Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Sharpen the Contradictions

This new post by Steven Shaviro speaks closely both to the conjuncture and my concerns in my ongoing book project The Persistence of the Negative. I share his scepticism concerning the symmetry between absolute pessimism and voluntarism / subjectivism, although, as I'll hopefully be elaborating at length, I would argue for a negativity that precisely acts on the ontological fabric of capitalism qua real abstractions. Such a negativity would not cultivate the subject or restore it as spectacle, in fact I'm not sure negativity can be entirely correlated with the subject at all (this is a speculative, not to say unsubstantiable, argument...).
It is worth reading Shaviro's post alongside Gregory Elliott's remarkable (although also very expensive) Ends in Sight (2008). Elliott too makes the point that Marx's success as analyst of capitalism means little when cut off from possible agency to destroy it. Contrary his earlier more sceptical discussion of Perry Anderson (in The Merciless Laboratory of History) now Elliott comes around to Andersonian pessimism. As he puts it in his conclusion, regarding the alter-globalisation movement, 'The cruces of an alternative - agency, organisation, strategy, goal - that could command the loyalties and energies of the requisite untold millions await anything approaching resolution.' (p.111)
This pessimism feeds into a query prompted by the fascinating paper by Nick Gray and Rob Lucas: "Formal and Real Subsumption - Logical or Historical Categories?" at the Marxism and Philosophy day. They quoted Jacques Camatte's argument that real subsumption absolishes formal mediations (unions, the welfare state, the parties of the third international; all 'positive' conceptions of the proletariat) and so leads to a sharpening of antagonism. What, however, if its doesn't? Perhaps this situation accounts for the oscillation noted above: in the absence of the mediating instances (no matter how flawed) and without the sharpening of antagonism oscillation between voluntarism and pessimism become 'structural' features. Badiou's work of the 1970s, soon to be issued by re.press, is relevant here as he traces the symmetry between Althusserian structuralism and the voluntarism of Gauche Prolétarienne.

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