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.

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.