Sunday, 31 January 2010

new blog

This is the (currently symbolically empty) new blog for the Theory Research Group, which will be holding events at my university, as well as now the site I'll use for advertising all other relevant events.

Friday, 29 January 2010

On Living in a Backwater

Perry Anderson's The New Old World is out, and from the Verso announcement email comes this vintage 'Perry-ism':

With landmark chapters on France, Germany, Italy and Turkey (the omission of Britain is plainly acknowledged: its ‘history since the fall of Thatcher has been of little moment’).

Ouch! It isn't just because I've been teaching psychoanalysis today that one thinks this might be an omission that is a little 'overdetermined'. After all Anderson was one the pre-eminent thinkers of the 'British question', and can one really say the Blairite re-tooling of Thatcherism plus vestigial social democracy and the authoritarian and philistine elements of labourism has been of 'little moment' - not least in shaping the other European regimes, and making Thatcherism/neo-liberalism 'accessible' to post-social democracy cultures? Perhaps it is largely because I'd like to read Perry's evisceration of contemporary Britain, however.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Philosophy Armed

An excellent quote from Heine recorded in Stathis Kouvelakis's brilliant Philosophy and Revolution (2003):
Heine dreams of the coming

of Kantians who are as devoid of piety for the phenomenal world as Kant was towards God; they will ravage the soil of our European life mercilessly with swords and axes in order to root out the last vestiges of the past. Armed Fichteans will appear on the scene, whose fanatical wills cannot be restrained by either fear or selfishness; for they live in the spirit and defy matter, like the early Christians, who likewise could not be overcome by physical torments or physical pleasures. Indeed, in a social upheaval such transcendental idealists would be even more inflexible than the early Christians; for the latter endured earthly torments in order to attain the bliss of heaven, while the transcendental idealist regards the torments themselves as mere illusion and is inaccessibly entranched behind his own ideas.

I hope the time to realise this prophecy as not been missed: sword-wielding Kantians and armed Fichteans is a programme than considerably enhances my opinion of German Idealism...

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Apocalypse Later (remarks)

Here are some immediate responses to the excellent discussion of Nights of Labour of my work on the 'apocalyptic tone' (forthcoming soon on the Mute website).

i.m. Daniel Bensaid

1.0 In reply I can only agree about the disjunction between the crisis in neo-liberal govermentality and the articulation of the crisis of capitalism itself. There is no doubt that one element of the function of capitalism is its ability to engage and deploy different forms of govermentality, and so although this crisis in this particular 'financial regime' offers a certain alienation or de-familiarisation of capital 'on the ground' the usual 'abstract' mechanisms continue to operate precisely in the 'blind' Dawinian forms NOL identifies. It's worth noting, and this is a point made by Andre Pichot, that Darwin imported models from the social science of his time (Malthus and Smith especially) that emphasised the 'blind' functioning of 'chance' in the nascent field of the 'economic'.

2.0 The very key question here is how 'dysfunction' or 'crisis' can also operate as a form of the reproduction of capital in the mode of non-reproduction - a point emphasised in the work of Benedict Seymour on New Orleans (and, now, its imaginary re-articulation). We cannot afford to assume the automatic rebound of capitalist crisis to 'us', but, as NOL points out, my own articulation of the tendency as possible mode of analysis is more in the form of critique than positive recommendation. Although the implication of my analysis is the need to articulate between real abstractions and change, to start to think together more closely, and more realistically, the subject of change and the object of change.

3.0 Certainly, as I argue in the Mute piece, the apocalypse offers modes of thinking radical re-orderings. In terms of strategy it cannot be dismissed out of hand, abut I don't see how many of its current forms truly articulating either the subject or object of change; although I have my queries Evan's project is the most thorough attempt to deal with this.

4.0 Fascinating is the suggestion of the articulation of apocalypse as missed, which transforms into the discourse of tragedy. I've recently read Althusser's essay on the Piccolo Teatro (in For Marx) where he articulates different experiential forms of temporality. We have the 'melodramatic time' of ideology - the time of the imaginary, and one which seems to resonate with the temporality of the current crisis. This time can make a transition to the temporality of tragedy, which appears to be the moment of decision / action, but there is also another form of time. This is an enigmatic, even non-subjective time, which figures the brute encounter with the 'real' of capitalism, its very absence of relations, and even the embrace of that real ('the true relationship is constituted precisely by the absence of relations.')

4.1 Althusser's example, from the play he analyses, is a daughter's embrace of prostitution as economic choice posed against her father's melodramatic and tragic decision to murder her potential pimp to defend her honour. As he states: 'Father, consciousness, dialectic, she throws them all overboard and crosses the threshold of the other world, as if to show that it is in this poor world that things are happening, that everything has already begun, not only its poverty, but also the derisory illusions of its consciousness.'

5.0 While this last form of time can seen to return to the dangers of disabused embrace of capital, another figuration of the apocalyptic tone, it could also figure a break from such a tone and into the strategic (we could connect this to Althusser's speculations on Machiavelli's notion of the conjunctural connection of fortuna and virtu, which passes itself in 'pure' a-subjective contingency).

6.0 To turn to NOL's last point on the experience of collectivisation as apocalypse or even utopia I think this is best captured in the work of Platanov, notably The Foundation Pit. His work, which I can only recommend you read, captures in uncanny fashion these strange utopian / apocalyptic forms ('We will kill the universe with machines').

6.1 I certainly think then connection of ideas to popular forms of understanding is crucial. In one sense it is the crucial necessity in the attempt to articulate the current crisis in a different form. This is where I see Althusser's point as relevant - a fusion of reason and reality would involve rupture with the melodramatic/tragic into the 'real' of capital as the absence of such relations. Of course, as Althusser's own work suggests, this would still have to be articulated in the register of the imaginary and work-over or exceed any 'return' to the melodramatic/tragic - otherwise we risk an elitism of the disabused 'real'. This is Gramsci's point about the motivating power of Marxism qua the 'religion of the subaltern' - providential narrative of victory - and, we could say, the need to articulate 'profane' forms of Marxism in popular articulations.

7.0 It's here where NOL's work on the experiential consciousness of workers might do well to disrupt my 'dogmatic slumbers'. This was also the therapeutic work of Infinite's intervention at HM, which has prompted me to start to really think about an anthropology of the worker (not so much an ontology, although due to capital's own 'philosophical' functioning ontology is also crucial). This is for future work, but without either this, or a more strategic thinking of actual forms and structures of negativity / resistance my own forthcoming book risks being 'weightless'.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The Biopolitics of Slavery

Their days hold no pastimes, no free spaces, no room in them for any impulse of their own. It is not that their life is harder than other men’s nor that they occupy a lower space in the social hierarchy; no, they are another human species, a compromise between a man and a corpse. The idea of a person’s being a thing is a logical contradiction. Yet what is impossible in logic becomes true in life, and the contradiction lodged within the soul tears it to shreds. This thing is constantly aspiring to be a man or a woman, and never achieving it – here, surely, is death but death strung out over a whole lifetime; here, surely is life, but life that death congeals before abolishing.
Simone Weil, 'The Iliad, or the Poem of Force' (1940)

Monday, 11 January 2010

Eliminate yourself

A new blog, Nights of Labour, with a first post on research into the discourse of actual workers, and an interesting reflection on negation / self-elimination as structural rupture with the (literal) heights of bourgeois ideology. In relation to the dialectic of negation, I'll be taking about the dictatorship of truth contra the dictatorship of the lens in Pontecorvo's Queimada with Alberto Toscano and Peter Hallward on 12 February at Goldsmiths, InC. Before this event you can also see K-Punk on nu-bureaucracy as well, hosted by the hardest working man in academia - Alberto Toscano.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010


The programme looks excellent as well for HM in NYC; I'm cold enough here, however, and dislike flying (physical discomfort more than the fear of plunging to fiery death), and so won't be making it. Instead I'll be suffering from the morbid symptoms of pre-teaching, which currently involves (on top of icy feet): headaches, fiddly planning of seminar tasks, berating myself/others, failing to proceed with urgent research, and the feeling that all my capacity for rational thought has become fundamentally impaired.

UCLA seminar

This looks suitably impressive (should everyone turn up of course) and the fascinating full course syllabus is here. On a very much smaller scale I'm starting to run a programme of theory seminars at my place, in between the teaching and the ever increasing number of meetings. I'll also probably be starting a separate blog for this (and for advertising all events), although after seeing this my puny efforts feel puny.
The topic of the UCLA seminar on Experimental Critical Theory this year is “the Subject”; winter quarter will focus on Hegel and Badiou, and spring quarter will examine Freud and Lacan.
The seminar will be lead by Kenneth Reinhard, and guest seminar leaders will include:
Étienne Balibar, Bruno Bosteels and ECT Committee members John McCumber, Eleanor Kaufman, and Jason Smith.
Spring: Slavoj Zizek, Mladen Dolar, Graham Hammill, Catherine Malabou, Jean Wyatt, Eric Santner, and Alain Badiou.

In the winter, the following public lectures, linked to the seminar, will be offered:
Feb. 23: Bruno Bosteels, “Badiou and Hegel”
Feb. 24: Bruno Bosteels, “Marx and Marti: Logics of the Disencounter”(rooms and time TBA)

In the spring, the following conferences, lectures, and debates linked to the seminar will be offered:
April 7 & 8: “Recovered Voices” conference (featuring Slavoj Zizek, Mladen Dolar, and others)
May 28: Badiou/Zizek debate: “Saving Wagner – A Communist Perspective” (2:00, Schoenberg Hall)
June 1 & 2: Conference on “Wagner in LA: The Opera of the 21st Century?” (featuring Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Fredric Jameson, and others)