A lot has been said recently, especially on the political Right, about 'the inherent dignity of labour'. This is one of those ambiguous motifs which like the Revolutionary French and American liberals' ubiquitous use of the tropes of 'freedom' and 'slavery' to animate their rhetoric, all the while luxuriating in the actual transatlantic slave-trade, repays some enhanced interrogation. I'm not going to be analytic here, however; I'm going to be deliberately impressionistic because in a sense I think that this is something we also need, and this feeds into the sense of what I will be saying.
Critique since at least Kant has been understood as transcendental; desire can mark itself as repetition or citation only if it can self-distanciate, or else it fails to identify itself as such. Any critique can degenerate into prolefeed unless it utilises this capacity for exteriorization. On this basis it was possible within the critical tradition to develop strategies of critique which were mimetic in nature. The critical efficacy of stylised repetition today, however, is in jeopardy.
The work of Maurizio Lazzarato on 'the indebted man' is surprising. I've had it lying around for a few weeks and not had to time to dip into it but find myself glad I did so today, as it is helping me piece together more of my wiki page on neoliberalism. The following is a slightly amended version of a section on that page, which I felt was too significant given the current political and media climate not to publish to the blog.
Seriously. The heat this summer....
Harvey explains how volume one of Marx's Capital deals with production of value, whereas volume two deals with realisation of value. Drawing on this Marxian distinction can bring crucial insights that explain how production and realisation of value can occur in two completely different geographical regions, or in apparently disjointed domains of urban life. For example, an enormous amount of value is produced in Chinese factories, but is not realised in China as such, rather it is realised in places such as Wal-Mart stores in the USA.
A large proportion of the educated youth all across Turkey are currently leading a vast movement against the government’s repressive and reactionary practices. This is a very important moment in what I have called “the rebirth of History.” In many countries around the world, middle school, high school, and university youth, supported by a part of the intellectuals and the middle class, are giving new life to Mao’s famous dictum: “It is right to revolt.” They are occupying squares and streets, symbolic places; they are marching, calling for freedom, “true democracy,” and a new life. They are demanding that the government either change its conservative politics or resign. They are resisting the violent attacks of the state police.
Having initiated my most recent and most intense period of study with 'French Theory' (the obvious, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Nancy, Sartre, Kojève, Althusser, Badiou, Ranciere) augmented by the Slovenian school of Lacanian psychoanalysis (most manifest in Zizek but also in Zupančič and Dolar) way back in 2006, I have been drawn further and further Left in political conviction, so that alongside Badiou and Ranciere I found myself happily digesting Robespierre, Lenin, the Frankfurt School, Marx, Engels, Luxemburg, more recent socialist work (Mészáros, Callinicos, Seymour) and even the state theorists (Jessop, Poulantzas). I am entirely comfortable with this Leftwards drift in my library and literary habits, especially when considering the Rightward-lurching social background against which it has happened. However, this intricate intellectual framework in which I pretty much live and move has so far lacked what is fashionably named 'Italian Theory', and this is the avenue down which my current investigations are taking me. True, I've been reading Agamben pretty thoroughly all along, and although inconsistent with much else that occupied me his focus on potentiality and bare life have long fascinated me at the philosophical level. Agamben, however, is something of a renegade with respect to Italian Theory, and is criticised by its more representative authors for having an apolitical approach to one of the most crucial objects of Italian study: biopolitics.
There is a certain persistence of arguments, just as there is the persistence of a symptom1. While ceaselessly making the argument for what our opponents sneer at as a 'planned economy', and despite it being planned for equality, universality and justice, we are just as ceaselessly bombarded with the market-liberal claim that we should 'just let human nature take its course': that deregulation is the key to a fair and equitable society. Like me, you will have been deeply suspicious of 'deregulation', and probably doubly so at the invocation of 'human nature'. You will have found a means to argue that deregulation is precisely an organised process in which society is actively mobilised in multiple compositions, varying forms and functions to bring about consensus.
You may have turned to Nicos Poulantzas' or Bob Jessop's State Theory in elaborating how the overzealous libertarian position (that 'the State is the enemy of freedom'), and the instrumentalist-Marxist position (that 'the State is the tool of the Capitalist class'), are both of them dead wrong. You might have pointed out that while the State in its overall function indeed smooths the operation of Capitalist society, Capitalism in itself is far too divisive to ensure any kind of permanent social stabilisation, and therefore it is only with a significant degree of autonomy from the short-term goals of Capitalism that the State manages to mediate with some degree of regularity.
The following is an excerpt from Philosophy for Militants, Badiou's latest book published in English and translated by Bruno Bosteels as part of Verso's 'Pocket Communism' series. As with some of Badiou's other smaller published works there is an marked absence of that difficult idiosyncratic theoretical style---a mixture of Lacanianism, Post-Maoist ontology, and axiomatic set theory---which makes some of his more theoretical work so forbidding for a wider audience. In this work we find Badiou showing some sensitivity towards our present political milieu, aware of the battle-lines being drawn by revanchist governments against the people, and a willingness for his thought to be conditioned by, while still exceeding, this history. The author dwells on the ambiguity of democracy in the relationship between politics and philosophy, arguing that a democratic politics is necessary for the emergence of philosophy, while philosophy itself is in the curious position of having no necessary democratic mission yet (ideally) takes a 'mathematically' pure democratic form in that, via philosophy, anyone can speak, anyone can have an argument. The philosophical argument is, for Badiou, independent of the position of enunciation, and he finds in this a pretext for a philosophical argument---communism, if you like---which would have as its goal the maintenance of its own conditions of possibility, which is to say, a truly democratic politics. We are explicitly returned to the figure of Socrates made to die for a role perceived as influential in shaping young minds; implicitly we are asked to think the question: would Socrates likewise have to 'disappear' today, and what sort of configuration of the political-philosophical relationship would be necessary to obviate his disappearance?