Thursday, 30 October 2008

Contra Affirmationism

[This is the prospectus to my book, thanks to Gilles Grelet for its original publication.
In retrospect I realise it has more of an 'accelerationist' and quasi-anarchist feel that I'd now feel comfortable with - still a record of my continuing series of errors]

[1] Theory has become hegemonised by affirmationism – the doctrine of adaptation to the world in the name of the affirmation of the world. Create! Organise! Produce! – these are the master-signifiers of the affirmationist, the blackmail to either live in this world or make a “new” world.
This world we must leave.

[2] “All that exists is good”. This is the slogan of what we could call vulgar affirmationism. It appeals, simultaneously, to the density and fragility of the world. In its density the world cannot be subtracted from but only added to or affirmed. In its fragility we must cosset the world and protect it from any hint of violence. At once we are superfluous to the world and its heroic protectors. What we are left with is the patient labour of weaving of new links, new connections, and new material. Build your networks! Extend your own empires of thought and practice!

[3] “All that comes to be is good”. This is the slogan of “critical” affirmationism. Now it is not so much the world itself that is dense and fragile but all that can be actualised in this world. We are called not to affirm the world as we find it but to affirm the construction of a new and better world. The world as it is is doubled by the reservoir of potential, of the virtual from which everything can, and must, be drawn out. A dense realm of possibility, and so fragile it must be carefully brought out by us. Build your networks and extend your counter-Empire!

[4] In its more seductive “critical” form affirmationism maintains and appeals to the signifier of revolution. This takes place in two forms. The first is that of the affirmation of becomings and flows, where all that is good exists in reserve to be actualised in movement. We release or unchain the “spontaineity” of flows, we accelerate through and beyond capital. This is the fantasy of movement, or of the “movement of movements”. The buried moment of negation secreted deep within this orientation is only that of flight.
The second is that of the affirmation of the void or event. It has at least has the merit of beginning from the necessity of some minimal negation against the density of the world, or of allowing this possibility. Of course all it can then do is to supply that void, that unleashed negativity, with its “proper” form. This is the patient work of organisation and fidelity, where heresy is only a point of departure.

[5] Since Nietzsche we have learnt to be ashamed of negation. We see it only as the sign of ressentiment or, even worse, idealism. Of course the great gesture of Hegel was to make negation function as the motor of philosophy, the motor of the fundamental and repeated scission that generates the circle of the empirical and transcendental. Out of the ashes of Hegelianism emerged the signs of catastrophic negativity. No sooner that this possibility had composed itself then it was refused through the construction of “great ontological machines” (Bataille), re-tooled as the new war-machines of counter-philosophy.

[6] The fatal irony of affirmationism is that it releases a catastrophic negativity no longer attached to ontology or philosophy. We refuse the pseudo-liberation of the great ontological machines for the liberation of “unemployed negativity” (Bataille) against and outside those machines. This is no counter-philosophy, no new move in the theoretical game, but a rupture that proceeds indifferently, which no longer requires us.

[7] The axiom that unemployed negativity proceeds without “us” is the refusal of the blackmail of practice as it is currently staged; it is the refusal to produce a humanism of negativity. Non-dialectical negativity offers no work of purification or production, nothing new that would take the form of a semblant, and nothing that would form a new subject. The “subject” of non-dialectical negativity is the sorcerer’s apprentice, who finds that negativity rebounding on their constitution as “subject”. This rebounding does not depend on the triggering of the subject – unemployed negativity is as much the effect of the supernova as it is of revolutionary violence. At no point does the subject posses negativity, but exists as the remainder of its traversal; the subject is unemployed.

[8] On the other side, the “matter” of non-dialectical negativity is the negation of the prison house of the matrix immanent-transcendental-transcendent (as well as all existing materialisms). It is “active” but not as force, or even worse “life” – which would reinscribe it in some Nietzschean affirmationism, quasi-philosophical physics, or miserable neo-vitalism. If it is anywhere unemployed negativity “beneath” philosophy; we hate most of all that it should be mistaken for the grandness of the tout Autre – another new name for a deracinated God. This is matter that does not stay in place and refuses theoretical assignment.

[9] The true heretic does not make a new church.

CFPs and other business (never personal)

A call from Reza and Nicola for a special issue of Glossator on commentary and black metal. I guess I happen to know a few people who might / should contribute - eh, and eh. I know nothing about said topic so you will be spared my tender mercies.

Also this call from Speculative Heresy. Did I happen to mention I'm writing a book contra affirmationism?

Btw thanks to infinite my Habermas review is appearing in the next issue of the Philosophers' Magazine. I've always quite fancied living in a Habermasian world, as I hope you'll see from the review.
39 on Sunday and off to this.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Accelerationism II.2

Two excellent posts by Owen and Mark, which demonstrate the 'general intellect' at work.

1. Owen makes the important point that 'accelerationism' doesn't have to be an ultra-leftist catastrophism but can involve the rational re-use of capitalist developments in constant capital to reduce variable capital, if we destroy the capitalist relation of accumulation (which is of course the proverbial big 'if'). This would, of course, be different from the capitalist reduction of variable capital through 'social exposure' (ie dumping workers into the reserve army of labour or out of the monetary relation altogether). Interestingly, I was reading this exact point being made by Richard Brenner in his essay on "Karl Marx's Theory of Crisis".
If we were to hypothetically leave out of the account real social relations of production today (capitalism), then improved technology and increased labour productivity would tend naturally towards the reduction of working time. Mechanisation would help convert the worker from semi-slave of constrained by a rigid division of labour into a supervisor of production, someone able through the progressive and sustained reduction of the lenght of the compulsory working day to participate in supervision and planning of ever wider spheres of production, distribution and consumption (socialism).

2. On Mark's post, just to say almost complete agreement... It was Landianism I had in mind with 'Deleuzian Thatcherism'; as for my choice of Lyotard as the text of accelerationism this was due to his outbidding of Deleuze & Guattari and his almost complete embrace of the consequences (I particularly like his sarcasm directed at Baudrillard concerning the lack of the 'good hippies' of symbolic exchange...).
It's slightly uncanny but Mark's three points were floating around in the cesspool that is my 'mind' and on the fantasmatic of capital permit me to refer to Mark's article in Film-Philosophy (a pdf).
In light of Mark's work I was thinking of the hyperstitional as a means of probing the 'real abstractions' of capital; especially as sketched by Roberto Finelli and Alberto Toscano.

3. One issue here (raised implicitly by Mark) is that of reterritorialisation as essential co-dynamic of capitalist deterritorialisation; [correction follows] Eric Alliez argues that the problem of Badiou's reading of Deleuze is that inscribes a constant and necessary relation between reterritorialisation and deterritorialisation. In doing so Alliez argues that he produces 'Capitalism and Paranoia', not 'Capitalism and Schizophrenia' - in which every deterritorialisation is immediately recuperated by reterritorialisation. For Alliez, we have to always fold capitalist deterritorialisation onto absolute deterritorialisation - hence, to quote Deleuze on Bergson - 'Dualism is therefore only a moment, which must lead to the re-formation of a monism.' This then is the sticking-point between Mark's formulation that 'it is was Deleuze and Guattari who proved to have the better handle on capitalism, precisely because they insisted on reterritorialization as the necessary counterpart of capitalist deterritorialization.' (which correspond to Badiou's position - and my own inclination) and SBA's position, which is more classically Deleuzian.

4. This is where the problem of agency comes in (again). I chose Lyotard as the exemplar because he seems pretty explicit that capital is the subject (of revolution): "[Capital] is the unbinding of the most insane pulsions" (138). If we want an alternative then we have to find some 'good hippies', or otherwise get into that various sub-Baudrillardian gestures of embracing the market that seemed to have a mercifully brief flowering in the 1980s/90s. Mark has made further comments on Lyotard here. In a sense this re-makes my point - Lyotard is the examplar because of this disappearance of the critical. This is exactly the point on which he departs from Deleuze and Guattari. Of course Lyotard's later political evolution - traced by Perry Anderson (see my comments here) - doesn't exactly make one convinced by this position of capital as absolute subject (subject as substance and subject?).

5. SBA has commented further on agency here, and re-iterating a strong accelerationist position rather than the previously canvassed Badiouian alternative. The action particularly takes place at the end of the post:
Outside either a vitalist ethology of ‘natural’ auto-self-maximisation, or some kind of Marxist-Hegelian dialectical drive towards the elimination of contradiction in the same, how might we be able to ground the very need for an inhumanising desubjectivation at all? Though we might wish to create a system which has had done with judgement, to ground the praxis (and here we return to the “sticky” issue of agency) necessary to arrive at this state requires the illegitimate use of the very devices the praxis seeks to erase.
This seems to imply a kind of reverse Munchausen effect - instead of the subject pulling itself up by its hair it destroys itself by a 'self'-erasure. This may be formulated along the lines Reza suggests as an exposure to being 'butchered open' (see Reza on hauntology in relation to SBA's posts here). The difficulty is the passivity implied in this sense of agency - to be butchered by the processes of capital do we have to do anything more than just live and await our demise? How could we acclerate this process (and if so why)? Then, also, which particular humans would perform this self-destruction of the human?

6. Finally to try and clear up the Achcar matter (on which I was perhaps rather unclear), I'm in agreement with this point by Owen:
"Mind you, for that I don't subscribe either to the Gilbert Achcar view - it's always relative privation which causes revolt. The starving might not start revolutions, but the only insurrection during a boom I can think of is the abortive May."
A couple of things to add, first this can involve psychic immiseration, which I'm sure Owen includes in relative privation. This was the situ point about the misery of everday life qua accumulation.
Second, I posted the Achcar comment more for a reflection on the 'accumulation of struggles' as precondition for agency, hence I was going back to the 60s/70s. Mark and Owen, and everyone else who said, is perfectly right that (a) booms don't necessarily need to revolution (I have no 'one size fits all model of revolution', anything would be nice), and (b) the recent 'boom' hasn't. Of course that's because that 'boom' involved the massive decomposition of working-class power in a waning cycle of struggle. What concerned me was the mechanisms to translate disenchantment and privation into struggle, and whether (as Mark points out) the crisis is more likely to lead to barbarism than socialism in the absence of such accumulated struggles.
It seems appropriate that I should have to write a couple of lectures on Dickens, as he is a writer of catastrophism, and has his own version of accelerationism in 'free circulation' (he hated blockages of all kinds). Mercifully for the students this won't be much discussed by me.

Monday, 20 October 2008


This is a term I've coined (unless someone out there proposed it w/o my knowledge) to describe the kind of strategy beautifully conveyed here. In a sense it has a fairly impeccable pedigree as one of the "spirits" of Marx, especially the oft-quoted passage from the Manifesto on "all that's solid melts into air". To quote myself, this is "an exotic variant of la politique du pire: if capitalism generates its own forces of dissolution then the necessity is to radicalise capitalism itself: the worse the better. We can call these positions accelerationist."

Unsurprisingly I'm made more than a little nervous by these attempts to argue "the path leads only over the dead body of capitalism" (Brecht, see below). A "red thread" can be traced from Marx, via Brecht, down to the libertarian current of the early 1970s. Rather than seeking the subject of revolt as the marginal to capital, the subject of revolt is the subject in capital (although the dangerous elision is that the subject of revolt simply is capital). As Lyotard, whose Libidinal Economy is the book of accelerationism, puts it: "in the immense and vicious circuit of capitalist exchanges, whether of commodities or ‘services’, it appears that all the modalities of jouissance are possible and that none is ostracized."

Interestingly, in a previous post titled 'Against Hauntology' Splintering Bone Ashes (SBA) sketches two options:

Firstly (if we believe the hauntologists discursive a priori), as I have hinted at above, we might think a more nihilist aesthetic which seeks not merely to foreground the processes of postmodern audio-necromancy, but rather to accelerate the system to its ultimate demise, to speed up the rate of fashion-flux to a point of irredeemable collapse. Rather than an act of reverence, of mourning, of touching at impossible universes from a distance, this would be a deliberate and gleeful affirmation [option a]. Alternatively, we might consider Badiou's analysis of the emergence of the new, which would entail a more strategic examination of precisely where the pop-musical evental sites and historical situations exist within our current time: those regions which appear, from the in-situational point of view, to be marginal, and properly undecideable. [option b]
Obviously I'd choose option b, and in a sense, although departing from Badiou precisely on the grounds of his "affirmationism", this is the argument of The Persistence of the Negative. The later post firmly chooses option a. While this is one way to cash out the politics of speculative realism, and hence admirable, I'm not sure it exhausts those possibilities or is the only such politics extractable.

In terms of artworks I find a lot to agree with in the critical remarks concerned with hauntology, and can certainly see the jouissance of the nihilistic embrace of capital qua accelerator. Much of the shock of Detroit Techno in its initial phase (to show my age) was its choice to embody the robots of the production lines of Ford (which had obviously been a factor in the devastation of Detroit), rather than the "humanism" of Motown. In a way this it is impeccably Brechtian.

That said I feel there are definite problems with this as political strategy (as well as artistic - cf. the late Warhol - Jeff Koons - Damien Hirst line). Instead, unsurprisingly, I prefer the position of Benjamin: "Marx says that revolutions are the locomotives of world history. But the situation may be quite different. Perhaps revolutions are not the train ride, but the human race grabbing for the emergency brake."


Some examples of accelerationism:

Behaviourism is a psychology which begins with the needs of commodity production in order to develop methods with which to influence buyers, i.e., it is an active psychology, progressive and revolutionizing kathode (Kathoxen). In keeping with its capitalist function, it has its limits (the reflexes are biological; only in a few Chaplin films are they already social). Here, too, the path leads only over the dead body of capitalism, but here, too, this is a good path.

Roland Barthes
There is only one way left to escape the alienation of present-day society: to retreat ahead of it.
Pleasure of the Text (1973)

Galloway & Thacker
One must push through to the other side rather than drag one’s heels.
The Exploit: A Theory of Networks (2007)

Sunday, 19 October 2008


IT / ICR with Badiou on the crisis, ICR with Tronti, and via What in the Hell... this site, which has some excellent analysis.
This point by Mike Davis is interesting in terms of questions of agency:
"On the contrary, the social contract for the post-1935 Second New Deal was a complex, adaptive response to the greatest working-class movement in our history, in a period when powerful third parties still roamed the political landscape and Marxism exercised extraordinary influence on American intellectual life.

Even with the greatest optimism of the will, it is difficult to imagine the American labor movement recovering from defeat as dramatically as it did in 1934-1937. The decisive difference is structural rather than ideological. (Indeed, today's union movement is much more progressive than the decrepit, nativist American Federation of Labor in 1930.) The power of labor within a Walmart-ized service economy is simply more dispersed and difficult to mobilize than in the era of giant urban-industrial concentrations and ubiquitous factory neighborhoods."
(my italics)

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Phuture agency

There is an excellent review of the new Virno here. I think it's a very interesting work, especially in light of reflections on agency. I have to agree with said reviewer that the comments about the New Orleans superbowl are reprehensible, I'm hard pressed to understand why no one pointed out the possible problem at an earlier stage to Virno. It's certainly a case for postcolonial critique.
One thing I found particularly odd was Virno's rehabilitation of Schumpeter's Unternehmergeist (entrepreneur-spirit). This, however, started to make a little more sense after reading Robin Blackburn's 1991 piece on 'Socialism After the Crash'. The essay offers a fascinating discussion of the 'calculation debate' and the possibilities of market-socialism, including this comment:
So far as I am aware no-one pointed out that Hayek’s argument from the dispersed nature of knowledge could also be deployed against a narrow capitalist entrepreneurialism by advocates of social and worker self-management.
I'm not sure if this exactly coincides with what Virno means and, like the concept of "exodus", it remains highly under-developed. This seems all the more problematic in the current context of financial crisis, in which these forms of "agency" would have to connect the multitude to power over the macro-economic. This might be another reason to agree with IT that his pitching of innovation and negation at this level of abstraction is of more use to those turning a capitalist profit that to those wanting alternative egalitarian social forms.
At a slight tangent I've also recently encountered the work of Malcolm Bull, which has the merit of asking exactly the question that has been troubling me:
Within contemporary radical politics, there are a lot of questions to which there are many possible answers, and one question to which there is none. There are innumerable blueprints for utopian futures that are, in varying degrees, egalitarian, cosmopolitan, ecologically sustainable, and locally responsive, but no solution to the most intractable problem of all: who is going to make it happen?
(The Limits of Multitude)
The result, at least in Bull's summary is that:
Without these agents [communist states / parties of the left] there appear to be only two forces capable of shaping the contemporary world: market globalization propelled by governments and multinational corporations, and populist reactions that seek to assert national or communal sovereignty. (Limits)
We are left with the choice between the 'invisible hand' (under which, to use Karl Polanyi's words, 'human beings would perish from the effects of social exposure; they would die as victims of acute social dislocation’) or forms of populist will. It may be we could argue Peter Hallward's attempts to argue for a generic or communist will are one way to try to escape this alternative. What's provocative about Bull's argument is that he assimilates the Negrian multitude precisely to the 'invisible hand' / Hayekian tradition. This throws a more sinister light on the lack of specificity of Virno's models of agency; is his work another ruse of the (capitalist) cunning of reason?
That said Bull's own solution seems to partake of a slightly odd version of the same logic:
To the contemporary crisis of political agency, Hegel’s theory of the state offers both an explanation (in terms of the inadequacy of any one form of agency) and two possible resolutions: it excludes the non-dialectical options of a global market society or global non-market state, and reduces the viable options to a global market state and a global, potentially non-market society. A global civil society might be willed into a global market state, or else a global state might, through the workings of the invisible hand, collapse into some form of global civil society. The former is the natural expression of the Hegelian dialectic transposed to a global context; the latter has the form of Gramsci’s appropriation of the anti-dialectic.
(States of Failure)
Here the dialectic, or anti-dialectic, implies a passing over through the invisible hand to a global civil society. He appears to argue that the 'anarchy' of capitalist barbarism offers a path through to socialism, via this barbarism registering the failure of the state: "the invisible hand invests the failure of utopia with the utopian promise of the failed state." Again, I'm not really sure how this specifies more forms of agency? Perry Anderson's question to Bull carries weight:

an impasse between the globalizing market and populist reactions to it implies that they are of equivalent weight, neither advancing at the expense of the other: is that what the last twenty years suggest? If the current version of the global state (sc: us hegemony) is dissolving, why should not it issue into Huntington’s patchwork of regional market powers, delimited by civilizational spaces, rather than a global civil society, market or not? ("Jottings")
I'd say this alternative is plausible because, as Anderson points out, this implication of symmetry (perhaps derived through the metaphorics of chaos theory) that doesn't seem to really register the 'balance of forces'. For me a similar problem afflicts Immanuel Wallerstein's claim that as we are entering in a crisis for the system, not a crisis of the system:

We have to remember finally that the outcome of the struggle during the present chaotic transition is not in any fashion inevitable. It will be fashioned by the totality of the actions of everyone on all sides. We have only a fifty-fifty chance of prevailing. One can define fifty-fifty as unfortunately low. I define it as a great opportunity, which we should not fail to try to seize.
I wonder if the metaphorics of chaos theory used also by Wallerstein ("equilibrium" / "bifurcation") leaves the strategic questions a little hanging in terms of balance? Anyway one thing I should say about Bull's use of Hegel is that Hegelians have a habit of being right.

For what it's worth my own position is more Andersonian on this; sceptical, but not without hope.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Collapsing / Birthday

Collapse V has just been announced. I'm intrigued because I always had the sneaking suspicion Kant outwitted correlationism, but unfortunately without any real evidence or the time to check...
Anyway back to my thoroughly correlationist reading of Lars Von Trier's The Boss of it All, and of course happy birthday to IT (whose birthday falls the day after Margaret Thatcher and my dad). Thirty, pah, wait until your staring down the barrel of 39... (and I don't look a day over 37)
All together now: 'For she's a jolly good fellow, etc.' (ah, see the Butlerian performative gender subversion - which IT will loathe).

Monday, 13 October 2008

Negative Capability

[T]he test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.
F Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up

It seems to appropriate to quote the writer of the "great smash up", at once existential and financial; as Fitzgerald wrote "‘All the stories that came into my head had a touch of disaster in them - the lovely young creatures in my novels went to ruin, my millionaires were as beautiful and damned as Thomas Hardy's peasants". Of course we can reflect on the question of "class ontology" that runs through Fitzgerald ("her voice was full of money"). Hemingway objected to the romanticism of this ontology of difference, writing in his short-story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro":
The rich were dull and they drank too much or they played too much backgammon. They were dull and they were repetitious. He remembered poor Scott Fitzgerald and his romantic awe of them and how he had started a story once that began, ‘The rich are different from you and me.’ And how someone had said to Scott, Yes, they have more money. But that was not humorous to Scott. He thought they were a special glamorous race and when he found they weren't it wrecked him just as much as any other thing that wrecked him.
John Updike nicely analyses this little contretemps, and notes that Hemingway neglects the next line of the story: "‘They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand." We might remember the books on brokerage Nick Carroway carefully shelves in The Great Gatsby, and note that it is Fitzgerald rather than Kafka who has the true appreciation for the "mysticism of money".
All this is merely a long-winded introduction to a series of comments on katechons and Crises, which you have probably already noted, here, here, and (of course) here. I've also has some comments off list raising the work of Rudolf Meidner as a temporary (but unlikely) best case katechon / lesser evil. Of course we now have the word from a certain contemporary theorist.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Wagering on the Worse

Buried in a footnote of a critical discussion of Perry Anderson's relaunching of the NLR in 2000 by Gilbert Achcar is this comment:
“One striking aspect of Perry Anderson’s ultra-pessimism is the way in which he raises very high the bar for a new modification of the balance of forces acting against neo-liberalism, succumbing thereby to a particularly crude economic determinism. Thus, according to him, the present balance of forces ‘will probably remain stable so long as there is no deep economic crisis in the West’ (“Renewals”, op cit, p19). Following this, he goes one step further and adds: ‘Little short of a slump of inter-war proportions looks capable of shaking the parameters of the current consensus’ (ibid). Apart from its exaggerated character, this judgement carries a surprising reading of
history from the pen of such a far-sighted historian. Quite the opposite is needed: let us wish that the new period of economic growth is consolidated so that the new wave of radicalisation which appears to be taking shape is strengthened. The long recessions of the inter-war period and of the last quarter of the 20th century led to a significant worsening of the balance of forces. Conversely, even Durkheim understood that boom phases are favourable to radicalisation of demands because of the expectations they raise. Besides, a new expansion under the present neo-liberal conditions of development in global capitalism clearly could not reproduce the ‘virtuous circle’ which flattered the Western working class during the long post-war boom.” (my italics)
I suppose it is this kind of suspicion that makes me unsure that the current credit crunch will have the effects of disenchantment and radicalisation that might be supposed. In the case of Argentina the collapse of the banking system appeared to produce a temporary radical effloresence that all too rapidly faded. Of course perhaps a "world" crisis would mean these effects couldn't be contained, but that is not yet self-evident. I hope I'm wrong.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

La Fin Absolue du Monde

On the financial crisis the Pope declares that there is nothing to worry about as money is "nothing" and "the only solid reality is the word of God". There may be something to the first contention... (thanks to Savonarola for this link).

If you aren't already depressed enough cheer yourself by contemplating the apocalypse here, including yours truly trying (again) to avoid the politics of the worst. What is the Threads font? And can we try to overturn Times New Roman with it...
[I did try and persuade the Kino to show The Crazies, but they were having nothing of my populist cult studs deviationism...]

Sunday, 5 October 2008

'We Hold What We Have'

7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.
2 Thessalonians 2:7-8 (New King James Version)

Owen's provocative post on the State neatly triangulates two recent texts I've been reading. The first is Timonthy Brennan's admittedly batty Wars of Position: The Cultural Politics of Left and Right (2006). First, it's never wise to repeatedly chide the historical errors of others while committing a series of such errors yourself. Second, the book, supposedly coming from a left/Marxist viewpoint overblows the power of theory in a highly idealist manner; supposedly "cultural scholars" are responsible for the collapse of social democratic alternatives and the rise of the New Right (hmmm). That said Brennan's argument for the eclipse of social democracy during a rightward "turn" dated 1975-1980 makes sense (for the US and UK in particular). Also, which links to Owen's point, his argument for a general fixation on "liberation attached to statelessness" and an "anarchist sublime" in contemporary theory hits home. The point has been made before of course, and forms of what I once used to call "Deleuzian Thatcherism" are well-known. Here libertarian discourses cross between left and right. Something that has always struck me is the failure of UK cultural commentators to grasp that there can be such a thing as right libertarianism - hence their "surprise" (which may of course be feigned) at figures like P J O'Rourke or Camille Paglia. In more provocative vein I thought William Burroughs might better fit in that lineage than the usual attempts to position him on the anarchist / libertarian left. (If you see his letters to Alan Ginsberg about his trying to start a dope farm you certainly get a sense of the "get the government of my back" attitude, coupled to an unpleasant racism about Mexican workers (debate the possible use of irony at this point)).

Brennan argues for the convergence of theory's anti-statism (anarchist or leftist) with the anti-statism of neo-liberalism: the "anarcho-liberalism" synthesis. The position is a gross simplification but it captures something of the mood of the dependance of anarcho-libertarian positions on the state which they opposed. I have some sympathy for this position of dependance: it forms the "conscience of the revolution" argument, and why should we pretend social democracy wasn't highly vulnerable to libertarian critique - especially in its paternalist / labourist forms? (Considering the focus on the NHS we might consider it's record on mental health for example. This is not a matter of full-blown Langian anti-psychiatry, a position I don't hold, but problems here (then and now) indicate problems). Of course when the attack came from the right then this is where disorientation sets in, either outflanking the left and re-hegemonising its critique or revealing the rightward drift of such critiques. A similar problem, to my mind, afficts punk / post-punk critiques of social democracy. This is why Brennan can claim an overlapping or fusion of right and left positions that view "the state as an arena of innate corruption to which no claims of redress can or should be made."

But then the qualified defence of gains made through social democracy was, to me, part of the libertarian communist point - although admittedly one often lost. Hence the expansion of the domain of "use values" as against exchange value in "free" healthcare, or the need to make continuing demands to increase the "dole" or regularise it as a citizen's income. In an ironic reversal, despite Brennan's lambasting of Hardt and Negri's Empire as "theoretical Americana" we could argue that the "modesty" of its closing set of demands (also subject to critique by Marxists & anarchists) could be regarded as a defence of the gains of social democracy?

The second text is Fredric Jameson's "Lenin and Revisionism" (in Lenin Reloaded). His position, we could argue, is more impeccably Marxist than Brennan's valorisation of social democracy; but here is where problems emerge. Jameson provides a neat diagnosis of the present that confirms the kind of point made by Owen:

“in a period whose political atmosphere is largely anarchistic (in the technical sense of the term), it is unpleasant to think about organization, let alone institutions. This is indeed at least one of the reasons for the success of the market idea: it promises social order without institutions, claiming not to be one itself.” (61)

Again, we are on the ground of the "calculation debate" and the question of the "withering away of the state" posed by capitalist libertarians. Jameson also suggests the running together of anarchism as (anti-)political project with this kind of thinking. In particular he rejects the substitution of questions of the economic for questions of power: “The rhetoric of power, then, in whatever form, is always to be considered a fundamental form of revisionism.” (66)

What then should be done? Jameson's tricky position is precisely one of social democracy as katechon: “Today, …, the most urgent task seems to me the defense of the welfare state and of those regulations and entitlements that have been characterized as barriers to a completely free marker and its prosperities.” (69) Paolo Virno (in Multitude: Between Innovation and Exodus), reclaiming this figure from Schmitt and conservative state-theorists, points out its essential ambiguity: "By impeding the triumph of the Antichrist, katechon impedes, at the same time, the redemption to be accomplised by the Messiah." Therefore, the defence of social democracy as katechon would appear to run against Marxist eschatology. It restrains the "mystery of lawlessness" that is capital unleashed; or, even better, in the King James version, the "mystery of iniquity". In doing so, however, it "delays the end of the world" (Virno); that is the revolution.

Jameson's solution is elegant: “We must support social democracy because its inevitable failure constitutes the basic lesson, the fundamental pedagogy, of a genuine Left.” (69) The difficulty is its cynicism; social democracy is defended in light of the hope of its eventual failure as the contemporary "lesser evil". Perhaps this is a coherent stance, but in light of its use of social democracy as "way-station" it becomes vulnerable to accusations of cynical manipulation.

I, as usual, don't have the answers. My "position", such as it is, would certainly not be classically anarchist although I think it is still left-libertarian. Which is to say, "we hold what we have" in regards to social democracy, especially in a time of weakness. I've never been attracted to a "politics of the worst", whether Marxist or anarchist (pending specification of if things get worse then where are the forces coming from to establish a new mode of equitable life). Instead it's a matter of building on those gains already made in times of "strength". Virno's re-coding of the multitude as katechon attempts a more directly anti-Statist position, while rejecting the tendency of anti-Statist thinking to posit human nature as fundamentally good (and so then "repressed" or "captured" by the "evil" of the State). Although Virno doesn't much flesh it out his position seems to imply an organisational politics of the multitude precisely qua katechon. This politics his figures as exodus, a politics which I view sceptically precisely because we are back into the "lines of flight" from the State and power.

I would like to hold to Virno's position, but I don't yet feel I can see the lineaments of a politics of exodus in action (successfully). What are the institutions / demands / forces of the multitude? Therefore, unsatisfactory as it no doubt is, my argument falls into the risk of cynicism I detected with Jameson: a "false friend" to social democracy ("yeh I like you", while all the time waiting for something better to come along). It's trivial perhaps to point out the relatively abstract nature of such points in the absence of a sense of agencies to perform this politics at the necessary mass level. Perhaps, however, my own attempt to think through negation is partly aimed at a double-position: engagement coupled to (destructive) attack. Doubtful as I am this constitutes a solution, it may at least try for avoiding either "distance from the State" arguments that lack traction on State forms / State violence, or affirmative positions that risk endorsing "things as they are" (fast becoming my favourite phrase - I really must read Caleb Williams...).

Saturday, 4 October 2008

And this...

I have also had the pleasure / jouissance of reading this pre-publication, and offer another recommendation (Dominic is merely being modest concerning its relative merits - this is (cold) world enough for both radicalised Benjaminian reactivations of social democracy and for the evacuation of ideological jouissance).

Friday, 3 October 2008

Buy this

Congratulations to Owen; having had the privilege to read the work in manuscript and having written one of the blurb texts you'd be crossing me if you didn't obey my injunction to order this now. The cover looks beautiful as well.