Monday, 29 September 2008

Make One, Two, Many Marxisms

MANY MARXISMS HISTORICAL MATERIALISM ANNUAL CONFERENCE 20087-9 November 2008School of Oriental and African Studies, Central London

Organised in collaboration with the Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize Committee and with Socialist Register.Organised in association with the International Initiative for the Promotion of Political Economy, the journal Situations and the Journal of Agrarian Change, and with the assistance of the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences of SOAS.Ever since its foundation in 1997, Historical Materialism has sought to contribute to the intellectual recomposition of the global Left by serving as an international venue for critical Marxist research. The journal's initial wager - that Marxism remains a vital, and heterogeneous and many-faceted political and theoretical tradition - has been borne out in a conjuncture where Marxist thinkers have amply demonstrated the critical resources at their disposal (witness recent debates on imperialism and neoliberalism). Within the academy, the facile dismissal of Marxism seems to have run out of steam, and the attitudes of new generations of students and researchers have changed accordingly. Marxist intellectuals are no longer simply forced to survive in hostile conditions or to retreat into isolated academic subcultures, despite an often adverse global political context. In this setting, they face new challenges, which this conference seeks to addressHow can we develop the plurality of Marxist debates, fields and schools without making concessions to eclecticism, narcissism or compartmentalisation? How do we square the concrete multiplicity of Marxisms with the strong commonalities in intellectual vocabularies, theoretical sources and political aims? Hasn't the question of the diversity of Marxism - of many Marxisms - accompanied the tradition’s entire development, a testament both to its internationalist horizon, and to the inexhaustible potential of its many critical insights and conceptual formulations? What strategies can allow us to confront, and perhaps overcome, some of the disparities or even misunderstandings born of these processes of differentiation?Having tried to foster a form of critical cosmopolitanism and debate in past conferences, bringing together thinkers working in different fields, and out of different traditions, this year's Historical Materialism conference wants to emphasise problems and opportunities raised by the existence of 'Many Marxisms'. To this end, it aims to take stock of recent developments in Marxist thought, surveying the most vibrant recent debates; to confront critical moments in the historical development of Marxism; to identify crucial concepts and areas of research that can cut across any preconceived academic specialisation or geographical isolation of Marxism; to reflect on the ways in which Marxism has and continues to intervene in mainstream intellectual debates; and, finally, to generate a space in which the outlines of the many twenty-first century Marxisms may be delineated.


For more details, please contact:

THEMES COVERED WILL INCLUDE:Approaching Passive Revolutions * Art and Capitalism * Aspects of Imperialism * Base and Superstructure * Beyond Global Value Chain Analysis in Commodity Studies * Bolshevism: Yesterday and Tomorrow * Capitalism / Knowledge Capitalism * Capitalism and Architecture * Climate Change, Sustainability and Socialism * Contemporary Radical Thought and Marxism: Agamben, Holloway, Zizek * Early Modern Capitalism * Ecological Crisis and Marxist Theory * Everyday Life * Finance and Neo-Liberalism * Financialisation and Crisis * Food Crisis * From the Grundrisse to Capital * Future of World Capitalism * Historical Materialism and Late Development * Historiography in the Development of Marxism * International Financial Institutions * Is Today's Capitalism Actually-Existing Barbarism? * Labour-Process and Resistance * Latin American Left Today * Learning from Enemies and Rivals: Schmitt, Strauss, Weber * Life, Politics & Capitalism * Many Marxisms and India * Many Marxisms: Key Figures * Many Marxisms: Problems and Polemics * Marx and Fetishism * Marx on World Economy and World Politics * Marxism and Cinema: Film Noir and Neo-Noir * Marxism and Metropolitics * Marxism and Philosophy * Marxism and the Sciences * Marxism Outside the West * Marxism, Feminism and Women’s Politics * Marxisms and Literature * Marxisms and Religion * Marxisms and Southern Africa * Marxisms and Violences: Gender and Race * Marxist Theories of Practice * Modes of Foreign Relations * Monetary Policy and Banking under Neoliberalism * Money * Negativity and Revolution * North East Asian Marxisms and Socialisms * On the Concept of Surplus Populations * Perspectives from Althusser * Perspectives from Marx’s ‘Jewish Question’ * Philosophies of Revolt and Revolution * Philosophy in the Early Marx * Political Categories of Marxism * Political Economy and Economics Today * Politics of the Promotion of Global Competitiveness * Racism, Class and Politics * Restructuring, Capital and Labour * Revolutionary Politics in the Middle East * Sexual Liberation: Historical Materialist Approaches * Situationism at the Limits: Must we Burn Debord? * Socialism in Search of an Economic System * State in the Bolivarian revolution * Theories of Class * Theories of Imperialism * Time, Temporality, History * Transformations in the Neoliberal State * Uneven and Combined Development: Towards a Marxist Theory of ‘the International’? * US Financial Power in Crisis * Utopianism * Value: Political and Economic Dimensions * ‘Western’ Marxism and the Anti-Colonial World/Intellectuals * Windows on Empire: Perspectives from History, Culture and Political Economy * Workerism: a Generation Later *
Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, Gilbert Achcar, Talat Ahmed, Greg Albo, Jamie Allinson, Kevin Anderson, Ricardo Antunes, Giovanni Arrighi, Sam Ashman, Antonio Carmona Báez, Richard Bailey, Metin Bal, Colin Barker, Kate Bayliss, Pınar Bedirhanoğlu, Mike Beggs, Riccardo Bellofiore, Aaron Benanav, Ted Benton, Henry Bernstein, Cyrus Bina, Werner Bonefeld, Mark Bould, Pepijn Brandon, Peter Bratsis, Robert Brenner, Dennis Broe, Dick Bryan, Ergun Bulut, Verity Burgmann, Alex Callinicos, Paul Cammack, Mauro Farnesi Camellone, Al Campbell, Bob Cannon, Gavin Capps, Thomas Carmichael, Emilia Castorina, Maria Elisa Cevasco, Hsiu-Man Chen, Vivek Chibber, Alexander Chryssis, Martin Cobian, Peter Custers, John Darwin, Neil Davidson, Charles Davis, Chuck Davis, Gail Day, Roni Demirbag, Radhika Desai, Pat Devine, Paulo dos Santos, Peter Drucker, Jean-Numa Ducange, Gérard Duménil, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Timm Ebner, Bolivar Echeverria, Juliane Edler, Ersin Vedat Elgur, Katsuhiko Endo, Sara R. Farris, Lucy Ferguson, Don Filtzer, Ben Fine, Robert Fine, Bridget Fowler, Carl Freedman, Alan Freeman, Andrea Fumagalli, Cristina Morini, Lindsey German, Melanie Gilligan, Ruth Wilson Gilmour, Saroj Giri, Richard Godden, Maya Gonzalez, Jamie Gough, Peter Gowan, Kevin Gray, Nick Gray, Chris Harman, Barbara Harriss-White, Owen Hatherley, Cristoph Hermann, Andy Higginbottom, Mike Hill, Christian Høgsbjerg, Evren Hosgor, Nik Howard, David Jack, Elinor Jean, Oliver Jelinski, Nicholas Joll, Ismail Karatepe, Ken Kawashima, Paul Kellogg, Geoff Kennedy, Sami Khatib, Aykut Kilic, Donald Kingsbury, Nick Knight, Martijn Konings, Michael Krätke, Rick Kuhn, Ishay Landa, Tim Lang, Spyros Lapatsioras, Paul LeBlanc, Sergio Lessa, Alex Levant, Peter Linebaugh, Alex Loftus, Rob Lucas, Dennis Maeder, Matteo Mandarini, Christian Marazzi, Jonathan Martineau, Paul Mattick, David Mayer, Andrew McGettigan, Philip McMichael, David McNally, James Meadway, John Milios, Owen Miller, Andrew Milner, Dimitris Milonakis, John Molyneux, David Moore, Cristina Morini, Adam Morton, Zwi Negator, Susan Newman, Jörg Nowak, Benjamin Noys, Bertel Nygaard, Bridget O'Laughlin, Keith O’Regan, Sebnem Oguz, Ulrich Oslender, Ceren Özselçuk, Maria Cristina Soares Paniago, Leo Panitch, F. Papadatos, Juan Pablo Painceira Paschoa, Leda Maria Paulani, Simon Pirani, Iain Pirie, Nina Power, Gonzalo Pozo- Martin, Thomas Purcell, Diana Raby, Michael Rafferty, Geert Reuten, Paul Reynolds, Ben Richardson, John Riddell, John Roberts, Bruce Robinson, John Rose, Thomas Sablowski, Spyros Sakellaropoulos, Jorgen Sandemose, Saskia Sassen, Michael Sayeau, Sean Sayers, David Schwartzmann, Alan Sears, Lynne Segal, Ben Selwyn, Sanjay Seth, Stuart Shields, Nicola Short, Joe Sim, Rick Simon, Subir Sinha, Panagiotis Sotiris, Dimitris P. Sotiropoulos, Kerstin Stakemeier, Guido Starosta, Marcel Stoetzler, Robert Stolz, Gaspar Miklós Tamás, Bruno Tinel, Peter Thomas, Massimiliano Tomba, Alberto Toscano, Greg Tuck, Mehmet Ufuk Tutan, Kees van der Pijl, Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, Carlo Vercellone, Danga Vileisis, Sherryl Vint, Satnam Virdee, Andriana Vlachou, Elisa Waeyenberge, Jeffery R. Webber, Dominic Wetzel, Adrian Wilding, Evan Calder Williams, Frieder Otto Wolf, Andrew Wright, Steve Wright, Galip Yalman, Iván Zatz

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Knackademic (Week 3)

Trying to meet all the demands listed in self-mortification (see below) will produce a delayed and intermittent "service". In lieu of posting the following are out / due out:

‘‘The End of the Monarchy of Sex’: Sexuality and Contemporary Nihilism’, Theory, Culture & Society 25.5 (September 2008): 104-122.
[lengthy, and a little dull. Like most things I write I'm not sure I even agree with myself]

Horror temporis’, Collapse vol. IV ‘Concept Horror’, ed. Robin MacKay (May 2008): 277-284.
[again, I have my doubts, although read the pieces by Reza, Iain Hamilton Grant, and James Trafford]

Forthcoming, as they say
‘Through a glass darkly: Badiou’s critique of anarchism’, Anarchist Studies 16.2 (October 2008).
[a little basic, and rather flat in parts, but better questions than answers]

Review essay of Yannis Stavrakakis, The Lacanian Left (SUNY 2007) and Ian Parker’s Revolutions in Psychology (Pluto 2007), Historical Materialism.
[described as "curmudgeonly"]

‘Be reasonable!’: Review of Jürgen Habermas, Between Naturalism and Religion (Polity 2008), The Philosophers’ Magazine.
[hopefully out, I made an (unnecessary) meal out of writing this]

A few other things require urgent re-writing due to the horrified realisation when I re-read them that they seem to have been written by some kind of idiot.
Your time may be better spent looking at the new issue of Cultural Logic, which has a very strange (but that goes with the territory) piece on Non-Marxism (PDF here). Or reading Owen's thoughtful comments on the state and revolution.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Life Sentence

I once envisaged this blog containing a series of sub-Žižekian ponderings of various films / books / comics / music; only I haven't seen / read / listened to anything worth commenting on until now.

Thanks to the Institute and IT we've now seen Lars Von Trier's The Boss of it All (2006), which my partner described as "Brecht meets Shakespeare". Now LVT attracts Lacanians like flies to the poverbial, and I have no knowledge of whether he reads Lacan, but this film perfectly illustrates the Lacanian semblant / everything Žižek writes on the symbolic mandate, truth in the structure of fiction, "there is no Other of the Other", etc. The film concerns a company "owner" who has exploited and manipulated his co-workers by inventing a fictional "boss of it all" to take responsibility for any difficult decisions. Unfortunately to complete his final betrayal by selling the company without recompensing his colleagues he needs the "boss of it all" to sign the contract and so signs up an avant-garde actor to play the role.

Commentary is superfluous in one sense because of the brilliance of the film's logical probing of all the consequences of this act (as well as the fact LVT supplies his own commentary on the form of comedy, somewhat like his closing monologues in The Kingdom). Particularly acute is the moment when the actor playing the "boss of it all" invents the "boss of the boss of it all" to displace all the anger he has been receiving and outwit the company "owner". Unlike the melodramatic aspects of other LVT films, which I have often really disliked, the use of comedy makes for something that I find far more effective and troubling than they more overtly disturbing elements of Dogville or Manderlay (both of which I found properly penitential viewing). I wonder whether it will attract the same level of critical attention as those films? Despite all the various assaults and revisions of the canon in Eng. Lit. it is noticeable that comedy is still a rather "minor" part (with the obvious exceptions).

In light of my project critiquing the "affirmationist consensus" the scenes where the actor playing the boss of it all is advised to say yes to everything and has hot office sex because this involves simply consenting to a series of fantasmatic projections is genius.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Let It Bleed

To follow my recent post on the logic of the lesser evil, another (depressing) instance courtesy of Steve Shaviro's reflections on the US election. Marcuse once asked why does the cunning of reason always seems to benefit reaction? We might ask (if we didn't know the answer) why is the lesser evil getting lesser and lesser?

I don't presume to understand the US election at all and so can't comment meaningfully on it; I leave that matter to Steve's summary (it would be better if voting for Steve were a possibility). What I would say is that:
1. This again turns on the question of whether this is a choice in a paraconsistent logic (in which case the response should be Robin Blackburn's 'Let It Bleed' (his comment from 68 on the Labour party)), or intuitionistic, in which case vote Obama.
2. In the UK context hypocrisy doesn't seem to have done much for New Labour keeping its promises, or keeping to the reality of appearances. Rather it seems to have made them unelectable, and left us with a dominant hypocrisy in which even the "New" Tories claim to be "nice".

Monday, 15 September 2008

Go to the Kino

This time the apocalypse will not be disappointing. I can only second Owen's comment on Threads; it is perhaps one of the most harrowing films I've ever viewed. For a bit of light relief you might consider a viewing of The Omen - actually a film that traumatised me as a then Sunday School attending youth.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

A Touch of Evil

If I must choose the lesser of two evils I will choose neither.
Karl Kraus

Although Kraus made this statement in 1906 he came to support Engelbert Dollfuß in 1933, the Austro-Fascist chancellor, as the lesser evil in comparison to Hitler (“Mir fallt zu Hitler nichts ein.” (When it comes to Hitler, I have no inspiration)). Dollfuß was assassinated by Nazi agents in 1934.

This passage between refusal and tactical embrace demonstrates the difficulty of the logic of the lesser evil; both the difficulty of practicing it and of avoiding it. In the terms proposed by Eyal Weizman in his excellent analysis, we have a tension here between rejection of the general logic of the lesser evil and acceptance of it in a particular case. The key difficulty with the lesser evil, as identified by Weizman, is that it involves accepting a situation in which it is supposed that we have no choice but to engage – to function as a dilemma no refusal of the terms of the situation is allowed.

As Weizman goes on to note the calculative paradigm of the lesser evil is all too consonant with contemporary practices of power – especially in the intersection of militarism and humanism. Here, again, the presumption is of a utilitarian calculability between choices, which may not function. The very “attractiveness” of the lesser evil – say targeted killing rather than indiscriminate bombing – can lead to a long-term increase in violence and to the normalisation of violence (Hollow Land 251). In a sense although the dilemma is presented as bounded – to function as a true dilemma a closed choice is required, with both causing suffering – when it comes to the calculation of consequences these are cut-out of the temporal flow. Each incident of calculation is treated anew, as if the previous accumulation of violence had not happened, and the future implications are also strictly delimited. The injunction is always “choose now!”, hence the attraction of the usual “ticking bomb” scenario.

In Weizman’s “probe” into the origin of this logic he particularly focuses on the religious inquiry into sin and the problem of theodicy. As he argues the logic of lesser evil here is guided and implemented by a final salvation or redemption in which the final calculation (or abolishing of calculation) takes place. We could say, although he does not, that something similar operates in the Marxist use of the lesser evil – it only makes sense in the context of revolution (hence the distinction between revolution and reformism to distribute what is truly a lesser evil and merely a compromise with the system).

The difficulty comes when there is a lack of confidence in this salvation, and to be more precise, in the identification of agencies to carry it out. It is difficult to maintain Lenin’s confidence (quoted by Weizman):
This means: There may still be ‘lesser’ and ‘greater’ evils (there always will be) but we do not have to choose between these evils, for we represent the alternative to both of them, an alternative which is historically ripe.
If we do not have a “third” alternative then the horns of the dilemma become all the sharper.

This is the problem for any radical alternative to the system, posed by Weizman:
How to engage in the practice of “lesser evil”, but seek to mobilize the effect of these actions in the service of larger political claims; how to work from “inside” systems while simultaneously seeing beyond them, even precipitating their end?
As Weizman concedes some practice of the lesser evil and political calculation seems unavoidable, as the very rejection of the lesser evil argument itself involves a calculation… (I choose rejection of the lesser evil as the lesser evil)

This striking difficulty in evading the lesser evil is attested to by two recent attempts to “manage” (or delimit) the logic of the lesser evil. The first is the use of the lesser evil as a strategic imperative by Immanuel Wallerstein. He argues that in the short-run (Braudel’s history of events) we must inhabit the choice of lesser evil:
In the short run, not only should we support the lesser evil, but there is no other choice available, ever. Everyone, without exception, chooses the lesser evil. We just disagree about which choice is that of the lesser evil.
Wallerstein argues that this is simply the pragmatics of day to day short-term politics. He also argues that there is a second reason for choosing lesser evils:
No movement with a middle-run left agenda will have any chance of obtaining the popular support it needs if its advocates refuse to choose the lesser evil that meets the needs and expectations of the larger populace.
This logic only makes sense, however, if coupled to a middle run logic (Braudel’s cyclical time) working in the 10 to 25 years scale. This is the time of the patient work of political education, and
in the middle run, we should make no unsavoury compromises. We should push only for that which matters in terms of transforming the system, even if the rewards are not immediate.

Therefore lesser evil logic only works when constrained by a principled medium term logic – of course this leaves aside the profound problem of the feedback loop between these two “times”. How far can we go in lesser evils before corrupting the medium-term goals of political education and patient building of principles? Once again duration becomes a political problem. The solution, in this case, is a peculiar kind of salvation. This is because Wallerstein’s own longue durée perspective entails a rapidly approaching systemic crisis (not just a crisis of the system but a crisis for the system), or as he prefers (in the language of chaos theory) a bifurcation point. The choice comes down (or will come down) to a choice between the Spirit of Davos and the Spirit of Porto Alegre.

Now it may be true that such a crisis is approaching, I have not had the chance to assess Wallerstein’s evidence. What seems less true even without the evidence is his claim that this forthcoming bifurcation in the world-system means: "[w]e 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." It seems high to me in the absence of the identification of agencies to seize this opportunity, and in the lack of assessment of the relative social, political, and military strengths of the Spirit of Davos and the Spirit of Porto Alegre. Of course it is possible that the forthcoming systemic crisis may well affect this balance of powers quite severely, but again it is difficult to see how.

What we can see is that the logic of lesser evil is rescued from running out of hand by the analysis which dictates that the medium term strategy will control it, and that this strategy will only have to last one “term” (25 years or so) as that systemic crisis is imminent. To return to Lenin it is also because the derailment of the world-system is “historically ripe” that we can engage with the lesser evil as a strictly delimited strategy. If capitalism, or the ideological form of military humanism, involves cutting-out the logic of lesser evil from a wider context (except, of course, the historical background of “totalitarianism”), to operate it without salvation, Wallerstein requires salvation (or at least its possibility) to also interrupt the threat of a perpetual logic of the lesser evil.

A similar problem afflicts Alain Badiou’s more wholesale rejection of any such logic (although he does not name it as such) in his recent text “Three Negations” (2007). I will leave the technical detail of Badiou’s descriptions of three different logics of negations and their effects aside, and for those who are more knowledgeable. To summarise radical Badiou identifies three forms of the logic of negation: 1. A classical strong negation which he correlates with the event; 2. An intuitionistic intermediate negation, which he correlates with the logic of appearance; 3. A imperceptible paraconsistent logic in which no change takes place. Now Badiou concludes that: "[t]he lesson is that, when the world is intuitionistic, a true change must be classical, and a false change paraconsistent." (1883)

What this means is that a true change - an evental change - is classical in that P is negated by non-P without any alternative or gradation. The world turned upside down. The difficulty, for me, lies in that the domain of appearance is itself intuitionistic, implying a possible range of negations (non-P) and hence the logic of the lesser evil. Now, in the wake of an event that is saturated (1917) or obscure (1968) how are we to guide our day to day practice towards the classical negation in an intuitionistic world? More importantly, how are we to avoid the simulacrum of a paraconsistent logic (which would seem to be the logic of the lesser evil), in which negation is so weak as to be imperceptible (Badiou's typical example is parliamentary politics). This question has been raised by Adrian Johnston in the context of a "pre-evental" discipline of time, the necessity for a practice to avoid evental attentisme. Now what Johnston does not mention is Badiou's own practice of such a politics (which, for him, would still be post-evental, i.e. in memory of communism) with Organisation Politique. The guides from this practice would be a political of generic prescription, a refusal of any parliamentary politics, and a compact group of militants (to give a minimal description).

Of course this is a guide, but then still we need to have the salvation of an evental change, a classical strong negation. Is it enough that such a change happened previously? Or, as in Badiou's recent work, we can extract from such (political) changes a set of communist invariants? The difficult comes in the (Pascalian?) wager on future salvation that would redeem us from any taint of the lesser evil. Without this the risk is the one identified by Johnston (and other critics) of a "clean hands" politics that refuses to engage with what Daniel Bensaïd has discussed as "the return of strategy".

I am certainly not underestimating the difficulty of this problem. In fact what interests me is the acuteness with whih these texts raise what appears an "intractable" problem. Here, to repeat my earlier point, I think it is something to do with the possible redemptive agency. If the lesser evil appears to remain a closed logic it perhaps lies in the relative difficulty with identifying possible ruptures with that logic. This is not to say nothing is happening. It is simply to register the difficulty (and temptations) of the lesser evil in the current context.

Badiou, Alain "Three Negations." Cardozo Law Review 29.5 (2008): 1877-1883.
Bensaïd, Daniel "The Return of Strategy." International Viewpoint IV: 386.
Johnston, Adrian (2007) ‘The Quick and the Dead: Alain Badiou and the Split Seeds of Transformation’, International Journal of Žižek Studies 1.2: 1-32.
Wallerstein, Immanuel "Remembering Andre Gunder Frank While Thinking About the Future." Monthly Review 60.2 (June 2008).

Weizman, Eyal, Hollow Land. London and New York: Verso, 2007.
___ "665 / The Lesser Evil." Roundtable: Research Architecture. Centre for Research Architecture. Goldsmiths, University of London.

Monday, 8 September 2008


A great number of the movies of Alfred Hitchcock are devoted to the dim space opened between complete innocence and evident guilt. The conclusion would be: the true philosophical subject of these movies is that the logic of existence is not classical, but intuitionistic.
Alain Badiou

Friday, 5 September 2008

Collide (dogmeme II)

On 10 September the first attempt to circulate a beam will be made in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. This is the world's most powerful particle accelerator and the aim, as I understand it, will be to approach more closely than ever before the conditions of the big bang. In particular the aim is to try and discover the Higgs boson - and therefore to discover the origin of mass; find supersymmetric particles - which could account for the unification of fundamental forces, and in doing so also perhaps account for "dark matter"; to probe the mystery of antimatter; and to investigate quark-gluon plasma. My secret hope is that they are also planning to open a transdimensional pathway for the great old ones, but the initial evidence appears to be not (five days before we find out).

There is material enough here for correlationists and anti-correlationists alike, and no doubt more than a few anthropologists of science will be hanging around as well. What I admire and affirm in this is something about its absolute craziness coupled to an absolute performativity. No doubt there is something obscene about the whole business, but what attracts me is a kind of wonder at the insane gratuity coupled to knowledge of / and in the real. In this instance I'll truly admit to science-envy.

Proletarian Shopping

Greek anarchists stormed a supermarket on Thursday and handed out food for free in the latest of a wave of raids provoked by soaring consumer prices. About 20 unarmed people, mostly wearing black hoods, carried out the midday robbery in the northern city of Thesaaloniki, police said. Local media have labelled the raiders "Robin Hoods" following previous raids. They take only packets of pasta, rice and cartons of milk which they drop in the middle of the street for people to collect, a police official said. "They have never stolen money or hurt anyone. They ask people to remain calm but use ambush tactics, jumping over cash desks," he said. "When they attack without hoods, people are surprised to see that they are mostly women. "The rising cost of living has replaced unemployment as Greeks' main concern. Inflation is officially running at a 10-year high of 4.9 percent although many items have risen in price more sharply.
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Angus MacSwan)

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Cattivo Maestro

"the weak philosophies of the margin, difference, and nakedness appear as the mystifying figures and the unhappy consciousness of imperial hegemony."
Hardt & Negri in Negri, Reflections on Empire, p.94

What might be quite a rare moment: Hardt and Negri appearing to channel Lukács circa The Destruction of Reason (1952). Brutal as their characterisation of "weak thought" might be, it appears to have increasing truth - although how that truth is taken is up-for-grabs (is Agamben's "bare life" uncannily predictive of imperial hegemony, or simply a counsel of despair in the face of it?). The difficulty is, as Steve Shaviro points out here is that this accusation can be returned to its sender - in what sense does "strong difference", or "nakedness" re-interpreted as poverty qua potenza, really not provide another "mystifying figure" of the supposed powers of resistance?

Perry Anderson has indicated the dangers of consolation, in which "[t]he need to have some message of hope induces a propensity to over-estimate the significance of contrary processes, to invest inappropriate agencies with disinterested potentials, to nourish illusions in imaginary forces." (14) While Anderson recognises this as a necessary illusion (could we say it is the Kantian transcendental illusion of the Left?), the difficulty with Negri's work is the sense of a magical transformation of weakness into agency that seems all too consonant with a mystification of the "obscene underside" of imperial hegemony.

We should, I think, recognise in Negri's work his good faith in trying to come to grips with new class composition(s), and the need to identify and retain a sense of revolutionary agency. After all, without this possibility of such agency Marxism would fall into the position indicated (and rejected) by Trotsky: "if the world proletariat should actually prove incapable of fulfilling the mission placed upon it by the course of development, nothing else would remain except only to recognize that the socialist program, based on the internal contradictions of capitalist society, ended in Utopia." The difficulty is that, at worst, Negri's work seems to imply the communism is not utopian because it is already realised - what Gregory Elliott acidly called "a mutant Browderism".

It seems to me that some of these difficulties are written in at a very early stage in Negri's work. I've been reading Books for Burning, the compilation of 70s texts (going cheap at Judd Books). These are definitely some of the densest of Negri's texts, and I start to have sympathy with those ex-Brigadists who accused Negri of the invocation of the "magic Grundrisse" and the recollection of Greppi (recorded in Steve Wright's excellent review "Children of a Lesser Marxism?):

I remember once meeting Luciano [Ferrari Bravo] coming out of a lesson, and he asked, "Why do I have to waste my time explaining Toni’s books?" He was a wreck after two hours of interpreting the thoughts of the great master. Basically this was ideology, rather than the critique of ideologies.
The particular difficulty I'm pointing to particularly concerns the quotation of passages of the Grundrisse and then their analysis by Negri, which at the very least often seem "inventive".

That said, the actual theses of the texts are relatively easy to follow, and identified quite clearly. These hold the key to the continuity that concerns me. In Domination and Sabotage (1977) Negri argues that ‘Sabotage is the negative power [potenza] of the positive’ (2005: 258; italics in original) and that there is ‘a positivity that commands the negative and imposes it.’ (2005: 259) Here already, for me, is the first alchemical transformation of negative into positive that dictates the later ontologisation of constitutive power.

This will later slide all too easily into an endorsement of 'things as they are' as really being communist. The line is perhaps easier to take at the high-point of a radicalised movement, although it offers little to explain the rapidity of defeat (of course we can note the extremity of the state repression - conveyed most movingly in Nanni Balestrini's The Unseen - but then what significant movement has not had to face and try to overcome such repression? Negri's own discourse of sharpened fundamental contradiction and rising proletarian power offers little explanatory grasp to the experience of defeat). In the current context it appears too much as wishful thinking, precisely resulting from an all-too-rapid positivisation of the negative.

Cover Competition (so far)

Some kind suggestions for the cover. The first two from espacioprovisional; I'm quite taken with the Christopher Wool image - the 'gridding' coupled to the 'splashed'/'smeared' paint (look I am not TJ Clark...) seems to resonate.

Steven Parrino, Untitled (1997)

Christopher Wool, Untitled (2005)

The second nicely classical suggestions from Dave. I did think about Goya, but all the usual 'horror' images; my partner would like this, and I find it disarmingly cute. The Caravaggio is typically great, but I've got the feeling already "taken" by some other book (frustratingly I can't remember which).
Goya, The Dog (1820-23)

Carvaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes (1599)

If either of you want a "prize" from the stash of books let me know. More suggestions gratefully received. My first book had a very poor picture of Bataille (going cheap though) for the cover, when if I had the sense I should have suggested a still of him as a seminarian from Day in the Country. The second had a rather nice cover but was written under such horrible circumstances that I can't recover any real affection for it.
Perhaps there is also a case for suggesting better alternative book covers for existing works? Considering the state of my thinking at the moment this may well make up future posts in lieu of more intellectual labour...

Monday, 1 September 2008

Cover Competition

In lieu of meeting the stringent meme criteria here's a delaying tactic: please suggest possible image(s) for the cover of my new book. I'm still writing (one chapter and a conclusion to go; plus a series of traumatic rewrites no doubt - due December 2009 / published 2010), and the publishers haven't said anything about what might be acceptable so I make no guarantees. Also the Spinal Tap gag about black letters on a black cover is unacceptable... Anything good / helpful will get some reward (did I tell you about the piles of books making my office uninhabitable?).

Here are my thoughts (so far):

Gerhard Richter's "Record Player" (1988) from the Baader-Meinhof series. The other images in the series seem too obvious (and my book doesn't of course mention the RAF). Nothing also about music in the book either, but there is something that seems to evoke non-dialectical negativity in this image (for me). As I've been told (via a reliable source) publishers believe that a UK audience doesn't need a cover that has anything to do with the contents of the book, so anything goes.

Jeff Wall "The Destroyed Room" (1978)
Is this too obvious?

Jeff Wall "View from an Apartment" (2005)
I also like this, for no very obvious reason except perhaps I'm currently using a postcard of it as a bookmark. There's also something about the density of everyday life that seems to echo what I'm trying to think about dissolving.

This (or other images), from Masataka Nakano's "Tokyo Nobody" (something nicely apocalyptic about his work, and the book is amazing.

On the "long list" there's Titian's "Flaying of Marsyas" (1570-76) (too pretentious?) and I really love Caravaggio, but then nothing seems suitable. I'm starting to wish I was clever / famous enough to have one of those annoying openings when an artwork allegorises the project as a whole (Cf Foucault's The Order of Things, and the descent into stylistic tic in new historicism); I'm not.

Lessons in Dialectics

Travelling by train to London I sat down at a table and noticed a wasp crawling across it. Using the paper I was planning to read I carefully brushed the wasp off the table. Later coming into London I reached into my bag and the wasp, which had obviously crawled in, stung me on the wrist. I carefully shook the wasp out of my bag.


Been tagged for this. Writing according to rules (also cf. Oulipo) has always seemed a relief to me, probably from some super-ego pressure I can't recognise without Lacanian analysis. In fact, one reason I have such a great affection for academic conventions is they provide exactly these rules - and also they incarnate some generic models that I find appealing (of course run through with all the micro- and macro- corruptions that disable these mechanisms). My suspicion is that often "experimental" is just plain sloppy, and even valorised experimental modes (like Derrida's "novel" The Postcard) demonstrate to me that (a) I'd prefer a "proper" book, and (b) It is really difficult to do, and can easily lead to a banal stabilisation of the "experimental".

The first problem is that I don't have five people do send it on to (this is starting to bring back memories of school..). To get round this, in the spirit of Wyndham Lewis (everyone laughs or no one laughs), I'm making a hystericising Lacanian call that anyone who wants in can identify their own two most common stylistic or rhetorical ploys and then write a post without them.

On the two demands on me:

1. Dialectic
Hmmm, tricky - perhaps to write a completely affirmative post might be the solution (which fills me with horror).

2. Footnotes
Easy, except I really like footnotes - to use the trite commonplace they function as the unconscious of the text. I'm also one of those people who enjoys reading footnotes before reading the main text. In the case of my current reading this mode of reading is suitable due to the fact that the footnotes make up an almost parallel book... (still, it's a very interesting book, and very good value as well for an academic book - £8.50)