Thursday, April 08, 2021

Go Figure: On Lordon's Figures du Communisme


Frédéric Lordon has published four books since Capitalisme, désire, et Servitude in 2010, not counting collections of essays, edited volumes and even a play. I have reviewed them all here, and continued to use Lordon's writing in my research on the intersection of affect, imagination, and work in capitalism. I remain profoundly influenced by his interventions. However, I will be honest, prolific authors make me skeptical, even nervous. Sometimes publishing overtakes thinking and one ends up with a kind of diminishing returns as later books only put finishing touches on earlier innovations. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

How the World of Fiction Became True: On The Department of Truth


From The Department of Truth by James Tynion and Martin Simmonds

I have not been to my local comic book shop in a year. I went once in the summer to pickup a few things curbside, but that limited to me to pick up a few things in my pull list. I have not walked idly through the racks looking at new comics, searching for that elusive new thing that would be worth reading in long time. I have even spent some time going back and reading old comics (as I blogged about here.) The collected trade of the first five issues of The Department of Truth is the first thing that I have read in months to break this pandemic imposed interruption of comics.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Althusser Effects: Philosophical Practices


I have more copies of Reading Capital than any other book

One of the most damming things anyone has ever said, to me at least, about academic philosophy was something like the following, "philosophy at universities today is to doing philosophy what art history is to making art." The implication being that emphasis in the modern university is on following different philosophers; tracing their influences and transformations the way that a historian my trace the different periods of an artist. It seemed damming, but not inaccurate, especially with respect to the way that there seems to be a trajectory, at least in continental programs of setting oneself up as [blank] guy, following a philosopher, interpreting, commenting and translating. There are a lot of questions that can be posed about this model, especially now, as philosophy continues to be pushed outside of the university, and forced to reinvent itself in new spaces and publications. 

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Everyone is Disposable: On Ogilvie's L' Homme Jetable

Yesterday, two things happened, one I spent a better portion of the day preparing a lecture on James Boggs' The American Revolution ; Pages from a Negro Worker's Notebook (You can listen to it here for what it is worth) and thinking about his description of automation and the creation of a surplus population. At the same time I was also thinking about the governor of Texas decisions to "open up" the state in the middle of a pandemic, ending all restrictions and social distancing measures. Together this made me think of Ogilvie's concept of a "disposable human being," (l'homme jetable), a concept, or rather mode of investigation that seems all the more important in an age in which much of the world is being treated as disposable. I was surprised to see that I had never directly blogged about this concept despite the fact that I had written about Ogilvie before. I did, however, have a reader's report I wrote on Ogilvie's book, arguing that it should be translated. It is a thorough review, but not the most engaging. I decided to repost it here in the spirit of generating interest in Ogilvie's work. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Reduction to Ignorance: Spinoza in the Age of Conspiracy Theories

I was obsessed with conspiracy theories at some point in my adolescence. I listened to late night radio shows dedicated to alien abductions, satan messages on records, and a more local phenomena known as the mellonheads. These were jokes to me, or at least half jokes, I never took any of them seriously. However, they did contribute to growing sense that there was more to the world than what I was told. Adolescence and conspiracy theories go well together. In recent years, however, it increasingly seems like conspiracy theories have moved from the periphery to the mainstream, and from entertainment to politics. It is hard to avoid the fact that we are living through a profound transformation of knowledge, authority, and politics, and a revival of mystical and mythic forms of knowledge that go beyond any dialectic of enlightenment. It may then turn out that the old arguments regarding superstition have taken on a new relevance. As is often the case on this blog, I am starting here with Spinoza, I have a plan to continue this with a post on Hegel and then Marx, (we will see how it goes).

Monday, February 15, 2021

What's Love Got to Do With It? On Sarah Jaffe's Work Won't Love You Back

For the past ten years I have been teaching a class called The Politics and Philosophy of Work. At least once a semester someone mentions the phrase, or mantra, "Do what you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life." This bit of wisdom, which has been attributed to various different sources, is offered as the solution to all of the problems of work and of life. Like similar phrases of popular philosophy imploring us to live in the moment its popularity is directly proportional to its disconnect with anything resembling reality.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Ghosting: The Long Life of Red Scares


from facebook

This post could be considered a follow up to my previous post on The Communist Manifesto.  In each case it is a matter of what could be considered an error of the Manifesto. I know that it seems wrong to pick on the Manifesto a text which is less an attempt to state everything than an intervention in a specific theoretical and political conjunction--a stunning one. My one real criticism of the Manifesto is that its length has led to be being seen as THE summation of Marx's position so that even Jordan Peterson can read it before debating Zizek. However, it is a useful text to confront some of the limitations of Marxist thought. As I argued in the previous post, the assertion of the ruthlessly modernizing of the bourgeois mode of production makes it difficult to grasp the way in which not all that is solid melts into air, some of keeps coming back. 

Friday, January 01, 2021

Everybody is a Troll to Somebody: On Chris Beckett's Two Tribes (partially)


More than once I have made the joke that if philosophy really wanted to go back to its Platonic (or Socratic roots) then it most recognizing trolling as the new sophists. Trolling seems to be a more relevant form of "anti-philosophy," to use Badiou's term, than Wittgenstein or Nietzsche if only because the former is more prevalent, shaping the arguments that make up what passes for the public sphere, and not just a few philosophy classrooms.

Sunday, December 20, 2020 if it was Salvation: Dialectics of Obedience in Spinoza


Dimitris Vardoulakis' Spinoza, the Epicurean: Authority and Utility in Materialism puts forward the bold thesis that there is a dialectic of authority and utility in Spinoza. That obedience is situated between authority, between the "Potestas" of kings and God, and utility, the potentia of intellect and bodies. It is from this perspective that Vardoulakis presents a reading of Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. Despite the title of the book, which suggests a more modest exegetical undertaking, the stakes of this are less a matter of tracing the epicurean dimensions of Spinoza's thought, although that is done, than using those threads to expand the stakes of Spinoza's political thought. Vardoulakis' book takes on not only other readers of Spinoza, Negri, Deleuze, Althusser, Balibar, and Sharp, but also the central question of Spinoza's thought, why do people fight for their servitude as if it was salvation?

Monday, December 14, 2020

Waiting for the Robots: Benanav and Smith on the Illusions of Automation and Realities of Exploitation

All images from Starstream

In the last month or so two remarkably similar books appeared, Aaron Benanav's Automation and the Future of Work and Jason E. Smith's Smart Machines and Service Work: Automation in an Age of Stagnation. The books are similar without being redundant. They are too similar to construct anything like a provocative debate between them. They are perhaps best viewed not just in terms of their polemics against certain fantasies or fears of automation but the way in which they constitute an emergent, or even dominant, sensibility and orientation of Marxist thought, one that makes sense of the present through the infamous tendency of the rate of profit to fall.