Following up on my remarks about counter-factuals late last night, I’m led again to think about how theory relates to practice. Lately I have been critical of forms of theory that strike me as only being addressed to other academics within the walls of the academy. This shouldn’t be taken as a call for everyone to become a public intellectual like Dawkins, nor should it be taken as a call for everyone to write in plain and ordinary everyday language that everyone can easily comprehend. Rather, my consternation here is that so much of the theory I read strikes me as being conjured up out of thin air and have little or no connection (at the level of analysis) to the concrete situations within which we live. Marx’s Capital is, of course, incredibly dense and is not accessible to everyone. At least under the first reading. However, I would call this work concrete in the way that it grapples directly with the moment and the contours of that situation. It is a work that works from the situation, unfolding a set of potentialities within the situation and perpetually keeping one eye on the concrete situation without weaving fine sounding theological webs. It is serious theory.

I think the question of counter-factuals, of how possibilities become available to us that are not already predelineated in the situation, is important if for no other reason that the very theorizing of possibilities creates possibilities. I cannot speak for everyone, but the intellectual climate in which I was trained was one where theory allowed little or nothing in the way of possibilities or ruptures. I believe this has repurcussions at the level of both thought and action. As Spinoza argues, all thoughts are embodied and there is no distinction between understanding and will. How we think thus has a profound impact on how we will and how we act. After all, if I act on the basis of the possibilities I discern in a situation and if I only admit what last night I called “state counterfactuals”, then I will only reproduce the state.

The intellectual environment in which I was trained was populated by names like Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida, Wittgenstein, Levi-Strauss, Althusser, etc. Heidegger told me that I was thrown into the world, and that my Dasein is characterized by a fundamental historicity that functions as a determinant of my thought and praxis. Foucault told me that all my thought and interactions are pervaded by the epistemes and structures of power that function as determinants of my action. Althusser told me that there is no subject, but that we’re all puppets of ideology. Levi-Strauss argued that our thought process is an iteration of transpersonal structures that have little or nothing to do with my own intentionality. Wittgenstein told me that I am simply a participant in an unconscious set of language games. And Derrida showed me how an unground before the ground, or text, pervaded all thought and action.

In all cases these theorists and a host of others argued that there is no otherwise beyond the state (conceptualizing the state in a variety of different ways). Theories are not simply about something, but they do something. A theoretical orientation that begins from the premise of overdetermination and contextual saturation is a theory that will produce forms of thought that confirm this thesis. Possibility will not even be on the table as it will be a theoretical axiom a priori that history, power, and language determine thought and praxis without remainder. As a result, one ends up with a tragic vision of the world where there is no place for action or where all action is co-opted in advance. It is for this reason that the very theorization of possibility creates possibilities and opening. Rather than sad and passive subjects, it opens a horizon for free subjects where thinking otherwise within immanence might become possible. A theory is not simply a representation or map, but it is also a psychology, a way of feeling, an existential attitude towards the world. For too long theory has conceptualized the subject as a puppet not unlike poor Schreber that experienced himself in the thrall of God without a line of flight or a point of escape. Libidinally, perhaps, this is a very satisfying position. One occupies the sexually satisfying position of the perverse masochist where jouissance is drawn from being the implement of the Other’s jouissance. While I certainly know the charge of these games, I don’t wish to be a masochist anymore. It seems to me that if philosophy and theory have one duty, then this is to invent possibilities or open spaces of possibility, perpetually resisting the closure of the social field. In doing so, philosophy invites unheard of peoples that begin producing themselves by projecting these possibilities and transforming them from virtualities to actualities. While I might grumble over the details of thinkers such as Badiou, Deleuze, Lacan, etc., I am nonetheless grateful that they have at least put the possibility of possibility on the table as a rejoinder to the state thinkers.

Advertisements