Monday, 27 April 2009

The Death of the Novel

Q: Is the novel dead?

A: Oh yes. Very much so.

Q: What replaces it?

A: I should think that it is replaced by what existed before it was invented.

Q: The same thing?

A: The same sort of thing.

Q: Is the bicycle dead?

Donald Barthelme, 'The Explanation'

Thursday, 23 April 2009

A Difficult Question

Is the proletariat crucial to capitalism? Yes, absolutely. It is actually more crucial to capitalism than the bourgeoisie. You can have capitalism without the bourgeoisie but you cannot have capitalism without the proletariat. Overcoming capitalism requires the self-abolition of the proletariat. This makes the question of left-wing politics extremely difficult. How can you talk about the self-abolition of the proletariat when working people are being pushed against the wall? I think it is very difficult to try to mediate the issue of defending the achievements of working class movements in a neo-liberal universe, and a position that avoids hypostatizing the working class as the bearer of the future. I don't claim to have any easy answers to that, but I do think the abolition of the working class is the key to the liberation of humanity. I agree
with Marx's formulation.

Moishe Postone, 'Rethinking the Critical Theory of Capitalism', Principia Dialectica
(2006), p.13

I have a lot of sympathy and agreement with value-form Marxism of the kind proposed by Postone, Finelli, the Krisis group, and Principia Dialectica. They argue that capital is the Hegelian subject that radically 'posits its presuppositions', i.e. constantly re-establishing itself through the value-form that absorbs all content, creating a totality through real subsumption and the process of real abstraction. In this situation they radically disagree with the Trontian (or more precisely Negrian) proposition that Labour is an alternative ontological creativity - rather labour is a category of capital / the value-form. In this situation labour has to be abolished, and the valorisation of the proletariat is a false hypostatisation leading to the defects of Statist socialism.

This is where Postone's question is crucial: in a neo-liberal capitalism devoted to dismantling workerist forms can we simply call for the abolition of labour without being complicit with these processes? Of course the value-form model argues for a continuing ruthless critique of labour, rather than any appeal to an entitlement to work, and is premised, I guess, on the future 'proper' crisis of the system that will lead to the abolition of the value-form. In this case defending the achievement of labour / social-democracy would be something of a Katechon, delaying the coming of the evil one, and so redemption.

I'm divided on this point, as a recent email debate I've had with SBA has proved; both attracted to the kind of Polanyian workerism that Kinkle and Toscano diagnose in The Wire, and in agreement with the critique / dissolution of labour thesis. As usual my 'compromise' is the defence / expansion of non-commodified forms (or the negation of the commodity by de-commodification), including labour. In fact Postone agrees that partial containment of the market by the state is necessary: 'The only way we could reach such a [pre-revolutionary] situation would be on a practical level, that is, through a series of reforms, some of which are more pressing than others.' (from this pdf) One of the most precise articulations, I think, of this type of strategy has been Owen's work, which combines the defence of the utopian elements of social-democratic coupled to the refusal of work thesis.

I still think, however, that the concept that some teleological capitalist dynamic of real subsumption right down into the neuro-biological will somehow destroy the human subject and so release a 'capitalism beyond capitalism' (cf Alex's comment), or some new communist forms ('install the Ho Chi Minh Chip'), is profoundly wrong.

Capitalist 'meat puppets' - a science-fictional 'absolute adequacy between capital and its agents' - would simply lead to fully-integrated agents of capital. I can't see how liberation from the humanist paradigm, or the human body itself, necessarily threatens capitalism. After all capitalism has no necessary requirement for the 'human person' - it is as happy with humanism or anti-humanism.

I notice that in Alastair Reynolds revelation space universe we still have unionised genetically enhanced monkey repairmen; perhaps they are a better future than the radically 'enhanced' 'diamond dogs'...

Monday, 20 April 2009

i.m. JGB

The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down into the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd. Anyone who, at least once in his life, has not dreamed of thus putting an end to the petty system of debasement and cretinization in effect has a well-defined place in that crowd, with his belly at barrel level.
André Breton

I wondered if you held up a sign with the word “Pistol” on it, would that constitute an offense? … Even the word might be offensive. Or a sign saying “Assassination.” Does the sign itself constitute an offensive act? It’s hard to say, because fantasy and reality are no longer separable, are they?...
JG Ballard
IT, with a JGB manifesto/tribute and my brief obituary at the Ballardian

Thursday, 9 April 2009

An Intellectual Clown

My title comes, of course, from Philip Roth's description of Philippe Sollers, which was meant as a compliment. One could add that no doubt Franco 'Bifo' Berardi would also take it as a compliment. After writing two texts arguing that revolutionary subjectivation has failed, that we are due a 'wave of suicides' (at least an empirically testable assertion), re-evaluating Baudrillard contra Deleuze and Guattari, and hyming the 'the intellectual potency of depression' (Berardi 2008a; 2008b), Berardi now turns to the current financial crisis. Anyone expecting further hyper-pessimism will be surprised, that has now flipped over into a strange hyper-optimism. Contrary to the caveats and warnings of David Harvey, who warns that the current crisis is leading to a 'far greater consolidation of the capitalist class', Berardi concludes that 'the history of modern capitalism is over'.

In a remarkable gesture Berardi sets-up a schematic opposition between the 'net-economy', valorised as the site of the general intellect that 'is challenging the proprietary principle that has ruled Modern capitalist society', and 'criminal capitalism', associated with militarism and the abandonment of legal rule. In light of the fact that this 'split' exactly replicates the relative funding sources of the US Republicans and Democrats (cf. Davis 2009) it's unsurprising that Berardi embraces Obama as prophet of the general intellect:

Obama's victory in the US may be the opening of a new period in the evolution of mankind. This event has injected new hope in the peaceful army of the general intellect all over the world. The new President was voted in by cognitive labor, and his victory is the defeat of the criminal class represented by Cheney-Bush. But this victory marks only the beginning of the fight, that will be the fight of intellectual force against the brutal force of ignorance, violence and profit.
It may be the defeat of Cheney-Bush but as Mike Davis has repeatedly pointed out the 'new economy' base of the democrats is hardly congenial to any functioning left politics, and in fact might well be a purer neo-liberalism than the 'military Keynesianism' of Bush's neo-liberalism (although Keynesianism for the rich continues in the bank bail outs). In an utterly bizarre analysis Berardi argues that the media system (identified with criminal capitalism) has 'finally overwhelmed the productive cognitive class', when wasn't it this 'cognitive class' that backed Obama, and which is firmly based in the 'media system' - hence the Democrats wooing of Hollywood.

While I can certainly agree with Berardi's comments on the privatisation of experience, the shattering of social solidarity, and the pernicious effects of privatised car culture, the fact that computers has a great deal to do with these dynamics (and permitted the possibility of the complex financial products which helped produce the current crisis) is bypassed for a political fable of libertarian cyerculture tamed by 'the man' (it's as if The Baffler never happened...).

Berardi's solution is to conduct a kind of therapy on the desire for private property. His argument is that 'semiotic goods' are not annihilated through use (just like tables?) and so permit common use and collectivisation. Now we no longer have to look forward to a wave of suicides, but communism is back, surfing on the wave of commanlity of knowledge, the ideological crisis of private ownership, and the mandatory communilisation of need.

Of course this can't be the old communism of 'Will and voluntarism' (the entirely predictable targets), but 'A totally new brand of communism'.

Predictably the 'evil' background of this communism of Totality (capitalised of course...) was Hegelianism, forgetting the fact that Hegelian communism was largely the opposition to Stalinist state-capitalism. Nothing can get in the way of cliche, however. Now, via the general intellect, we have a communism of singularities and non-temporary autonomous zones: 'a sort of Revolution without a Subject' (i. e. no revolution at all).

Lacking necessity this process will be achieved by droppong out and creating new networks of service. i. e. further privatisation. Thankfully we can take heart from Berardi's announcement that we don't need industrial labour anymore, instead we'll find ourselves in a state of 'furgality and freedom' (which actually sounds quite good...) What will happen to computers and the net in the absence of industry is not vouchedsafe to us. In case you are feeling scared by this new singularised and chaotic post-growth economy, don't worry 'politics and therapy will be one and the same activity in the coming time.' Kindly Berardi and co. will be there to take care of my or your anxieties to allow 'a happy adaptation'.

At once banal, weird, and deeply creepy, perhaps I'm the fool for taking any of this seriously.
Berardi, Franco 'Bifo', '(T)error and Poetry', trans. Arianna Bove, Radical Philosophy 149 (May / June 2008a): 39-44.
___, 'Alterity and Desire', in Simon O’ Sullivan and Stephen Zepke (eds.), Deleuze, Guattari and the Production of the New (London: Continuum, 2008b), pp. 22-32.

Davis, Mike, 'Obama at Manassas', New Left Review 56 (March - April 2009): 5-40.

Harvey, David, 'Their Crisis, Our Challenge', Red Pepper 2009.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Power to the People?

Courtesy of IT, the RP rival to the communism event at Birkbeck (this is my interpolation btw), and I can only hope it is better than the Birkbeck 'event'.

Power to the People?
`Power to the people!’ was once a revolutionary slogan, but reference to government by the people and for the people soon became an empty cliché of the post-revolutionary status quo (see above - Citizen Smith as commentary on fidelity?). The people has become a notoriously ambiguous and contested term, for which numerous alternatives have been proposed: the proletariat, the workers, the masses, the soviets, the nation, the community, the multitude, the commons… And now? How might we assess the different conceptions of political change embodied in these often conflicting ideas? What is the political and philosophical significance of `the people’ today?

Radical Philosophy Conference, Birkbeck College, Malet Street, London WC 1, 9 May 2009
9.30-10.00 Registration
10.00-10.15 Introduction (Peter Hallward, RP)

10.15-11.30 The General Will (chair: Peter Hallward, RP)
‘The General Will on the Street: Parisian Activism, Sovereignty and Power, 1789-93’ - David Andress (Portsmouth)
‘How Do the People Make Themselves Heard?’ - Sophie Wahnich (CNRS, Paris)

11.45-1.00 Class, Commons & Multitude (chair: Esther Leslie, RP)
‘Crisis, Tragedies and the Commons’ - Massimo De Angelis (UEL)
[second speaker tba]

1.00-2.00 Lunch Break

2.00-3.15 Urban Collectivities
(chair: David Cunningham, RP)
‘Urban Intersections and the Politics of Anticipation’ - AbdouMaliq Simone (Goldsmiths)
`Urbanism and the Post-Political’ - Erik Swyngedouw (Manchester)

3.45-5.00 Population & Biopolitics (chair: Stuart Elden, Durham)
‘Biopolitics, Diasporas and (Neo)Liberal Political Economy’ - Couze Venn (Nottingham Trent)
‘Feminist Strategies Revisited – Sexopolitics, Multitude and Biopolitics’ - Encarnacion Gutierrez Rodriguez (Manchester)

5.00-6.00 Plenary: 'They, the People' (chair: Peter Osborne, RP)
Gayatri Spivak (Columbia University, NY)

Registration and further details:
£25/£10 unwaged
Cheques payable to `Radical Philosophy Ltd’ should be sent to: Radical Philosophy Conference, Peter Osborne, CRMEP, Middlesex University, Trent Park Campus, Bramley Rd, London N14 4YZ

Plus this, courtesy of Sebastian Budgen

Date: 23 June 2009
Venue: Queen Mary, University of London
Call for papers deadline: 22 May 2009
All papers and enquiries to:
Keynote speakers:
Professor James Williams (University of Dundee)
Dr Ray Brassier (American University of Beirut)
Dr Alberto Toscano (Goldsmiths, University of London)

The concepts of immanence and materialism are becoming increasingly important in political philosophy. This conference seeks to analyse the connections between these two concepts and to examine the consequences for political thought. It is possible, as Giorgio Agamben has done, to make a distinction within modern philosophy between a line of transcendence (Kant, Husserl, Levinas, Derrida) and a line of immanence (Spinoza, Nietzsche, Deleuze, Foucault). If we follow this distinction, then 'the line of immanence' might include Spinozist interpretations of Marx, Althusser's aleatory materialism, and Deleuze's superior empiricism. But what is the value of this work and is it useful to distinguish it from 'transcendent' philosophies? Distinctions between materialism and idealism are equally complex: Derrida, for example, might as easily be classed a materialist as an idealist. And where can we place more recent work like the critiques of Deleuze by Badiou and Zizek, or Meillassoux's speculative materialism?

Papers may wish to consider the following questions:
-What is materialist philosophy? How can it be distinguished from idealist philosophy, and is it useful to do so? Are all philosophies of immanence necessarily materialist?
-Is it legitimate or useful to make a clear distinction between philosophies of immanence and philosophies of transcendence?
-How have the concepts of immanence and materialism traditionally been conceived within political philosophy?
-What, if any, are the political consequences of pursuing a philosophy of immanence?

Paper titles and a 300-word abstract should be sent by Friday 22 May 2009 to Simon Choat at, Department of Politics, Queen Mary. Graduate papers welcome.

Fighting on Their Knees

Courtesy of Marta:

Support the Ford Visteon Workers Occupation

Come to the factory anytime!
Especially around 12 noon

Morson Road EN3 4NQ
near Ponders End train station, Enfield

The plant is 5min walk, cross the foot-bridge, walk down main road towards Central London, the next street to the left is Morson Road, the factory situated at the end

Statement from some Ford Visteon workers and supporters (from inside the occupied factory)
We have occupied our factory Ford Visteon workers have occupied our factory since Wednesday 1st April. The previous day in a meeting lasting just 6 minutes we were told that the European company, with plants in Belfast, Basildon and Ponders End, Enfield, was going into administration and that we were to leave - without our wages being paid. Personal possessions could be collected the next day, but at 10 o'clock the factory was locked closed. Workers had already occupied the Belfast factory.

We demand what is due to us The 200 workers who are part of the Ford subsidiary want the same conditions they have always had via "mirror contracts" with the parent company. Up to now they don't know when they will get wages due, and their pensions are to be controlled by the government Pensions Protection Fund. This means a maximum of £9,000 payout, and much reduced conditions! Some of the women and men have 40 yrs service!

The move is to save Visteon USA money at our expense. But unexpectedly Unite union members have taken determined action that bosses thought they had eliminated years ago. The workers want their existing terms respected. Ford Visteon can't be allowed to avoid their responsibility.

Negotiations have now started As a result of the occupation Visteon have agreed to negotiate with us, and our convenor will be flying over to the USA this week to meet US company reps.

The future? As well as proper redundancy payments, some are suggesting that the skills of the workers who can make anything in plastic, should be used to make increasingly needed parts for green products - bike and trailer parts, solar panels, turbines, etc. Government investment in this rather than throwing money at bankers could be profitable & save jobs in the long term.

All support welcome Ford Visteon workers have been pleased at the support received from other Ford plants as well, such as Southampton, who are blacking Visteon products. 100s attended our rally outside on Saturday.

Please come to the factory at any time (especially 12 noon) to show us your support. Get your Union branch or organisation to pass a resolution in support. Help raise money by doing workplace and community collections, and drop by...

Messages of support to those inside:

This is a fight we can win. We're off our knees and fighting fit!

Monday, 6 April 2009

the bad new

details here - I wonder whether the conference title contains an ironic reference to the last (post-)Marxist attempt to announce new times:

Friday, 3 April 2009

Kettle Logic and Circuits of Protest

Reading the Institute's comments on the G20 protests (in reply to Owen and Mark) and the question of the right to the city versus the struggle at the immediate point of production I was thinking perhaps this need not be cast as an antinomy. In particular Beverly Silver-type arguments point out how the new spatial dispersion of capital creates new points of struggle in terms of circuits of circulation - transport, docks, etc. - and of course the right of circulation through the city-space itself. It is these circuits that provide the admittedly attenuated linkages between labour and finance capital - not least containerisation (cf. season 2 of The Wire) - in the 'circuit' between China and the US. This would allow us to make the connection between labour and finance capital that Harvey regards as detached. This is partly Blackburn's point that this is a crisis of poverty (both among the US working class, i.e. the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and the Chinese working class, in terms of low wages), and Badiou's point that this is a crisis of housing. Focus on the circuits as points of struggle would also allow us to avoid the displacement of struggle onto the Chinese working class (although it may be the obviously mixed memories of struggle do allow for resurgence in the face of proletarianisation - the breaking of the iron rice bowl).

The issue here would be one of making figurative / imaginative connections between the subsumption of labour qua commodity and the futural (detached) commodities of financialisation. Here I think Harvey and Blackburn offer models that might appear reformist but actually offer the means to 'appropriate the appropriators'. The appropriators being now not so much literal subjects of capital (the firm, the individual capitalist), but the bearers of capital as real abstractions (the financialisation of the life-course, the futural nature of the form of value). To appropriate them requires not only the right to the city but the right to financialised capital. Instead of being 'monetary subjects without money', in light of the strategies of autonomia with regard to the reappropriation of the wage, we might speak of becoming monetary subjects with socialised money.
‘- work and + money’ to quote the slogan of a leaflet distributed at Fiat in 1969.

Plus see the photos of the protests by IT. On IT's comment on the necessity for a sublation of the opposition between a totalising anti-spectacular concept of revolution coupled to a totalising concept of the spectacle I'd certainly agree (and on the query about the 'elsewhere' it might come from). I think here a re-reading (and critique) of the situs is necessary, especially the examination of such concepts as detournement and the construction of situations. Of course Debord's pessimism circa Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1988) seems to break this dialectic into a Baudrillardian-style pessimism (although Baudrillard is more interesting to me than the cliche).

All protest (I think) has a theatrical element, including successful protests / revolutions. Rather than risk blanket dismissal on these grounds - "the burning-with-the-pure-flame-of-negativity thesis" (Clark & Nicholson-Smith) - it might be more a matter of thinking types and forms of theatricality.