Friday, May 10, 2024

2 Apes 2 Planets: On Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes


The recent Planet of the Apes films can be defined by two questions: one internal to the films themselves, to their own universe, albeit with allegorical dimensions, and the other external, to their status as commodities in the culture industry. The first question is what is the nature of the conflict between humans and apes? Is it a natural conflict, a conflict between two species for domination, or is it a political conflict, a conflict between different ways of living. The second question is will audiences watch and identify with apes, with CGI characters, rather than humans played by human actors.

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

The Concept Worker Doesn't Wear a Hardhat: Spinoza, Marx, Nesbitt and Common Notions


"They would not agree with one another any more than do the dog that is a heavenly constellation and the dog that is a barking animal." Spinoza

"The concept dog doesn't bark." Louis Althusser 

Ever since reading Margherita Pascucci’s Potentia of Poverty I have been thinking about the relation between Marx’s thought and Spinoza’s common notions. The question I am asking is not did Marx write Capital in and through common notions, as an application of Spinoza’s thought. Although I am not entirely discounting such influence. Rather, what would be at stake in reading Marx through the common notions? 

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Two Thesis on the Limits of Philosophy: Marx and Spinoza


I once contemplated getting my favorite Spinoza proposition 
as a Vanity Plate 

In the past few months, longer even, but before the recent wave of student occupations (more on that later), I have found myself in the grips of a kind of depression that stems in part from what can only be described as a gap between theory and practice. How this works is like this, all day, or at least part of it, I read books, and get into discussions understanding how the world works, and what could be done to change it and yet the world goes on unchanged, or, more to the point, it just seems to get worse and worse. (I will let the reader fill this in with whatever ecological, political, or economic calamity that comes to mind) The disconnect between the classroom and the world creates not just division but despair.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

One, Two, Many Spinozist-Marxisms: A Postscript to The Double Shift


This post is illustrated by some of the promo work 
I have done for the book

I have commented before, more than once even, that the intersection of Spinoza and Marx is less a position, something like Spinozist Marxism, than a field of intersecting problems and questions. In some sense it is possible to even map out the way in which different Marxists draw from different elements of Marx (and Spinoza) creating different articulations of the relations which intersect with different problems in the critique of capitalism. 

Thursday, April 04, 2024

Leave What World Behind: On Leave the World Behind

Something has changed in watching post-apocalyptic films in recent years. It is hard to pinpoint exactly when, and what exactly the cause might be, but at some point in the last few years the post-apocalypse has gone from an escapist fantasy to a figure of dread. The increasing rate of global warming leading to fires, droughts, and hurricanes; the ongoing Covid pandemic; and the rise of right wing nationalism has transformed the apocalypse from a subgenre of science fiction to a barometer of fears and anxieties. As Robert Tally argues the sense of the future has changed dramatically over the last decade: utopia has been replaced by dystopia in contemporary fiction and film and post-apocalypse has replaced predictions of a miraculous world of tomorrow. This is another way of addressing Fredric Jameson’s old adage that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. To which we could add that this imagination is no longer an idle speculation about the future, but immediately lived, as apocalypse seems to inch closer, moving from the distant horizon to the lived present. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

The Racial Division of Labor: On Sylvie Laurent's Capital et Race


In Kathi Weeks' The Problem with Work she makes an argument about the way in which work produces and reproduces gender. As Weeks writes:

"To say that work is organized by gender is to observe that it is a site where, at a minimum, we can find gender enforced, performed, and recreated. Workplaces are often structured in relation to gendered norms and expectations. Waged work and unwaged work alike continue to be structured by the productivity of gender-differentiated labor, including the gender division of both household roles and waged occupations...Gender is put to work when, for example, workers draw upon gendered codes and scripts as a way to negotiate relationships with bosses and co-workers, to personalize impersonal interactions, or to communicate courtesy, care, professionalism, or authority to clients, students, patients or customers."

Lately I have been thinking about the way in which we could also think about the way in which work is also organized by, and organizing of, other social hierarchies including race. How is work organized by race, or how are racialized codes and scripts put to work in the workplace?

Monday, March 04, 2024

Requiem for a Training Montage: Or, Everyone's Crazy for a Self-Made Man

The other day, out of a combination of nostalgia, insomnia, and tribute to Carl Weathers I decide to watch Rocky III. I am not sure why I picked this one. Perhaps because it is one of Weathers' best as he goes from rival to partner, it is also where Rocky goes from scrappy seventies film to full on eighties excess, a process that would be completed in Rocky IV. It also got me thinking of training montages.

Friday, March 01, 2024

The Production of Ignorance: Ideology or Agnotology?

Bento and books

With all of my writing and translating about Spinoza and Marx as of late I am embarrassed to admit that there is a moment of their encounter that I have overlooked. The passage in question is in Chapter Eleven of Volume One of Capital (and I am indebted to Nick Nesbitt for pointing it out). In that passage Marx writes, 

"Vulgar economics, which like the Bourbons 'has really learnt nothing,' relies here as mere semblance as opposed to the law which regulates and determines the phenomena. In anthesis to Spinoza, it believes that 'ignorance is a sufficient reason."

Friday, February 23, 2024

Master and Commander: Or, Must Love Dogs II



In undergrad I got really into theory, all of it, reading Baudrillard, Deleuze, Debord, Foucault, etc., most definitely etc, all the time. My theory fascination was a byproduct of reading zines and little semiotextes, the more polemical, the more outlandish its claims, the more I loved it. One little book I particularly loved was First and Last Emperors: The Absolute State and the Body of the Despot by Kenneth Dean and Brian Massumi. It is an odd little book, a reading of the Reagan/Bush years framed as much by the legalist philosopher Shang Yang's The Book of Lord Shang as it is by the expected references to Deleuze and Guattari. (Brian Massumi of course translated A Thousand Plateaus). That odd idiosyncratic nature is precisely what I loved about it. I dreamt of writing something similar, not on Reagan and legalism but something which brought together a variety of disparate references to think through a specific problem. I guess my book which talks about Spinoza and Marx along with Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, might be an attempt to realize that wish. 

Friday, February 16, 2024

Ahead of its Time: On Clockwatchers


Clockwatchers is an underrated film. Perhaps it came out too early, missing the slew of films critical of work and cubicles by at least a year. 1999 was the year of Fight Club, Office Space, American Beauty, and The Matrix, which all dealt with an escape from the confines of the cubicle. Or, and this is probably closer to the point, a film focusing on the working lives of four women would never touch the same points of cultural resonance as Fight Club or Office Space, which were as much about the crisis of masculinity as it was about work. It also never had the same afterlife as those films, which gained most of their audience through fancy boxed DVDs and endless repetitions on cable. Luckily the film was made available through streaming on the Criterion Channel, which makes it possible to rectify its status as an overlooked classic.

Sunday, February 04, 2024

Everybody Gets to be a Fascist: Or, What Taylor Swift Taught Me About Fascism


The Best Joke in Barbie 

Years ago I remember encountering Félix Guattari's little essay, "Everybody Wants to be a Fascist." At the time its title seemed more clever than prescient. (Although it is worth remembering how much fascism, and the encounter with fascism was integral to Deleuze and Guattari's theorizing, well beyond the reference to Reich). Now that we are living in a different relation to fascism the problem posed by Guattari (and Deleuze) of desire seems all the more pertinent and pressing. 

Monday, January 29, 2024

How to Do Things with Hegel: On Gray and Johnson's Phenomenology of Black Spirit


Because actual history is rarely linear, let alone teleological, I read the repudiation of Hegel before I ever read Hegel. I had read arguments and polemics against Hegel in Althusser, Deleuze, and Foucault long before I had every cracked Hegel's books. A funny thing happened once I started reading, writing, and teaching Hegel, is that I started to warm up to him. It was not the idea of spirit that appealed to me, or even the dialectic as some overarching logic, but the more limited, finite dialectics of the different figures and moments of consciousness. 

Friday, January 19, 2024

Our Cultural Revolution: Or, the Enshittification of Culture

Thanks to Ron Schmidt for this image 

In John Maynard Keynes essay "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren" one can find the following formulation of the cultural transformation of post-capitalism:

"I see us free, therefore, to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue-that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanour, and the love of money is detestable, that those walk most truly in the paths of virtue and sane wisdom who take least thought for the morrow. We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful. We shall honour those who can teach us how to pluck the hour and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are capable of taking direct enjoyment in things, the lilies of the field who toil not, neither do they spin. 

For a least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to every one that fair is foul and foul is fair, for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight."

Sunday, January 07, 2024

It is All Subjective: Marx, Spinoza, and Subjectivity


Anyone who has ever taken or taught a philosophy class is familiar with the claim "[Blank] is subjective" in which the [Blank] in question could be anything from literary interpretations to ethical norms. This response effectively ends any and all cultural and philosophical discussion, which is why it is so aggravating. One response is to argue against this claim, to point out that not every interpretation of a poem, novel, or film, is authorized, that there are better or worse interpretations, with respect to cultural version. With respect to the ethical or political arguments it is tempting to point out that the very existence of ethics, of society, presupposes norms that are shared as well as debated and challenged.