N.Pepperell over at Rough Theory has written a very nice post on materialism and critical subjectivity responding to some of my recent scribblings. N.P. writes,

A critical theoretic approach would require that Marx ground his own critical standpoint – that he account for the forms of critical subjectivity manifest in his own critique – using the same categories and the same analytical strategies he directs at the society he criticises. We would presumably agree that Marx understood himself to be presenting a materialist theory – and that materialism functions as a normative ideal within his approach, as a standard against which Marx criticises the mystifications underlying other approaches. Yet what could be more “materialist” than this perception of wheat in terms of its immediate physical properties – this image of objects shorn of their embeddedness in social relationships and moral valences, open for examination by our senses, either directly or as amplified by technology? This issue becomes confused by the more recent flattening of the concept of “materialism” as though it pertains to something specifically economic – and therefore somehow should naturally direct our thoughts to social relations of production. In Marx, I would suggest, the concept still carries both a mixture of this later meaning, and its earlier sense of “secular” and “scientific” thinking – and would thus be somewhat aligned with the tendency to explore the “material” world, understood as a “demystified” and “rationalised” world, shorn of anthropomorphic projections.

Marx’s materialism suggests that things might not be as simple as Deleuze and Guattari imply. If Marx were to point to an object like wheat, and note that social relations cannot be deduced from it, perhaps there is a more complex sense in which such an observation might figure in Marx’s work: perhaps he might also be asking how he can justify the use of “materialist” concepts, within his own self-reflexive and immanent approach. Perhaps he might be seeking to meet the criteria of self-reflexivity (and of immanence or materialism itself) by posing the problem of how it came to pass that we exist in a society that can perceive and think in materialist terms, a society for which notions like sense perception might be appear to be the most basic, the most “natural”, way of perceiving the world – a society whose inhabitants can observe wheat and not immediately think things like: “Yes of course: I recognise this substance: it may only be lawfully consumed by persons of this caste, when prepared in this way, and at this time. It may only be produced by persons of that sort, using these traditional techniques, and with the proper ritual performances.”

I confess that I strongly disagree with her take on Deleuze and Guattari, as I think the two develop a careful analysis of just why such illusions emerge and the conditions under which a critical subjectivity is possible. Indeed, this is one of the central themes of my study of Deleuze’s thought, Difference and Givenness: Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence, where I 1) strive to show why Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism is not a return to dogmatic metaphysics, 2) give an account of why the illusions of transcendence and representation emerge, and 3) provide an immanent account of the emergence of critical subjectivity. Despite these reservations– reservations she herself expresses –the post does an excellent job laying out questions revolving around critical subjectivity, immanence, and materialism.