, but he was someone who fundamentally shaped and transformed philosophy for me. I wrote my first published paper on Negri, a paper that, as is the case with most seminar papers, was an attempt to make sense of the two books I had read, The Savage Anomaly and Marx Beyond Marx.  That it was published is not the important part, really a product of grad school hubris, the important part was that I am not sure if I would have stayed in grad school had I not written it, or found someone willing to read and discuss it with me, shoutout here to Bill Haver. Negri made it possible for me to conjoin doing philosophy and engaging the world politically, to see these as two sides of the same process, the same practice of philosophy. I should mention that this was before Empire, but just barely. I am not saying that to claim that I was into Negri before he was cool, but just that my first encounter with Negri was in some sense with an outsider. He was rarely talked about in classes, and his books were more associated with the para-academic presses of Autonomedia and Semiotexte than the presses that were translating and publishing the big names of theory, Derrida, Deleuze, Lacan, etc.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Commonalities: on Pascucci's Potentia of Poverty


There are many different answers to the question of what Marx and Spinoza have in common, theories of ideology, materialism, naturalism, and so on, to name a few that have been discussed on this blog. To this list Margherita Pascucci adds that perhaps what Spinoza and Marx have in common is the common itself. This is is claim put forward in Potentia of Poverty: Marx Reads Spinoza (part of the Historical Materialism series, currently it is only out as a hardcover, but it will be out from Haymarket in the Spring). 

Sunday, December 03, 2023

What the Nose Knows: On Chantal Jaquet's Philosophie de L'Odorat


I am a follower of Chantal Jaquet's work. I have read her works on Spinoza with great interest, and have also been a big fan of her work on the concepts of transclass and nonreproduction. I have also read her little book on the body. In short, have read most of what she has written, but I have been very reluctant to pick up her book on smell, Philosophie de L'odorat. I met her once, and we talked about her book, her interest in the arts and aesthetics of smell, and all I could think was that I was glad that she was interested in it, but I could not imagine being interested. I just did not find smell that interesting."You do you," I thought as I listened to her explain Kôdô, the Japanese arts of scents, secretly wishing she was writing another book on Spinoza. 

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Demarcations and Determinations: on Hijacked by Elizabeth Anderson


Elizabeth Anderson is always an interesting author for me to read because as much as we are both concerned with the same issues, namely,  the politics of work, and the domination of the work ethic over our lives, we approach these issues from fundamentally different philosophical perspectives. Anderson is for the most part working on these issues from within the liberal tradition, construed broadly, while my approach is framed in large part by the traditions of Marxism and Marxist Spinozism. Determination is negation, as Marx cited Spinoza as saying, and it is through reading Anderson that I get a deeper sense of my own philosophical commitments and perspective.

Sunday, October 01, 2023

The Prison House of Emotional Labor: On Red Eye

Red Eye is destined to always be something of a footnote. Everyone involved in the film will always be known for something else, Wes Craven for the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, and the entire cast from Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy to Brian Cox will always be known for other films. Moreover, its premise, which spends over two thirds of the film not just on a plane, but on two seats of a plane--a sort of bottle episode of a movie--seems hard to imaging being made today in which it is always bigger spectacles that get audiences. 

Friday, September 29, 2023

Differences and Differends: One More Note on the Politics of Education


I know that I should not even bother to engage with such things, but I saw someone retweet this from Christopher Rufo on X-Twitter. I think that it is revealing about two fundamental different ways of thinking about diversity and differences in a university. First, as Judith Butler states in the video posted below (11:49), that classes in women and gender studies are filled with debate and discussion. This is something that I think anyone who has been in a classroom would probably agree with. I would argue that it extends that it goes beyond gender studies to other subjects of supposed indoctrination such as critical race theory or even Marxism. Christopher Rufo's response to this is to focus not on what happens in such classrooms, he has probably never been in one, but to cite some supposed fact that faculty in gender and interdisciplinary studies are 100% left. I am not sure what he means by that, or if he is including all interdisciplinary programs, but I am going to assume that the left he is referring to is voting patterns, since that is an obsession of many critiques of higher education. 

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Return to Doppelgängerland: Naomi Klein's Mirror World


Enter the Dragon

When I first read that Naomi Klein wrote a book about being confused for her doppelgänger, Naomi Wolf, I was initially amused. I had written earlier about the doppelgänger as the monster of our times, and it seemed that Klein was confirming that thesis. Klein dealing with Wolf seemed like it might be a fun distraction, but as I read the book, I was immediately struck with the fact that Klein is taking on more than a particular case of mistaken identity. Her book Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World, is in some sense an attempt to make sense of the world we are living in a world dominated by social media doppelgangers in which the work of political and social criticism has its own dark doppelganger in the world of conspiracy theories. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Nostalgic for Nothing: Industry and Affect


this is not a picture of me

The dominance of intellectual property in film is driven by one central affect, or affective composition, nostalgia, the sense that something about the past was once better. It is unclear, however, if this mood is oriented towards the actual films of the recent past, or childhood itself. What is it we are nostalgic for? 

Monday, August 21, 2023

Year Three: Four Ideological Conditions for the Covid Crisis


Picture of me practicing aikido in a mask 
(seemed appropriate)

As we look at another surge, another variant, and another school year of Covid, it might be worth thinking about the conditions that made this situation possible. The conditions are, as is so often the case, multiple, including the nature of the virus itself, technological, and economic conditions. What I would like to focus on briefly are the ideological conditions, or the way in which the virus took advantage of social contradictions as much biological weakness. 

Monday, August 14, 2023

Other Scenes: The Ideology of the Economy/The Economy of Ideology

One of the most pernicious effects of the Marxist schema of base and superstructure is that it posits the economy and ideology as two separate and distinct levels. The base is where the economy does its work, silently and materially, and the superstructure does its work reproducing the relations of production by remaining entirely separate and distinct from the economy, by addressing morals, religion, the nation, everything but economic necessity. This rigid division makes it difficult to think of the ideological dimension of the economy and the economic dimension of ideology. 

Sunday, August 06, 2023

Barbies Amongst Themselves: Or, What Happens When You Make a Film about a Commodity


Watching Barbie reminded me of two essays that I had not read in a long time, Luce Irigaray's "Women on the Market " and "Commodities Among Themselves". In those essays Irigaray considers to what extent Marx's theory of the commodity form can be used to make sense of the status of women in society. Irigaray's texts takes as its start the idea of a society founded on an exchange of women, an idea integral to structural and psychoanalytic theories of kinship. From this it is possible to posit that relations among women would have the fantastic character of Marx's brief foray into describing the world of commodities amongst themselves. 

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Fallen Kingdom: Living in the Anthropocene with Spinoza and Marx


Bento in the Anthropocene 

Humanism, and the debates for and against it, is less a perennial philosophical question, returned to again and again, than a moving target, one that reflects the different political, cultural, and economic situation of the moment. The humanism of the renaissance is not the same humanism that was at the center of debates about Stalin and Marx in the sixties. Moreover, I would argue that the question of the human now is profoundly transformed by the Anthropocene, by the awareness that human impact has had an ecological and geological impact on the planet, transforming it for the worst. This does not mean that old debates and discussions of different humanisms in the history of philosophy are relegated to the dustbin of history--just that they take on a different sense and meaning today. Spinoza and Marx's debates with the humanism of their time take on a different sense today. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

A Useful Tool: Trolling History


Troll is a fairly entertaining movie (but that is not what this post is about)

To repeat something I have said before, if,  as it has often been claimed, philosophy begins with Socrates then it also begins with its particular antagonism, its particular anti-philosophy in the sophist and sophistry. It seems to me that if one wanted to read the history of philosophy in this way, with a founding event and founding antagonism, then one might want to consider who is our anti-philosopher today, who is the contemporary equivalent of the sophist? The answer would seem to have to be the troll. 

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Who Can Criticize Capitalism: Or, When Can We Eat Salmon Mayonnaise?


Given that Bob Iger is in the news (and maybe the executive named below)
I thought that I would use this image from the Disney Strike of 1941

One of the strange contradictions of living in a country where union membership is so low, something like six percent in the private sector, is that some of the professions that we associate with fame and fortune are unionized; major league baseball, NFL, and actors and writers for Hollywood all have unions. This combined with the fact that there is very little labor reporting in this country means that most people will no more about strikes of the (supposedly) and famous than any other labor actions--an entirely different sense of labor aristocracy. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Which Marx/Which Spinoza: On Althusser and Fischbach

How it started/how it is going

Louis Althusser is most known for his argument regarding an epistemic break between the young and mature Marx. According to Althusser the works of the eighteen forties, most significantly The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, are burdened by a humanist and idealist conception of history that Marx inherited from Feuerbach and Hegel. In this conception capitalism alienates humanity from his or her productive essence. Marx breaks with this influence over the course of the eighteen fifties, eventually developing his own, anti-humanist and materialist philosophy in Capital. Marx broke with his focus on humanity and the human essence to focus on capitalism as a system of relations of exploitation. Althusser in part borrowed this notion of a break, a division between ideology and science, from Spinoza’s understanding of the division between the first and second kind of knowledge in the Ethics. Althusser equated the first kind of knowledge with ideology, with the imagination, and the second (and third), with science. That Althusser relied on Spinoza’s epistemology to drive a wedge between the young and the old Marx has, as its perhaps unstated corollary, that Spinoza is to be identified with the late Marx, with Capital.

Thursday, July 06, 2023

The Franchise Lives On: Scream and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

I will begin with a story. When I was in graduate school I returned to Hampshire twice to teach as part of the Jan Plan. The college was interested in elevating its January term, which up until then had been a free for all of student led courses. I was looking to get out of Binghamton for a few weeks. Even in the bitter cold of January, Amherst has more to offer than Broome County. I saw the first Scream during one of those Januarys, and the next January I taught it.

Sunday, July 02, 2023

Making Up a Guy to Get Mad At: The (Completely) Imaginary Institution of Society


One fact stands out in the recent Supreme Court Decision 303 Creative LLC vs. Elenis and that is that the web hosting company in question has yet to sell wedding websites (see the passage from the dissenting opinion below). There is also news that the plaintiff, Lorie Smith may have fabricated a gay couple who supposedly enquired about web hosting.  I believe that this little bit of legal trivia reveals something fundamental about our current era, it is one in which the fears and fantasies of the powerful are taken more seriously than the realities of the dispossessed. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Florida, Man! Part II: What is So Critical about Critical Race Theory

of people protesting CRT I decided to post the video of the talk referred to below. 

As I think I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog in the spring I taught a seminar on Race, Class, and Gender. This involved an engagement with both some familiar material, Balibar's writing on race and class, and some material that I have not taught before, Stuart Hall, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Sylvia Wynter, etc. (I should say that in light of the title of this piece that I did not teach CRT specifically, but rather critical writing on race). At the same time that I was expanding my teaching and research the country, or at least parts of it were moving in the other direction, passing laws that outlawed discussions of critical race theory, intersectionality, and gender theory. This was in some sense a teachable moment, or at least should be: I kept coming back to the question of the politics of knowledge and ignorance around race.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Florida, Man! The War Against Higher Education


Alligator has to be the best University Mascot

“What is happening in Florida will not stay in Florida." From the AAUP's Report on Florida

There is no shortage of critical responses to what is happening to higher education in Florida. There is the report from the AAUP cited above, and the podcast I co-host even dedicated an episode to it. In many, but not all of these cases, these responses have dovetailed with DeSantis' political career, focusing on the person, the policy, and the overall strategy. See for the example the great episode of Know Your Enemy. 

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

One Amendment to Rule them All: Symptomatically Reading the Bill of Rights


Photos from the Ameriguns by Gabriele Galimberti

If one wanted to find a text to confirm Louis Althusser's thesis that the writings of the young Marx were not yet Marx, and thus best left to the dustbin, one could perhaps find not better contender than "On the Jewish Question." Much of the essay is a response to Bauer, and part of a long forgotten debate. When Marx breaks free of this debate in the final paragraphs it is to engage in horrible stereotypes of Jewish materialism and greed that many have considered to be not only anti-semitic, but symptoms of self loathing. I am not entering into these debates here, but will say that I have regretted every time I taught the text. If there is one argument for considering to read the essay, as well as to teach it, however, it has to do with the reading and analysis that Marx puts forward of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.

Thursday, May 04, 2023

The Spinoza Effect: on Matthys' Althusser Lecteur de Spinoza

In the last year or so there have been two books published on Althusser and Spinoza. Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop's Althusser et Spinoza: Detours et Retours and now Jean Matthys Althusser lecteur de Spinoza: Genèse et enjeux d'une éthico-politique de la théorie. This is perhaps not surprising, after all Althusser confessed to being a Spinozist famously in 1972, but I would argue that there are still some surprises to be found in terms of this combination. First, and most fundamentally, it is surprising to see two full length studies on Althusser and Spinoza since as much as the name and concepts of Spinoza played fundamental or pivotal roles in Althusser's thought, underlying his own concepts of structural, or immanent, causality, symptomatic reading, and ideology, Althusser wrote very little on Spinoza. I have often thought that the Althusser Spinoza connection exists more in its effects, in what it made possible in the writing of  Macherey and Balibar, to name just two proximate effects, rather than in Althusser's thought. Estop and Matthys both contest such an interpretation, arguing for a Spinozism that is more immanent and more consistent in Althusser's works than the few times he is mentioned by name. 

Friday, April 28, 2023

Broken Brains: On an Etiology of the Present


Image from Fiend Without A Face 

I am not sure when I first heard the phrase "broke their brain" but I know that I have heard it multiple times. I have heard it used to explain the obsession with cancel culture on the part of the pundit class. That once they were subject to criticism and mockery online it effectively broke their brain, making it impossible for them to distinguish between criticism and actual threats to free speech. I have also heard it used to refer to the 2020 election and its aftermath.The idea underlying the phrase, at least as I understand it, as that something can happen that is so difficult for particular individuals to process or make sense of, that it effectively hinders their ability to make sense of everything after. It marks a traumatic before and after in which nothing ever makes sense again.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Inalienable: Hobbes, Spinoza, and Locke on Self-Defense


Since I am discussing Dorlin's Self-Defense 
I thought that I would use some pictures from old self defense manuals
including this variation of nikkyo. 

Elsa Dorlin's Self-Defense: A Philosophy of Violence  considers, among many things, the role that self-defense played in social contract theory (and beyond). What follows bellow is a response to that particular provocation and not a review of the whole book, but it is very much worth reading.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Between Micro-Politics and Mute Compulsion: Reflections on a Problem


Detail of Rapture by Jon Read

Since it was published I have taught Kathi Weeks' book The Problem with Work in my Politics and Philosophy of work class. When I introduce the book, stressing that it is written by a political theorist and not, as in the case of many of our readings, by a philosopher, sociologist or historian, I ask the two questions that Weeks asks: namely, why should a political theory consider work? why does work seem to be outside of politics? What I am trying to provoke with these questions is a particular aporia in which work is for many people the central experience of power, authority, control and subjection, but because it is seen as private and natural it is seen as outside of politics, as apolitical. I remember very well a student responding to the second part of the question by saying that work was not political because "no one made you do it." At first I found this formulation strange given all of the ramifications and consequences of not working from homelessness to starvation, but the more I thought about his response the more it made its own particular sense. The compulsion to work, to sell one's labor power, was in some sense mute, unspoken, there was no particular agency or institution in society demanding it, and there was no particular institution or agency in society enforcing it--in part because it is diffuse spread throughout society. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Translating Transclass: Or Teaching Eribon in America

Since this is a post about class, family, and returns
I thought that I would illustrate it with pictures illustrating
the fact that I now live in the same neighborhood my mother lived in, 
but the neighborhood has changed except this old fishing/gun store


I have often considered teaching to be a kind of translation and not just because much of the history of philosophy is written in different languages. Part of what one does in teaching is try to take the questions and concerns of a different time and figure out some way to bridge that gap, while at the same time being faithful to its original sense and meaning (just like translation). These thoughts occurred to me again when I decided to teach Didier Eribon's Returning to Reims.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Team Transindividuality: on Vittorio Morfino and Bernard Aspe


Jeremy Gilbert and I sometimes joke about TOP, the Transindividual Oriented Philosophy. The reference is obviously to the phenomenon of OOO (Object Oriented Ontology) in the early part of the millennium. As much as our joke has to do with sort of doctrinaire and polemical way the former arrived on the scene and our lack of interest in any such thing. (I should say in a parenthetical that is way too late, one of the things that always troubled me about OOO is that it emerged and thrived on blogs, but blogs with their intersection of the social and the technological seemed the last thing that the last thing that the crowd wanted to think about. Part of what makes me irredeemably a historical materialist is that I think the question of understanding where one is thinking from is paramount even if a bit quixotic--one can never see the ground that one speaks from). Despite this joke transindividuality, at least in terms of contemporary writers who use the concept, less a school of thought than a series of intersecting critiques and articulations. Or, if one wanted to be clever about it, the collection of writers who work on transindividuality are all part of a general orientation that is individuated differently in each of their specif philosophical articulations. I would say more about this but I feel like this is something that I tried to say with the examination of Balibar, Stiegler, and Virno in The Politics of Transindividuality.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Go West, Young Man: A Lingering Postscript on Nope


I was invited to write a piece for the APA's blog about film. I decided to write about Nope a movie that has become one of my favorites of the year. I am generally pleased by how the piece came out. In the piece I generally viewed the film through the way in which it is framed in relation to the science fiction film. I think that one of the way in which the film addresses the dominance of the spectacle is that both the characters in the film as well as the audience views the film from the perspective of the "first contact" film. Of course the film subverts these expectations, illustrating that what we see and understand is itself already dominated by the dead images that overwhelm our vision. We see a silver disc as a flying saucer and expect it to be filled with "viewers' because so many films have taught us to see things that way. That the film ultimately forces us to confront the limitation of that way of seeing suggests that this film is in some sense about unlearning what the spectacle teaches us to see. 

Sunday, January 08, 2023

The Imaginary Institution of Society: Spinoza's Version

When I was in graduate school "the imaginary" was one of those words that circulated all the more often because it was untethered to any specific theoretical source. It borrowed bits from Lacan and bits from Castoriadis to suggest some historically specific articulation of the very capacity to imagine. There were multiple imaginaries, political, social, technical etc., As someone who was getting interested in Spinoza at the time I tried to connect his writing on the imagination with this idea to no avail.