March 2007


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.

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Of late I’ve occasionally grumbled about education reform here in the United States. Given the sort of readership I have, I suspect that some look at me sidelong when I go on these rants wondering why I get so worked up. After all, there are much sexier issues to discuss like global capitalism and empire. Nonetheless, I think the No Child Left Behind act has been an unmitigated disaster and I am filled with cold chills whenever I think about it. I wish some talented Foucaultian would come along– you know the type, those that don’t simply talk about what Foucault himself wrote, but continue the project of rigorously studying forms and organizations of institutional power such as, perhaps, the way the DSM-IV functions and so on –and analyze the sorts of subjectivizations produced as a result of these agendas. These are the contemporary forms of micropower. Are they being studied and strategized?

What will the minds of Americans be like ten or fifteen years from now, after these children have grown up and entered the work world? Apparently this movement isn’t restricted to the secondary schools, but now there are entire groups of university administrators who believe this would be a good idea at the college level as well. In my cynicism I might not be surprised to hear of community or junior college administors pursuing such reform… But administrators at four year institutions with graduate programs? Now whenever I hear some well meaning person speak of “rubrics” and “performance outcomes” I shiver and dig my heels in, terrified that this is what is lurking right around the corner. I have a dirty confession to make: I passionately believe in traditional liberal arts education and the formation of critical thinkers that do not simply repeat but that are capable of posing problems and creatively generating solutions. The aim of pedagogy should be the formation of free men and women or self-directing agents. This is not accomplished by producing good test-takers. Indeed, listening to the horror stories of the pressures that are placed on students to perform well on these tests, it’s difficult to escape the impression that the very aim of this program is to thoroughly destroy any love of learning so that we might have a perfectly docile populace. The minute I hear words like “rubrics” and “performance outcomes” I suspect that the person using them has little or no understanding of what pedagogy is. At any rate, if you’re in the mood to be outraged, read this and this.

These are prime examples of what I have in mind when I speak of forms of action and policy arising out of stupidity, where the dimension of mediation has been ignored. In the development of this legislation teachers have systematically been cut out of the process as there’s been a working assumption that teachers are the problem and that the businessmen and lawyers that make up Congress know better what is required of education than those who teach. The first stupidity then lies in reducing education to a simple exchange of information, memorization, or “facts”. The second lies in the belief that the source of our education problems are the result of poor teachers. In both cases these are the results of “thingly thought” that pitches problems in terms of abstract immediacy, failing to appreciate the broader network of relations embodied in its object. I’m thoroughly baffled that parents and teachers everywhere aren’t filling the streets and marching with torches as a result of these disgusting policies. I get so angry thinking about this and what I’m seeing in my classroom from students freshly out of highschool that I can hardly even pull together words to say anything of value on the issue.

In a previous post I attempted to work through Deleuze’s thesis that stupidity is a transcendental structure of thought, an illusion internal to thought, similar to Kant’s transcendental illusions produced in and through reason. In intervening days I’ve continued thinking about this, trying to think more specifically about what challenges thought, making it so difficult to think. It seems to me that this question is not only vital to the more remote concerns of philosophy such as those belonging to metaphysics and epistemology, but also to concrete issues in politics and ethics. Once again it is necessary to emphasize that stupidity, if it is a sort of transcendental illusion, would not be a cognitive failing resulting from poor development or inadequate neurology. Neurologically, one could be quite intelligent and still be embroiled in stupidity. On the other hand, I don’t particularly like the word “stupidity”, though I confess that I gravitate towards this word as I see so much of it in the world about me. I suppose that says something about the structure of my desire. Hopefully no one will cleverly lay me bare in terms of Hegel’s logic of the beautiful soul.
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Those who came before us are quickly disappearing and a void is appearing. It’s important to keep certain orientations and trajectories of thought alive.

As a heads up, Larval Subjects will be celebrating its one year birthday on May 21st. If there’s anyone who would like to have a hand in planning the festivities, I could really use your help. New York and Chicago are planning parades, along with a number of European cities such as London, Paris, Berlin, and others. It appears that the birthday is even going to be celebrated in Australia, in places like Melbourne. Sadly China, who is still upset with me, is bowing out. Really I’m overwhelmed by all this. Some have already agreed to assist. Lars will be speaking here in Texas (anything to get away from the Damp). N.Pepperell will be speaking in New York (hoping to escape the Australian heat). And Anthony Paul Smith wishes to speak in Chicago (presumably to hang out with Adam Kotsko and get in some good bar fights on the South Side). Still, c’mon folks, it’s just a stupid blog. I realize Larval Subjects has set the definitive research agenda for the next century, but really it’s just a blip in time. Nonetheless, if you do decide to help, please keep quiet about it so Larval is surprised. Also, Larval Subjects is not itself a subject, so it really has no use for gifts. However, while LS is not itself a subject, it does appreciate the thought, so you can give me gifts in its stead should you so desire. Now I know LS is extremely difficult to shop for. It just never says what it likes. So if you wish to give money or a gift certificate, accompanied by a thoughtful and kind letter, that would be fine. The crazy thing about LS is that it’s very vain, so you might consider writing about its new outfit.

…instead of something distinguished from something else, imagine something which distinguishes itself– and yet that from which it distinguishes itself does not distinguish itself from it. Lightning, for example, distinguishes itself from the black sky but must also trail it behind, as though it were distinguishing itself from that which does not distinguish itself from it. It is as if the ground rose to the surface, without ceasing to be ground. (Difference and Repetition, 28)

Returning home, thoroughly exhausted, every bone and muscle in my body aching, yet exhilerated by the changes I see occuring around me and the role that I am playing in these changes, I find a great roar growing deep within my abdomin, as if I can no longer speak but can only make gutteral and animal-like sounds. I want to sit and float, thinking of nothing, yet I glance over at Spurious, only to find two more luminous posts.

In reading the title of the most recent one, I fantasize, with a quiver of guilty pleasure, that this is a love letter addressed to me… That this is what happens when aphorisms like “communication is something” vibrate across space and time and are fed through another machine, producing something that I could have never anticipated and filling me with enjoyment for that very reason. No doubt these little fantasies are to reassure myself that I exist, that I am, to garner for myself some minimal semblance of being. I wonder when words will come to me again. Somehow I do not want to start a conversation with these luminous inscriptions, even if an infinite one is already there, preferring instead to let them be. I know Lars is in the habit of destroying things he has written, like Franz Kafka burning some of his stories. I know also know that Lars appreciates Levinas. I have never been above using the values that others embrace as means to my own ends, so I link to what he writes here so that he, in his encounter with the Other, might be beholden to my call and not destroy these combinations of zeros and ones. That way I might be able to come back to them again and again when autism strikes me and I can do nothing but roar.

David Gray Carlson’s A Commentary on Hegel’s Science of Logic has finally been released. Some might be familiar with Carlson’s earlier work in legal theory, deconstruction, and psychoanalysis. For me this is a very exciting event. This is the first English language commentary that discusses every transition of the Logic, and numbers 632 pages. The price is steep, but I have high hopes.

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