Larvalsubjects has an interesting post on Marx in the academy over here which has generated a lively discussion in which, perhaps unsurprisingly, the question of agency has risen to the fore again. This is still something I find disturbing, something I’m not really able to get a grip on fully, since I tend to understand the problem of agency as responding to something like a desire to answer the question ‘what difference can I make?’. “Where’s the agency”, someone might ask, “in these economic analyses of desire (D&G) or capital (Marx)? Isn’t it all just a huge machine in which I am nothing? And if it is a big machine, how did this machine produce it’s own auto-critique? Isn’t it really the break, the rupture (of the subject), that we need to theorise? Isn’t consciousness really the most important fact in reality since it is inexplicable by reality? Me, I’m important, surely – doesn’t my analysis do anything, offer anything – don’t I have the answers, or at least the right to produce answers or the possibility of finding them?” I’m inclined to dismiss these questions out of hand as the whining desire of a resentiment-filled petit-bourgeois who thinks they’re ‘in charge of their life’ in the first place but have to recognise that at least some of the charge invested in this response is disproportionate and perhaps related to the other peculiar investments I find myself bound to (revolution, majik, sex).
You can read the rest here. While I am not yet willing to draw a hard and fast distinction between academic theory and the field of practice, I do think these are questions worth raising. Rather than asking the question what is to be done?, perhaps the question should be where are things being done? That is, where are the tendencies of change and transformation in the world today. The virtue of this question is that it takes the onus of change off the shoulders of the theorist– a rather narcissistic and self-congratulatory perspective to begin with, that lends itself easily to hierarchical, top-down models –and directs attention to the social field and those tendencies or potentialities where social structurations are shifting and changing. This accords well with Marx’s own attentiveness to questions of where the real motor of history is to be found. Regardless of how problematic they are, this is one of the things I find appealing about Negri and Hardt. Negri and Hardt do not propose a program– as far as I know –nor give a set of prescriptions as to what is to be done. Rather, they look to those places in the social field where existing social structures are undergoing transformation and change as a result of the productions of various, heterogeneous, multitudes. That is, it is these divergent, heterogeneous, multitudes that are the motor of change, not the theorist remaking society in his imagination from his armchair. If anything, the theorist perhaps brings a little more clarity to these struggles and points of deterritorialization. In his defense, Badiou is very clear that it is not philosophers that create truths or engage in truth-procedures (qua philosophers). For Badiou it is always artists, scientists, those engaged in political struggles, and lovers that engage in truth-procedures. The philosopher names truths, articulates them as truths (one need not be aware that they are engaged in a truth-procedure to be engaged in a truth-procedure) and strives to think the compossibility of the four conditions of truth.