Sunday, February 11, 2018

Losing Strategies: Negative Solidarity as Practice



Once in class a student said, "Bernie Sanders wants to give free tuition to everyone: I can't pay for everyone else's tuition I am having a hard enough time just paying for my own." My interest in this statement has less to do with the merits of Bernie Sanders campaign, or such promises, than its strange logic. I admit that I almost had a stifle a laugh when this was uttered in class. I wasn't trying to be mean, but I thought that the student must by joking. When I saw that he wasn't, that he did not grasp the contradiction at the heart of what he was saying, it struck me as a stunning example of negative solidarity. 

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Work Like It is 1999: A Year of the Refusal of Work in Film



On first glance nothing much connects American Beauty, Fight Club, and Office Space except the fact that they came out in the same year, 1999. They are distinct in terms of their genres, middle brow prestige picture, pseudo underground action thriller, and comedy, and their reception; the first was a critically lauded Oscar winner, the second a critically reviled cult film, while the third found its audience through repeat viewings on cable, making it a more passive sort of cult film. Despite these differences of genre and audience they are linked in that all films about the refusal of work. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Make Monsters Great Again: Timeliness and Untimeliness in The Shape of Water



Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water is an odd and improbable creature, a monster movie that is a critical darling. The critical responses for the movie have themselves understood the movie as a different sort of chimera, a combination of "fairy tale" and nostalgia film, something at once timeless and caught in its own relation to a vanishing past. 

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Dead Ideas Live On: On Elizabeth Anderson's Private Government



I decided to illustrate this post with images from


Reading Elizabeth Anderson's Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk About It) was an interested and somewhat bewildering experience. At first I thought that I agreed with everything she said, but only differed in how I would say it--a difference of philosophical style or orientation--but, the more I read, the more I thought that there might be some substance to this difference of style. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Economism These Days: On Kids These Days


I started reading Malcolm Harris' Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of  Millennials in probably the ideal location and context. I was visiting my mother at a retirement community in Florida for Christmas. I was reading it by the pool when I actually overheard someone go on about "kids today" and their phones and video games. The general worry about the current generation was all around me. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Small Concept: On Downsizing



Matt Damon has the odd distinction of staring in two science fiction dystopias, one bleak action movie the other farce, that are absolutely confused on the role of work and capitalism. The first was Elysium and the most recent is Downsizing. The confusion is not just a product of the director or screenwriter's particular confusion, but is in some sense symptomatic of a more general ideological elision in which capitalism is lived but never named, or, more to the point, never named because it is lived--just like the proverbial fish in water. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Immanent Cause: Between Reproduction and Nonreproduction

Presented in Santiago, Chile 

Of all the various provocations in Lire le Capital there is perhaps none more provocative than structural causality. In this case the provocation can be measured in this case in the gap between the implications of the concept, its effects on social relations, subjectivity, and history, and its formulation, which is provisional and partial—mutilated as Spinoza might say. Structural or metonymic causality posits that the economy and society, base and superstructure, is neither a linear transitive cause, nor a relation of expression, but a cause which only exists in and through its effects. Or, put otherwise, the effects of the economy in the spheres of ideology must be thought of as causes as much as effects, as conditions of its reproduction. Framed in this way the concept of “structural (or immanent) causality” is not just a concept limited to its appearance in Lire le Capital, but it becomes integral to Althusser’s later examination of ideology and reproduction. Reproduction is the necessary condition for seeing ideology as not just an effect of economic structures but their necessary precondition. Reproduction is another way of viewing the immanent nature of the mode of production, how its effects in the sphere of subjectivity and social relations, become necessary conditions.  Althusser’s writing shows a different trajectory, not only did reproduction become the specific theme of Sur la Reproduction, but the manuscripts on “aleatory materialism” also return to reproduction, thinking necessity from contingency, as the becoming necessary of the encounter. It is a matter of thinking the coexistence of reproduction and non-reproduction, which is to say class struggle, without resorting to a voluntarist conception of political action. Non-reproduction must be as immanent as reproduction, the conditions of the unraveling of a given mode of production must be as integral to it as its perpetuation. It is this trajectory which has been taken up by subsequent readers of not only Althusser, but of Spinoza and Marx as well. 

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Conscienta Sive ideologia: The Spontaneity of Ideology

A Bento/Marx image

In Des Universels Etienne Balibar writes, “Conscientia sive ideologia” (Consciousness, that is ideology). Balibar’s formulation is applied to Marx, specifically to the theorization of ideology from The German Ideology, but its word brings to mind Spinoza’s famous Deus sive natura, his strategy of the sive in which philosophical oppositions are overcome with the assertion of their fundamentally interchangeability. It is at once a Spinozist injoke and a provocation, the strategy of the “sive” does not just identify two terms, but opens the question of their identity and difference. Between the joke and the provocation is of course Louis Althusser, not just because Althusser was both a Spinozist and a Marxist, but because Althusser’s various formulations of ideology, formulations indebted to both Spinoza and Marx, continually thought ideology in both its spontaneity and its universality, seeing it as coexistent experience and consciousness. Such an assertion, as with all strategies of the sive, raises as many difficulties and questions as it resolves. These questions hinge on the way in which the concept of ideology is caught between universality and specificity, structural condition and particular content, or, ultimately, between necessity and contingency, an integral element of experience or a particular effect of a given social formation. The closer ideology gets to being coextensive with consciousness, the more it loses its socio-historical specificity, becoming something like a constitutive error, or antinomy of thought. The extension on the epistemic register is not without its effects on politics, if ideology is coextensive with consciousness, than what possibilities are there for radical critique and change? The opposite pole is no less fraught with difficulties, ideologies considered in terms of its specific content and concepts, as bourgeois, capitalist, or neoliberal, raises the question of its conditions of production and dissemination, at worst collapsing into a kind a conspiracy. Ideology is caught between the poles of necessity and contingency, form and content, and structure and history. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Macabre Goes Mainstream: A Halloween Story



I will begin with the personal story. At some point in my awkward adolescent years when I was too old to trick or treat yet not yet old enough to do anything else on Halloween I was left with the responsibility of giving out candy. Left alone and somewhat bored I decided to make it fun. In between rings of the doorbell I gathered up an old "Creature from the Black Lagoon" mask and my "Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House." The record supplied atmosphere and then I would jump out from behind the door. As the night went on I became more creative, leaving a hatchet covered in ketchup in view of the door, placing an iron black cat doorstop in the window, and so on. My brother soon came home and found scaring kids to be way more fun than going door to door getting candy.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Scenes of Violence: Between Ultraobjective and Ultrasubjective Forms of Violence


How to make sense of the daily brutality that seems to surround us? Balibar's Violence and Civility can be seen as offering a sort of solution to this problem. Balibar's solution is framed in terms of three moves. First, he dubs inconvertible violence cruelty, the name suggests an excess, or in Balibar's terms inconvertible form of violence; it is violence that cannot be placed on any trajectory of progress, even the cunning of reason. Second, cruelty is differentiated in terms of ultraobjective violence, the violence of populations that are exposed to natural disasters, wars, or the effects of the market. This is violence without a face or name.  Ultraobjective is contrasted to the cruelty of ultrasubjective violence, violence that is not only intended, with a face and name, but often is aimed a particular group. Third, and this is the most important point, there is the question of the relation between these two forms of violence, unified under the same name, but differentiated.  As Balibar writes,