Thoughts Worth Repeating

From Marx’s draft of a A Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right:

The ‘state formalism’ which bureaucracy is, is the ‘state as formalism’; and it is as a formalism of this kind that Hegel has described as bureaucracy. Since this ‘state formalism’ constitutes itself as an actual power and itself becomes its own material content, it goes without saying that the ‘bureaucracy’ is a web of practical illusions, or the ‘illusion of the state.’ The bureaucratic spirit is a jesuitical, theological spirit through and through. The bureaucrats are the jesuits and theologians of the state…

Since by its very nature the bureaucracy is the ‘state as formalism’, it is this also as regards its purpose. The actual purpose of the state therefore appears to bureaucracy as an objective hostile to the state. The spirit of the bureaucracy is the ‘formal state spirit.’ The bureaucracy therefore turns the ‘formal state spirit’ or the actual spiritlessness of the state into a categorical imperative. The bureaucracy takes itself to be the ultimate purpose of the state. Because the bureaucracy turns its “formal” objectives into its content, it comes into conflict everywhere with ‘real’ objectives. It is therefore obliged to pass off the form for the content and the content for the form… The bureaucracy is a circle from which no one can escape. Its hierarchy is a hierarchy of knowledge. The top entrusts the understanding of detail to the lower levels, whilst the lower levels credit the top with understanding of the general, and so all are mutually deceived.

The bureaucracy is the imaginary state alongside the real state– the spiritualism of the state. Each thing has therefore a double meaning, a real and bureaucratic meaning, just as knowledge (and also the will) is both real and bureaucratic… The bureaucracy has the state, the spiritual essence of society, in its possession, as its private property. The general spirit of the bureaucracy is the secret, the mystery, preserved within itself by the hierarchy and against the outside world by being a closed corporation. Avowed political spirit, as also political-mindedness, therefore appear to the bureaucracy as treason against its mystery. Hence, authority is the basis of its knowledge, and the deification of authority is its conviction. Within the bureaucracy itself, however, spiritualism becomes crass materialism, the materialism of passive obedience, of faith in authority, of the mechanism of fixed and formalistic behaviour, and of fixed principles, views, and traditions.

Kafka can be read as a cartogropher of these jesuitical or theological illusions. A couple more passages:

The fact is that the state issues from the multitude in their existence as members of families and as members of civil society. Speculative philosophy [Hegel’s system] expresses this fact as the idea’s deed, not as the idea of the multitude, but as the deed of a subjective idea different from the fact itself

Marx argues that the State is constituted from the multitudes, not the multitude from the State. Here there are strong resonances with Deleuze’s theory of individuation and Badiou’s ontology of multiplicities. Deleuze’s theory of individuation pertains to the process by which individuals are individuated or produced, not what allows us to distinguish one substantial individual from another. Like Badiou, identity, for Deleuze, is always a product come second, an effect, a product, a result. Identities must be constituted. Similarly, for Badiou, the Same is only ever constituted through the operation of the count-as-one. As such, these two accounts of entity provide fertile ground for an ontology of historical materialism, as historical materialism rejects any idealistic thesis of ahistorical essences– viz., an essential human nature, for instance –underlying being. We also encounter one of the major problems with Luhmann’s social systems theory here. Insofar as Luhmann places individuals outside social systems, he reproduces the optical illusion whereby the State is an entity in its own right over and above those that constitute the state. More on this in a moment. Marx makes a similar point regarding individuation a moment later in his Contribution, when he writes:

If Hegel had set out from real subjects as the bases of the state he would not have found it necessary to transform the state in a mystical fashion into a subject. “In truth, however,” says Hegel, “subjectivity exists only as subject, personality only as person.” This too is a piece of mystification. Subjectivity is a characteristic of the subject, personality a characteristic of the person. Instead of conceiving them as predicates of their subjects, Hegel gives the predicates an independent existence and subsequently transforms them in a mystical fashion into their subjects.

In short, Hegel fails to attend to the manner in which individuals are individuated or produced; or as Marx will much later put it in the Preface to his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy,

In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness… Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production. No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the task itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.

The network of production, exchange, distribution, and consumption will each produce its own specific social organizations and forms of subjectivity. For instance, production is not just the production of goods, but also requires the production of subjectivities. For instance, there is a qualitative difference between a Greek or Roman slave, a Serf, and an Industrial Laborer, such that all these forms of subjectivity must be produced or individuated. To discern this it will be necessary to analyze the network within which these forms of embodiment and affect emerge. In Grundrisse, Marx will go so far as to say that production is immediately consumption and consumption is immediately production. In this connection, he is speaking of the manner in which the body and tools are consumed in producing. However, he also alludes to how forms of art must produce their audience so that they might be “consumed”. Here, already, Marx anticipates Baudrillard’s critique in For a Critique of the Political Economy of Signs.

Returning to Contributions to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx goes on to remark that,

Democracy is the truth of monarchy; monarchy is not the truth of democracy. Monarchy is necessarily democracy inconsistent with itself; the monarchial element is not an inconsistency in the democracy. Monarchy cannot be understood in its own terms; democracy can. In democracy none of the elements attains a significance other than what is proper to it. Each is in actual fact only an element of the whole demos [people]. In monarchy one part determines the character of the whole. The entire constitution has to adapt itself to this fixed point. Democracy is the genus Constitution. Monarchy is one species, and a poor one at that. Democracy is content and form. Monarchy is supposed to be only a form, but it falsifies the content.

In monarchy the whole, the people, is subsumed under one of its particular modes of being, the political constitution. In democracy the constitution itself appears only as one determination, that is, the self-determination of the people. In monarchy we have the people of the constitution; in democracy the constitution of the people. Democracy is the solved riddle of all constitutions. Here, not merely implicitly and in essence but existing in reality, the constitution is constantly brought back to its actual basis, the actual human being, the actual people, and established as the peoples own work. The constitution appreas as what it is, a free product of man.

In this passage Marx plays brilliantly on the two senses of the signifier “constitution”. On the one hand, constitution, of course, refers to a political document. Yet on the other hand, “constitution” is a verb signifying “to constitute”, “make”, or “produce”. In constitution we make, set up, or establish a structure. Marx is here drawing on Feuerbach’s critique of religion and applying it to Hegel’s political philosophy. If democracy is the “truth” of monarchy, then this is because that which is veiled in monarchy becomes clear in democracy. Monarchy is premised on an optical illusion in which the monarch rules by virtue of power that flows directly from his being. However, the monarch only has power as a monarch insofar as he is recognized as a monarch. It is the multitudes– in this case multitudes that have been counted or individuated as subjects –that recognize the monarch as a monarch. Yet these subjects experience themselves as subjected and do not recognize that the power of the monarch issues from them. By contrast, in democracy, this optical effect disappears and the multitudes constitute themselves through themselves or their own action.

I realize all of these thoughts are very scattered and disjointed, but I thought I would throw them up here anyway. It seems to me that Marx’s remarks here are an important reminder of the aims of any sort of revolutionary practice. Increasingly, in works of political theory and about the blogosphere, we have heard heroic flirtations with strong State forms as necessary for political intervention. This comes especially from the Zizek camp. We have also heard dismissals of certain forms of politics surrounding feminisms, queer movements, various minority movements, etc., as if the principles of historical materialism have been entirely forgotten, i.e., that while we should engage in ruthless critique we must nonetheless ask why these political forms are emerging in precisely these circumstances and what truly revolutionary potentials they might contain. The Marx of Contributions to a Critique of Hegel, of course, is the humanist Marx, well preceding the Marx of Grundrisse and Capital. Nonetheless, it seems to me that this conception of multitudes, of the demos, remains. The question is how it might be thought. I would cautiously suggest that we have never seen democracy.


In a marvelous passage from Order Out of Chaos, Prigogine and Stengers write,

However, the question remains. We know that the builders of machines used mathematical concepts– gear ratios, the displacements of the various working parts, and the geometry of their relative motions. But why was mathematization not restricted to machines? Why was natural motion conceived of in the image of a rationalized machine? This question may also be asked in connection with the clock, one of the triumphs of medieval craftsmanship that was soon to set in the rhythm of life in the larger medieval towns. Why did the clock almost immediately become the very symbol of world order? In this last question lies perhaps some elements of an answer. A watch is a contrivance governed by a rationality that lies outside itself, by a plan that is blindly executed by its inner workings. The clock world is a metaphor suggestive of God the Watchmaker, the rational master of a robotlike nature. At the origin of modern science, a ‘resonance’ appears to have been set up between theological discourse and theoretical and experimental activity– a resonance that was no doubt likely to amplify and consolidate the claim that scientists were in the process of discovering the secret of the ‘great machine of the universe.’

Of course, the term resonance covers an extremely complex problem. It is not our intention to state, nor are we in any position to affirm, that religious discourse in any way determined the birth of theoretical science, or of the ‘world view’ that happened to develop in conjunction with experimental activity. By using the term resonance— that is, mutual amplification of two discourses –we have deliberately chosen an expression that does not assume whether it was theological discourse or the ‘scientific myth’ that came first and triggered the other. (46)

It’s all here: mixtures, the materiality of discourse, intensification. How does the relation of resonance differ from other forms of causality?… If, indeed, it can be understood as causality at all? What are the conditions for the possibility of resonance? What must being “be like” in order for resonance to be possible (here Deleuze’s cone of memory or pure past comes to mind)? At the heart of analysis lies the question of resonance and amplification. Why is it that some interpretations, some interventions on the part of the analyst resonate and others do not? Lacan always emphasizes that we should not jump into interpretation too soon, that we must wait for the transference to set in. Why does it matter who speaks as a condition for the possibility of resonance? Why is it that at certain points everyone in a social milieu seems to begin talking about the same thing, as if something is in the air? I feel, for instance, that a shift has taken place in the world of philosophy and theory, that certain discourses are now dead, that a new thought is emerging. I am powerless to articulate what it is, yet a whole host of figures and issues that might have captivated me a decade ago seem to have become cold. How does this occur? So many traces to be followed.

NOTE: HTML and Lacanian mathemes don’t mix very well. In what follows I’ve used “*” to represent the “losange”, “punch”, or diamond in Lacan’s formulas for fantasy.

Filled with exhaustion from the excitement of last night and the lack of sleep it engendered, I don’t really have much to say today, but I simply wanted to post this passage from Zizek’s Plague of Fantasies as it so nicely encapsulates the Lacanian theory of fantasy, first developed in Seminar 6, Le desir et son interpretation, and culminating in Seminar 14, La logique du fantasme.

My thought process has been very diffuse and disconnected lately as there’s been a lot going on between school and life. I feel as if I’m thinking very little that is new (for me) right now, that I’m treading water, but perhaps that’s when thinking on another scene is taking place. For me thought seems to occur in spurts and delays, almost as a cycle, where I fall into a period of exhaustion or depression, only to be suddenly filled with energy and enthusiasm. Yet even in those down periods when everything looks so dark and pointless, where I feel as if I’ve made nothing but wrong decisions leading to dead ends, I still find joy when I come across certain passages in whatever I’m reading. This joy is a bit like finding a magnificent shell or stone on the beach. In these moments I’m not quite sure of what to do with what I’ve found at the level of commentary and development. I just know that I experience an overwhelming urge to shout out what I’ve found, what I found provocative and productive, to the rest of the world so that it might exist for someone besides myself. Perhaps someone else will remember with me and in remembering with me will help to overcome the fragility and memory of my own mind and its tendency to so readily forget. Increasingly I’m coming to feel that remembering is a moral issue and that dead text must be re-activated or animated with new life in the present.

In a marvellous passage from his Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Lacan remarks that,

One never goes beyond Descartes, Kant, Marx, Hegel and a few others because they mark a line of inquiry, a true orientation. One never goes beyond Freud either. Nor does one attempt to measure his contribution quantitatively, draw up a balance sheet– what’s the point of that? One uses him. One moves around within him. One takes one’s bearings from the direction he points in. What I am offering you here is an attempt to articulate the essence of an experience that has been guided by Freud. It is in no way an effort to measure the volume of his contribution or summarize him. (206)

One need only open any page of Lacan alongside Freud to see what Lacan has in mind by taking one’s orientation from a thinker, moving around in him, and using him. Lacan’s texts do not seek to represent Freud or reproduce him through a careful commentary, but rather have the effect of transforming the Freudian text and perhaps producing something that would have been unrecognizable to Freud himself. Nor does Lacan pause over this or that claim, striving to determine whether this or that Freudian claim is true, empirically supported, or well argued, as if measuring whether or not Freud still holds up today. Rather, Freud’s text is thoroughly transformed in and through Lacan’s engagement with that text, but in an uncanny way that produces the effect of feeling as if one never understood Freud until reading Lacan (of course, I contend that it is impossible to understand Lacan without reading Freud… Especially the case studies and texts on parapraxes).

I was led to think about this passage, about what it might mean to be oriented by a thinker, upon being reminded of a passage from Marx’s Communist Manifesto by Zizek’s Fragile Absolute. There Marx writes,

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life and his relations with his kind.

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everwhere, establish connections everwhere.

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionaries, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-establsihed national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures there arises a world of literature.

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midsts, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In a word, it creates a world after its own image. (Signet Classics 1998, 55-5)

There is so much in highly condensed form in this brief little passage. Here can already be discerned the analysis globalization. The Lacanian will find rich fodder in the references to reactionaries as reacting to the erasure of national identities produced as a result of this movement of globalization, producing both leftist and rightist forms of identity politics– The former centering on racial and gender identities, the latter centering on religious and nationalistic identities, both orientations being red herrings ignoring the “real” of our contemporary situation. In the reference to the production of new wants, enthusiasts of Lacan, Zizek, Baudrillard, and Deleuze and Guattari will find rich ground for theorizing the manner in which desires are manufactured and produced. And it is impossible not to think of internet technologies in relation to Marx’s offhand remarks on the manner in which communication has been transformed.

In his introduction to Badiou’s Polemics, Steve Corcoran makes a couple of statements that strike me as very nicely capturing the spirit of Badiou’s political thought. First, Corcoran remarks,

In order to maintain this structure in dominance, certain elements must remain uncounted or excluded, elements that inhabit what Badiou calls the edge of the situations void. The void cannot, of course, be localed or presented in the sitaution, it is scattered throughout it (the capitalist situation, for example, is structurally incapable of recognizing the capcity for proletarian innovation which inhabits everyone). But those on the edge of the void, those with ‘nothing to lose but their chains’, are situated in it, but as a sort of negative magnitude, the living lack of positive qualities that define the way the situation is re-presented. In Badiou’s terms, then, they are presented in it, and hence belong to, the situation, but are not re-presented in it. So long as the elements of a situation do not radically deviate from their assigned places, or lack therof, this gap will normally not show. To the always total structure of knowledge, which knows neither void nor excess, this element will simply appear as a non-essential or contingent disturbance to the situation, not as a symptom of the structural ‘lie’ of the situation itself. From the standpoint of the state of the situation, this inconsistent multiplicity simply appears as nothing, as non-being.

Then, every so often, in a completely unpredictable fashion, a Truth-Event comes to peirce a hole in the totalizing, static structure of knowledge. An Event for Badiou is a properly contingent and unaccountable occurance, exceeding everything that can be known in the situation– its identity conflicts, ideological struggles, fluxes of people and money, etc. An event cannot, Badiou argues, be generated nor deduced from the situation; but that it exceeds the terms of the situation does not mean that it arrives from some beyond or outside. There is no transcendence here; the Event attaches itself precisely to the void of the situation, revealing its inherent inconsistency… But what can come to be counted, and what links each specific situation to this inconsistency, are those that inhabit the edge of the void. Politics, in so far as it is universal and democratic, is for Badiou a process that comes to count those who are uncounted. Stigmatizing the uncounted as backward, dangerous, etc., then, is the best way to ward off a more profound ‘evil’: the emergence of a popular subjective force that would be capable of opposing the sterility of comfortable self-perpetuation, capable of developing the latent possibilities for democratic action that are immanent to the situation; a subjective force that, as subtracted from all sociological categories and classifications (‘illegal immigrants’, ‘citizens’), is grounded in the simple norm of belonging to the situation. (xii-xiv

Badiou’s conception of politics as “counting those who are uncounted” is perfectly analogous to analysis (as opposed to therapy) and the shift from early consultations to “putting one on the couch”. Analysis counts what is uncounted, which is to say the desire embodied in the symptom and parapraxes, that embodies the fundamental lie of the analysand’s life (the betrayal of their desire). By contrast, therapy seeks to maintain the normality of the ego by treating the symptom as an “illness” from which the subject must be separated so as to return to normal family, marital, and work relations. I will refer to “politics” as that praxis that engages with the constitutive exception to social organizations, while I will refer to “governance” as that activity concerned with counting, power, how social institutions should be organized, identities, and so on. “Governance” is a wide term that denotes sociological phenomena such as social systems, power-structures, epistemes, apparati of state capture, the logic of the signifier, and any explicit systems of governance such as bureaucracies. However, governance need not be presided over by legislators or conscious intentions to count as governance.

Corcoran goes on to remark that,

In terms of Being and Event, what the Paris Commune succeeded in doing was making pure presentation, i.e. pure and simple belonging to a situation irrespective of all cultural predicates, the principle of its politics. It succeeded in rupturing with all relation and creating a new set that was subtracted from the existing classifications and nominations structuring the preceding situation. Badiou’s more recent work does not go back over this point, but sets out to grasp the way that an event comes to transform the logic of the situation, that is, the way that its elements appear in it or the intensity with which they are endowed. For not having any objective foothold in the situation, a truth will succeed in imposing itself on the situation only in so far as it manages to transvaluate the intensity of its elements– or come to impose a different regime for their appearing. So, a truth proceeds as a subtraction from the classifications and distributions of the state, but it does so by altering the appearing, or the intensity, of the elements composing the situation. As Peter Hallward says, ‘the key point of reference remains the anarchic disorder of inconsistent multiplicity’; but because the being of the situation must be made to be there (i.e. experienced as connected, related) it must be made subject to the logical constraints of a particular situation. As Badiou figures it, these logical constraints mean that there will always be, in any situation, elements that exist maximally (politically speaking, those whose voices are sanctioned, whose speech leads to action), elements that are less intense, and elements that, like those on the edge of the void, are effectively invisible (whose speech registers as pure noise, and who as such constitute the ‘non-existent’ element of this situation). (xvii-xviii)

By way of example, it could be said adjunct or part time professors (I’m not one) are a potential site of the political in the situation characterizing American universities. Adjuncts clearly belong to this situation, but are not re-presented within that situation. Rather, those who have the greatest degree of intensity in this situation would be professors and administrators, whereas adjuncts are almost non-existent in this situation, having little or no voice. Badiou’s point isn’t that we should find a way to include the voice of adjuncts, but rather that those elements of the situation that are on the edge of the void have the potential to transform all the elements of the situation by revealing the constitutive arbitrariness of the system of governance or organization of the particular question. The question of the political is that of how to shift something that has a very low degree of intensity with respect to appearing to having a high degree of intensity that transforms all elements of the situation (i.e., it’s not a question of identity politics).