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. 

For Louis Althusser the important parts of Spinoza are the critique of the imagination (found in the Appendix to Part One of the Ethics), the theory of the different types of knowledge (IIP40Schol), as well as "God is the immanent, not the transitive cause of all things" (IIP18). Of course such a list begins to reflect divisions and tensions in Althusser's writing: the imagination is integral to his theory of ideology, immanent causality to his understanding of structure and the mode of production, while the different types of knowledge persists throughout Althusser's writing as a kind of philosophy of philosophical practice. While for Frédéric Lordon the central thesis of Spinoza is less epistemological or ontological than it is anthropological. It is the centrality of desire, "as the very essence of man, insofar as it is determined from any affection, to do something," coupled with the fundamental misrecognition of that desire, the fundamental illusion of a free choice which leads the infant to believe it freely wants milk, and more to the point, the worker to believe that he or she freely wants to work. For Etienne Balibar the central thesis is perhaps Proposition 37 of Part IV of the Ethics, and more importantly its two demonstrations which map out the constitution of a real, or rational, and imagined, or affective basis of sociality.  We could also flip this formulation, asking not what aspect, or proposition from Spinoza plays a central role, but what problem from Marx. Ideology can already be seen to be the answer in the case of Althusser (and a different way in Lordon and Balibar), while for Antonio Negri the connection passes through production, through the question of what does it mean to think of history and society as something that is produced and reproduced through our action and lives. A different focus on labor, or praxis can be found in André Tosel, whose work is an attempt to think through what it means to think of praxis as poeisis and poeisis as praxis, making as doing and doing as making. This Marxist problem if fundamentally informed by the Spinozist idea that every finite thing, every mode, acts, or rather operates in and through other modes.The list goes on, and one could map out a whole set of definitions of Spinozist Marxism which would be different intersections of propositions and problems from each. 


The question I have been thinking about is given this field in which every position has already in some sense been occupied how is it possible to make a new intervention. Or put differently what particular proposition and what particular problem does The Double Shift: Spinoza and Marx on the Politics of Work articulate, or think together. If I had to pick one I would say that it is the famous, or infamous Proposition 7 from Part Two, “The the order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things.” Of course this claim is something that every interpretation of Spinoza must ultimately wrestle with, and one could chart out the various neo-Spinozisms in terms of how they make sense of the identity and difference of things and ideas, bodies and minds. To be more specific I would say that it is a matter of thinking this as a formulation of ideology. As I write in the book, 

 "...Grasped in terms of a post-Spinozist social theory, it is possible to argue that Spinoza’s formulation can productively paired with Marx’s assertion of the identity of consciousness and life. Ideas and the imagination, like bodies and desires, must be grasped in terms of both of their internal striving, their consistency, and of their finitude, their determination. Contrary to a long-standing bias in the history of philosophy to treat ideas and things as two fundamentally different orders of reality, Spinoza posits a fundamental identity of thought and existence—, an identity that, paradoxically, makes it possible to grasp their points of divergence and intersection. Of course, as I have already argued, the very idea of ideology necessarily presupposes a difference as well as an identity; in order to be the ruling ideas, the concepts and narratives that rule ideas must be different from the experience and conditions they rule over in order to be the ruling ideas, but, at the same time, they must be produced by those conditions. There is a limited efficacy of true ideas insofar as they are true; ideas do not have effects on their own, but require conditions in order to exist and be disseminated. Spinoza’s assertion regarding true ideas can be understood as a mirror image of Marx’s claim regarding ideology. As Étienne Balibar describes the structure of ideology in The German Ideology,

“The ideological mechanism, which can equally be read as a social process, will come to be seen as an astonishing conversion of impotence into domination: the abstraction of consciousness, which is an expression of consciousness’s incapacity to act in reality … becomes the source of power precisely because it is “‘autonomized.” 

Contrary to his critical contemporaries, such as Feuerbach and Stirner, who believed in the power of ideas, and thus the weapon of criticism, Marx underscores that ideas only have power, only have effects, under particular material conditions that give some no time to think and others the means to spread and disseminate their ideas. Ideas have a causality that is not derived not from them as ideas, but from the social relations that produce and circulate them."

First this has to be thought of in terms of identity, ideas are nothing other than the existing relation between things, the different material relations expressed differently. In other words, to quickly allude to something that the book develops over a few pages, the idea that there is ethical and moral worth to work, that have "grind" mindset, are the key to not only material success but spiritual worth as well, is nothing other than the material conditions, precarity, gig economy, and so on, rendered in ideal or conceptual forms. A person who feels that their self value and self worth can be measured in terms of how much they work is nothing other than the consciousness of labor power itself. In other words, the order and connection of ideology is the same as the order and connection of exploitation. Just as Spinoza argues that desire is nothing other than an idea of our appetite, the body's needs in mental form, our ideas about work, which make it the key to worth and self-value, are nothing other than our position within the economy in material form. (This is something central to another Marxist/Spinozist thinker, Franck Fischbach, who has argued that the conditions of intellectual life are the same as that of material life. As Fischbach writes, "If it is true that 'the production of ideas, of ideas, representations and consciousness (...) is the language of real life" then the production of ideologies, of inadequate representations, is the language of life incomplete, inadequate, and mutilated." Mind and body are two different ways of grasping the same thing. 

Such a formulation seems crude, deterministic, and in some sense more vulgar than the most vulgar of materialisms; it posits us all as spiritual automatons whose thoughts and ideas do nothing more than express, in a different attribute, what is already given in our material condition, in the relations of bodies. Things are complicated quite a bit by subsequent propositions which assert that only a body can affect or determine a body and only an idea can affect or determine an idea. The assertion of identity, ideas and things, mind and body, as two different ways of looking at the same thing, has as it paradoxical corollary the assertion of difference, mind and body as two fundamentally different ways of acting and reacting, each with their own causal orders and connections that are entirely independent. This is a particular dense metaphysical knot of identity and difference, but I am more interested in how it plays out practically, politically, as a way of thinking about ideas and bodies, base and superstructure Much could be said about the way this plays out in Spinoza's text, especially in Part IV of the Ethics, to underscore the limited efficacy of the true insofar as it is true, of the way in which ideas cannot change the world without becoming lived in bodies. 

As I argue in the book (following Tosel) Spinoza's formulation makes it possible to think of the particular double determination of ideas and bodies. That each are in some sense determined by being reflections of the same thing, the same relations, but are also determined in a particular manner by other ideas or other bodies. In other words, returning to the problem of the book, as much as the centrality of work as that which give people meaning and value can be understood to be just capitalism rendered into an idea it is also an effect of a long series of transformations within the realm of ideas from the protestant revolution onward. To put it bluntly the response to the long debate between Marx and Weber, between material determination and cultural history, is quite simply, "Why Not Both." Although to be honest I am more interested in the way this makes it possible to understand the present than debates in intellectual history. 



To quote The Double Shift again: 

"As I have argued, these two aspects are, in some sense, two different ways of looking at the same thing, the same social relation, grasped in terms of bodies and their coordination and minds and their automation. However, they also function in different ways of understanding the orientation of desire. In the first, it is imposed through necessity; as selling one’s labor power becomes the only condition of survival, living is aligned with making a living through wage labor. Wage labor appears to be the only way to make a living because all other ways are effaced. The constraints of society appear less as particular institutions, regimes of accumulation, and social relations, but as the way things must be; their historicity and contingency are effaced in the present order. This structural condition is supplemented by an ideological dimension insisting that not only that one must one identify with their job, find their passion in their labor, but that such a condition is also to be actively desired. Having to work, to dedicate oneself entirely to work, is presented twice, as it were—once as a necessary condition for survival and the second time as aspiration integral to one’s identity. To frame it according to the division of work and action, we could argue that work is defined as both production and action, both as the constraint of necessity tied to survival and something freely undertaken to identify and distinguish oneself. The particular double determination in capitalist society is one in which work vacillates between a necessary fact of life to an object of desire, from making a living to finding meaning. The often-asked question,  "What do you do for a living?” vacillates between these two senses; at once,, it indicates something of necessity, of one’s economic situation, and freedom, one’s supposedly chosen path in life. It is both what one has to do and who one is. Work as necessity and work as subjectivity, as body and as mind, do not just coexist as two different ways of grasping the same thing, but are subject to their own logic of alternation as material necessity and ideological meaning reinforce and also undermine each other." 

Double determination makes it possible to think at once of our particular "bondage," to use Spinoza's term, caught both in a set of material relations, namely capitalism, that reduce us to labor power, and intellectual traditions which express the same conditions through the ideological terms of morality, responsibility, and individuality. Transformation entails transforming each. There is a limited efficacy of criticism so long as it just remains criticism (of course the corollary is that there a limited efficacy of practice as practice). It is a matter of linking together the transformation of material conditions and intellectual concepts, or, what people used to call Praxis. 

Updated 6/16/24

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