Contrivers' Review Book Reviews /reviews/ Main site feed Copyright Contrivers' Review 2017 http://www.rssboard.org/rss-specification python-feedgen en Sat, 23 Sep 2017 01:54:59 +0000 The Roots of Authoritarianism in Turkish Neoliberalism http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/37/cihan-tubal-fall-of-the-turkish-model-neoliberalism-and-authoritarianism-book-review/ In his review of Cihan Tuğal’s *The Fall of the Turkish Model* Emre Erol examines how and why Turkey has transitioned from neoliberal democracy to authoritarianism. <p>Turkey has long been a source of interest for those who study the development of the modern state and capitalism in the non-Western world. The processes of capitalist incorporation and the modern state formation brought the end of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of nation states such as the Republic of Turkey in the Middle East. This great metamorphosis of the early twentieth century sparked the attention of many prominent intellectuals from different ends of the political spectrum, including Marxists like Trotsky and Luxemburg<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> almost a century ago during the revolutionary period of change between 1900s–1930s. Since 2002, a similar process of transformation is taking place in Turkey with the rise of the AKP (the Justice and Development Party). Once more Turkey’s change is attracting much attention and is perplexing us as it unfolds with ensuing chapters of power struggles. </p> <p>Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the leader of the AKP, was initially welcomed as a progressive Islamist who could ‘prove’ to the world that Islam, capitalism, liberalism, and democratic values can coexist and thrive. Those who were critical of or disillusioned by the previous westernizing, modernizing, corporatist, and secular power block, the Kemalists, welcomed the AKP as a progressive social force as it mobilized the masses who were disenfranchised by the previous regime or contested its pattern of modernization. His movement was the first Islamic movement in the region to openly embrace capitalism and advocate liberal values. When the AKP entered the political arena, the only viable electoral alternative was a relatively more statist and protectionist Kemalism, which was less desirable for global capital compared to Erdoğan’s movement. Erdoğan found national and international fame swiftly as he claimed his first electoral victory in 2002. The AKP was promoted as a role model for struggling regimes of the Middle East. His power grew exponentially and uninterruptedly after that initial victory. He has outlasted his rivals through several political challenges including a court case to close down his party in 2008, the Arab Spring-like Gezi revolt, an alleged corruption scandal in 2013, and a failed coup attempt which took place during the time of the writing of this review in 2016. </p> <p>Today, Erdoğan and his movement evoke as much fascination as fear. It has concentrated unprecedented power, eroded rule of law, engaged in international crises, promoted unsustainable and environmentally destructive growth driven by construction, Islamized public space, and undermined an already problematic secularism in Turkey. But how did a political party that evoked so much hope for progress and democratization in 2002 run aground in the most terrible ways? Its Syrian policy bankrupted, it became practically and legally authoritarian and now it’s in the process of creating a one-party state and amending the constitution for a ‘Turkish-style’ presidency. How did so many people fail to see this refutation of democracy? What did the left say during his ascension to power? What did the liberals and the conservatives say? How could the EU or the Obama administration remain pro-AKP for so long? Did the AKP and/or Erdoğan change at one point or did he always have such an agenda? Whether or not Erdoğan’s movement always had an authoritarian, Muslim nationalist feature that only surfaced with subsequent challenges is still at the heart of debates surrounding the AKP. Cihan Tuğal’s new book, <em>The Fall of the Turkish Model: How the Arab Uprisings Brought Down Islamic Liberalism</em>,is a welcome and refreshing look into those questions. His study is very user-friendly for a readership that is not directly familiar with Turkey or the Middle East. It focuses on the political economic aspects of this story through a Gramscian lens. </p> <p>Cihan Tuğal works on Islamic mobilization in Turkey, Egypt, and Iran. His research focuses on socioeconomic change, mobilization, and the role of religion in sociopolitical projects. His 2009 book <em>Passive Revolution: Absorbing the Islamic Challenge to Capitalism</em> was a pioneering study on the rise of the AKP and the transformation of Islamist ideology in general. In this book, Tuğal argues that the Islamists of Turkey absorbed and internalized the discourses of their ideological enemies in a process of passive revolution. This passive revolution helped them become the new historic bloc<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> without a violent revolution. The political structures and the ‘rules of the game’ are transformed without strong social processes. This argument is used to explain how the AKP, unlike many other Islamists in the Middle East, accepted a form of capitalism and democracy that eventually brought it major success. </p> <p>The AKP’s economic liberalization coupled with its rhetorical dedication to political liberalism turned Erdoğan’s party and style into a ‘role model’ for successful liberalization of the Middle East and ‘rendering Islam governable.’<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> Tuğal defines this ‘Turkish model’ as an:</p> <blockquote> <p>Islamic Americanism with a revolutionary rhetoric, backed by liberals and some leftists in its half-hearted fight against the remnants of authoritarian secularism. Islamic neoliberalism in Turkey brought about an uneven (but still real) cultural, political, and economic inclusion of disadvantaged strata into established institutions without the need for revolutionary mobilization. Turkish Islamists had found a formula that could absorb the shock of the Iranian revolution.<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">4</a></sup> </p> </blockquote> <p>The formula proved popular at home and abroad, and this popularity glossed over the internal contradictions of its logic and its authoritarianism, according to Tuğal, until the Gezi revolt in June 2013. From then onward the contradictions of Islamic liberalism—its authoritarian tendencies, its intra-elite struggles and its reckless neoliberal drive of growth—became obvious discontents. It felt like the AKP lost some sort of a rhetorical immunity from criticism that it enjoyed whilst the facades of ‘democratization’ and ‘growth’ were sustained. Tuğal does not delve into this in depth, but this demise was also a consequence of the AKP’s crumbling foreign policy that increasingly isolated Erdoğan. </p> <p>Many scholarly studies broadly agree on these basic facts concerning the fate of the AKP. The big debate emerges from the questions ‘why and when’ the demise began. Tuğal’s genuine contributions start precisely with the ‘end’ of the hopes for Islamic liberalism, as he puts it, and his answer to the question ‘why.’ He looks at political economy instead of civil society or cultural explanations, and he consequently sees authoritarianism from the very beginning of the AKP, unlike others who often see authoritarianism emerging during different times of the AKP’s tenure. He argues that AKP’s Islamist passive revolution, which absorbed the bottom-up energies of Islamism in Turkey ‘generated by 1968, the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the challenge of radical Islam,’<sup id="fnref:5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:5" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> was doomed to fail and he asks if this tells us anything new about the nature of passive revolutions as such. </p> <p>The AKP’s model is doomed to fail, according to Tuğal, not because of its leader’s much criticized persona or the sociological background of the movement’s constituency, but because of ‘the neoliberal-liberal democratic model’ that it pursued.<sup id="fnref:6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:6" rel="footnote">6</a></sup> This is an interesting argument since that very model was what promoted ‘AKP cheerleading’, as Tuğal occasionally puts it, by the actors that pursued a new hegemonic order in the Middle East. In the first half of his book, Tuğal spends much of his energy, very productively, convincing the reader about why the AKP’s authoritarianism and its model’s flaws were overlooked by the global actors until 2013. He argues that the flaws were there since the beginning but they were ignored. The AKP’s demise is linked to the crisis of world capitalism’s hegemonic order lead by the US. </p> <p>During the Arab uprisings, or the Arab Spring, which preceded the Gezi revolt, the AKP’s internal contradictions still had not surfaced, and it appeared to many commentators and decision makers that the AKP’s ‘Turkish model’ could be exported to countries like Tunisia, Egypt, or Iran. That was indeed a very fascinating yet short interval of time. Tuğal engages with a comparative analysis of these countries’ moments of transformation after the Arab Spring and argues that despite their potential for economic liberalization, the Turkish model or an Islamic passive revolution, could not have been adopted in these countries primarily because the Turkish model was uniquely conditional to Turkey. His comparisons (chapters 3 to 5) serve to make this point stronger by distinguishing particular differences between these three countries’ liberalization processes as opposed to Turkey where a combination of factors made the rise of the AKP possible. Tuğal’s insightful summaries of Egyptian, Iranian, and Tunisian attempts of transformation provide new perspectives for scholars interested in these countries. </p> <p>One could naturally ask how the AKP could sustain the level of popularity it has had and gain electoral victories with the kind of authoritarianism and neoliberal economic agenda that Tuğal accurately argues are damaging<sup id="fnref:7"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:7" rel="footnote">7</a></sup>to the very classes of people who support the movement. This question has been puzzling those who study contemporary Turkey, and it’s the same question that puzzled Gramsci while he was writing the <em>Prison Notebooks</em>. Tuğal’s book does not deal with this question head-on (unlike his previous book <em>Passive Revolution</em>), but it occasionally bumps into it as he describes the AKP as a ‘good consent builder’ and a benefactor of certain segments of society. However, the political economy framework falls short of analyzing how the AKP could have been such a good consent builder at home for so many years given its poor human development index performance.<sup id="fnref:8"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:8" rel="footnote">8</a></sup> The AKP’s antagonistic but successful mobilization of its own constituency needs as much attention as its ability to convince global actors. </p> <p>Whatever reputation the Turkish model had in May 2013 was gone by the end of the summer of the same year. The Gezi Park protests of May, which started initially as an environmentalist reaction to the AKP’s destructive construction driven growth, turned into the Gezi revolt by the end of August 2013. The protests soon attracted large segments of people who were unhappy with various aspects of the AKP’s rule since 2002. Thousands took to the streets in the urban centers across Turkey, and a brief commune was established in Taksim square, the ground zero of the protests. Leftists, nationalists, Kurdish activists, LGBT groups, feminists, and many others, sometimes with conflicting political agendas, united under their opposition to neoliberalism, the AKP, political Islam, and a broad call for pluralism. Erdoğan’s disastrous and violent handling of the situation exposed the inner contradictions and limits of the AKP’s model both at home and abroad. </p> <p>The Turkish Islamists’ most powerful political tool, consent building through a pro-democratic and pro-capitalist discourse, bankrupted as Gezi Park protesters were crushed by disproportionate state violence for months. Tuğal’s book presents a very good analysis of why and how a particular group, the urban middle classes, came to be the first group to show collective discontent against the AKP’s policies during the Gezi revolt of 2013. It is a valuable addition to the field of study given the scholarly confusion the Gezi revolt created as to its nature and constituency. In this book, Tuğal builds on his previous writing<sup id="fnref:9"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:9" rel="footnote">9</a></sup> on the topic, expands it and accurately defines the Gezi movement as a predominantly middle class one that is essentially anti-commodification. The Gezi revolt becomes a litmus paper or truth test for the AKP’s rhetorical dedication to democracy and pluralism. Thus, it also shows the world the limits of a neoliberal economic model, just like other contemporary protests in places like the United States, Greece, Egypt, Spain, Israel, or Brazil. Tuğal speculates that if Gezi, the end of the Turkish model as he describes it, could be the beginning of a new leftist trajectory in politics. </p> <p>The feeling that one gets at the end of this book is that the AKP’s earlier ‘days of promise’ were contingent upon the hegemonic hopes of the global north to create a new lebensraum for capital in the region. The AKP’s performance appeared like a success while simultaneously causing asymmetric development and discontent, winners and losers, only to release these internal tensions once it was ‘stretched’ too much during the attempt to export the Turkish model. It makes one wonder how this particular Islamic passive revolution figures as compared to other examples in history such as the Meiji restoration, the Italian Risorgimento, or the Mexican Revolution. Tuğal provokes us to think in new ways and offers some insightful paths to follow for researchers of contemporary Turkey and neoliberalism. His book is a fresh read in the abundance of books on the AKP and the Arab Uprisings. This is primarily due to his focus on political economy and (neo)Gramscian approach instead of the often-preferred theories on culture and identity. </p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>For example: Leon Trotsky, ‘The Young Turks,’ accessed August 10, 2016, https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1909/01/1909-turks.htm (Original Kievskaya Mysl, No.3, 3 January 1909 and Rosa Luxemburg, ‘Social Democracy and the National Struggles in Turkey,’ August 10, 2016, https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1896/10/10.htm (Original: Sächsische Arbeiter-Zeitung, 8–10 October 1986.)  &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>A form of a dominant network with particular configurations of material capabilities, discourses and institutions. A historic bloc lies at the heart of Gramscian theory and forms the basis of consent for a particular social order that is dominated by a particular class. It produces and re-produces the hegemony of this dominant class.  &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>Cihan Tuğal, The Fall of the Turkish Model: How the Arab Uprisings Brought Down Islamic Liberalism (Verso, 2016), 8.  &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>Tuğal, <em>The Fall of the Turkish Model</em>, 3–4.  &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p>Tuğal, <em>The Fall of the Turkish Model</em>, 27.  &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:6"> <p>Tuğal, <em>The Fall of the Turkish Model</em>, 19.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:7"> <p>Tuğal’s third chapter, “The Paths of Economic Liberalization,” is a great, thought-provoking chapter where he discusses Turkey’s scores in economic development and the Human Development Index in relation to Tunisia, Egypt and Iran. It provides a valuable insight into the performance of the AKP’s economic policies and the damages of these policies.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:7" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:8"> <p>For a very good study on this topic, which is also briefly referred to in Tuğal´s book, see: Ayşe Buğra and Osman Savaşkan, <em>New Capitalism in Turkey: The Relationship between Politics, Religion and Business</em>, (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2014).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:8" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:9"> <p>Cihan Tuğal, ‘“Resistance everywhere”: the Gezi revolt in global perspective’ New Perspectives on Turkey, no. 49 (2013): 157–172.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:9" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Erol Emre) http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/37/cihan-tubal-fall-of-the-turkish-model-neoliberalism-and-authoritarianism-book-review/ Europe Turkey Sun, 26 Mar 2017 09:46:11 +0000 Neoliberalism's Persistence in the EU http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/35/Habermas-Lure-of-Technocracy-public-sphere-neoliberalism-European-Union/ In his review of Jürgen Habermas's *Lure of Technocracy*, Oisín Gilmore explores Habermas's critique of neoliberalism in EU governance and argues that a democratic public sphere in Europe can only be established after the creation of actual democratic governance in the EU. <p>Jürgen Habermas is a philosopher, and, as such, he plays an odd role in European politics. He stands as something like the court philosopher of Brussels, a respected wise old man of Europe giving a ponderous, intellectual veneer to the dull bureaucracy of “the institutions.” He makes his pronouncements and though it is certain he is heard by the European elites, it is doubtful that they listen to him.</p> <p>Habermas’ essays on the European crisis have been sufficiently voluminous that they have now filled three volumes. The third collection of his writings <em>The Lure of Technocracy</em> was published in 2015. It builds on his earlier <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Europe-Faltering-Project-Jurgen-Habermas/dp/0745646492/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1487007243&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=habermas+Europe&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=2b7f8092fdfbc07d42270ac6166216e7">Europe: The Faltering Project</a></em> (2009) and <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Crisis-European-Union-Response/dp/0745662439/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1487007502&amp;sr=1-7&amp;keywords=Europe+habermas&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=4fcb0f79153be187a8789323f9b065fe">The Crisis of the European Union: A Response</a></em> (2012).</p> <p><em>The Lure of Technocracy</em> is a peculiar book. Despite its brief length it composed of three rather distinct sections. The third section is on “German Jews, Germans and Jews” and has only a tangential connection to the rest of the book. The second section collects two speeches, an interview, and a book review. They all relate to European politics, but that is the extent of their relation to each other. The first part of the book is where the real meat is. Here Habermas presents the title essay of the book, “The Lure of Technocracy: A Plea for European Solidarity,” and two other texts that build on and extend the arguments of that essay.</p> <p>Habermas’ central argument in the first section is not a particularly surprising one if you are familiar with his work. Habermas argues that “in its current form, the European Union owes its existence to the efforts of political elites”<sup id="fnref:Hab1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Hab1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> and gains its legitimation from the “passive consent” of its population. However, this passive legitimation, which was granted due to the positive economic outcomes of European integration, has dissipated with the declining economic fortune of the EU. Therefore what is needed is a shift from the economic to political democratic discourse. Habermas argues: “What is required is a European–wide political communication. For this we need a European public sphere.”<sup id="fnref:Hab38"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Hab38" rel="footnote">2</a></sup></p> <p>Habermas considers the recent series of reforms that have occurred since the crisis. He correctly points to how these reforms involve a substantial transferal of power from democratic national governments to the technocratic government in Europe. He recognises the appeal of this, the “lure of technocracy” as he puts it, for the European elite, but he points to a problem it faces. The problem is a familiar Habermasian one. This “continuous series of reform obscures the required leap from the customary view of the political process focused exclusively on one’s own nation, to [one that] accords equal consideration to citizens of other nations.”<sup id="fnref:Hab10"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Hab10" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> In brief, the technocratic concentration of power into the European Commission sidesteps the necessary creation of a European public sphere where national democratic debates can encounter one another and thereby provide the support and legitimation needed for European governance.</p> <p>Habermas lists the three most important tasks for the creation of this democratic legitimacy. Firstly, there would be the need to “expand the European Monetary Union into a Political Union.” Secondly, there is a need to establish “a joint fiscal, budgetary and economic policy, and especially the harmonisation of social policy.”<sup id="fnref:Hab13-14"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Hab13-14" rel="footnote">4</a></sup> Finally, there would be a need to for the “dethronement of the European Council” and switching over the “community method.”</p> <p>For American readers, it is probably worth pausing here to explain the institutions of the EU. There are three legislative/executive institutions. The two most important are the European Commission and the European Council. The Commission is basically the European cabinet and resides permanently in Brussels. It is not democratically elected. The Council is actually not a single body. Rather it meets in different configurations. It is essentially a means through which the relevant ministers of the member states meet, discuss, and make decisions. For example the environment configuration of the Council brings together the environment ministers of the member states. Note that there is also a European Commissioner for the Environment. Exactly which is more powerful and important, the Commission or the Council, is an object of contention and contestation. The third institution is the democratically elected European Parliament, which is mainly tasked with scrutinising the policies put forward by the Commission and the Council.</p> <p>When Habermas says there is a need for the “dethronement of the European Council” and switching over to the “community method,” he means that power should shift to the Commission and the Parliament and away from the Council. To American ears this might sound like a simple matter of being in favour of more power going to the federal government and away from state governments. This would be largely true, but Habermas wants to draw a distinction between federalism “whereby subnational units… feature only as constituted components (constituted that is, by an undivided sovereign, the people),” and the “transnationalism” he advocates in which “member states of a supranational democracy would play the role of a constituting power, and for this reason would retain correspondingly stronger competences within the constituted political community.”<sup id="fnref:Hab58"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Hab58" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> He spends a lot of time in chapters two and three spelling out this distinction.</p> <p>As Habermas recognises later in the book, this abstract theorisation about how the EU should be reformed is just a goal. He writes: “As long as it remains abstract, however, all that a well reasoned political alternative has going for it is its power to develop a perspective&mdash;it points to a political goal but does not reveal the path that leads to it.”<sup id="fnref:Hab100"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Hab100" rel="footnote">6</a></sup> This is an astute observation of Habermas’ and one that fatally undermines the usefulness of his entire enterprise. The points in <em>The Lure of Technocracy</em> where Habermas lays out how his goal will be reached are amongst the weakest in the book. It really feels like he is grasping. He recognises that the Council will not undertake his reform agenda.<sup id="fnref:Hab16"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Hab16" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> But, he thinks the initiative might lay with governments, labour unions, or major political parties. He even ponders “whether the right person at the right time could… influence historically momentous orientations in one way or another.”<sup id="fnref:Hab20-21"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Hab20-21" rel="footnote">8</a></sup></p> <p>Ultimately he says, he comes down on the side of Germany. &ldquo;The leadership role now falls to Germany.&rdquo;<sup id="fnref:Hab18"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Hab18" rel="footnote">9</a></sup> For Germany to achieve its historical responsibility of implementing Habermas’ reforms, it must first create a European public sphere based in “solidarity,” which he spends the last third of the title essay distinguishing from “justice” and “ethics,” arguing essentially that solidarity is to the public sphere what brotherhood is to the family. Note that solidarity is therefore a concept that presupposes the existence of a public sphere where democratic debate can take place. A Europe based on solidarity therefore requires a European public sphere. We need to shift from a monetary union to a political union and this requires the creation of a public sphere where democratic political debate can take place and drive and legitimate European governance.</p> <p>This idea that European integration needs to shift from supposedly non-political economic questions to democratic politics is a familiar one in European politics. However, it relies on the neoliberal assumption that economic questions are “non-political,” and it allows for the indefinite postponement of popular contestation of European policies. This contestation must wait for a political union that is rarely defined, is never seriously planned for, but which everyone agrees is necessary.</p> <p>However, contrary to Habermas&rsquo; grand plans, European politics <em>are</em> being contested today, albeit primarily at a national level through nationalist Euroscepticism and leftist anti-neoliberalism. As for the constitutional change needed in Europe, Habermas puts the cart before the horse. There is no reason to believe a European democratic public sphere might emerge that truly engages with European citizenry prior to the emergence of the possibility of the exercise of European democratic will, nor that a transnational Europe might develop without a political subject to drive that development. And there is no reason to believe Germany will, can, could, or should fill this political role.</p> <p>Ultimately, when it comes to the constitution of the EU there is one reform that is pressing: democratisation. The unelected European Commission needs to either be elected or abolished, with its powers dissolved into the European parliament. Many ways that this might happen can be imagined. But Habermas is certainly incorrect to think the first step is the creation of a European public sphere or European solidarity. The first step in the creation of a European democratic public sphere is the creation of European democracy. The public sphere will follow.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:Hab1"> <p>Habermas, <em>The Lure of Technocracy</em> 1.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Hab1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Hab38"> <p>Habermas, <em>The Lure of Technocracy</em> 38.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Hab38" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Hab10"> <p>Habermas, <em>The Lure of Technocracy</em> 10.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Hab10" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Hab13-14"> <p>Habermas, <em>The Lure of Technocracy</em> 13-14.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Hab13-14" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Hab58"> <p>Habermas, <em>The Lure of Technocracy</em> 58.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Hab58" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Hab100"> <p>Habermas, <em>The Lure of Technocracy</em> 100.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Hab100" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Hab16"> <p>Habermas, <em>The Lure of Technocracy</em> 16.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Hab16" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Hab20-21"> <p>Habermas, <em>The Lure of Technocracy</em> 20-21.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Hab20-21" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Hab18"> <p>Habermas, <em>The Lure of Technocracy</em> 18.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Hab18" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Oisín Gilmore) http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/35/Habermas-Lure-of-Technocracy-public-sphere-neoliberalism-European-Union/ Europe Tue, 14 Feb 2017 08:14:32 +0000 What Will Be The Foundation of a New Party for the Left? http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/33/Michael-Kovanda-The-Foundation-New-Party-Left-review-Jodi-Dean-Crowds-Parties/ In a timely book, Jodi Dean's *Crowds and Party* asks how to reform Leftist political organizations. In his review, Michael Kovanda highlights the importance of history and power in understanding the tradeoffs. <p>Jodi Dean’s new book, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1781686947/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;creativeASIN=1781686947&amp;linkId=be1aab5e6b4e9f006c56a36b6bc0d3f8"><em>Crowds and Party</em></a> is the latest contribution to her growing corpus, one committed to developing a communist perspective on the contemporary world of “communicative capitalism.”<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> Recently Dean has turned to more explicitly political questions. In her 2012 book, <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Communist-Horizon-Pocket-Communism/dp/1844679543/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1474574483&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=communist+horizon&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=1becb93e8a9539dd4d8c392964aeeb7b">The Communist Horizon</a></em>, she engages the work of Zizek and Alain Badiou to rehabilitate communism and the Leninist Party. These features of her writings help us understand her take on events that inspired this most recent text: the failure of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupy_Wall_Street">Occupy Wall Street</a> in America and of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syriza">Syriza</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podemos_(Spanish_political_party)">Podemos</a> in Europe to secure long-term political success. Focusing especially on Occupy, in which she participated, Dean laments the individualist character of its “democratic, anarchist, and horizontalist ideological currents” and the movement’s obsession with consensus-based processes of collective decision making. In other words, an onerous commitment to horizontal forms of association and a “celebration of autonomous individuality” explain Occupy’s inability to achieve lasting gains in the realms of both organization and public policy.<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup></p> <p>Crowds, Dean suggests, are organizationally insufficient. She goes so far as to claim that an Occupy-like “crowd does not have a politics” but is merely a kind of spontaneous conglomerate, a “provisional” or “temporary collective being” presumably composed of people with a wide variety of political perspectives and varying degrees of commitment to organized action.<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> They thus lack cohesion and are collectively ill equipped to take on the arduous task of ongoing, disciplined political work. Such crowds inevitably “amass but… don’t endure,” thus posing questions of sustainability and programmatic coherence: “Crowds are forcing the Left to return again to questions of organization, endurance, and scale. Through what political forms might we advance?”<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">4</a></sup></p> <p>Dean’s answer? The Leninist Party is the means by which crowds may be impelled into becoming a durable and potent political force. A communist party can provide consistency and direction to the “egalitarian discharge” of the crowd event, allowing the “collective desire for collectivity” embodied therein to persist, realizing its emancipatory proclivity in ways more concrete and institutionalized than the mere “beautiful moment” of a subversive gathering together.<sup id="fnref:5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:5" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> Communist parties can seize the opportunity politically indeterminate crowds present, pushing them in a strategically conscious direction. “This is the role of the party: concentrating and directing the energies of the people. The party shapes and intensifies the people’s practical struggles” by way of its historical memory, developed analysis and organized interventions.<sup id="fnref:6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:6" rel="footnote">6</a></sup> </p> <p>Dean’s book has its strengths. She rightfully recognizes the need for durable forms of popular organization and strategic thinking about that need from a Left perspective. She offers insightful analyses of current forms of “commanded individuality” and their economic determinants, and she does well to explore potentially empowering processes of deindividuation, succinctly capturing a key aspect of liberatory political experience in the modern world: “Something is happening such that the capacity to say ‘I’ is being replaced by the will to say ‘we.’”<sup id="fnref:7"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:7" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> And while I’m not as well versed as others in this field, her appropriation and reworking of Althusserian ideology critique appears sound, innovative and theoretically fertile.<sup id="fnref:8"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:8" rel="footnote">8</a></sup></p> <p>The book also has three major, interrelated weaknesses to which the rest of this review speaks directly: </p> <ol> <li> <p>Dean treats the crowd/party dichotomy ahistorically.</p> </li> <li> <p>She does not pay sufficient mind to critiques of Leninism and organizational alternatives to the Leninist Party.</p> </li> <li> <p>Her abrupt dismissal of the question of state power is not only irresponsible but disingenuous. </p> </li> </ol> <p>Dean is admittedly aware of these lines of critique and sometimes states as much, if only in passing. Yet while she may briefly acknowledge the ongoing controversy surrounding the Leninist perspective put forth in the book, Dean does not engage in a sustained and serious way with the 150 year-old debate between state socialists and their critics, a decision that severely constrains the force of her argument.<sup id="fnref:9"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:9" rel="footnote">9</a></sup></p> <p>The author regrettably comes off as somewhat oblivious to the existence of an established, organized (Marxist-Leninist) US Left. How did these organizations and parties—with whose politics Dean likely sympathizes—relate to crowd events such as Occupy? What can we learn from their failures, successes, organizational principles, and activity past and present? While indeed occasioned by current events, Dean’s theorizing is nonetheless lacking in its connection to contemporary instances of strategically informed practice. Her choice to approach the question of the Party in a formal and psycho-dynamic way—in a manner “unfettered by the false concreteness of specific parties in the contingency of their histories”—may explain this lack, but it does not justify it.<sup id="fnref:10"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:10" rel="footnote">10</a></sup> Such ahistorical thinking also disallows any effort to investigate the authoritarian devolution of the Bolshevik Party, its move from a force that perhaps admirably “shapes and intensifies the people’s practical struggles” to one that opposes and crushes them. </p> <p>Dean also seems to equate the notion of a programmatic politics with party-based politics. Although published after Dean’s book, the thorough policy platform <a href="https://policy.m4bl.org/">recently released</a> by the politically independent Movement for Black Lives is a case in point. By way of silence on alternatives, the author won’t allow for the possibility that the Leninist Party isn’t the only solution to the problem of popular organization. There are indeed other (revolutionary) Left political tendencies that have grappled with the question of sustainable, programmatically coherent self-organization on the part of the popular classes.<sup id="fnref:11"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:11" rel="footnote">11</a></sup> </p> <p>Dean cites German sociologist Robert Michels’s famous claim that “rule by the few is unavoidable” in the modern world to justify and explain her acceptance of “substitutionism”—a term denoting the Leninist Party’s function as the authentic representative and guarantor of society’s general interest.<sup id="fnref:12"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:12" rel="footnote">12</a></sup> Yet merely claiming that oligarchy is inevitable fails to adequately address one possible critique of Leninism. This critique rejects the anti-democratic tendencies of authoritarian parties and states. Insofar as these institutions are indeed oligarchic they reproduce class divisions and are thus at odds with the socialist attempt to build a classless society. </p> <p>Dean suggests oligarchy is a consequence of the clear need for political leadership. Yet critiques of Leninism do not presuppose a lack of such leaders, nor do they question the need for delegated responsibility. Rather, their anti-authoritarian call for a classless society works to distinguish between popular empowerment—spurred on, certainly, by exemplary individuals—and the maneuverings of aspiring rulers. Since she is unwilling to draw such a distinction, Dean remains blind to longstanding efforts to oppose the more or less authoritarian rule of a party with popular initiatives promoting a classless social order—i.e. a society devoid of a ruling class as such, be it “communist” or liberal-bourgeois. </p> <p>Her unwillingness to engage more thoughtfully with critiques of Leninist “substitutionism” and class rule also explains Dean’s reluctance to deal with the question of the state. She casually acknowledges that the Leninist Party seeks to capture state power, writing that “gaining political control of the state remains an important goal.”<sup id="fnref:13"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:13" rel="footnote">13</a></sup> Yet discussion of the modern state ends there, with no mention of its structure or the ways in which it operates to safeguard class rule. At one point Dean goes so far as to deem the question of state power—around which much socialist theory orbits—a non-issue in the face of Left impotence:</p> <blockquote> <p>[F]or leftists to make state-centeredness the problem now is to short-circuit the discussion that matters. The Left in the US, UK, and EU - not to mention communists - is struggling just to register as a political force. To worry about our seizing the state, then, is a joke, fantasy, and distraction from the task at hand. Rather than a concentration of political will, communist possibility remains diffuse, dispersed in the multitudinous politics of issues, identities, and moments of action that have yet to consolidate in the collective power of the divided people. What matters for us here and now is the galvanization of such a communist will.<sup id="fnref:14"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:14" rel="footnote">14</a></sup></p> </blockquote> <p>Nevertheless, Dean’s argument for the Party in fact presupposes an affirmative position on the conquest of state power. Both Leninists and political parties more generally are and always have been concerned with securing maximally exclusive control over the state apparatus.<sup id="fnref:15"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:15" rel="footnote">15</a></sup> Her suggestion that present day concern with “seizing the state… is a joke” thus comes off as disingenuous, and the fact of the contemporary Left’s relative weakness in no way helps her argument.</p> <p>Dean hopes to exert influence on Leftist strategy by calling for the growth of a Leninist Party, a Party built with the hope of seizing state power. Her inclination to avoid or summarily dismiss longstanding and legitimate critiques of such a project is thus irresponsible. Regardless of a given group’s relative strength, such strategic perspectives inevitably orient Leftist goals and activity in the present. Should we call for cops with more mental health training and body cameras, or should we work to disempower, disarm, and ultimately disband murderous police departments? One’s choice ought to entail a clear position on state power. It is regrettable Dean’s book lacks a discussion of this issue that is candid and well-developed insofar as it takes the various critical perspectives on Leninism more seriously.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>Jodi Dean <a href="http://jdeanicite.typepad.com/i_cite/2005/01/communicative_c.html">defines this concept on her blog</a>: “Communicative capitalism designates that form of late capitalism in which values heralded as central to democracy take material form in networked communications technologies (cf. Dean 2002a; 2002b). Ideals of access, inclusion, discussion and participation come to be realized in and through expansions, intensifications and interconnections of global telecommunications. But instead of leading to more equitable distributions of wealth and influence, instead of enabling the emergence of a richer variety in modes of living and practices of freedom, the deluge of screens and spectacles undermines political opportunity and efficacy for most of the world’s peoples.” &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>Dean Crowds and Parties, 4, 67.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>Dean Crowds and Parties, 8-9.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>Dean Crowds and Parties, 26, 4.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p>Dean Crowds and Parties, 4-5, 125.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:6"> <p>Dean Crowds and Parties, 152, 25-26.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:7"> <p>Dean Crowds and Parties, 141.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:7" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:8"> <p>Dean Crowds and Parties, 76-86.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:8" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:9"> <p>For a historical introduction to this debate, see Wolfgang Eckhardt’s recently translated book <a href="https://www.amazon.com/First-Socialist-Schism-International-Association/dp/162963042X">The First Socialist Schism: Bakunin vs. Marx in the International Working Men&rsquo;s Association</a>. Writings from many left wing critics of both Lenin and the Leninist tradition are also freely available online. These texts span more or less the entirety of the 20th century, from Rosa Luxemburg and Anton Pannekoek to Noam Chomsky.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:9" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:10"> <p>Dean Crowds and Parties, 5.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:10" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 10 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:11"> <p>The South American tradition of especifismo is one example. See, for instance, FARJ’s Social Anarchism and Organization <a href="https://libcom.org/files/social_anarchism_and_organisation_farj_en.pdf">(PDF)</a>. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:11" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 11 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:12"> <p>Dean Crowds and Parties, 133-136. In his 1911 book <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Political-Parties-Sociological-Oligarchial-Tendencies/dp/0029212502/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1474572460&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=michels+political+parties&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=18e4d7cd53a8085368f5c3908f2efc9c"><em>Political Parties</em></a>, Michels argued for what he termed the “iron law of oligarchy,” claiming that under modern conditions even the most sincerely egalitarian organizations are inevitably dominated by a small leadership group. Dean’s perspective on this issue helps us understand why she seems to reduce anti-authoritarian critiques of oligarchic parties and states to “attacks on mass, democratic… politics more generally” (170). If oligarchy is inevitable and the Leninist Party or Party-state has the general interest at heart, then an attack on the Party is an attack on the people as a whole. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:12" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 12 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:13"> <p>Dean Crowds and Parties, 206. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:13" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 13 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:14"> <p>Dean Crowds and Parties, 150. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:14" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 14 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:15"> <p>See the last chapter of Hannah Arendt’s <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Revolution-Penguin-Classics-Hannah-Arendt/dp/0143039903"><em>On Revolution</em></a>, wherein she traces modern political parties’ determined struggle for state power back to the faction-based conflict between the Jacobins and their contemporaries during the French revolution.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:15" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 15 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Michael Kovanda) http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/33/Michael-Kovanda-The-Foundation-New-Party-Left-review-Jodi-Dean-Crowds-Parties/ Marxism Thu, 01 Dec 2016 18:31:21 +0000 Cutting Off Heads http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/31/Jason-Read-Foucault-Marx-Jacques-Bidet-Review/ In a discussion of Jacques Bidet's *Foucault with Marx*, Jason Read evaluates Bidet's rapproachment between Foucault and Marx, while making his own contribution to the topic. <p>Jacques Bidet’s <em>Foucault with Marx</em> represents yet another contribution to the eventual overcoming of an academic skirmish between advocates of Foucault and Marx, itself a smaller conflict in the larger battle of postmodernism versus Marxism. The perspective which saw Marx and Foucault as mutually opposed theoretical camps has begun to fade thanks to both the publication of Foucault’s courses and lectures, most importantly the short essay on “<a href="https://viewpointmag.com/2012/09/12/the-mesh-of-power/">The Mesh of Power</a>,” and the publication of several texts, such as the monumental collection <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/2707188018/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Marx &amp; Foucault: Lectures, usages, confrontations</em></a> in France. However, the dissipation of Team Foucault and Team Marx is only a first step; it remains to be seen how Foucault and Marx are related and how their different examinations into history, modernity, and society can be brought together through their points of connection and differences.</p> <p>Broadly speaking, Bidet gives us two ways of thinking about the relation of Foucault and Marx: the first can be considered historical, the second theoretical. The former has to do with the historical transformation of capitalism in the one-hundred-plus years separating their writings. When Marx wrote <em>Capital</em>, the ruling class was defined by one thing and one thing only, capital, or ownership of the means of production. The owner of the factory, Mr. Moneybags, was also the one that directly controlled production. In the years since, the factory owner and overseer has been replaced by the large enterprise with its cadre of managers.<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> The creation of a class of managers has often made the Marxist perspective of a world split neatly into workers and capitalists, proletarians and bourgeoisie, seem hopelessly out of date. Today, the day-to-day life of actually existing capitalism is made up of the middle manager, the university administration, and others. This is precisely where Foucault comes in according to Bidet. Foucault’s object of analysis is, as it has often been noted, power-knowledge. While Foucault’s examinations of madness, the prison, and sexuality seem disconnected from capital, what they describe is a new, different type of power, predicated less on the ownership of capital than capitalization of knowledge. It is knowledge, or knowledge-power, that the class of managers claims. From Taylor’s scientific management to the latest psychological insights underlying human resources, the class of managers has claimed knowledge or expertise as their power. Capitalist society is then divided between markets and organizations, the power of property and the power of knowledge. The transformation of institutions, of what Bidet calls organization, precedes and prefigures the shift in theoretical perspectives.</p> <p>Foucault’s analyses bring to light a new form of power, and a division within the ruling class, a division between those who control property and those who control knowledge, between the wealthy and elites. The consequence of this is that the ruling class is best thought of as a dual structure; the ruling class divides into two, between owners of property, of capital, and those who possess knowledge-power in the form of expertise. Expertise is not limited to management, to control over workers, but includes the rule over the sick, mentally ill, prisoners, etc. Bidet also suggests that Foucault can also help us make sense of the division between the people, the popular class, which is fractured between those included as workers, and those excluded. It is thus worth pointing out how much Foucault’s work focused on the different practices of exclusion, of the mad and the deviant as outsiders of a society that defined itself by work.<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup></p> <p>This historical point of difference between Marx and Foucault expands into a theoretical difference, a difference of object. What Marx analyzes is the structure of capitalist society, a structure defined by the division between classes, between control over property, to which Foucault adds a different structure, that of control over knowledge. These two structures can be identified by their different dominant classes, the property controllers and the knowledge elite, or by their different mediations, namely the market and organization. They overlap in the factory, or workplace, which is subject to both control of property and knowledge. Rather than pick one tool of analysis or one mediation as the dominant, organizing principle, seeing society as a society of markets or organizations (profit or power), Bidet suggests that both structures need to be utilized and combined in any understanding of the present.</p> <p>In proposing this synthesis, Bidet passes from a structural analysis, moving from structure as class struggle or apparatus of knowledge-power, to a metastructural analysis. Recognizing the intersection between markets and organization makes it possible to not only bring together Marx and Foucault, but to make sense of contemporary conflicts and social realities. The conflict between the two ruling classes, the possessors of capital and knowledge, can serve as a map to the economic and political conflict of contemporary society. Politics, from the micropolitical to the macropolitical, can be understood as combinations and conflicts of knowledge and capital, elites and the ruling class. Of course the popular class is part of this conflict too, and subject to its own divisions between those exploited and wage labor. What matters for Bidet and makes this analysis metastructural is that the divisions relate back to the institutions of markets and organizations. Whereas other philosophers have seen the point of connection between Marx and Foucault in terms of their micro-politics, seeing the connection in terms of the way in which Foucault’s analysis of the power of the prison guard intersects with Marx’s examination of the power on the factory floor, Bidet turns in another direction, exploring their systemic critiques of the structures of society.<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">3</a></sup></p> <p>These are in some sense the affinities, not so much the similarities of Marx and Foucault but their complementary aspects, the way they fit together as two puzzle pieces, or successive stages, as the twentieth century follows the nineteenth. What about their differences? Bidet charts one difference that has a fundamentally ambiguous nature. Foucault repeatedly rejected the concept of ideology. As Foucault writes,</p> <blockquote> <p>As regards Marxism, I am not one of those who try to elicit the effects of power at the level of ideology. Indeed I wonder whether, before one poses the question of ideology, it wouldn’t be more materialist to study first the question of the body and the effects of power on it.<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">4</a></sup></p> </blockquote> <p>Foucault turns his attention not just to bodies but also to discourses. Discourses are not ideology, are not understood to be a mystification of power, but statements of its actual functioning, the way power governs bodies and minds, ultimately producing a regime of truth. Despite the materiality of bodies and the positivity of discourses, Foucault’s texts constantly refer to a level of illusion integral to the functioning of society. This can be seen in Foucault’s famous dictum that the society “which invented the liberties also created the disciplines,” arguing that beneath the official language of inalienable rights that defined modern democratic states there was an unofficial discourse of discipline, of human beings grasped not in terms of their rights but their capacities to work and resist.<sup id="fnref:5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:5" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> This division between the actual functioning of power and its representation reaches its culmination in Foucault’s oft cited statement that, “In political thought and analysis, we still have not cut off the head of the king”; we still think of politics in terms of sovereignty and laws when the actual functioning of power is not only elsewhere but functions by different rules. Both statements, contrary to Foucault’s general claim about ideology, suggest that contemporary politics functions on two levels, a concealed level of norms, power, and surveillance, and an overt level of laws, sovereignty, and rights. These two layers more or less correspond with Marx’s division between the market, understood as the terrain of freedom and equality versus the hidden abode of production. In each case the first, the representation of power or society, serves to mask and obscure the second, or, as Foucault writes, “power is tolerable only on condition that it masks a substantial part of itself.”<sup id="fnref:6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:6" rel="footnote">6</a></sup> Thus, without mentioning the word, and in some sense repudiating it, Foucault has a theory of ideology, but now it does not just mask the exploitation at the center of the economy but the functioning of power throughout society.<sup id="fnref:7"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:7" rel="footnote">7</a></sup></p> <p>This brings us to another striking point of difference. Foucault described the disciplines as having as their goal both the increase of capacity and a decrease of subordination, making their subjects both docile and productive. The general figure of disciplinary power overlaps with what Marx saw as the fundamental problem of the exploitation of labor. The worker’s capacities for production must be increased, while the potential for subversion must be decreased. Foucault extends this problem from the factory floor to barracks, hospitals, and mental health facilities, all of which can be situated at the intersection of an increase in productivity and a decrease of resistance. As Bidet writes, “He therefore remains at a general notion of production as the production of utility.”<sup id="fnref:8"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:8" rel="footnote">8</a></sup> This generalization of the problem of power makes it possible to grasp a diagram of power that exceeds the factory floor to pervade all of life. However, it also shifts the question of power from its historically specific basis to become a more general question, even a metaphysical question, of agency and determination. It is striking, even paradoxical, that Foucault who in some sense continued, and even radicalized Marx’s attempt to think in this conjuncture, to pose questions historically, has given rise to a series of questions about agency, resistance, and normative critique that are entirely ahistorical. “The Foucauldian discourse of ‘resistance’ refers notably to a conceptuality that is atemporal rather than historically defined.”<sup id="fnref:9"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:9" rel="footnote">9</a></sup> This maybe more of a product of his philosophical reception, which has always been much more comfortable situating Foucault with respect to Kant and Nietzsche than following him into the archive to understand his historical sensibility.</p> <p>This general intersection of philosophy and history shows us their points of divergence and the possible basis of convergence. Bidet argues that Foucault’s final lectures from the Collège de France on neoliberalism offer a theory of modernity comparable to Marx’s idea of capital. Up until this point, Foucault and Marx were separated by a difference of historical period or object. As much as Marx wrote about feudalism or pre-capitalist economic formations, his real object was a history of capitalism—a history of the present—starting with the development of capital in the nineteenth century. As much as Foucault claimed to do a history of the present, his historical works often stopped at or around the Napoleonic era. The lecture course on biopolitics bridges this lacunae, bringing Foucault into the twentieth century. As much as Foucault and Marx come closer temporally, they differ even more theoretically. As Bidet argues, Foucault’s perspective on neoliberalism dispenses with the divide between discipline and rights, the functioning of society, and its official discourse on itself. Instead, Foucault views neoliberalism as a particular form of governmentality, as both the way in which society functions and the way it represents that functioning to itself. “The social order, now examined through the filter of politics, has as its pivotal point the relation between governers and the governed.”<sup id="fnref:10"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:10" rel="footnote">10</a></sup> Neoliberalism’s focus on the individual as a utility maximizer, as acting through a matrix of costs and rewards, is both how they are seen and how they see themselves. Neoliberalism is not just an economic discourse, simply a political technique of rule, or only a technology of the self; it is the point where all three converge. It is a technology of the self that is also a technology of rule, an economic discourse about investments and interests that also redefines political space. When Foucault writes “Homo economicus is an entrepreneur, an entrepreneur of himself” he describes a condition that is simultaneously, economic, political and subjective.<sup id="fnref:11"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:11" rel="footnote">11</a></sup> Whereas Marx understands capitalism to be defined by an ever-sharpening divide between workers and capitalists, Foucault sees neoliberalism as flattening onto a terrain where everyone from worker, to capitalist, to nation state, is motivated by the same fundamental logic. In neoliberalism, the gap between politics and economics, the image of power and its actuality, collapses.</p> <p>Here it might be useful to follow Bidet’s lead and historicize the division once again by viewing Foucault&rsquo;s last words on neoliberalism as governmentality in terms of their historical context. Foucault’s initial formulations of knowledge-power, distinct from the power that stems from the ownership of the means of production, were conceived during the rise of the large-scale enterprise and with it the specialization of management as a new mode of power. It is not a matter of a theoretical choosing between class conflict and governmentality as two different ways of understanding society, but recognizing that neoliberalism has attenuated the conflict of capitalist society.<sup id="fnref:12"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:12" rel="footnote">12</a></sup> Market and organization, power and its image, converge to create a flexible yet thoroughly unified picture of society. It encompasses every possible action or behavior because it —reduces all of them to the same fundamental motivation, the same fundamental calculation. However, here the question of ideology&mdash;the representation of power—returns. As much as neoliberalism governs particular practices and is implanted throughout society by programs encouraging competitiveness and individuation, everything from student loans to charter schools, it remains a representation of society, and it does not adequately capture the entirety of the functioning of power or its resistance. Market incentives are used for some of the population, but the state shows a much harsher face towards those who have failed to mobilize their human capital or are otherwise deemed expendable.<sup id="fnref:13"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:13" rel="footnote">13</a></sup> It is not just in the other side of the state, its repressive nature, which exceeds neoliberal modes of government, but the lives and resistance underlying its representation.</p> <p>What Bidet suggests is that combining Foucault and Marx is not just combining organization and market, knowledge-power and capital-power, but also discourse and ideology, the truths that function as part of society and the fictions that keep it functioning. As Bidet’s recently published <em><a href="http://www.amazon.fr/dp/2350961257/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Le Néolibéralisme: Un autre grande récit</a></em>, a book that continues the Marx and Foucault synthesis, suggests by its very title, neoliberalism is another grand story, a story to make sense of the present. Just as it was once necessary to “cut off the head of the king” to see what exceeded sovereignty, it is now necessary to cut of the head of the market as well: to see it not just as one part of the economic order, the organization being the other, but to recognize its permeation by different logics of powers. Underneath the incentive to maximize one’s human capital, to be an entrepreneur of oneself, there is also the more immediate and old fashioned imperative of working to survive. For every worker realizing their capacities there are others just trying to survive. If the Foucault/Marx synthesis means anything it must be able to synthesize the mesh of diverse forms of power, thinking their points of intersection and tension. That is the space of any future politics.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>Stephane Haber, “Marx, Foucault et le grande enterprise comme institution centrale du capitalism” in <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/2707188018/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Marx &amp; Foucault</a>: Lectures, usages, confrontations</em>, eds. Christian Laval, Luca Paltrinieri, and Ferhat Taylan (Éditions La Découverte, 2015), 314.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>Jacques Bidet, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.fr/dp/2350961257/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Le Néo-Libéralisme: Un autre grand récit</a></em> (Essais, 2016), 42.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>For an example of the former perspective, exploring their connections through a micropolitics of power, see Pierre Macherey, “<a href="https://viewpointmag.com/2015/10/31/the-productive-subject/">The Productive Subject</a>.”&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>Michel Foucault, <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Power-Knowledge-Selected-Interviews-1972-1977/dp/039473954X/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1472063301&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=Power/Knowledge&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=cc847555c09ca87296b96a1c5535b32f">Power/Knowledge</a>: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977</em> (Vintage, 1980), 58.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p>Foucault, <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Discipline-Punish-Prison-Michel-Foucault/dp/0679752552/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1472063514&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=discipline+and+punish&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=5b37fcd2bb37ebd251ae3da49f8c3cf9">Discipline and Punish</a>: The Birth of the Prison</em> (Vintage, 1977) 222.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:6"> <p>Foucault, <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/History-Sexuality-Vol-Introduction/dp/0679724699/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1472063589&amp;sr=8-2&amp;keywords=history+of+sexuality+volume+1&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=9dcef5b89831a0e175f699c7518a79dc">The History of Sexuality</a> Volume 1: An Introduction</em> (Vintage, 1978) 86.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:7"> <p>Bidet’s argument on this point is echoed by John Grant’s <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Dialectics-Contemporary-Politics-Transformation-Post-Marxism/dp/041587078X/ref=as_li_ss_tl?_encoding=UTF8&amp;me=&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=989604026d3d05958c28dae2f2fa0513">Dialectic and Contemporary Politics</a></em> (Routledge, 2013) and Pierre Macherey’s <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/2354801408/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Le Sujet des Normes</a></em> (Editions Amsterdam, 2014) which argue that Foucault refers to ideology without explicitly naming or thematizing the concept.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:7" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:8"> <p>Bidet <em>Foucault With Marx</em>, 210.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:8" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:9"> <p>Bidet <em>Foucault With Marx,</em> 224. Stephan Legrande argues that Foucault’s unmooring of this general question of utility or productivity from Marx is what leads to a series of metaphysical rather than historical questions about the nature of resistance (“Le Marxisme oublié de Foucault,” <a href="http://actuelmarx.u-paris10.fr/num36.htm"><em>Actuel Marx</em></a> 2004, N. 2 36, 27-43).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:9" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:10"> <p>Bidet <em>Foucault with Marx</em>, 228.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:10" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 10 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:11"> <p>Michel Foucault, <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Birth-Biopolitics-Lectures-Coll%C3%A8ge-1978--1979/dp/0312203411/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1472066635&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=The+Birth+of+Biopolitics&amp;linkCode=ll1&amp;tag=contrivers-review-20&amp;linkId=1268e2a3ec553d0ca73e75571bc6b63e">The Birth of Biopolitics</a>: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979</em> (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 226.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:11" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 11 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:12"> <p>Yves Citton, <a href="http://www.amazon.fr/dp/2021081303/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Renverser L’insoutenable</em></a> (Seuil: 2012), 68.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:12" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 12 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:13"> <p>Loic Wacquant, “A Historical Anthropology of Actually Existing Neoliberalism,” Social Anthropology <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/soca.2012.20.issue-1/issuetoc"><em>Volume 20, Issue 1,</em></a> February 2012, 74. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:13" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 13 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Jason Read) http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/31/Jason-Read-Foucault-Marx-Jacques-Bidet-Review/ Marxism Foucault Wed, 14 Sep 2016 00:00:00 +0000 What's Money After All? http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/28/sinnott-review-konings-emotional-logic/ In his new book, Martijn Konings suggests that progressives have misunderstood the "emotional logic" of money and overstate the antagonism between society and economy. <p>In a well-known scene from Charles Dickens’ <em><a href="http://www.gutenberg.org/files/821/821-h/821-h.htm">Dombey and Son</a></em>, the sickly child of a banker asks his father, “what’s money after all?” The father, the eponymous Mr. Dombey, looks down at his son, Paul, perplexed that any child of his could be confused on this point. Mr. Dombey tries to answer by talking about guineas, pounds, and pence, but Paul interrupts with a more pointed version of his question. “I mean, Papa, what can it do?” The banker responds to his son that, “Money, Paul, can do anything.” The child will not have his question dismissed so easily. “Anything means everything, don’t it Papa… Why didn’t money save my Mama?” Dickens tells us that Mr. Dombey, after recovering from the bluntness of the question, is careful to point out to his son that while it won’t let you live forever, money can certainly prolong life and perform innumerable other functions. Mr. Dombey, “expounded to him how that money, though a very potent spirit, never to be disparaged on any account whatever, could not keep people alive whose time was come to die; and how that we must all die, unfortunately, even in the City, though we were never so rich. But how that money causes us to be honoured, feared, respected, courted, and admired, and made us powerful and glorious.”</p> <p>Dickens’ tale is a characteristically moral one, and he makes it clear that the reader should not approve of the fact that money can create respect, admiration, honor, and glory. Paul Dombey’s seemingly naïve questions reveal the limitations of money’s power and the shallow, ephemeral, and ultimately artificial nature of all those things that money can buy. According to Dickens&rsquo; humanist principles, the truly valuable and meaningful things in life are not found in cold monetary transactions even when such transactions elevate your social status and allow you to be a “better” person. Rather, money corrupts the human bonds of affection. Mr. Dombey alienated himself from these bonds of affection, which Dickens portrays through the death of his son and the estrangement of his daughter. Eventually, this flawed character only learns what is meaningful in life when he loses all his money but is happily reconciled with his daughter.</p> <p>Albeit in an overly sentimental fashion, Dickens articulated one of the tensions between economic and non-economic value that is a defining feature of modernity. “Non-economic value” is of course a vague term, and what it implies is not so much a coherent form of value, but a reaction to the emergence of the capitalist economy since at least the seventeenth century. This reaction appears in writers from both conservative and radical traditions. On the Right, it follows Machiavelli and <a href="http://oll.libertyfund.org/people/james-harrington">Harrington</a><sup id="fnref:Pocock"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Pocock" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> to today&rsquo;s <a href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/communitarianism/">communitarians</a>, who extoll the ideal of neoclassical virtue and traditional values embedded in strong local communities. On the Left, E.P. Thompson’s idea of the “moral economy” similarly questions the ascendance of economic reason.<sup id="fnref:Thompson"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Thompson" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> The “moral economy” was a model for distributing goods not through cold, impersonal forces of supply and demand but through communal obligations. Despite its flaws, both patrician and plebe defended this moral economy against what they saw as the socially destructive forces of market capitalism. In the decades of the nineteenth immediately preceding Dickens, Percy Shelley articulated a vague idea of this non-economic value in terms of the poetic imagination that he opposed directly to “the unmitigated exercise of the calculating faculty” by political economists.<sup id="fnref:Shelley"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Shelley" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> These responses comprise a narrative in which the names and faces change over time, but the central idea remains. Despite the diversity of voices, they have in common a suspicion that the values of a market economy have a corrosive effect on the social fabric. It is a narrative about what makes human life and society meaningful, and it is still very much with us today.</p> <p>While Martjin Konings does not couch his argument primarily in terms of value, his book, <em><a href="http://www.sup.org/books/title/?id=25513">The Emotional Logic of Capitalism: What Progressives Have Missed</a></em>, is an extended critique of this narrative. For Konings, despite our best intentions we act more like Mr. Dombey than his son in the way we view ourselves and our roles in a capitalist economy. Any idea of a real or authentic value that stands outside of economic relations is a chimera. For Konings, capitalism is highly effective as an economic and political system—any distinction between the two is murky at best in the book—because it shapes and defines the “distinctive qualities of human association” such as “morality, faith, power, and emotion.”<sup id="fnref:Konings2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings2" rel="footnote">4</a></sup> These relations are organized in practice around money. Our relationship to money and the way money shapes our relationship to other people and social institutions is not an ideological imposition that corrupts a somehow more meaningful, human network of social relations. He says that money “tugs at the strings of our subjective experience.”<sup id="fnref:Konings27"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings27" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> Konings book is an ambitious analysis of the signifying power of money; money and, by extension, market values are intimately connected to the very moral, ethical, and political ideals that form our identities and operate as the foundation by which we critique a capitalist system.</p> <p>Konings&rsquo; target is the “disembedding narrative” associated with the work of Karl Polanyi<sup id="fnref:Polanyi"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Polanyi" rel="footnote">6</a></sup>, which argued that, in modern capitalist societies, society was embedded in, or captured by, the economy, rather than vice-versa. For Konings, this narrative “emphasizes that economic forces are often in conflict with the substance of social life, that their growth occurs at the expense of communal institutions, and that there is something artificial and therefore ultimately unsustainable about this process.”<sup id="fnref:Konings1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings1" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> The primary object of critique is not so much capitalism or its dehumanizing effects but the critical traditions that have long dominated Leftist intellectual life, all of which contribute implicitly and explicitly to that narrative of non-economic value. Konings attempts to push this critique of critique beyond a purely academic exercise by claiming that the “disembedding narrative” reinforces and perpetuates the very system it criticizes.</p> <p>To put this in Dickensian terms, Konings is playing the role of Mr. Dombey criticizing Polanyi, Marxism, as well as conservative critics of capitalism, among others, for a childlike and naïve view of social relations under capitalism. The prominence of the Polanyian disembedding narrative “represents a commitment to not-knowing, a theoretical formalization of progressivism’s inability or reluctance to penetrate the affective force of neoliberal discourses and the capitalist spirit they construct.”<sup id="fnref:Konings114"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings114" rel="footnote">8</a></sup> Because Polanyian ideas share foundational assumptions with contemporary Marxism and critical theory—in Konings view—he is able to level this charge of willfully “not-knowing” at a wide swath of leftist critique without much regard to nuances of historical, geographic, racial, and gender differences. As a result, progressivism comes off as losing a zero sum game of social criticism. In this sense, Konings’ book is a rather cynical and patronizing rebuke for those foolish enough to believe in a humanist value that is not wholly co-opted by the dominant form of economic relations.</p> <p>This is not to say that such cynicism is completely unjustified, and Konings does raise important questions about why neoliberal discourse is often more appealing than progressive politics. This line of questioning&mdash;why do individuals and groups act against their own self-interest&mdash;was a major preoccupation of French post-structuralism upon which Konings draws in glancing fashion. In one of the poignant moments in <em>Anti-Oedipus</em>, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari state this question with uncharacteristic clarity:</p> <blockquote> <p>The fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one that Spinoza saw so clearly, and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered: ‘Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?’ [&hellip;] why do people still tolerate being humiliated and enslaved, to such a point, indeed that they actually want humiliation and slavery not only for others but for themselves?<sup id="fnref:Deleuze29"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Deleuze29" rel="footnote">9</a></sup></p> </blockquote> <p>Konings substitutes “the subject’s attachment to capitalist signs” for Deleuze and Guattari’s term desire, but their conclusions are essentially the same.<sup id="fnref:Konings80"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings80" rel="footnote">10</a></sup> People have an emotional investment in the system that oppresses them because this system offers a rich and, in many ways, rewarding regime of personal identities that perpetuates their emotional attachment. For Konings, neoliberalism understands and exploits this dynamic whereas progressivism maintain a naive belief in the “logic of sociality” that is external to the “logic of the economy.”<sup id="fnref:Koningsibid80"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Koningsibid80" rel="footnote">11</a></sup></p> <p>The modern subject’s affective relationship to money and the way money shapes that subject’s relationship to other people and social institutions is not an ideological imposition that conceals and hides a somehow more meaningful and human network of social relations. Koning’s argument extends the economic logic that Dickens expresses through Dombey. Money not only buys respect, honor, and admiration in a straightforward transaction—something along the lines of Veblen’s conspicuous consumption<sup id="fnref:Konings81"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings81" rel="footnote">12</a></sup>—but becomes a primary way of forming a personal identity and the intersubjective relations that such identities entail. Money is not simply a medium of exchange but a medium of “interactive identification that involves continuous negotiation, adjustment, and recombination.”<sup id="fnref:Konings25"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings25" rel="footnote">13</a></sup> It is by way of money that we orient ourselves to the economic system as a whole to the point that we cannot conceptualize ourselves or others outside of money. Money is the medium by which capitalism ties the micro and macro to one another, bringing personal desire into alignment with social values. To understand money, “the most useful starting point is not the distinctly intellectual question, ‘What is money’ or ‘How should we relate to it?’”—the question Mr. Dombey mistakenly assumes his son is asking. Instead, a better starting point is “a more phenomenologically inspired question such as ‘What does it mean to us?’; that is, ‘How do we in fact relate to it even before we ask the question of how we should think about it?”<sup id="fnref:Konings18"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings18" rel="footnote">14</a></sup></p> <p>Oddly, his answer to this phenomenological question is a highly intellectual and abstract one. Drawing on semiotics, Konings explores our relation to money and the social structure it facilitates by describing money as an icon. Icons are “point[s] of orientation,” and money is the point by which we navigate an abstract, universal sense of value, which always involves an emotional attachment, and our identification of specific objects, practices, and identities with those universal values.<sup id="fnref:Konings21"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings21" rel="footnote">15</a></sup> “Capitalism’s hegemonic signs are not external principles that work through vertical inscription or linear internalization, but they emerge through a more complex and horizontal process of interactive identification that involves continuous negotiation, adjustment, and recombination.”<sup id="fnref:Konings23"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings23" rel="footnote">16</a></sup> Money’s “symbolism is not merely textual but affective, not merely cognitive but emotional.”<sup id="fnref:Konings22"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings22" rel="footnote">17</a></sup></p> <p>In the sense that money operates at the micro level of subject formation, Konings description is similar to Foucault’s idea of power and the process of subjectification through a “dispersed, distributed regime of disciplinary power.”<sup id="fnref:Konings38"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings38" rel="footnote">18</a></sup> Koning, however, disagrees with the Foucaultian historical argument that disciplinary power displaced a centralized form of sovereign authority.</p> <blockquote> <p>Modern authority is not so much superseded by the growth of governance as it is leveraged by it. The extension of biopolitical power has not reduced but increased the reach of sovereignty, rendered it fully effective and actual rather than merely formal and notional.<sup id="fnref:Konings39"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings39" rel="footnote">19</a></sup></p> </blockquote> <p>The paradoxical character of money is also the paradoxical character of modern power:</p> <blockquote> <p>The paradox of the iconic sign consist in the fact that it is nothing in itself yet functions as a source of sovereign power. It owes its performative character and affective qualities not to any correspondence to natural or transcendent truth but to the pragmatics of its generation.<sup id="fnref:Konings53"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings53" rel="footnote">20</a></sup></p> </blockquote> <p>This is “the dynamic of simultaneous standardization and variegation that it organizes.”<sup id="fnref:Konings23"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings23" rel="footnote">16</a></sup> Money and by extension power “straddle the divide between the uniform and pluriform, immediacy and mediation, autonomy and constructedness.”<sup id="fnref:Konings20"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings20" rel="footnote">21</a></sup> He juxtaposes the “modern subject” and “traditional subject,” but instead of offering any historical analysis of change in subject formation, he simply allows this dichotomy to operate as a kind of theoretical black box. He constructs his black box from the performative theory of Judith Butler, Foucaultian discussions of sovereignty and disciplinarity, pragmatism, and actor network theory. This is undoubtedly an intriguing mix, but Konings fails to develop this synthesis with enough detail or rigor. The connection between them remains largely suggestive.</p> <p>Despite these muddy theoretical waters, Konings does offer an interesting analysis of subjectivity within neoliberal financial regimes. The genius of neoliberal financial regimes in Konings&rsquo; view, is that they play upon the anxiety of modern subjectivity much more effectively than progressive discourses.</p> <blockquote> <p>The narcissism of 1970s did not entail comfortable enjoyment of the conveniences of consumer capital, but an anxiety-driven integration into disciplinary mechanisms of credit and debt in a context of stagnant wage growth and rising unemployment. In this context, neoliberal discourses found tremendous popular traction.<sup id="fnref:Konings107"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings107" rel="footnote">22</a></sup></p> </blockquote> <p>One method of integration that Konings signals out is the financial self-help industry. This discourse was configured around the ideology of “cruel optimism”:</p> <blockquote> <p>By exaggerating the ease with which we can make our connectedness to money work for us and insisting that that we can partake of its iconic powers through mere intention, it encourages us to sustain our existing connection to money.<sup id="fnref:Konings110"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings110" rel="footnote">23</a></sup></p> </blockquote> <p>However since the 1970s, Konings says, this discourse became increasingly tied to the rejection of the “progressive liberal spirit” which is either “small minded, dependent, and entitled” or &ldquo;patronizing, elitist, and hypocritical” depending on whether one is holds a low or high places respectively in the social order.<sup id="fnref:Konings110-111"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings110-111" rel="footnote">24</a></sup> Consequently, neoliberal self-help “plays a highly productive role in the economy of judgmentality and blaming.”<sup id="fnref:Konings111"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings111" rel="footnote">25</a></sup> Blame is directed towards those that fail to equate wealth with spiritual worth and make arguments for progressive institutions like those found in the welfare state.</p> <p>Konings clearly wants the exigence of his book to lay in its argument about the world, not in the more academic questions around Polanyian descriptions of the world. The problem is not that the “disembedding narrative is descriptively inaccurate, but, more fundamentally, that it is a problematic way of processing the disappointment with capitalism.”<sup id="fnref:Konings79"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings79" rel="footnote">26</a></sup> What this sentence assumes is that the disembedding narrative is the way people “process” their disappointment. In a note to the introduction, Konings is careful to point out that he is “concerned primarily with the way Polanyi’s work has been revived and incorporated into such fields as political economy and economic sociology” and not with the “true Polanyi.”<sup id="fnref:Konings133"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings133" rel="footnote">27</a></sup> Despite this qualification it is still a long distance between the “disembedding narrative” articulated in an academic context and the suggestion that the dynamics described in this narrative are actually the way individual subjects and political movements like progressivism process the world on an everyday basis. However, his critique of the inside/outside logic of these descriptions lays the groundwork for an interesting and complex view of neoliberal financialization and an important description of the affective dimension of contemporary economic activity. He may be correct that we cannot think of social, cultural, and political processes as operating according to “independent logics,” but this argument must be equally true of the emotional logic of economic activity that he describes in the book. Neither are the economic, political, and cultural “independent,” nor can they all be encompassed within a totalizing emotional economic logic. To do so projects a rather unsophisticated and unimaginative image of the world, not to mention one that is historically inaccurate. Konings does ask and attempt to answer interesting questions about our relationship to money in particular and capitalism more generally as well questions about the limitations of progressive discourse. To his credit, he avoids easy answers, but in staying away from facile resolutions to complex problems<sup id="fnref:Konings131"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Konings131" rel="footnote">28</a></sup>, he fails to articulate the grounds from which he wages his critique of the disembedding narrative. He is so wary of that inside/outside dynamic that the reader can only locate his argument within the neoliberal framework that he criticizes. Indeed, it is often difficult to understand this book as a critique instead of an implicit endorsement of neoliberalism. Konings sounds like a disillusioned version of Mr. Dombey who learns the limitations of money only to discover that there is nothing else.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:Pocock"> <p>For the defining, modern historical perspective on the convergent tradition of Machiavelli and Harrington, see J.G.A Pocock, <em><a href="https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Machiavellian_Moment.html?id=9x1khec_8tgC&amp;printsec=frontcover&amp;source=kp_read_button&amp;hl=en#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false">The Machiavellian Moment</a></em>.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Pocock" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Thompson"> <p>E.P. Thompson, &ldquo;<a href="http://past.oxfordjournals.org/content/50/1/76.extract">The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century</a>&rdquo;, <em>Past and Present</em> (1971) 50 (1):76-136.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Thompson" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Shelley"> <p>Percy Shelley, <em><a href="https://books.google.com/books/about/A_Defence_of_Poetry.html?id=y1CxmUPFGGsC&amp;printsec=frontcover&amp;source=kp_read_button#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false">A Defence of Poetry</a></em>, 1840.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Shelley" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings2"> <p>Konings, p. 2.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings27"> <p>Konings, p. 27.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings27" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Polanyi"> <p>See Karl Polanyi, <a href="http://www.beacon.org/The-Great-Transformation-P46.aspx"><em>The Great Transformation</em></a>, (Boston: Beacon Press), 1944.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Polanyi" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings1"> <p>Konings, p. 1.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings114"> <p>Konings, p. 114.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings114" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Deleuze29"> <p>Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, <a href="https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/anti-oedipus"><em>Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia</em></a> (University of Minnesota Press, 1983), p. 29.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Deleuze29" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings80"> <p>Konings, p. 80.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings80" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 10 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Koningsibid80"> <p>ibid.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Koningsibid80" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 11 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings81"> <p>Konings, p. 81.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings81" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 12 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings25"> <p>Konings, p. 25.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings25" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 13 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings18"> <p>Konings, p. 18&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings18" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 14 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings21"> <p>Konings, p. 21.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings21" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 15 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings23"> <p>Konings, p. 23.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings23" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 16 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings22"> <p>Konings, p. 22.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings22" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 17 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings38"> <p>Konings, p. 38.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings38" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 18 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings39"> <p>Konings, p. 39.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings39" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 19 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings53"> <p>Konings, p. 53.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings53" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 20 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings20"> <p>Konings, p. 20.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings20" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 21 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings107"> <p>Konings, p. 107.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings107" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 22 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings110"> <p>Konings, p. 110.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings110" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 23 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings110-111"> <p>Konings, p. 110-111.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings110-111" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 24 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings111"> <p>Konings, p. 111.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings111" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 25 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings79"> <p>Konings, p. 79.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings79" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 26 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings133"> <p>Konings, p. 133.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings133" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 27 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Konings131"> <p>Konings, p. 131.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Konings131" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 28 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:note"> <p>To be clear, Kongings does not ever mention <em>Dombey and Son</em> or Dickens. I’m am using this example to represent the cultural narrative, a long standing one, that Konings seeks to critique as well as provide a convenient shorthand for the ambitious and dense theoretical work Konings does in his book.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:note" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 29 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Pete Sinnott, Jr.) http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/28/sinnott-review-konings-emotional-logic/ Marxism Mon, 01 Aug 2016 12:08:15 +0000 An Archive Beneath http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/22/ In a review of an important contribution to Media Archaeology by Jussi Parikka, Kyle Bickoff surveys this emerging discipline and examines what happens when we acknowledge that our messages have a physical impact on our world. <p>Marshall McLuhan, in his widely read 1964 book, <em>Understanding Media,</em> declared to the world “the medium is the message.”<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> That is to say, the medium through which we communicate holds as much meaning as the content of that message. McLuhan adds, even the “content of any medium is always another medium,”<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> so through time messages become mediums become messages, layering themselves into dense strata. Over the last two decades, scholars in disciplines across the humanities developed media archaeology as a theoretical foundation for understanding these historical layers of our media. By &ldquo;layering&rdquo; media next to each other (like geological strata), we can compare and analyze the attributes of each medium as well as track innovations and erasures across a media history. The field looks backward in order to observe the present—media archaeology is “retrospective, even if it is not traditionally historical or progressivist,”<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> it “excavates the ways in which newer media work to remediate earlier forms and practices,” and “sketches out how older media help to premediate new ones,” reading the “‘new’ against the grain of the past.”<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">4</a></sup> Media surround us everywhere and not simply as immaterial information but as a web of practices, physical objects and spaces, as well as ideas. By comparing our media of the present to the media of the past, and our current impact on our planet to our impact of the past, we find ourselves in a better position to speak to our current habits and make informed judgments on the future implications of our actions.</p> <p>In <em>A Geology of Media</em>, Jussi Parikka proposes an alternative media history that extends to “materials, metals, waste, and chemistry,” i.e. the physical as well as the temporal dimensions of our media technology. This “environmental and ecological agenda,” gives Parikka’s book an exigence that surpasses other more historically focused studies in media archaeology. <em>A Geology of Media</em> approaches media in a way that can reveal the metallic makeup of an object, the environmental impact of production, the labor conditions in the factories, and the impact of the waste produced upon a media object’s disposal, all of which can be measured to divulge a much larger meaning in their media history and speak to the material impact our communicative practices have upon our external environment.<sup id="fnref:5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:5" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> The book not only directs its attention to the most granular components that make up our media, but it also closely attends to global economic concerns. Parikka argues that “the nonhuman elements contributing to capitalism must become more visible, grasped, and understood—as part of surplus creation as well as the related practices of exploitation.”<sup id="fnref:6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:6" rel="footnote">6</a></sup> By understanding our media and its role in our economic and labor structures, we might better understand our human impact upon the earth, revealing the true costs of our communication systems.</p> <p>Given the fact that theories of media have sprung up at the same rate as new media, it’s fair to ask what this media archaeology offers. Why should we use this approach to understand the history of media studies, and why choose this manner to observe the ideas and objects we relate to in our world today? Media archaeology, as a field of critical media studies, is generally considered a means of engaging in comparative media studies. Wolfgang Ernst elaborates further, “media archaeology is both a method and an aesthetics of practicing media criticism, a kind of epistemological reverse engineering, and an awareness of moments when media themselves … become active ‘archaeologists’ of knowledge.”<sup id="fnref:7"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:7" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> Siegfried Zielinski, in his own media <em>anarchaeology</em>, investigates the <em>deep time</em><sup id="fnref:8"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:8" rel="footnote">8</a></sup> of media, examining particularly intensive periods of productivity in the history of media by making <em>cuts</em> in time, studying the <em>exposed surfaces</em>, and observing <em>individual variations</em> (similarly informed by the geological metaphor), that speak to larger turning points in the long timeline of media history.<sup id="fnref:9"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:9" rel="footnote">9</a></sup> Both Ernst and Zielinski set the foundation for engaging with a historical approach to media studies, a groundwork upon which Parikka builds. While Media archaeology has provided a basis for studying media history in <em>layers</em> and is seen as an approach that looks backwards, <em>digs</em>, and <em>excavates</em> in order to understand the present, Parikka adapts the field’s geologically inspired metaphors to contemporary material concerns in a far more granular manner. Where previously, periods of media history were <em>cut</em> and <em>cross-sectioned</em>,<sup id="fnref:10"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:10" rel="footnote">10</a></sup> now <em>A Geology of Media</em> proposes a framework that permits closer observation of the media and their materiality. Parikka, engaging with a comparative media approach, tends to focus his writing more on the present period while remaining invariably conscious of the past events leading up to those of the present. Certainly Parikka is intrigued by a layered media history and the importance of looking back in time, but for Parikka, this involvement need not come at the cost of attending to very real concerns surrounding contemporary labor, material, and environmental expenditures.</p> <p>One of Parikka’s most compelling arguments is derived from his split with traditional notions of the “deep time of media.” In the first sense, the deep time of media concerns itself with the “affordances that enable digital media to exist as a materially complex and politically economically mediated realm of production and process: a metallic materiality that links the earth to the media technological.”<sup id="fnref:11"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:11" rel="footnote">11</a></sup> In the second sense, and a particularly consequential claim, he writes that temporalities such as deep time are understood as not just an “alternative account as concretely linked to the nonhuman earth times of decay and renewal but also to the current Anthropocene and the obscenities of the ecocrisis—or to put it in one word, the <em>Anthrobscene</em>.”<sup id="fnref:12"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:12" rel="footnote">12</a></sup> This term, the Anthrobscene, refers quite literally to the obscenities of the Anthropocene. More than this, the term signifies a way of understanding the environmental impact of the energy intensive age caused by human production and destruction. As Parikka explains it, “environmental themes become a way to articulate a global history that offers a complementary narrative to globalization, as told through the media technological and capitalist expansion of trade, travel, and communication routes over the past centuries” as well as its “acceleration in past decades.”<sup id="fnref:13"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:13" rel="footnote">13</a></sup> The <em>Anthrobscene</em> is a mode of understanding the physical human impact on the earth from the inception of our species to the present, particularly upon the accelerated energy consumption dating from the first instances of human coal mining.<sup id="fnref:14"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:14" rel="footnote">14</a></sup> To map the distribution of the human species on the globe, we might abridge its explanation in Anthropocene (or Anthrobscene) climate terms—according to “Anthrobscene logic: the North affords the Cool, the South provides the Cheap (labor).”<sup id="fnref:15"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:15" rel="footnote">15</a></sup> Through the text, this term remains a recurring theme and reference point that speaks to an entire <em>era</em> of intense human impact on the environment and the subsequent narrative that emerges, not from the human voice, but told through the existence and study of media technology.</p> <p>The global and geological nature of media’s impact can be found in one component of the earth’s geology, spread across the entire planet, <em>dust</em>. Dust surrounds us everywhere—it can transform itself and can escape any grip, it is amorphous and metamorphic, and most importantly, “dust forms geological strata.”<sup id="fnref:16"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:16" rel="footnote">16</a></sup> Dust is a byproduct in modern manufacturing, but can also disrupt the very devices and systems it was once a part of. Dust, although very slowly, buries human things, it layers our “obsolescent technologies, wrecks, and monuments” and provides archival provenance, when it “marks the temporality of matter, a processual materiality of piling up, sedimenting, and … transformations of solids to ephemeral and back.”<sup id="fnref:17"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:17" rel="footnote">17</a></sup> In one of Parikka’s examples he describes how aluminum, particularly polished aluminum, becomes a fetishized object in the current era—its “fetishlike shininess defines Italian futurism as much as post-World War II automobile culture.”<sup id="fnref:18"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:18" rel="footnote">18</a></sup> It is not until we recognize what it takes to produce the “shiny” effect that we observe the “labor—of factories, production lines, and lung diseases—shows a different notion of immateriality;” the immateriality of the lungs appears more measured as we consider the ways aluminum dust can come to disrupt otherwise overlooked breathing habits.<sup id="fnref:19"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:19" rel="footnote">19</a></sup> This material effect, the mirror-like aluminum, is achieved at the expense of the workers’ health, traced through the act of their very breathing. Parikka’s investigations are not limited to the geology of the media itself, but address humanist concerns surrounding the production, refinement, and fabrication of the material assemblage. Employees at major factories, including Foxconn, a primary supplier for Apple, who live in company housing in work environments plagued by “worker suicides, which are indexical of the wider health issues;” these suicides directly result from performing the labor that ensures “our iPads are shiny and properly polished.”<sup id="fnref:20"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:20" rel="footnote">20</a></sup> Thus, the process of “surplus creation” and the “related practices of human exploitation” become perpetually clear, making apparent the necessity of contemporaneously observing the human and nonhuman factory elements.</p> <p>Parikka describes his book as part of the material landscape it defines,<sup id="fnref:21"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:21" rel="footnote">21</a></sup> leaving little room for misinterpretation about the ubiquity and consequent exigence of his topic. This is clearly evident in the text’s construction, from its precisely demarcated, stratified chapters, to the coherence of the argument within each layer; the book, indeed, has a geology of its own. Parikka is inspired by the materiality of our technology and exposes its construction in an attempt to strip away our biases—the NSA’s colossal PRISM program is described as a collection of “lonely data server farms”<sup id="fnref:22"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:22" rel="footnote">22</a></sup> and other post 9/11 surveillance mechanisms are described as arrangements of physical networks, their components are studied piece by piece.<sup id="fnref:23"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:23" rel="footnote">23</a></sup> Parikka, again and again, details intriguing cases that link our network infrastructures, storage devices, and screens to the mines and factories that enable their production—he traces rare earth mining operations to iPhone, revealing how “the bigger picture becomes clear when we realize the extent to which technical media end up disused.” It is at this point, he says that this media “reveal their geology.”<sup id="fnref:24"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:24" rel="footnote">24</a></sup> As we examine this book and dig deeper into the text, we as readers find ourselves not forsaken at the bottom of a hole, but rather standing in a vast cavern, observing the intricacies of each strata.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>Marshall McCluhan, <em>Understanding Media: Extensions of Man</em> (McGraw-Hill, 1964), 1. <a href="http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/mcluhan.mediummessage.pdf">Available online</a>.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>McCluhan <em>Understanding History</em>, 1.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, “Enduring Ephemeral, or the Futue is a Memory,&rdquo; <em>Critical Inquiry</em> 35 (Autumn 2008), 151. <a href="http://aestech.wikischolars.columbia.edu/file/view/Hui%20Kyong%20Chun--the_enduring_ephemeral_or.pdf/442522752/Hui%20Kyong%20Chun--the_enduring_ephemeral_or.pdf">Available online</a>.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>Parikka quotes Geert Lovink in his introduction to <em>Media Archaeology</em>. Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka, &ldquo;Introduction: An Archaeology of Media Archaeology&rdquo; in Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka, eds., <em>Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications</em> (University of California Press, 2011), 3.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p>Parikka <em>A Geology of Media</em>, 5.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:6"> <p>Parikka <em>A Geology of Media</em>, 20.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:7"> <p>Wolfgang Ernst, “Media Archaeography: Method and Machine versus History and Narrative of Media” in Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka, eds., <em>Media Archaeology</em>, 55. Ernst describes media archaeology “associated with the rediscovery of cultural and technological layers of previous media.”&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:7" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:8"> <p>This is originally a geological term.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:8" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:9"> <p>Siegfried Zielinski, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/026274032X/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Deep Time of the Media: Toward an Archaeology of Hearing and Seeing by Technical Means</em></a> (MIT Press, 2008) 7. This is what he calls forming his basis on the “<em>variantology</em> of the media.”&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:9" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:10"> <p>Zielinski <em>Deep Time of the Media</em>, 6-7.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:10" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 10 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:11"> <p>Zielinski <em>Deep Time of the Media</em>, 44.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:11" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 11 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:12"> <p>Zielinski <em>Deep Time of the Media</em>, 44.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:12" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 12 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:13"> <p>Zielinski <em>Deep Time of the Media</em>, 19.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:13" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 13 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:14"> <p>As Parikka notes, the emergence of significant coal mines datesto the Song Dynasty (960-1279) of China (<em>A Geology of Media</em>, 17).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:14" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 14 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:15"> <p>Parikka <em>A Geology of Media</em>, 25.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:15" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 15 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:16"> <p>Parikka <em>A Geology of Media</em>, 85.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:16" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 16 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:17"> <p>Parikka <em>A Geology of Media</em>, 85-6.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:17" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 17 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:18"> <p>Parikka <em>A Geology of Media</em>, 89.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:18" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 18 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:19"> <p>Parikka <em>A Geology of Media</em>, 91.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:19" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 19 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:20"> <p>Parikka <em>A Geology of Media</em>, 89.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:20" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 20 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:21"> <p>Parikka <em>A Geology of Media</em>, 25.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:21" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 21 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:22"> <p>Parikka <em>A Geology of Media</em>, 29.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:22" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 22 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:23"> <p>One example of network infrastructure Parikka describes are the submarine fiber-optic cables that connect our global communication networks (the “Atlantis-2 connects South America to Europe and Africa”) (<em>A Geology of Media</em>, 29).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:23" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 23 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:24"> <p>Parikka <em>A Geology of Media</em>, 47.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:24" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 24 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Kyle Bickoff) http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/22/ Wed, 23 Mar 2016 07:00:00 +0000 Recursion and Politics http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/20/ *Information Politics* foregrounds the importance of viewing data flows and ownership as central political questions today. Through the thought of Gilles Deleuze, Tim Jordan discusses the effects of data compounding and recursion. In a world where data is power, who controls data today? <p>Despite what marketing campaigns might have you believe, technology is designed and programed by the human imagination and put together by human hands. All the materials of which it is composed are resources ultimately drawn from the earth. All the products that magically appear at our doorsteps after a few mouse clicks on pixilated images come from massive warehouses with human workers. On the other hand, this technology relies on moving information that is less concrete but no less politically important. The release of <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/nov/28/us-embassy-cable-leak-diplomacy-crisis">US State Department cables by WikiLeaks</a>, the activities of the hacktivist group <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/technology/anonymous">Anonymous</a>, <a href="https://www.eff.org/nsa-spying">domestic spying by the NSA</a>, and the everyday assault on personal privacy are all examples of political fights over the meaning and value of information. In short, our virtual world is suffused with products that shuttle between the material and immaterial, and to understand the political ramifications that go along with this information age means developing a perspective that bridges the physical and metaphysical. </p> <p>In his book <a href="http://www.plutobooks.com/display.asp?K=9780745333663&amp;"><em>Information Politics</em></a>, Tim Jordan attempts to develop such a perspective by borrowing heavily, yet effectively, from Gilles Deleuze’s idiosyncratic brand of metaphysics. According to Jordan, new political antagonisms arise whenever “digital media and cultural objects are combined with the distributive and communicative powers of the internet.” He describes these powers through Deleuze’s concepts of &ldquo;recursion,&rdquo; &ldquo;difference,&rdquo; &ldquo;mulitplicity,&rdquo; &ldquo;active and reactive forces,&rdquo; the concept of &ldquo;flows&rdquo; and &ldquo;the apparatus of capture.&rdquo; While Deleuze orients Jordan’s thinking about information, this is not a deep dive into Deleuze’s philosophy. He offers a mere nod towards Deleuze in the introduction of this book, but the rest is the author’s own application of these concepts to a theory of information.<sup id="fnref:tj1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:tj1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> He comes to define information as “a difference that moves”: information is a constant creation of new ideas and forms, moves across vast spatiotemporal distances, and connects with a vast number of individuals. The aim of the book is to find the dynamics, forces and relations of information within our digital culture that either exploit us or liberate us.</p> <p>Counterintuitively, Jordan’s application of Deleuze’s abstract, metaphysical concepts is the very thing that gives him some purchase on the physical and material anchors within the digital world.<sup id="fnref:LARB"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:LARB" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> Jordan analyzes the platform of ‘cloud computing’. He argues that &ldquo;the cloud&rdquo; involves a slippery relationship between immateriality and materiality. We often perceive clouds (and they are often portrayed/advertised) as being ethereal, magical places where our information, of any size, is secure, mobile, and able to be reached from anywhere. Examples include iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox, or Microsoft&rsquo;s OneDrive. However, there is a necessary materiality to clouds, involving servers, wires, radio waves, computers and buildings. With this in mind, Jordan asks the question: Why is there a rhetorical necessity to foreground immateriality and push the materiality to the background? Cloud users are necessarily entangled in intellectual property relations between their own information and whoever runs or owns the cloud in which it is stored.<sup id="fnref:tj2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:tj2" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> The convenience of storing your information in the clouds has the added complication of legalities that bring into question the property rights of the data being stored. Jordan suspects that this may be the reason for the rhetoric of offering &ldquo;magic&rdquo; as the user experience, so that they no longer worry about what happens when their information is saved in the cloud and recursed. He gives the alarming example of iCloud’s terms of services that include “Apple’s right to terminate the service at any point with no responsibility for returning to users anything stored on the iCloud.”<sup id="fnref:tj3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:tj3" rel="footnote">4</a></sup> What Jordan wants to warn us with, by pointing out the materiality of cloud computing, is that the information is always ‘somewhere’, on a specific server and consequently under some jurisdiction and ownership who is trusted with our information. The metaphor of immaterial clouds, he says, obscures issues of trust. </p> <p>One of Jordan’s most original applications of Deleuzian metaphysics is his description of the natural movement of information as a process of “recursion.” In addition to being a Deleuzian term, recursion is also a technical term in computer programing technique, but the term has the same basic meaning in both contexts. As it applies to information and programing, recursion is the process by which information feeds into itself. It occurs via an input of information into a system which then reuses this data to produce new information. Thus, this flow of information is able to change other flows of information as well as be affected by change—it both creates and is created. Digital systems such as Facebook and Google searches use recursions to gather information or input from their users and then use this data to refine future searches or advertisements.<sup id="fnref:searches"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:searches" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> However, Jordan notes that recursion is not a simple process of cause and effect. The data-producing-data nature of recursions is not linear because one set of inputs does not just produce one set of outputs, but rather these outputs are returned and used again creating an exponential growth of data. Jordan explains this non-linearity as such, “recursion is not repetition, it is not the return of the same but the return of something that is transformed so that it can be used as if it were the same.”<sup id="fnref:tj4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:tj4" rel="footnote">6</a></sup> This growth contributes to the state of information overload that we find ourselves in by the end of the twentieth century. Recursions become political when those who manage these recursive processes profit from the exponential growth of new information. Because information, which effectively describes our world and guides our interactions, is created through this recursive data process, it becomes imperative to ask who is supplying the information inputs, and who benefits from the recursion of that information? What are the material conditions surrounding a recursive program? What are the political implications of privatizing such recursed information versus opening it to communities? All these are important questions for which <em>Information Politics</em> provides insights. Jordon weighs in heavily, for instance, on the last question of private vs. open information. </p> <p>Making information the nexus of political conflict allows Jordan to highlight the way different political categories such as race, class, gender, the environment interact with one another, including times when possible liberation struggles in one conflict fuel exploitations in another.<sup id="fnref:tj5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:tj5" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> There are two different ways that information politics interacts with the forces of exploitation and liberation: one is within a struggle between informationally defined groups (such as users and managers of data), and the other is between information and existing political conflicts. In the latter, information and information technologies are used as tools for liberation or exploitation in an already existing political issue. For example, the under- or mis- representation of women in online gaming fuels the already existing issue of sexism. In the former, information is a political issue in itself—revolving around the conflict of users and managers of data. Yet this elevation of information to a metaphysical entity might raise some doubts as to whether information really counts as a separate political antagonism. It seems correct to say that information politics, when not used as a tool, can be a useful lens from which to view these familiar conflicts; one can analyze a political antagonism through its entanglements with the digital. However, one could question Jordan’s insistence that information is a separate form of exploitation and liberation.<sup id="fnref:tj6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:tj6" rel="footnote">8</a></sup> On the other hand, there <em>is</em> something unique and politically interesting about information that he points out at the end of his book.</p> <p>For Jordon, information has a particularly politically interesting quality: it is a &ldquo;<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_good">non-rival good</a>&rdquo; meaning that “possession by one does not exclude simultaneous and full possession by another.”<sup id="fnref:tj7"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:tj7" rel="footnote">9</a></sup> With this realization, Jordan criticizes the right to individually own information (or the “fetishisation of information as a property of identity”<sup id="fnref:tj8"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:tj8" rel="footnote">10</a></sup>), and instead proposes a notion of information as &ldquo;simultaneous and complete use.&rdquo; This interesting quality, that is characteristic of information, may be the defining feature of information as a separate/new political force. What Jordan emphasizes when he speaks of information as &ldquo;simultaneous complete use&rdquo; is its ability to be used at the same time, by many, and all can share the benefits of this information. We have a tendency to think of information as exclusive property—we use this language when criticizing clouds and social media networks for taking and recursing “our” data. However, Jordan interestingly turns this standard criticism around at the end of his book.</p> <p>This rhetoric of “our” data, of ownership of information as property, actually undermines the goals or potential of information liberation. For one, this is the same logic that for-profit platforms and securitizing intelligence agencies use to secure private ownership over your recursed data. Jordan summarizes, “Information cannot be both open to simultaneous complete use and be a rival good… Once information is conceived as non-simultaneous incomplete use it can then exclusively benefit one group by being drawn off from another group.”<sup id="fnref:tj9"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:tj9" rel="footnote">11</a></sup> Instead, Jordan proposes that we consider ourselves &ldquo;digital citizens&rdquo; (not passive &ldquo;digital subjects&rdquo;). This implies active participation and responsibility, and finding ways to make non-exploitative exchanges. Jordan describes a “distributive commons” that would work as a “liberatory information environment.”<sup id="fnref:tj10"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:tj10" rel="footnote">12</a></sup> In this virtual community, he describes information as “always-already part of webs and interconnections to which this information contributes and from which it gains its ‘sense’, its difference.”<sup id="fnref:tj11"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:tj11" rel="footnote">13</a></sup> Reactive forces are always trying to capture and enclose information for exclusive and selective use – this is what creates “haves and have-nots”. This is why Jordan believes it is imperative that we create cyber worlds where information is allowed to flow and recurse freely but responsibly as ‘simultaneous and complete use’ for all information citizens. </p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:tj1"> <p>Jordan, <em>Information Politics</em>, p. 2.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:tj1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:LARB"> <p>Patricia Pisters offers a similar discussion of the way Deleuze links physical and metaphysical aspects of technology in an essay for the <em>Los Angeles Review of Books</em> commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Deleuze’s death. See, <a href="https://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/deleuzes-metallurgic-machines">“Deleuze’s Metallurgic Machines”</a>. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:LARB" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:tj2"> <p>Jordan <em>Information Politics</em>, p. 88&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:tj2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:tj3"> <p>Jordan <em>Information Politics</em>, p. 89&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:tj3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:searches"> <p>For instance, when users conduct a search through Google, or “like” a Facebook page.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:searches" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:tj4"> <p>Jordan , <em>Information Politics</em>, p. 39.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:tj4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:tj5"> <p>Jordan <em>Information Politics</em>, p. 214.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:tj5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:tj6"> <p>Jordan <em>Information Politics</em>, p. 3.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:tj6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:tj7"> <p>Jordan <em>Information Politics</em>, p. 194.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:tj7" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:tj8"> <p>Jordan <em>Information Politics</em>, p. 202-203.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:tj8" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 10 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:tj9"> <p>Jordan <em>Information Politics</em>, p. 199.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:tj9" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 11 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:tj10"> <p>Jordan <em>Information Politics</em>, p. 206.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:tj10" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 12 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:tj11"> <p>Jordan <em>Information Politics</em>, p. 208.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:tj11" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 13 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Tiffany Montoya) http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/20/ Technology Fri, 26 Feb 2016 18:31:00 +0000 Socialism as an Ethos http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/17/ A century ago nearly any American on the political Left would have known the name Jean Jaurès. Today, that pioneer of social democracy and martyr of French republicanism is less well remembered, at least in America. Luckily, his history of the French Revolution is now available in a new abridged translation. <p>A century ago—the last time a book by Jean Jaurès appeared in English—nearly any American on the political Left would have known his name. Writing in 1904, the acerbic revolutionary Daniel DeLeon could expect his American followers to understand when he called the new reformist style of socialism “Jaurèsism;” in 1925, John Dos Passos could have characters in <em>Manhattan Transfer</em> drop Jaurès’ name with little explanation. Today, that pioneer of social democracy and martyr of French republicanism is less well remembered, at least in America. Our political thought would be enriched if we better knew him.</p> <p>Thankfully, Jaurès’ <em>Socialist History of the French Revolution</em>, one of his principal works, is now available in a vivid and sympathetic translation and abridgement by Mitchell Abidor. A translator of authors such as Victor Serge and Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Abidor is also the primary French-to-English translator for the <a href="http://www.marxists.org/">Marxists Internet Archive</a>.<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> He renders Jaurès’ prose, which tends toward the elaborate, in fluid English. In its original form, Jaurès’ <em>Socialist History</em> was three thousand pages long, comprising the first four volumes of a thirteen-volume history of France from 1789 to 1900.<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> In an impressive editorial feat, Abidor’s deft trimming yields a concise and lively overview of the Revolution, one of the better brief accounts we have of events in France between 1789 and 1794. The storming of the Bastille, the march to Versailles, the arrest and trial of the king, the conflicts between the <em>enragés</em> and the moderates, the rise of the Jacobins, Thermidor: all the principal episodes are recounted, making this a useful book for any student of the “Great Revolution.”</p> <p>The most interesting aspect of the <em>Socialist History</em>, however, is suggested by the adjective. What Jaurès means by “socialist” might not be what readers expect. Although Jaurès sometimes writes about classes and class struggles, this is not a Marxist history. Jaurès is more concerned with what he calls the “mystical” side of human affairs—the power of ideas and moral impulses—than even a revised Marxism could permit. “It’s not only through the force of circumstances that the social revolution will be made,” he writes, “it is by the force of men, by the energy of consciousness and will. History will never exempt men from the need for individual valor and nobility.”<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> Plutarch, Jaurès remarks, is as important an influence on his <em>Socialist History</em> as is Marx<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">4</a></sup>—a clue that Jaurès’ socialist politics depends on well-educated capacities for perception and judgment.</p> <p>A striking feature of the <em>Socialist History</em>, accordingly, is the way that moments of reflection so frequently interrupt the flow of events. The <em>Socialist History</em> has little in common with the grand oratory for which Jaurès was <a href="http://www.larousse.fr/encyclopedie/data/images/1004813-Éloy_Vincent_Jean_Jaurès_à_la_tribune.jpg">famous</a> <a href="http://www.culture.gouv.fr/Wave/image/joconde/0421/m110400_27094-2_p.jpg">in his</a> <a href="https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Jaurès#/media/File:Jean_Jaurès_1913.png">lifetime</a><sup id="fnref:5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:5" rel="footnote">5</a></sup>; instead, it introduces readers to a <a href="https://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Histoire_socialiste/La_Troisième_République/32#/media/File:Jaures-Histoire_Socialiste-XII-p301.png">pensive, ruminative Jaurès</a>—and, consequently, to a pensive, ruminative socialism. Why did this leader make this decision? What was he thinking? What could, and what should, he have done differently? Jaurès asks such questions of figures he admires (and of no one more than Robespierre, who receives both his warmest praise and his sharpest critiques), but the most poignant reflective moments come when Jaurès writes about people who are not his heroes. Thus Jaurès on Louis XVI during the August 1792 assault on the Tuileries Palace:</p> <blockquote> <p>What was the king’s state of mind during this drama? This is an impenetrable mystery. Did he momentarily hope that the chateau would be defended and that the Revolution would be defeated? He watched the Assembly’s session from the stenographer’s box. The cries that announced the arrival of the Swiss mercenaries doubtless echoed joyously in his heart. It’s also possible that when he heard the cannons, heard the crackling of the fusillade, he regretted not having remained among his soldiers to inspire them with his presence. Choudieu, who observed him closely, affirmed that his face remained passive as long as the combat continued and that he only showed emotion when the defeat of his last defenders became known to him. Too late he ordered the Swiss to cease fire.<sup id="fnref:6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:6" rel="footnote">6</a></sup></p> </blockquote> <p>This description of the king’s regret, unexpected and resonant as it is, stays with a reader.</p> <p>Passages like these turn out to be anything but inconsequential. Jaurès invites his readers to linger over questions of political judgment because, for him, socialism is not something inevitable, as it was for Marxists in his generation, and is not essentially a question of material necessities or economic models, as Leftist (and even centrist) politics seems to many today. Instead, Jaurès’ socialism is a moral stance, a democratic political ethos. When socialists of Jaurès’ sort confront political life, they are not armed with a dogma that answers questions in advance. Instead, they sense the moral imperatives that drive them, and they have a certain political craft or method to apply. Thus a need for the deliberate application of political craft to new circumstances is built in to Jaurès’ socialism, and telling history “from the socialist point of view”<sup id="fnref:7"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:7" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> means to him, in no small part, demonstrating how political reflection and judgment operate in particular cases.</p> <p>For Jaurès, the means and end of socialist politics can be summed up in one word. “Democracy,” he writes, “is at one and the same time a forceful means of action and the form in accordance with which economic and political relations should be ordered.”<sup id="fnref:8"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:8" rel="footnote">8</a></sup> The great lesson of the Revolution, for Jaurès, is that democracy tends to deepen. That means two distinct but related things: first, that democracy’s “form” or norm is altered, fundamentally but not without continuity, as the rights of citizens are broadened to include economic rights—such as the social insurance programs and union rights that Jaurès championed while in public office—and, second, that democratic “means of action”—representative institutions like the Revolution’s Assemblies as well as participatory bodies like its clubs, committees, and sections<sup id="fnref:9"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:9" rel="footnote">9</a></sup>—reveal their radical meanings as they establish their primacy over non-democratic social and economic institutions.</p> <p>This understanding of democracy plays out gradually through the <em>Socialist History</em>, allowing Jaurès to show how mildly democratic principles, like those established in the first stage of the Revolution, can have consequences that their authors did not anticipate. The Revolution’s turn toward questions of social equality came, he writes, not through a repudiation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen—a document written by and for members of the property-owning classes—but through new interpretations of the Declaration. The Revolution moved leftward through immanent critique: “The people were proud to be able to say to the bourgeoisie that they interpreted the Rights of Man better than they,” and the people’s “boldness” in pressing social and economic demands seemed to them “a logical extension of all that had occurred.”<sup id="fnref:10"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:10" rel="footnote">10</a></sup> The way to build a democratic left, for Jaurès, is to make explicit the radical implications of an imperfectly democratic society’s common values.</p> <p>Thinkers on the democratic left have often tried to make do with either “watered-down Marxism” or “bulked-up liberalism.”<sup id="fnref:11"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:11" rel="footnote">11</a></sup> Jaurès aims at something different: a social-democratic political theory that can stand on its own. His <em>Socialist History</em> presents his convictions that, precisely because it holds to democratic ends and depends on democratic means, the left needs a moral language, and, conversely, that precisely because it is an enterprise sustained by a thirst for justice, Left politics needs to be democratic in its means and ends. As Jaurès portrays it, the politics of the democratic Left is, at bottom, not a matter of social science or “critical theory” but of commitment and character.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p><em>Studies in Socialism</em>, Margaret Minturn’s 1906 translation of Jaurès’ <em>Études socialistes</em>, and <em>Democracy and Military Service</em>, G.G. Coulton’s 1916 abbreviated translation of Jaurès’s <em>L’Armée nouvelle</em>, can both be <a href="http://www.marxists.org/archive/jaures/">found on that site</a>, along with early versions of Abidor’s work on the <em>Socialist History</em> and several previously unpublished Jaurès translations by Abidor and others.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>Jaurès began working on the <em>Socialist History</em> (originally <em>L’Histoire socialiste, 1789-1900</em>) in 1898; his four volumes were published in 1901 and 1902, and the remaining nine volumes (which he oversaw, but, except for a few short sections, did not write) between 1902 and 1908. The years during which Jaurès wrote his portions of the <em>Socialist History</em>—one of the few periods in his adult life when he was not serving in the French parliament—encompassed the Dreyfus Affair, the controversy over the socialist Alexandre Millerand’s service in a “bourgeois” coalition government, and the sorting-out of the complex French left into two rival parties, one reformist and the other revolutionary. For the classic account, see Harvey Goldberg, <em>The Life of Jean Jaurès</em> (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1962), pp. 235-292; on the publication history of <em>L’Histoire socialiste</em>, see Goldberg, p. 571.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>Jean Jaurès, <em>A Socialist History of the French Revolution</em>, ed. and trans. Mitchell Abidor (Pluto Press, 2015), p. 8.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>Jaurès <em>A Socialist History</em>, 9.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p>For the finer rhetorical passages in <em>A Socialist History</em>, see the chapter titled “How Shall We Judge the Revolutionaries?” (249-251).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:6"> <p>Jaurès <em>A Socialist History</em>, 105.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:7"> <p>Jaurès <em>A Socialist History</em>, 1.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:7" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:8"> <p>Jaurès <em>A Socialist History</em>, 250.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:8" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:9"> <p>Jaurès calls these representative and participatory bodies the “two coinciding centers” of the Revolution (<em>A Socialist History</em>,p. 33).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:9" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:10"> <p>Jaurès <em>A Socialist History</em>, 149.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:10" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 10 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:11"> <p>Sheri Berman, <em><a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511791109">The Primacy of Politics</a>: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe’s Twentieth Century</em> (Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 200.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:11" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 11 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Geoffrey Kurtz) http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/17/ Fri, 05 Feb 2016 14:04:00 +0000 Working on Work http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/16/ We accept that labor is necessary on some elemental level for survival and are habituated to the capitalist organization of labor that exchanges labor for income. Something about the ubiquity of work makes it difficult for us to see it as something other than a natural, inevitable part of everyday life. But middle-class, educated workers are awakening to the reality that work resembles the precarious, austere, back-breaking conditions of the global poor rather than providing a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. <h2 id="1">1</h2> <p>Recently, an <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/technology/inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-in-a-bruising-workplace.html">exposé by <em>The New York Times</em></a> placed Amazon’s corporate culture under the microscope. The authors described a workplace that cultivates antagonism, competition, and obsessive workaholics. Disturbing stories about Amazon’s warehouses have circulated for years,<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> and this recent story only substituted warehouse workers for white collar employees. Yet, what we learned about Amazon was less surprising than the reaction; incredulity that this picture of crying employees answering email on vacation might accurately portray a modern American office. Why should their white collar workers be treated with less callous exploitation? But “Inside Amazon” struck at the heart of the middle-class, American dream, where work is part of living a complete, fulfilled, and happy life.<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> It speaks to our anxieties after 2008: the only jobs we will find are highly precarious, less fulfilling, and more demanding.</p> <p>We accept that labor is necessary on some elemental level for survival and are habituated to the capitalist organization of labor that exchanges labor for income. Something about the ubiquity of work makes it difficult for us to see it as something other than a natural, inevitable part of everyday life. But middle-class, educated workers are awakening to the reality that work resembles the precarious, austere, back-breaking conditions of the global poor rather than providing a comfortable middle-class lifestyle.</p> <p>Reflecting upon work as a social practice is not new. What is new seems to be the acuity with which a generation feels disenfranchised by the economic system after 2008. Inequality is eroding the edifice of class cooperation. To make sense of this moment, scholars and journalists are turning to sociology, political theory, and economics. Several tendencies appear more often than others, often blending together in greater or lesser amounts depending on the particularities of the author.</p> <p>One narrative places skill and tactile experience at the center of the labor act. In this story, the pressures of modern life have led us away from the simple pleasures of work. There is plenty of nostalgia in this perspective: for a time before the corruptions of the modern office, for work as character building, as vocation, as a moral activity. But if the modern office worker is caged and alienated, it is not, or not primarily, the fault of capitalism. Commodity culture isolates the individual, occludes the worldliness of our lives, and transforms our experience of the world into one of consumption and abandonment. In this story, a more thoughtful sort of work can coexist harmoniously with capitalism.<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">4</a></sup></p> <p>A second tendency is concerned with changes to labor caused by technology. By this reading, the primary assault on the middle and working classes comes from automation and algorithms that threaten to replace human employees with computers. Recent examples include Derek Thompson’s “<a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/07/world-without-work/395294/">A World Without Work</a>” and Peter Mason’s “<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/17/postcapitalism-end-of-capitalism-begun">The end of capitalism has begun</a>.”<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> Fear of technological progress goes hand in hand with a sense that rationalization is out of control. Widespread unemployment, income inequality, and the erosion of the middle class are problems created by technological changes, but a stronger welfare state (or more deregulation depending on your perspective) might mitigate the worst excesses of deregulated capitalism.</p> <p>The third species of critique argues that work must be surpassed. It began as a variety of post-Marxism that grew in the wake of the post-War economic boom. For Herbert Marcuse, the intellectual godfather of the American New Left, capitalism was built upon a perversion of human needs that convinced us to become consumers of commodities. At the same time, technological progress driven by capitalism opened up for the first time the possibility of a labor-free existence. For Marcuse, a post-scarcity economy free of work as we know it was central to the anti-capitalist dream. Work inhibits our full humanity. In true dialectical fashion, as capitalism drives work to its apotheosis, it simultaneously opens up a path beyond it.<sup id="fnref:5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:5" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> Transcendence of capitalism is synonymous with the transcendence of work.</p> <p>Today, it is impossible to disentangle our discussion about work from the critique of neoliberalism leveled by a growing chorus on the Left. In this narrative, the post-2008 world is part of a decades-long reconsolidation of power by the ruling class. Part of this critique is an appraisal both of neoliberal austerity policies and of the legacy of Keynesian economic policies. The excesses of capitalism are no longer moderated by a regulatory, redistributive state. Consequently, the middle class is no longer seeing the benefits of increasing productivity. Neoliberal austerity constitutes a renunciation of the non-aggression pact between the middle class and capital.<sup id="fnref:30"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:30" rel="footnote">26</a></sup> This pact underwrote decades of post-War, late-industrial capitalism where incremental improvements to middle-class lives bought the stability of a system which, as Marcuse pointed out, “delivers the goods.”<sup id="fnref:25"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:25" rel="footnote">21</a></sup> This arrangement no longer functions either economically or ideologically.</p> <p>Two new books, by Peter Fleming and Nick Dyer-Witheford respectively, contribute to these discussions around work. Both are firmly in the anti-capitalist camp and conclude by considering potential resistance to capitalism. Their differences are partly a matter of profession: Fleming, a professor of Business, focuses on subtle forms of exploitation and control deployed by capitalism. Dyer-Witheford is steeped in critical theory, broadly speaking, and the legacy of Marxism.</p> <h2 id="2">2</h2> <p>Fleming’s <em>Mythology of Work</em> begins with a simple question, often asked since the 1950’s: Why, when we live in a time of unprecedented wealth and productivity, do we work more than ever?<sup id="fnref:31"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:31" rel="footnote">27</a></sup> While this is not a new question,<sup id="fnref:6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:6" rel="footnote">6</a></sup> the argument by Fleming and others is that these pressures have grown more acute especially since 2008. A poignant example appeared in <em>The New York Times</em> Amazon story:</p> <blockquote> <p>When they took a vacation to Florida, [an Amazon employee] spent every day at Starbucks using the wireless connection to get work done.</p> </blockquote> <p>Fleming’s spin on this well-documented trend, which he terms “The I, Job function,” pivots on a psychological account of our desire to work.<sup id="fnref:7"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:7" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> Occasionally, Fleming indulges in psychological reductivism and crude metaphors that equate work with addiction.<sup id="fnref:8"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:8" rel="footnote">8</a></sup> But at its best, Fleming’s analysis reminds us how deeply entwined our professional and private selves have become. “[W]ork is transformed into something we are rather than something we simply do…”<sup id="fnref:9"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:9" rel="footnote">9</a></sup> Work is something deeply existential, “somehow tied up with our very sense of identity and personal worth.”<sup id="fnref:10"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:10" rel="footnote">10</a></sup> Consequently, capitalism’s power comes not only from inclusion, but from the threat of exclusion, of unemployment, of losing our identity.</p> <p>If the conventional narrative, as in <em>The New York Times</em>’ Amazon story, focuses on an inhumane corporate culture, Fleming suggests that the alternatives are little better. “Managerialism” whether antagonistic and authoritative or horizontal and collaborative maintains the same underlying threat of abandonment.<sup id="fnref:11"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:11" rel="footnote">11</a></sup> This focus on management technique is what sets Fleming apart from other critics. By discussing “managerialism” as a coherent ideology, he undercuts the claim that humane working conditions are merely a matter of better hierarchies, principles, or philosophies.<sup id="fnref:14"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:14" rel="footnote">14</a></sup> This ideology “continually communicates our postponed but inevitable abandonment [of workers].”<sup id="fnref:23"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:23" rel="footnote">19</a></sup> Its effect is to make employment a zero-sum game, which fragments the working class by pitting workers against each other. Managers are just as replaceable as other workers, but according to Fleming they act as prison guards insulating elites from critique.</p> <p>What ties the narrative together is the ubiquity and insidious power of ideology, specifically neoliberal ideology. Borrowing from Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, Fleming describes society as an “open prison” in which freedom within the office is merely another tool of control. Biopower is ubiquitous and furthers the nefarious ends of the neoliberal agenda.<sup id="fnref:12"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:12" rel="footnote">12</a></sup> Workers and managers are trapped within a system which, by this account, causes psychological harm and which disallows (or commodifies) dissent.<sup id="fnref:13"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:13" rel="footnote">13</a></sup> As with other sweeping denunciations of ideology, Fleming allows no outside from which we might judge the system. Resistance amounts to a general “refusal” of work. What this refusal might look like or where it might occur are not well answered. To be fair, Fleming understands his dilemma, but his fear that all speech is distorted by capitalism leaves him in much the same place as the pre-Habermasian Frankfurt School<sup id="fnref:32"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:32" rel="footnote">28</a></sup>—totalizing ideology from which the only escape is a mute refusal. How you feel about this probably depends on how you judge the last 50 years of intellectual history.</p> <p>In contrast with Fleming, Dyer-Witheford’s <em>Cyber-Proletariat</em> primarily addresses changes to the global working class caused by technological innovation.</p> <blockquote> <p>This book is about digital capital’s making of a planetary working class tasked with working itself out of a job, toiling relentlessly to develop a system of robots and networks, networked robots and robot networks, for which the human is ultimately surplus to requirements, on a fatal trajectory…<sup id="fnref:15"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:15" rel="footnote">15</a></sup></p> </blockquote> <p>While much of the book focuses on how cybernetics changes the conventional Marxist narrative of the working class, Dyer-Witheford insists on two important facets of the proletariat. First, the term includes groups outside the working class that are nevertheless potential victims of capitalism. Second, his definition emphasizes insecurity as a distinguishing mark. Quoting from Marx, Dyer-Witheford defines the proletariat as anyone who might become “superfluous to the need for valorization.”<sup id="fnref:16"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:16" rel="footnote">16</a></sup> No worker, middle-class or otherwise, is safe from the threat of “re-proletarianization,” his term for the precarious reality of employment today. Escape from the proletariat is ephemeral; success is transitory and each upwardly mobile worker is constantly under the threat of being returned to the pool of surplus labor. Here the narratives of Dyer-Witheford and Fleming converge, with Dyer-Witheford emphasizing insecurity and Fleming emphasizing the explicit threat of banishment.</p> <p>Dyer-Witheford retells the story of globalization as an extension of the “vortex” of capitalism with a particular emphasis on global class composition.<sup id="fnref:24"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:24" rel="footnote">20</a></sup> A global logistics chain links the labor-rich, manufacturing South to the financial, service-oriented North. The comforts of American-style consumer culture are built on the ecological and economic exploitation made possible by globalized capitalism. In the affluent Western economies, workers are themselves exploited by the neoliberal turn to financial indenture. Wealth is increasingly centralized in the hands of the global banking elite.</p> <p><em>Pace</em> Marx (and Negri, who is a chief interlocutor), the global working class does not spontaneously share any coherent ideology or interest.<sup id="fnref:17"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:17" rel="footnote">17</a></sup> The proletariat is stratified and at cross purposes. The unemployed, the workers, and the precarious middle class do not constitute a homogenous, “universal” identity. Nor do other cleavages—gender, race, etc.—dissolve into purely economic oppositions. Dyer-Witheford is mindful of these frictions.<sup id="fnref:18"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:18" rel="footnote">18</a></sup> Instead the challenge of class unity is re-conceptualized as a process of composition, decomposition, and recomposition.</p> <p>This process of creating precarious, just-in-time labor is made possible by technologies that both lower costs and contribute to the socialization (or subject-formation) of docile, disciplined workers. Using the cell phone as an example, Dyer-Witheford describes how capital flows from the global periphery to the centers of the technologically advanced West.</p> <blockquote> <p>The cell phone as the genotypic commodity of the world market, ready-to-hand techno-science for a system that requires people in perpetual motion…<sup id="fnref:26"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:26" rel="footnote">22</a></sup></p> </blockquote> <p>The story begins in the resource-rich South with the extraction of minerals in morally and ecologically dubious conditions;<sup id="fnref:27"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:27" rel="footnote">23</a></sup> it continues in the factories of Bangladesh and China,<sup id="fnref:28"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:28" rel="footnote">24</a></sup> where workers are underpaid, overworked, and temporary. Sales and support are now outsourced to cheap call centers in India. Meanwhile, ‘hacking culture’—“an intermediate class strata between capital and labor”<sup id="fnref:29"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:29" rel="footnote">25</a></sup>—builds new technologies with the profits afforded by this ongoing extractive process. The Western middle class is then dispossessed by debt and stagnating wages. But what makes the cell phone seminal is its indispensability. The development of migratory, informal employment, upon which the cheap phone is premised, requires workers to own a cell phone. Technology—abetting globalization and rationalization—makes manufacture cheaper, logistics more calibrated, and the workforce more mobile and transitory.</p> <p>All of this should sound familiar without mentioning “cybernetics.” What Dyer-Witheford means by cybernetics is technologies that drive automation and logistics. Technology deepens and extends the basic mechanisms of capitalism—the concentration of wealth and immiseration. Here, globalization and rationalization, two well-established social forces, are folded into the idea of cybernetics, which in turn is rendered into an effect of capitalism. Technology and innovation have no independence outside of capitalism. Certainly, automation has <em>not</em> proved to be the emancipatory force expected by Marxists. However, I suspect that the insistence that cybernetics represents some novel form of exploitation is overstated. In other words, the cyber-proletariat is still just the proletariat with cell phones.</p> <h2 id="3">3</h2> <p>Our anxiety about work, evidenced by these books, has assumed a new importance in the post-2008, anti-neoliberal zeitgeist. Along with recent books by <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0822351129/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Kathi Weeks</a> and <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1781681600/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Frederic Lordon</a>, and forthcoming books by <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1784780960/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Nick Srnicek &amp; Alex Williams</a> and <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1783601175/?tag=contrivers-review-20">David Frayne</a>, there is a growing critical mass of literature on this topic, which is not to mention the near-weekly deluge of “think pieces” on unemployment, work-life balance, and self-fulfillment. It seems clear that the current organization of work is deeply unsettling to many people.</p> <p>Fleming is certainly correct to point to the existential dimension of work: in some sense we are what we do. The existential aspect of work—which appears in Marx as a distinction between <em>alienation</em> and <em>exploitation</em>—has been explored by critical theorists primarily as a lever through which capitalism disciplines workers. Too often, de-alienated work is relegated to the utopian future, while theorists speak today only of exploitation. It is not surprising therefore that this literature, including Fleming and Dyer-Witheford, advocates some form of “refusal” or “post-work.” Peter Frase, who has written about this topic several times at <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com">Jacobin</a> and elsewhere, <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2012/04/the-politics-of-getting-a-life/">characterizes this assumption as</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>Any attempt to reconstruct the meaning of work in a non-alienating way must begin, then, by rejecting work altogether.</p> </blockquote> <p>The challenge is how to “refuse” work. A complete divorce from work is impossible for all but the most affluent; the poor don&rsquo;t have resources to exit the economy and live “off the grid.” We should also question the possibility of constructing an oasis of de-alienation in the shell of the modern corporation, if as Fleming argues, the strategy of using psychology to create humane working environments is rooted not in health but in productivity, like an insidious, novel form of micro-Taylorism. Calls for a shorter work week or a basic income appear similarly infeasible insofar as we are, as Dyer-Witheford reminds us, part of a global labor supply. Policies that make labor more expensive in any one state may lead to unemployment as jobs chase cheaper labor markets. Unless we have concrete, achievable alternatives, the current situation is unlikely to change.</p> <p>One model for such alternatives might be found in the anti-communist dissidence in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland and Czechoslovakia. Communist societies were marked by the expansion of the state into apolitical areas of life. All public appearances became <em>de facto</em> political by virtue of the way ideology legitimated the Communist state. Under such conditions, even the ostensibly apolitical act of selling groceries—to borrow Vaclav Havel’s example—became an act which legitimated and perpetuated an oppressive political regime. An analogy can be drawn between this pervasive politicization of society under Communism to the situation today where we face the subordination of public life to economic norms. The rise of <em>homo economicus</em> is, I think, one of the fundamental diagnoses made by the critique of neoliberalism. And like Soviet propaganda, we are forced to tacitly accept and perpetuate the rationality of capitalism each time we act publicly, each time we, for example, go to work because we cannot imagine doing otherwise.</p> <p>Dissidents recognized that the greengrocer and indeed all citizens were bound to perform the empty ideological gestures required in the public realm because there was no alternative—no space in which one could be both public and critical. The strategy pursued by intellectuals in Eastern Europe carved out areas of life where one could cultivate authenticity and honesty, in contrast to the overt displays of fealty demanded by the regime. In Poland, to combat the influence of the state ideology, “flying universities” were organized to teach students proscribed subjects. In Prague, Vaclav Havel and George Konrad called for anti-political civil society, by which they meant non-state or non-communist institutions.<sup id="fnref:33"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:33" rel="footnote">29</a></sup> Today, our task is to similarly carve out areas within and at the margins of capitalism.</p> <p>By pooling wealth and building cooperative structures, perhaps we can afford to work less or work meaningfully. As a strategy, it is not enough to “refuse” work, but civil society must build alternative institutions and spaces around healthy social relationships. But to do this requires that we understand what remains valuable in work, not just how capitalism deforms it.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>Spencer Soper, “<a href="http://www.mcall.com/news/local/amazon/mc-allentown-amazon-complaints-20110917-story.html">Inside Amazon’s Warehouse</a>,” <em>The Morning Call</em>, September 18, 2011.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/technology/inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-in-a-bruising-workplace.html">Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace</a>,” <em>The New York Times</em>, August 15, 2015.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>For a discussion of this perspective, see Peter Frase, “<a href="http://https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/new-yorker-lingerie-automation-frase/">Egyptian Lingerie and the Robot Future</a>”, <em>Jacobin</em>, August 7, 2015.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>I am primarily drawing on: Matthew B. Crawford, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0143117467/tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work</em></a> (Penguin Books, 2009) .&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p><blockquote>Utopian possibilities are inherent in the technical and technological forces of advanced capitalism and socialism: the rational utilization of these forces on a global scale would terminate poverty and scarcity within a very foreseeable future.</blockquote> Herbert Marcuse, <em><a href="https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/marcuse/works/1969/essay-liberation.htm">Essay on Liberation</a></em> (Beacon Press, 1969). See also Herbert Marcuse, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0807014176/?tag=contrivers-review-20">One Dimensional Man</a></em> (Beacon Press 1964/1991).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:6"> <p>For example: Studs Turkel, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1565843428/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Working</a></em> (New York: Avon, 1975) or Arlie Russell Hochschild <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0805066438/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>The Time Bind</em></a> (Metropolitan Books, 1997). The point is not to highlight these books above others, but to illustrate that the problem of work/life balance is hardly a new question.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:7"> <p>Fleming <em>The Mythology of Work</em>, 37.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:7" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:8"> <p>Fleming makes an extended analogy between work and nicotine addiction (<em>The Mythology of Work</em>, 23-30).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:8" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:9"> <p>Fleming <em>The Mythology of Work</em>, 37.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:9" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:10"> <p>Fleming <em>The Mythology of Work</em>, 58.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:10" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 10 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:11"> <p>Fleming <em>The Mythology of Work</em>, chapter 3 passim.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:11" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 11 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:12"> <p>Fleming <em>The Mythology of Work</em>, 116 ff.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:12" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 12 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:13"> <p>Fleming discusses theory, ideology, and speech in chapter 6.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:13" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 13 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:14"> <p>For example, Amazon has “<a href="http://www.amazon.jobs/principles">leadership principles</a>.”&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:14" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 14 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:15"> <p>Dyer-Witheford <em>Cyber-Proletariat</em>, 21.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:15" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 15 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:16"> <p>Dyer-Witheford <em>Cyber-Proletariat</em>, 12.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:16" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 16 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:17"> <p>Contrast Dyer-Witheford with Peter Mason’s <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/17/postcapitalism-end-of-capitalism-begun">recent article</a>: <blockquote>By creating millions of networked people, financially exploited but with the whole of human intelligence one thumb-swipe away, info-capitalism has created a new agent of change in history: the educated and connected human being.</blockquote>&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:17" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 17 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:18"> <p>Gavin Mueller and Nick Dyer-Witheford. “<a href="https://viewpointmag.com/2015/09/08/cyber-proletariat-an-interview-with-nick-dyer-witheford/">Cyber-Proletariat: An Interview with Nick Dyer-Witheford</a>”, <em>Viewpoint Magazine</em> September 8, 2015.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:18" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 18 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:23"> <p>Fleming <em>The Mythology of Work</em>, 182.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:23" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 19 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:24"> <p>Dyer-Witheford references Marshall Berman’s essay “<a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0140109625/?tag=contrivers-review-20">All that is solid, melts into the air</a>” (Simon &amp; Schuster, 1992).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:24" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 20 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:25"> <p>Marcuse <em>One Dimensional Man</em>, 84.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:25" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 21 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:26"> <p>Dyer-Witheford <em>Cyber-Proletariat</em>, 103.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:26" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 22 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:27"> <p>Dyer-Witheford <em>Cyber-Proletariat</em>, 105-6.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:27" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 23 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:28"> <p>Dyer-Witheford <em>Cyber-Proletariat</em>, 107-108.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:28" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 24 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:29"> <p>Dyer-Witheford <em>Cyber-Proletariat</em>, 63.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:29" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 25 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:30"> <p>On the “non-aggression pact,” my term, please see David Harvey’s discussion of post-War Keynsian policies in <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0199283273/?tag=contrivers-review-20">A Brief History of Neoliberalism</a></em> (Oxford, 2007): <blockquote>A ‘class compromise’ between capital and labour was generally advocated as the key guarantor of domestic peace and tranquillity (10).</blockquote>&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:30" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 26 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:31"> <p>This is also the question that opens Kathi Weeks, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0822351129/?tag=contrivers-review-20">The Problem with Work</a>. <a href="http://libcom.org/library/problem-work-kathi-weeks">Available online</a>. See also the review by <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2012/04/the-politics-of-getting-a-life/">Peter Frase</a>. On the link between feminism and the critique of wage labour, which is very much at stake in Weeks, see <a href="http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/10/15/a-feminism-where-leaning-in-means-leaning-on-others/">a recent interview</a> with Nancy Fraser.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:31" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 27 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:32"> <p>Jürgen Habermas, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0262581027/?tag=contrivers-review-20">The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity</a></em> (MIT Press, 1990).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:32" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 28 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:33"> <p>See Václav Havel <em>et al.</em>, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0873327616/?tag=contrivers-review-20">The Power of the Powerless</a></em> (Routledge, 1985) and George Konrad, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0151078203/?tag=contrivers-review-20">AntiPolitics</a></em> (Harcourt, 1984). These two texts merely scratch the surface of a theoretically and existentially rich literature. For a more synthetic overview, see Vladimir Tismăneanu, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0743212827/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Reinventing Politics</a></em> (Free Press, 2000).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:33" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 29 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Luke Thomas Mergner) http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/16/ Work Sat, 23 Jan 2016 16:38:00 +0000 The Sums Do Not Add Up, But We Keep Counting http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/15/ In his review, McIvor questions the appeal to an ever lengthening list of celebrity theorists, while finding value in the critique of “apocalyptic fantasies” and Cremin’s prescriptive alternatives. <p>Marx and Engels opened <a href="https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/">the Communist Manifesto of 1848</a> with the famous claim that Europe was haunted by the “specter” of Communism, which all the powers of the present age were gathering to exorcise—a “holy alliance of “Pope and Tsar… French Radicals and German police-spies.” Almost 170 years after this text was published, however, it is the specter of Capitalism that seems ever-present. We sense this specter whenever we update or refine our resume, in an attempt to survive the next round of layoffs. We feel its haunting presence when we rush to purchase consumer goods, the luster of which immediately fades next to the product that we have not yet bought. The specter even reaches into our intimate lives when we reflect on the “investments” that we are making in our significant others and whether we should consider a reallocation of our affective funds. Our lives seem to be completely suffused by the work of appeasing the ghostly figure of Capital and by the anxieties attendant to our unsure position within the marketplace.</p> <p>This haunting predicament is the subject of <a href="http://www.arts.auckland.ac.nz/people/ccre010">Colin Cremin’s</a> recent book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0745334377/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Totalled: Salvaging the Future from the Wreckage of Capitalism</em></a>. Cremin’s book is a thoughtful and appropriately pained reflection on the dissatisfying cycle of production and consumption in which we seem to be caught. Cremin’s analysis is rooted in post-war critical theory, with extensive forays into the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan, which has also been deployed within the contemporary critique of capitalism offered by neo-communists such as <a href="http://www.egs.edu/faculty/slavoj-zizek/biography/">Slavoj Žižek</a> and <a href="http://jdeanicite.typepad.com">Jodi Dean</a> (to whom Cremin is also indebted).</p> <p>Cremin’s title says a lot. Life is “totalled” because market pressures and norms seem totalizing, reaching into every nook and cranny of our daily existence. Yet “totalled” also refers to the increasingly apparent wreckage attendant to capitalist forms of life—the inequality, social anxiety, and environmental destruction that would seem to indicate the need for alternative of social and economic organization. Yet it is exactly at that point that things get fuzzy. Capitalism appears to be a phantom (or a god) that can be appeased but not vanquished, and there appears to be no “holy alliance” opposing it, only unabashed revelers and a few scattered priests praying for mercy. We are in a situation, therefore, of impasse.</p> <p>Cremin begins by unpacking how this felt sense of impasse increasingly feeds apocalyptic fantasies of total collapse. Fantasies of an apocalypse are compelling precisely because we cannot imagine the intermediary steps between a dissatisfying present and a more humane future. The apocalypse (whether pictured in terms of ecological collapse, economic cataclysm, or religious revelation) reflects a desire to either start fresh or to simply and quickly get it all over with.</p> <p>Yet such fantasies are not entirely new, nor is the sense of impasse that has haunted Leftist thinking on and off since the Manifesto itself was written.<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> Feelings of impasse stem from an incredible sense of social possibility—in part born from the unleashing of immense productive forces under capitalism—that is endlessly frustrated by a seeming inability to turn those productive forces towards humanizing ends. Whether due to the absence of a universal political class such as the proletariat, or to the rise of a benumbing and distracting consumer society, or to the export-substitution of misery in which the sharpest contradictions of capitalism are effectively hidden from view, there is a palpable sense that there is no way out from what Max Weber called the “iron cage” of capitalist rationality or what Wendy Brown calls the “plastic cage” of late modernity.<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup></p> <p>If the sense of impasse is not new—if Marx or Weber could pick up this book and grimace or nod in recognition then it must be asked: what <em>is</em>new here? Cremin endlessly quotes mid-20<sup>th</sup> century critics of consumer capitalism such as <a href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/adorno/">Theodor Adorno</a> and <a href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/marcuse/">Herbert Marcuse</a>, but are these sources still illuminating today? What has changed in integrated world capitalism since the 1960s, and have we developed any resources for resistance or imagined alternatives that can ward off the frustrations of impasse and the disastrous longings for apocalypse?</p> <p>In part Cremin’s book is valuable because it confronts directly the growing appeal of apocalyptic fantasies of escape or collapse. Apocalyptic fantasies are understandable yet politically poisonous. For Cremin, they are little more than “opiates, a comforting drug that dulls us into thinking capital will collapse by itself under its own contradictions or that nature will have her revenge and wipe the slate clean”.<sup id="fnref:cremin_3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:cremin_3" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> As tempting as these drugs may be, they postpone the harder work of articulating and instantiating viable alternatives to the dissatisfying status quo. Cremin, to his credit, details some of these alternatives in the final chapter, but the preponderance of the book is dedicated to depicting the evils of capitalism rather than the attractiveness of an alternative.</p> <p>Perhaps Cremin does not spend much time on the attractiveness of an alternative because the company he keeps is already on board. Cremin draws upon a variety of sources from the academic left, including the critical theory of Marcuse and Adorno, the postmodernism of <a href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/derrida/">Derrida</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fredric_Jameson">Jameson</a>, the psychoanalysis of [Lacan], the neo-Marxism of <a href="http://www.egs.edu/faculty/alain-badiou/biography/">Badiou</a>, and the Lacanian Leninism of Zizek and Dean. This list of proper names—and there are many, many others—is both a strength and weakness of Cremin’s approach. Each chapter is stuffed with a litany of names that are generally familiar to graduate school Leftists but which will probably be lost on many of Cremin’s potential readers. The deluge of names is useful insofar as it shows the array of voices that can be seen as resources for contemporary social criticism. Yet at times Cremin appears to be more of a reader of capitalism’s critics than of capitalism itself. At its worst, the deluge of names seems like an ostentatious display of Left critic “brands.” Names such as Zizek, Badiou, <a href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/foucault/">Foucault</a>, <a href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/deleuze/">Deleuze</a>, Lacan, and Jameson appear as baubles that serve the same essential purpose as pricey fashion items—as symbols of status. Cremin would be better off spending less time among the choir and more time amongst the (potential) congregation.</p> <p>Cremin is at his best when he is more rooted in the everyday lived experiences of producers and consumers within late capitalism. Chapter 4 (“Production Spiral”) and Chapter 5 (“Consumption Spiral”) are, as such, the heart of the book in the eyes of this reader. Chapter 4 describes how relations of production have shifted in the post-Fordist world of employment. Building on the work of sociologists of contemporary capitalism such as Boltanski and Chiapello, Cremin notes how changing norms of employment, while ostensibly intended as a response to the stultifying, bureaucratic forms of employment in the middle of the 20<sup>th</sup> century, have ended up “liberating” individuals into the perpetual anxiety of “employability”.<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">6</a></sup> Because we are “are never employable enough”—never fully assured that we can offer what the market desires—contemporary practices of production trap us in a desperate cycle of self-improvement and self-aggrandizement.<sup id="fnref:cremin_85"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:cremin_85" rel="footnote">4</a></sup> As a result, we have engendered a level of “possessive individualism and narcissism more pronounced than perhaps at any time in human history”.<sup id="fnref:cremin_81"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:cremin_81" rel="footnote">5</a></sup></p> <p>In Chapter 5, Cremin describes how the use of social media deepens the totalizing sense of capture by capital, and how the discourse and policies of austerity simultaneously serve to diminish expectations and reduce desires not only for substantive social change but also for the more basic social promises inherent to the Keynesian, regulated capitalism of the middle 20<sup>th</sup> century. These sections are both fresh and inspired, and they show how the demands of consumer capitalism reach ever deeper into our daily lives. Social media, which might in a certain light be seen as a tool for social protest, is more often a benumbing diversion—a “repository into which energies, vitiated in daily life, are further drained and dissipated as we surf and seek distractions”.<sup id="fnref:cremin_109"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:cremin_109" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> This chapter is a useful corrective to the techno-optimism that has infected far too many people today. Our tools will not create a new society for us; Only the human intent behind our tools can accomplish this task.</p> <p>In the final two chapters, Cremin defends the idea of utopia—rejecting the “realistic” utopianism of Erik Olin Wright<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">8</a></sup>—and restates the basic “clash of axioms” between capitalism’s insistence on the private appropriation of surplus value and a communist alternative of common ownership. It is here that Cremin moves beyond the “grim news” about capitalism and focuses attention on what a concrete politics of resistance to capitalism might actually look like.<sup id="fnref:cremin_2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:cremin_2" rel="footnote">9</a></sup>. Cremin, unlike some who still invoke the ideal of communism, does not insist on an “anti-institutional” purity of revolutionary struggle, which often denies the importance of concrete reformist steps<sup id="fnref:cremin_160"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:cremin_160" rel="footnote">10</a></sup> along with the value of working within current institutional structures (which Marx himself acknowledged, referring to it as “win[ning] the battle of democracy”). Along these lines Cremin argues that the only way out of impasse is to articulate a “politics of demands,” which might actually appeal to those caught up in the endless cycle of alienating production and benumbing consumption.</p> <p>In laying out his vision of a politics of demands, Cremin argues for a “minimal-maximum” strategy. Political actors would advocate for a “minimal” package of basic reforms that could concretely address the pathologies of late capitalism. Cremin maintains, however, that this list of concrete reforms—including the (re)nationalization of essential industries and services, progressive tax reform, and an end to student and household debt—has to be linked to the ultimate horizon of communist revolution, i.e. the abolition of private property and ending of unnecessary exploitation and repression. Ultimately it is that (far distant) horizon that will keep these reforms from becoming well-intentioned half measures that do not touch the basic axiom of capitalism.</p> <p>Cremin ends his book with an acknowledgment that these “minimal” reforms have to be <em>desired</em>, which is an acknowledgment that the work of social reform and eventually of revolution requires the creation of subjects who desire these changes rather than remaining content with the diminishing expectations on offer within consumer capitalist society. Cremin’s mini-max strategy or similar strategies for social change, then, have to speak to the growing sense of dissatisfaction with the current order while simultaneously cultivating a desire for concrete alternatives that might dispel the anxiety, frustration, uncertainty and pain inherent to a life lived under the specter of late capitalism. It is uncertain, however, whether work like Cremin’s can effectively speak to this dissatisfaction or mobilize this discontent, in part because he spends so much time addressing the relatively privileged circles of the academic left—who have both far more tenure lines and far fewer connections to the working class than in Marx’s time. It is quite possible that political coalitions could be built on the basis of many of the concrete demands contained in Cremin’s book, but where and how can we put our shoulder to this wheel? These questions remain unanswered in <em>Totalled</em>.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>For more on “impasse,” see Lauren Berlant, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0822351110/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Cruel Optimism</a></em> (Duke University Press, 2011).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>Weber, <em><a href="https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/weber/protestant-ethic/">The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism</a></em> (Penguin, 2002)<em>; Wendy Brown, </em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/069102989X/?tag=contrivers-review-20">States of Injury</a>* (Princeton University Press, 1995).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:cremin_3"> <p>Cremin <em>Totalled</em>, p. 3.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:cremin_3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:cremin_85"> <p>Cremin <em>Totalled</em>, p. 85. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:cremin_85" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:cremin_81"> <p>Cremin <em>Totalled</em>, p. 81. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:cremin_81" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1844671658/?tag=contrivers-review-20">The New Spirit of Capitalism</a></em> (London: Verso, 2007)&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:cremin_109"> <p>Cremin <em>Totalled</em>, p. 109.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:cremin_109" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p><a href="http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~wright/">Erik Olin Wright</a>, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/184467617X/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Envisioning Real Utopias</a></em> (London: Verso, 2010)&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:cremin_2"> <p>Cremin <em>Totalled</em>, p. 2.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:cremin_2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:cremin_160"> <p>Cremin <em>Totalled</em>, p. 160-1.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:cremin_160" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 10 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (David McIvor) http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/15/ Thu, 25 Jun 2015 19:19:54 +0000 Class as Literary Style http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/14/ Franco Moretti's capital-owning bourgeoisie begins by denying its existence as a class, and ends by staging its disappearance into an existential problem of modernity. The book shows how a literary style—even a style that resolves itself apparently into a lack of style, into pure efficiency or usefulness, can create a whole mindset that has the power to resolve or suspend social contradictions. <p>In the critical matrix of race, class, gender, and sexuality, class is the category most often quietly left out. Class is an embarrassment from every angle and perspective&mdash;to inherit wealth is a crime against meritocracy, but even the working class, Marx’s supposed protagonist of history, has dispersed among the sad strip malls of our postindustrial landscape. We lack a useful political language to describe class hierarchy: liberal centrists view class identity as only a temporary position that exists to be transcended in the glorious process of upward mobility, and Left cultural theorists avoid it because, frankly, class struggle hasn’t been all that glamorous over the last 80 years or so. Class critique lacks the oppositional moral clarity of racial oppression and the civil rights movement, the clear international majority position of the women’s struggle, or the apotheosis of individual desire in the butterfly-emergence of the “coming out” story. Even more confusingly, sometimes the people in the lower classes who might stand to benefit the most from class analysis are the most strongly invested in avoiding the rhetoric of class and worshipping the wealthy (see for example Bruce Robbins’s analysis in <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Upward-Mobility-Common-Good-Literary-ebook/dp/B002WJM4LU/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Upward Mobility and the Common Good</em></a> of Carolyn Steedman’s memoir of the Tory working class.)</p> <p>Given the empty slipperiness of the language of social class, theorists are turning instead to the policy-wonk language of statistics, which offers some distinct advantages. When you compare the privileges of the wealthy 1% to the slow downward mobility of the 99%, the unfairness of capital concentration and the threat to the creed of liberal equality is patently clear. But the language of statistics doesn’t help us understand the character of the new class that is benefitting from the second rise of capitalism. Will it flaunt its wealth or disguise it? Thomas Piketty’s warning in <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Capital-Twenty-First-Century-Thomas-Piketty/dp/067443000X/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Capital in the Twenty-First Century</em></a> of a return of the dominance of inherited capital is a cogent economic story, but to express what it means to live in an unequal capitalist society, he has to turn to the past, to the traditional strivers in Austen and Balzac novels.</p> <p>Many Marxist histories (think of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Age-Capital-Eric-Hobsbawm/dp/0679772545/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Eric Hobsbawm</a> or <a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Making-English-Working-Class/dp/0394703227/?tag=contrivers-review-20">E.P. Thompson</a>) approach the problem of class by trying to pin down the shifting identity and allegiances of the working class. In his brief, compelling volume <em>The Bourgeois</em>, by contrast, Franco Moretti focuses on the class that supposedly has come to rule the modern era&mdash;the capital-owning bourgeoisie. What he finds is a class that begins by denying its existence as a class, and ends by staging its disappearance into an existential problem of modernity. “Capitalism is more powerful than ever, but its human embodiment seems to have vanished,” he posits.<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> (Perhaps this is an overstatement: I suspect there are still plenty of good citizens who consciously subscribe to values of the historical bourgeoisie, especially in Midwestern country clubs.) The term “bourgeois” is both central to social history and oddly evanescent. Unlike the aristocracy with its ranks and hierarchies, the bourgeoisie is distinguished by its social “permeability”<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> and openness, its identification with the individual virtues of frugality and hard work, and its uneasy negotiation between the greedy aspects of capitalism and imperialism and the insistence on personal responsibility. When we replace the word “bourgeois” with the term “middle class,” things get even fuzzier. Moretti suggests that the term “middle class” may have arisen because of a desire in Victorian Britain that there be a class to fix the problem of what Disraeli called the “Two nations&mdash;the rich and the poor” that threatened to rip the country apart in the 1840s.<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> But then the term “middle class” takes on a second, occluding function, “shielding [bourgeois power] from direct criticism” behind a false vision of social balance.<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">4</a></sup></p> <p>To this important and yet amorphous task, Moretti brings some unique critical resources. There is no other American critic writing today (with the exception of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Fredric-Jameson/e/B001J3J6O8/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Fredric Jameson</a>) who can command his breathtaking international range or his willingness to make large theoretical interventions. Moretti is a true member of that vanishing breed, the critic of comparative literature. His methodology is flexible, combining narratology and the history of genre, Marxist historiography, and statistical readings of archives made possible by new digital search techniques. Moretti invented the term “distant reading” and helped build the <a href="http://litlab.stanford.edu">Stanford Literary Lab</a>, whose members he credits with some of the archival patterns he analyzes. Moretti’s use of the work done by Literary Lab foregrounds a collaboration that’s often left unspoken in critical work&mdash;the relation between the critical star and the labor of grad students and researchers. Thus the book is a personal tour de force, a return to Moretti’s own long-standing interests in geography and social class, and a demonstration piece of the kind of humanist inquiry that can be facilitated, at least a little, by historically trained researchers engaging in what he calls “grammatical pars[ing]”<sup id="fnref:5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:5" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> and others call (somewhat appallingly) “text mining.”</p> <p>The linguistic “distant reading” patterns Moretti focuses on in this book are not just long historical trends. They are also visible on the level of single words in texts&mdash;especially, in this book, the use of gerunds and adjectives in literary sources. While Moretti mostly draws on traditional intellectual histories in his readings, he also cites the Literary Lab’s number-crunching to suggest, for instance, that Defoe’s<em>Robinson Crusoe</em> uses an “extremely rare verb form”,<sup id="fnref:6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:6" rel="footnote">6</a></sup> the past gerund (“having secured…”) more than other novels;<sup id="fnref:7"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:7" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> and that <em>Pilgrim’s Progress</em> uses the word “things” as much as 10 times more than other books in his corpus.<sup id="fnref:8"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:8" rel="footnote">8</a></sup> Yet his arguments ultimately rely more on stylistic analysis than on quantitative data. In that ur-text of bourgeois individualism, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0141439823/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Robinson Crusoe</em></a>, he posits the persistence of the verb structure “past gerund; past tense; infinitive” (as in “<em>having stowed</em> my boat very safe, I <em>went</em> on shore <em>to look</em> about me…”) creates a “rhythm of continuity”<sup id="fnref:9"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:9" rel="footnote">9</a></sup> that reinscribes daily activity without examining the ultimate goal of that activity. The goal here is to show how a literary style&mdash;even a style that resolves itself apparently into a lack of style, into pure efficiency or usefulness, can create a whole mindset that has the power to resolve or suspend social contradictions. Out of this prose style comes the habit of a bourgeois “culture”&mdash;an equally ephemeral word, to describe an ephemeral concept, and yet one that, in conjuring up the illusion of self-evident solidity, has real social effects. Moretti’s analysis of class through the vector of literary style is thus not primarily a sociological or economic inquiry, or even a history of a single national culture&mdash;and thus it captures something those methods cannot.</p> <p>Moretti’s further chapters analyze moments in nineteenth-century prose that he sees as signs of a typically-bourgeois struggle between celebrating individual acquisition and wanting to soften or veil social conflict. He reads Goethe and Flaubert in terms of what he calls “fillers”&mdash;those long passages in which nothing seems to happen, which he calls “the only narrative invention of the entire century”, through which the world is rationalized and cleansed of miracles.<sup id="fnref:10"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:10" rel="footnote">10</a></sup> He addresses the controversy about the rise of free indirect discourse&mdash;is it a sign of amoral freedom from the conventional, or the spread of panoptic surveillance?&mdash;and suggests that the evolution of the novel away from didacticism might have the paradoxical effect of leaving it “impoten[t]” and paralyzed as it drifts toward entropy.<sup id="fnref:11"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:11" rel="footnote">11</a></sup> “The bourgeois vanishing at the moment of capitalism’s triumph”<sup id="fnref:12"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:12" rel="footnote">12</a></sup>&mdash;might both the novel and the bourgeois class have outlived the social conditions that gave rise to them? Moretti sees the British Victorian stress on “earnestness” and “honesty” as the first modern moment of cultural hegemony, a “specifically British answer to a common European problematic”.<sup id="fnref:13"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:13" rel="footnote">13</a></sup> Stressing earnestness (rather than, say, fairness) is a way of asserting that “the objective results of an action are less important than the spirit with which it is done,” thus “<em>preserving</em> the fundamental tonality of bourgeois existence … while <em>endowing it with a sentimental-ethical significance</em>.”<sup id="fnref:14"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:14" rel="footnote">14</a></sup> The ultimate end is the construction of a concept of “Useful knowledge, or: knowledge without freedom”<sup id="fnref:15"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:15" rel="footnote">15</a></sup>&mdash;a goal that will be instantly recognizable to anyone wondering why, for instance, <a href="http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/story/news/politics/2015/02/04/walker-wants-to-scrap-uws-wisconsin-idea/22867963/">Scott Walker would put so much energy into undermining the University of Wisconsin.</a></p> <p>The volume ends suggestively with two alternate teleologies. One depicts uneven developments in novels from Italy, Spain, Poland, and Russia, in which the new bourgeois spirit is not victorious, but rather crushed by the persistence of the old regime. And in the final chapter, an analysis of Ibsen’s plays, the bourgeoisie destroys itself. Ibsen’s capitalist strivers inhabit a world so full of gray zones and ambiguity that it is not “morally legible.&rdquo;<sup id="fnref:16"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:16" rel="footnote">16</a></sup> In Ibsen’s plays, Moretti argues, the realistic hard-working bourgeois epitomized by Robinson Crusoe is symbolically displaced by a Nietzschean “creative destroyer.”<sup id="fnref:17"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:17" rel="footnote">17</a></sup></p> <p>Moretti’s story of the rise and fall of this dominant culture of prose and striving honesty unsurprisingly leaves many questions unanswered. Since capitalism appears still to be intact, was bourgeois culture merely a birth stage that has been superseded by shameless exploitation, and is capitalism now doomed to collapse without that regulatory desire for social harmony? Economically, was there really a stage in which “honest” accumulation preceded creative destruction, or did a predatory primitive accumulation give rise to a more stable financialization (as in Arrighi’s <a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Long-Twentieth-Century-Origins/dp/1844673049/?tag=contrivers-review-20">“systemic cycles of accumulation”</a> shifting over centuries from the Netherlands to England and then the United States) or are both moments still going on simultaneously? From our own perspective, will the bourgeois “creation of a culture of work”&mdash;“the greatest symbolic achievement of the bourgeoisie as a class”<sup id="fnref:18"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:18" rel="footnote">18</a></sup> become increasingly irrelevant in an age of automation that threatens mass structural unemployment? Moretti’s work is a superb and provocative reflection on these problems: while its historical conclusions may or may not prepare us for the analysis of new class structures in the 21st century, its recognition of the elusive nature of bourgeois culture is surely a warning of how difficult that next task will be.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>Franco Moretti, <a href="http://www.versobooks.com/books/1576-the-bourgeois"><em>The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature</em></a> (London: Verso, 2013), p. 1.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>Moretti <em>The Bourgeois</em>, p. 2.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Disraeli">Benjamin Disraeli</a>, <a href="https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3760"><em>Sybil, or the two nations</em></a> (1845).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>Moretti <em>The Bourgeois</em>, p. 12.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p>Moretti <em>The Bourgeois</em>, 125&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:6"> <p>Moretti <em>The Bourgeois</em>, p. 52.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:7"> <p>Moretti <em>The Bourgeois</em>, p. 52 n80.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:7" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:8"> <p>Moretti <em>The Bourgeois</em>, p. 59 n93.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:8" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:9"> <p>Moretti <em>The Bourgeois</em>, 53.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:9" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:10"> <p>Moretti <em>The Bourgeois</em>, p. 79.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:10" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 10 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:11"> <p>Moretti <em>The Bourgeois</em>, p. 100.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:11" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 11 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:12"> <p>Moretti <em>The Bourgeois</em>, p. 113.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:12" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 12 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:13"> <p>Moretti <em>The Bourgeois</em>, p. 134.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:13" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 13 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:14"> <p>Moretti <em>The Bourgeois</em>, p. 132-3; emphasis in original.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:14" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 14 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:15"> <p>Moretti <em>The Bourgeois</em>, p. 137.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:15" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 15 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:16"> <p>Moretti <em>The Bourgeois</em>, p. 178.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:16" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 16 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:17"> <p>Moretti <em>The Bourgeois</em>, p. 185.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:17" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 17 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:18"> <p>Moretti <em>The Bourgeois</em>, p. 43.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:18" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 18 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Eleanor Courtemanche) http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/14/ Mon, 20 Apr 2015 19:35:55 +0000 Territory as Political Technology http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/11/ In Stuart Elden’s new book, *The Birth of Territory*, the key question is “what is the relation between place and power?” <p>Recent news has featured many narratives about “land grabs”: battles over whether the Crimean peninsula and its people are Russian or Ukrainian, multilateral tensions in the South China Sea over new and old marine boundaries and resources, conflicting claims for offshore areas extending to the North Pole instigated by ice-free summers. Such events highlight how important territory is to modern states and peoples. Yet the meanings and practices of territory are often taken for granted in the media and academia alike.</p> <p>In Stuart Elden’s new book, <em>The Birth of Territory</em>, the key question is “what is the relation between place and power?”<sup id="fnref:Elden6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Elden6" rel="footnote">11</a></sup> He seeks to demonstrate the fluid nature of our concept of territory with an historical analysis of the ways in which people and space have been organized in different times and locations. The fluid nature of territory reveals that the present-day definition is not a timeless truth passed down from the beginnings of civilization. Even in our current geopolitical landscape there are many variations on the theme of territory. If observed in detail, this spectrum of themes manifests a variety of arrangements and articulations of land, people, and power. The dominant definitions of territory, as realized in bounded, sovereign nation-states, are certainly not monolithic or singular. Moreover, the great control and commonplace violence that states wield in procuring and governing the borders and interior of established territories, begs further interrogation of power and space. Elden contributes to this interrogation by arguing that “[t]he idea of a territory as a bounded space under the control of a group of people, with fixed boundaries, exclusive internal sovereignty, and equal external status is historically produced.”<sup id="fnref:Elden7"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Elden7" rel="footnote">12</a></sup> </p> <p>Elden is well positioned for this task. He teaches both political theory and geography at the University of Warwick. He is the author of several books, chapters, and articles on territory<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> but also writes extensively on Foucault, Heidegger, Kant, Lefebvre, and Shakespeare. He also maintains a blog, <a href="http://progressivegeographies.com/">Progressive Geographies</a>. In all his prolific writing, an extreme precision and depth can be found to his historical research and the same is true in his tome, <em>The Birth of Territory.</em></p> <p>Geography scholarship has produced many detailed interrogations of commonly used geographical concepts such as space<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">2</a></sup>, place<sup id="fnref:5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:5" rel="footnote">3</a></sup>, scale<sup id="fnref:6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:6" rel="footnote">4</a></sup>, and nature<sup id="fnref:7"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:7" rel="footnote">5</a></sup>, revealing inherent political and social valuations and constructions, as well as contentious and shifting meanings. Territory is an inherently spatial and political category and therefore fundamentally within the geographer’s sphere. Yet Elden’s book goes deeper in examining the concept territory than most of the preceding scholarship. Utilizing a Foucauldian methodology, tracing the genealogy of ideas through discourse analysis, Elden delves into a multitude of western historical texts to study territory as a concept that is “historically examined rather than simply differently ordered at different times.”<sup id="fnref:Elden8"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Elden8" rel="footnote">13</a></sup> Like Foucault, Elden is thoroughly centered on Western thought for this research, which he accounts for by stating “a study has to begin somewhere, and the kind of approach being offered here requires some limits of temporality, scope, and especially linguistic competence.”<sup id="fnref:Elden9"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Elden9" rel="footnote">14</a></sup> How non-Western thought contributes, or doesn’t contribute, to the historical production of territory is a question we can only hope future geography scholarship will address.</p> <p>The contemporary understanding of territory, as “a politically and geographically bounded space belonging to, or under the control of, a state”,<sup id="fnref:Elden10"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Elden10" rel="footnote">15</a></sup> has commonly been traced back to the 1648 Westphalia Treaties. Elden starts his investigations much further back than this, with Ancient Greek ideas of <em>polis</em>, <em>khora,</em> <em>demos</em>, and <em>autochthony</em>, “the idea that men sprang up fully formed, born of the earth” as expressed in myth and tragedy, treatises and dialogues.<sup id="fnref:Elden1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Elden1" rel="footnote">6</a></sup> His sprawling textual study is careful and precise, critiquing and retranslating other scholar’s translations, “[t]he <em>polis</em> and the <em>khora</em> are two terms that defy simplistic translation, and need to be understood in the different contexts of texts and time.”<sup id="fnref:Elden2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Elden2" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> Such etymological attention is a key component of his method. Although this book is laid out chronologically, Elden traces many of the Greek concepts to later texts throughout the chapters. Texts and concepts are woven together across time and space to elucidate important relationships between spatial thinkers and their (pre)territorial thoughts.</p> <p>Through the Roman Era and Middle Age texts of Aquinas, Dante’s <em>Commedia</em> and <em>Monarchia</em>, Papal Bulls and disputes, Elden maps out large shifts in thought, such as fundamental changes in the relations between the church and secular rulers or the rediscovery of Greek works. Yet, there is also time spent on details and tangential political thoughts, which adds a great deal of context to the discussion. But this also distracts at times. Portions of the book don’t feel like they are gaining much ground in tracing lineages that will benefit our understanding of territory and a reader feels a bit adrift in some of the finer points about the two swords of spiritual and temporal power or various disputes between kings, popes and political theorists. Nevertheless, these diverging paths are a tribute to the antiteleological underpinnings of the book: political thoughts and their material outcomes in time and space are not all leading to some inevitable modern era apex. Methodologically, this should be celebrated, even if in practice it seems tedious. Patience is paid off with the fourteenth-century synthesis of Aristotelian thought with Roman law brings together “two strands of ancient thought in a modern context [whose] importance is fundamental to the developments that followed from this time.” This leads to an understanding between <em>territorium</em> and jurisdiction, “<em>territorium</em> is the very thing over which political power is exercised; it becomes the object of rule itself” aligning it with something sufficiently close to our understanding of territory that it can be translated as such.<sup id="fnref:Elden3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Elden3" rel="footnote">8</a></sup></p> <p>The European “discovery” of the New World compelled new relationships between occupation and land ownership. Where lands are unknown, calculation works best to divide it and signatories to the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Tordesillas">Treaty of Tordesillas</a> utilized increasingly precise longitudinal measurement to divide up oceans and continents. Elden proceeds onto Renaissance era texts to elucidate some Machiavelli’s and Bodin’s thoughts on territorial ordering and conquest as well as territory’s correlations with property, sovereignty, and politics. The seventeenth century writings of Althusius provide a definition of territory, which is a bounded place of where laws are exercised. After Descartes, Hobbes, and Locke offer modern early political debates, Elden ends with a brief section analyzing territory as a political technology. “[T]he notion of space that emerges in the scientific revolution is defined by extension. Territory can be understood as the political counterpart to this notion of calculating space, and can therefore be thought of as <em>the extension of the state’s power</em>.”<sup id="fnref:Elden4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Elden4" rel="footnote">9</a></sup> It is here that the upsetting of territory as a fixed and stable concept finds a way to be operationalized as an opening to further study of “the nation and the technical” and Elden hopes that this book “will provide a historical and theoretical background to those studies.”<sup id="fnref:Elden5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:Elden5" rel="footnote">10</a></sup></p> <p><em>The Birth of Territory</em> is already being used for further studies (having been cited at least 47 times). It has also won the 2013 Association of American Geographers Meridian Book Award and was awarded an inaugural book award by journal Global Discourse. These are proof that such a volume on territory was in need of writing. However, it should be noted that the bulk of this book is most relevant to a subset of political historians that are territorial specialists. A larger audience will surely embrace derivative scholarship that utilizes Elden’s book in a more broadly engaging and distilled format.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:2"> <p>Stuart Elden, “<a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8330.2007.00554.x/abstract">Terror and Territory</a>,” <em>Antipode</em> 39, no. 5 (2007): 821–845; “<a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8330.2007.00554.x/abstractGop">Land, Terrain, Territory</a>” <em>Progress in Human Geography</em> 34, no. 6 (2010): 799–817; “<a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14650041003717517#abstract">Thinking Territory Historically</a>,” <em>Geopolitics</em> 15, no. 4 (2010): 757–761; “<a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2010.02.013">Thinking Territory Politically</a>,” <em>Political Geography</em> 29, no. 4 (2010): 238–241.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>Deborah Massey, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1412903629/?tag=contrivers-review-20">For Space</a></em> (London: Sage, 2005); Nigel J. Thrift, “<a href="http://tcs.sagepub.com/content/23/2-3/139.abstract">Space</a>,” <em>Theory, Culture &amp; Society</em> 23, no. 2-3 (2006): 139–55.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p>Edward Casey, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Fate-Place-Philosophical-History/dp/0520276035/?tag=contrivers-review-20">The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History</a></em> (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:6"> <p>Sallie A. Marston, John Paul Jones III, and Keith Woodward, “<a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1475-5661.2005.00180.x/abstract">Human Geography Without Scale</a>,” <em>Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers</em> 30, no. 4 (2005): 416-432.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:7"> <p>Noel Castree, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Nature-Ideas-Geography-Noel-Castree/dp/0415339057/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Nature</a></em> (New York: Routledge, 2005); Donna Haraway, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Simians-Cyborgs-Women-Reinvention-Nature/dp/0415903874/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature</a></em> (London: Free Association Books, 1991); Bruno Latour, <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Politics-Nature-Bring-Sciences-Democracy/dp/0674013476/?tag=contrivers-review-20">Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy</a></em> (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:7" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Elden1"> <p>Elden, <em>Birth of Territory</em>, p. 22.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Elden1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Elden2"> <p>Elden, <em>Birth of Territory</em>, p. 52.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Elden2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Elden3"> <p>Elden, <em>Birth of Territory</em>, p. 220.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Elden3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Elden4"> <p>Elden, <em>Birth of Territory</em>, p. 322. (Available <a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=oSM3AAAAQBAJ&amp;pg=PA322">online</a>.)&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Elden4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Elden5"> <p>Elden, <em>Birth of Territory</em>, p. 323.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Elden5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 10 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Elden6"> <p>Elden, <em>Birth of Territory</em>, p.10.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Elden6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 11 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Elden7"> <p>Elden, <em>Birth of Territory</em>, p. 18.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Elden7" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 12 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Elden8"> <p>Elden, <em>Birth of Territory</em>, p. 6.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Elden8" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 13 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Elden9"> <p>Elden, <em>Birth of Territory</em>, p. 21.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Elden9" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 14 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:Elden10"> <p>Elden, <em>Birth of Territory</em>, p. 39.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:Elden10" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 15 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Katherine Sammler) http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/11/ Mon, 02 Mar 2015 17:51:19 +0000 Seeing Like An App http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/6/ Evgeny Morozov’s newest book is best read as marginalia rather than as any systematic contribution to a social theory of technology. It is a book very much of the moment, focused on challenging the mistakes of a narrow field of interlocutors, all of whom publish, like Morozov, on the fashionable topic of technology journalism. <p>Evgeny Morozov’s newest book, <em>Click Here</em>, is best read as marginalia rather than as any systematic contribution to a social theory of technology. It is a book very much of the moment, focused on challenging the mistakes of a narrow field of interlocutors, all of whom publish, like Morozov, on the fashionable topic of technology journalism. The question which they, like Morozov, seek to address is what technology, and specifically the Internet, signify today. Morozov has made a career out of caustic reviews which deconstruct the grand narratives of techno-journalism. Given the chance to offer a counter-narrative in a longer format, however, he disappoints. This is a shame because our society needs to have a broader conversation on the power and limits of technology. The book makes gestures towards such a conversation, but it never seems as important as skewering the next techno-evangelist.</p> <p>Let’s start with the laudable: Morozov criticizes a way of talking about technology, which he calls “Internet-centrism,” that is conceptually <em>monolythic,</em> treating all developments as a seamless story about the Internet. By relying on notions of rupture instead of socio-historical continuity, they are <em>ahistorical</em>, suggesting that there is a clear division between the pre- and post-Internet worlds. Finally, this talk is <em>teleological</em>, apt to mistake technological ends for human purpose. </p> <p>Having dispatched the historiographical errors early in the book, much of the rest is devoted to demonstrating how the fetishism of modern technology has trade-offs in politics, criminology, or health. Morozov identifies a dynamic, which he calls “solutionism,” and defines it as the advocacy of practices developed in the technology industry that can and should be applied to solve a wide range of unrelated inefficiencies. Such inefficiencies, he counters, seen from a different perspective, might be virtues. This form of algorithmic administration undermines the exercise of judgment nescessary for a functioning democracy.</p> <p>Though this is far from a pessimistic book, it is a text that proceeds negatively, moving from one victim to another. Morozov is an oppositional writer; he thrives on his opponents’ mistakes. Too often the vigor of his critique undercuts the relevance of his opponents. For example, he never justifies the thrashings given to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clay_Shirky">Clay Shirky</a> or <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Jarvis">Jeff Jarvis</a>, who seem unlikely influences on middle America. Rarely do you find a writer spilling so much ink on subjects of so little apparent value.</p> <p>The book follows a broad rhetorical strategy of attacking the sources and historiography of technology journalists. He raises genuine concerns about how to write rigorous, methodologically supported journalism. Meanwhile, his own claim to authority is grounded in the suggestion that he is a better reader of ideas and history. However, the book is fundamentally weakened by clumsy paraphrasing of complex scholarly debates. Take for example a discussion of a history of the printing press<sup id="fnref:10"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:10" rel="footnote">1</a></sup>. This is useful for Morozov to demonstrate how “Internet-centrists” misread their historical evidence and thus weaken their claims. The reader is left with the impression that there is one, methodologically secure way to write history. In another instance, Morozov cites critics of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rational_choice_theory">rational choice theory</a>, but this interdisciplinary argument is far more complicated than his recounting suggests.<sup id="fnref:greenshapiro"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:greenshapiro" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> Such citations are used instrumentally to dismiss opposing arguments, but in a highly misleading way. </p> <p>The book has a more general problem citing authority figures. When rebutting putative scientific claims, Morozov is supported by “sociologist X,” “philosopher Y,” and “political scientist Z.” The rhetorical grab for authority is obvious.<sup id="fnref:pitkin"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:pitkin" rel="footnote">10</a></sup> And it is constantly undermined by glancing references to very difficult thinkers and texts—Latour, Horkheimer and Adorno, Nietzsche—who would be difficult to capture honestly in several hundred words much less a sentence. Several times, the book trots out egregious examples of anachronism.<sup id="fnref:condorcet"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:condorcet" rel="footnote">11</a></sup> Morozov is lining up his toy soldiers at the expense of rigorous scholarship.</p> <p>Other reviewers have treated the book with detached politeness, damning it, as they say, with faint praise. Despite its shortcomings, there is an important point to be excavated from the mess and the book could be an entry into a deeper conversation about the significance of technological change.</p> <p>The change wrought by the automobile went deeper than offering us a quicker transportation, like a faster horse. From its modest beginnings as a curiosity, the automobile has locked our society into a trajectory with all of the economic and ecological consequences that follow from it. It has taken the threat of irreversible ecological disaster for us to doubt the virtues of the car and, despite the immediate threat, we continue to drive. Today we have an infrastructure devoted to individual car owners with paved roads, highways, and gas stations. The current situation was not inevitable. It took a change in behavior and a series of political choices to arrive at where we are today: a situation where it is nearly impossible to survive without an automobile. Such examples are powerful reminders that social change can be path-dependent; Once the initial path is taken, incentives for behavior are changed to make it unlikely that society will later reconsider its initial choice. </p> <p>For many, the “Internet,” to borrow Morovoz’s scare quotes, marks another technological watershed.<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> Like the automobile, new communication technology lowers costs, changes incentives and behaviors, and alters the social practices of everyday life. It may be that his desire to deconstruct techno-evangelism blinds him to the ways in which we may actually be in the midst of epochal change. By looking at technology as a comprehensive process, rather than as a set of discrete products as Morozov does, we can discern the contours of this new world. He recognizes this potential when he writes of technology as “an intellectual template for how the world itself should be organized,”<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">4</a></sup> or technology as a new human telos.<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> But Morozov avoids the full significance of his argument especially regarding the internalization of technological norms. What is appearing is a new way of thinking about the self, its purpose and meaning, and the world. We risk entering a new practice of subjectivity, a new technology of the self, in which the primary language of subjectification is technics.<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">6</a></sup></p> <p>The closest the book gets to addressing these issues is in the final two substantive chapters. There Morozov attacks the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantified_Self">self-quantification movement</a>, or the use of tools to amass data about our lives on a microscopic level. Morozov criticizes the trend from several angles, but each converge around the fear that self-quantification impoverishes our sense of what human life means, that our self-understanding might be reduced to a stream of data points. “The movement’s fundamental assumption is that the numbers can reveal a core and stable self&hellip;”<sup id="fnref:6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:6" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> Morovoz does not extend his argument past data collection to the myriad forms we have for sharing data, and what such new forms imply about intersubjectivity. Whether it concerns the loss of privacy inherent in Facebook or self-quantification or the new opportunities to self-brand, the behavior that he connects to data-collection might be a broader trend endemic to many activities. Learning new ways to represent ourselves intra- and inter-subjectively is tantamount to learning new ways of being in the world. </p> <p>Morozov is a <a href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/communitarianism/">communitarian</a>, though he may not self-identify as such. However, his predominant concern with ethical judgments and his passing references to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_J._Sandel">Sandel</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martha_Nussbaum">Nussbaum</a>, and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Oakeshott">Oakeshott</a> are telling. The first two thinkers, Morozov informs us, are the good sort of liberal theorist, who do not place the individual over virtue or the good life.<sup id="fnref:9"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:9" rel="footnote">9</a></sup> He takes for granted that the Aristotelian Good is preferable to liberal pluralism and it’s respect for individual ends.<sup id="fnref:7"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:7" rel="footnote">8</a></sup> Politically, then, it seems obvious to him that self-quantification yields impoverished human lives, since it interrupts self-cultivation demanded of fully-engaged citizens. The essential facts of political life and citizenship are not affected by technological change. He has no need to develop a deeper theory of the subject, of society, or of history since his assumptions about the human condition, borrowed from communitarians, provide the justification for assuming that technology yields malformed lives. If, however, one is suspicious of the conservative overtones, Morozov’s rejection of political consequences and changing paradigms of identity is less convincing. </p> <p>This brings us to the final and most telling lacuna of <em>Click Here</em>: in a book about technology, consumerism, and the megalomaniacal ambition of Silicon Valley, Morozov makes no mention of Capitalism, or to economics as a systemic force at all. To someone following a different political conversation in America today, questions of economic justice are central to our narrative about the last decade. The conversation around the uses of technology is largely a problem of the wealthy who can afford to indulge their time and money in the gadgets necessary for self-quantification. Privacy is a luxury; the burden of our surveillance security state falls largely on the poor. I doubt a book concerned with such iniquities would bother with Jeff Jarvis.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:10"> <p>Morozov, <em>Click Here</em> 52.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:10" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:greenshapiro"> <p>Ibid 41. Political Scientists Green and Shapiro wrote a strong critique of Rational Choice scholarship, accusing it of, among other things, stripping the richness of the human experience out of political science. However convincing one finds Green and Shapiro’s argument, it is clear that many scholars continue to produce studies that rely heavily on rational choice models. From this, we might reasonably conclude that many smart people do not find Green and Shapiro convincing. At the same time, Morozov, glossing his hobbyhorse Clay Shirky, caricatures rational choice scholars. They already know that they are relying on over-simplified models of human decision-making. That is the point. By critiquing a weak version of his target, and over-estimating the strength of his support, he confuses whatever point he is trying to make about Internet-centrism. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:greenshapiro" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:1"> <p>“[H]istory itself is deemed irrelevant, for ‘the Internet” is seen as representing a distinct rupture with everything that has come before—a previously unreachable high point of civilization” (ibid 44).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>Ibid 25.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>“’The Internet,’ thus, is believed to possess an inherent nature, a logic, a teleology, and that nature is rapidly unfolding in front of us” (ibid 24).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>I am borrowing this language from the late Foucault. See Michael Foucault “The Subject and Power” in <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1565848012/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>The Essential Foucault</em></a> (The New Press, 2003) and <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0679724699/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>The History of Sexuality, vol. 1: An Introduction</em></a> (Vintage, 1990). These citations are meant to indicate where an engagement on this point might be fruitful. Foucault’s last decade is <a href="http://progressivegeographies.com/2014/09/05/foucaults-last-decade-update-13/">an eagerly awaited book length topic</a>.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:6"> <p>Ibid 232.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:7"> <p>Ibid 343.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:7" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:9"> <p>Ibid 343. This one of the strangest passages in the book.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:9" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:pitkin"> <p>In a section critiquing a variety of ways in which technology fetishists misunderstand the electoral process—a crucial point—Morozov cites cites the venerable <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanna_Fenichel_Pitkin">Hanna Pitkin</a> to distinguish agency and delegate models of political representation (Morozov 105). All of this in a handful of sentences, which strongly implies that Pitkin is the last word on the subject. For anyone who has studied the voluminous literature in political theory on <a href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/political-representation">representation</a>, Pitkin is respected but hardly conversation-stopping.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:pitkin" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 10 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:condorcet"> <p>A case in point is the discussion of Condorcet, a French political theorist who, reacting to the French Revolution, wrote about tyranny and representation in republican governments. But in Morozov’s telling, Condorcet advocated the “quantified self” <em>avant la lettre</em>. Nietzsche, meanwhile, was the first to rebel against “the quantification fetish” (p. 243-5). This is an anachronistic oversimplification of the worst kind. He asks “[w]hat would Nietzsche make of Google’s Eric Schmidt&hellip;?” This is a bad way to use history. For a more careful discussion of Condorcet’s contributions to democratic theory, see Pierre Rosanvallon, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0521713838/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Counter-Democracy: Politics in an Age of Distrust</em></a> (Cambridge, 2008) and Nadia Urbinati, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0226842797/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Representative Democracy: Principles and Geneology</em></a> (Chicago, 2008). For a discussion of anachronism and the use of history, Quentin Skinner, “Meaning and understanding in the history of ideas” in <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0521589266/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Visions of Politics, vol. 1: Regarding Method</em></a> (Cambridge, 2002).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:condorcet" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 11 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Luke Thomas Mergner) http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/6/ Technology Tue, 09 Sep 2014 13:58:07 +0000 The Marxist Imagination http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/5/ A review of Benjamin Kunkels' book, Utopia or Bust. <p>Leftist thinkers, writers, and activists are now expressing a sense of urgency that had been absent from their discourse for quite some time. The immediacy of social, political, and environmental problems was not unacknowledged before, but there was a sense of despair and resignation on the Left during the dismantling of the welfare state, the deregulation of financial institutions, the plummeting efficacy of organized labor, post 9-11 military and intelligence operations, and a whole host of other events and programs that fit more or less under the umbrella of “neoliberalism.” As many have noted, this resignation seemed to change after the economic collapse of 2007–2008, and in part the Left’s newly invigorated outlook can be seen as a response to global economic instability. The impact of this crisis on so many people could not help but foster a greater recognition throughout society of many social, economic, and political issues that previously could be ignored much less effort.<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup></p> <p>As is made clear by its title, Benjamin Kunkel’s new book, <em>Utopia or Bust, A Guide to the Present Crisis</em>, is both driven by this sense of urgency and aims to give it some intellectual coherence. Kunkel is a successful novelist, a founding editor of the magazine <em>n+1</em>, and, as he says in his introduction, a self-appointed “Marxist public intellectual.”<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> The book is a collection of previously published essays, and each chapter deals with a specific Marxist thinker from the late twentieth century. Through the explanations of these thinkers, Kunkel describes trends in Marxist thought that could encourage this Leftist drive, giving it a practical direction and trends that could inhibit this force by adding even greater incoherence and disorientation within the intellectual foundations of the Left. Overall, the book is useful as a very partial (in both senses of the word) outline of the recent legacy of Marxist thought in relation to the growing sense among the Left that they can now imagine and create strategies and programs for political and economic change. It is part an injunction to imagine an alternative to capitalism, part suggestion for how this might be done, and part warning about what elements of the intellectual tradition of Marxism might be inhibit the urgency for change.</p> <p>According to some pundits, this revitalization of Leftist, particularly Marxist ideas is something that exists only in the imagination. In a lengthy essay for <a href="http://www.thenation.com/article/179337/thomas-piketty-and-millennial-marxists-scourge-inequality"><em>The Nation</em></a> Timothy Shenk dismisses outright the “rebirth of Marxism,” attributing the enthusiasm for recent work on Marx to New York writers’ “fondness for navel gazing.”<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> Shenk wrongly attributes new interest in Marxist ideas to this narcissism, but he’s correct in suggesting that the rather small, often New York-centered world of radical intellectuals and writers on the Left offers more unthinking praise than constructive criticism. This has certainly been the case surrounding the publicity for <em>Utopia or Bust</em>. For instance, <a href="http://www.vulture.com/2014/03/benjamin-kunkel-marxist-novel-utopia-or-bust.html">David Wallace-Wells describes</a> Kunkel’s motivation for researching and writing his essays: </p> <blockquote> <p>“[T]o play the role of tutor, as a former precocious success; and scholar, as a former anti-academic; and man of consequence, as a lifelong man of letters who seems secretly to have feared turing into a dilettante.”<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">4</a></sup> </p> </blockquote> <p>The description of Kunkel as tutor and man of letters turned man of consequence indicates a nostalgia and elitism that could only be appealing and meaningful to those in close proximity to the centers of influence in the small world of radical Leftist politics.</p> <p>I am speaking here only of the way Kunkel has been represented, and no one is wholly responsible for how they are represented by others. As I noted above, Kunkel describes himself as a Marxist public intellectual but one whose public is admittedly small in number. He is modest about the essays, noting their purely explanatory nature and claiming no original contribution to Marxist thought. However, Kunkel also claims an ambitious goal for his book, namely contributing to the intellectual orientation for the project of replacing capitalism. There is something to be said for such ambition, but a work that aims to provide such an intellectual orientation demands to be read in some critical fashion not as a pretense for giving praise to fellow Ivy Leaguers and those who move in the small New York intellectual scene. A thoughtful critique is necessary if any renewed interest in Marxism is to be more than the enthusiasm and imaginary product of a community inclined to overindulge in mutual admiration.</p> <p>The relationship between imagination and action is one of the most important ideas in Kunkel’s book, and, if nothing else, the essays serve as an excellent reminder of the vexed relationship between these concepts in tradition of Marxist thought. For this reason, I focus on the essays that deal most explicitly with them. </p> <p>The best essay in the book explores the work of Frederic Jameson, the Marxist literary and cultural critic. Perhaps due to the nature of academic specialization, philosophers, and literary critics in the academy often only single out what Jameson says concerning topics in those fields. Kunkel takes a broader view of Jameson’s contributions, succeeding where many scholars fail. He offers the reader an acute description of how the style and form of Jameson’s work contributes to his philosophy and criticism, and connecting these components in a lucid fashion is no mean feat. It takes a mind attuned to literary complexity as both craft and object of theory to understand the importance of form in Jameson’s philosophy&mdash;the predominance of the conditional mood or the seemingly endless qualifications attached to any declaration, for example.<sup id="fnref:5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:5" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> Jameson’s stylistic command, his breadth of knowledge, and ability for intellectual synthesis make him in Kunkel’s view the master anatomist of the modern and postmodern world, and, for those already familiar with Jameson’s work, Kunkel’s explication and enthusiasm can help them recall and reexamine what makes Jameson a vital critic of culture in late capitalism.<sup id="fnref:6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:6" rel="footnote">6</a></sup> </p> <p>For those unfamiliar with Jameson’s work, the reader will also find a guide to some of the important developments in Western Marxism that Jameson’s work represented. This includes commentary on the strange migration of Marxist thinkers to the rarefied halls of academia and a greater emphasis on cultural than economic analysis. For many Marxists and their critics, these trends have suggested a stagnation of Marxist thought and flight from the world action and politics. If part of Kunkel’s project is to orient and encourage the growing urgency of a revitalized Left, then the reader might rightly question how Jameson’s scholarly legacy can contribute to political action now. Kunkel is aware of this question, and he argues Jameson preserved Marxist thought for a new generation, offering fertile ground for developing an intellectual framework for action.<sup id="fnref:7"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:7" rel="footnote">7</a></sup> The reader can evaluate Jameson’s place in the history of Marxism as they like, but in the context of <em>Utopia or Bust</em> it’s not clear why the similarly abstruse and complex theorizations of Slavoj Žižek and Boris Groys are treated much more severely in the last two chapters than Jameson is in the second. Like Jameson, Žižek and Groys connect aesthetic and cultural productions to larger claims about the political world. Kunkel claims that Žižek and Groys offer a Marxism that can only stifle the urgency of the Left. </p> <p><a href="http://www.egs.edu/faculty/slavoj-Žižek/biography/">Žižek</a> is perhaps the most publicly well-known Marxist thinker, and he has garnered criticism and praise for his “baroque”&mdash;as Kunkel calls it&mdash;combination of Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory and Marxism. <a href="http://as.nyu.edu/object/aboutas.globalprofessor.BorisGroys">Groys</a> is less the intellectual celebrity. He works as a scholar and philosopher of aesthetics and media. In these thinkers Kunkel describes a Marxist worldview that he sees as historically and materially vacuous. The two thinkers represent a worldview defined by the extremes of what we might call the empty imagination (Žižek) and the full but solipsistic imagination (Groys). Kunkel argues that both communism and capitalism are empty terms in Žižek’s work and points out that Žižek leaves them “without worldly instantiation or conceptual content.”<sup id="fnref:8"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:8" rel="footnote">8</a></sup> Given Žižek’s outspoken calls for political change, to a degree this failure to provide clarity and specificity does fall on his shoulders. He rightly criticizes the way Žižek the philosopher has recently become lost to Žižek the minor intellectual celebrity. However, Žižek’s contribution to Marxist thought is given short shrift. </p> <p>This feature of an empty imagination stems from a desire to avoid deterministic, reductive planning evidenced in many political movements throughout history. In Žižek, urgency turns into endless digressions, strident calls for political revolution not reform, and the use of intellectual celebrity as a soap-box for making hyperbolic and outrageous claims.<sup id="fnref:9"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:9" rel="footnote">9</a></sup> If radical politics is strategy and programs, or “how to get power and what to do with it,” Kunkel argues Žižek not only fails to contribute to these essential components of political change but inhibits the ability to imagine an alternative world to capitalism in the same way capitalism itself creates such inhibitions.<sup id="fnref:10"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:10" rel="footnote">10</a></sup> A similar logic operates in his critique of Groys. </p> <p>Groys sees the artistic will as something akin to the Nietzschean will to power.<sup id="fnref:11"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:11" rel="footnote">11</a></sup> When given form in art, criticism, and philosophy Groys believes this will “opens up ‘an imaginary perspective of limitless life, in which all decisions lose their urgency’.”<sup id="fnref:12"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:12" rel="footnote">12</a></sup> Kunkel argues that this vision of limitless life is as meaningless as the “unmeaning sameness he ascribes to capital,” so the urgency for political action part of a “more materialist outlook” is again lost by reproducing the logic of capitalism.<sup id="fnref:13"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:13" rel="footnote">13</a></sup> Groys’ limitless imagination is really a state of schizophrenia and/or catatonia; one either freezes before all the possibilities of life, unable to act or is only capable of muttering in an inane, senseless way, overcome by infinite possibilities. Whatever Groys’ imaginary perspective is, it is not politics from Kunkel’s point of view. The empty and solipsistic imagination for Kunkel lack the material and practical content upon which radical politics must be based. Kunkel values the relation between political, economic, and aesthetic production, but he believes the products given form by these extremes of imagination undercut the urgency that might connect political, economic, and aesthetic production in a vital and mutually reinforcing fashion.</p> <p>Given the perplexing nature of Žižek’s calls for political change in various media outlets, Kunkel’s criticism of is certainly justified. In his role as a public figure, Žižek has pointlessly created confusion and has failed to to offer clear, specific, and rigorous ideas. As a philosopher, writer, and scholar, however, this criticism not only misses the mark but undervalues what Žižek does contribute to the very project of orienting Leftist thought to which Kunkel himself wishes to contribute. The ambiguity in Žižek’s thought, his refusal and/or inability to offer clear formulations of both communism and capitalism, and his vexing performances as Marxist jester and provocateur are effects of the very dynamic that made Žižek, especially in his early work, an important contributor to twentieth-century Marxism, namely a relentless interrogation of the social nature of the imagination and desire. If Žižek represents an imaginary communist world without content, it is because he distrusts the objects of desire that originate from the social world of capitalism. Whether people desire flat-screen televisions, the right to own guns, or political change, those desires originate in a social world dominated by capital. Desire for these objects is layered and contradictory and deserves close scrutiny, a point worth remembering. Importantly, Kunkel’s criticism of Žižek raises the larger question about how any political movement deals with internal criticism. </p> <p>In a chapter on the anthropologist and activist <a href="https://twitter.com/davidgraeber">David Graeber</a><sup id="fnref:14"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:14" rel="footnote">14</a></sup>, Kunkel takes aim at the distrust of everything touched by capital and the idea that institutions and practices like banking, money, and debt are irredeemable. He extends Graeber’s historical point that markets and money preceded capitalism, and they have quite effectively established a complex system of exchange relations that “must in some degree characterize ‘any complex society.’”<sup id="fnref:15"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:15" rel="footnote">15</a></sup> Here Kunkel strikes the reformist note that he criticizes as absent in Žižek. Institutions of credit, debt, and markets are abstract systems that can serve economic justice. This argument is made in the context of “spontaneous” and “direct action” exemplified by the Occupy movement. Like Žižek’s empty concept of communism, an overemphasis on organic, self-organizing protests threatens “to stifle, rather than inspire a developed program for the Left.”<sup id="fnref:16"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:16" rel="footnote">16</a></sup> Again, the Leftist imagination looms large here as Kunkel calls for setting it to work on economic institutions of debt and credit that can “prize apart debt and hierarchy, exchange and inequality.”<sup id="fnref:17"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:17" rel="footnote">17</a></sup> The systems of inequality are unlikely to unravel on their own, Kunkel argues, so the urgency to imagine other forms credit stems from the exigencies of the moment in his view.</p> <p>The critiques of Žižek, Groys, and the direct action of Occupy all operate on a familiar logic: one sets out to critique a problem but the form of critique and the concepts used turn out to replicate some feature of that very problem. In Žižek’s case, he critiques the way capitalism blocks the ability to imagine another world, but the “featureless” nature of his communism and capitalism create the same “blockage” to the imagination that he critiques as a feature of capitalism.<sup id="fnref:18"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:18" rel="footnote">18</a></sup> The criticism is not entirely off the mark, but it operates on a reductive either/or logic. Either Žižek’s work contributes to the political action and the urgency that drives it, or it stifles that action and urgency. In his commentary on direct action, Kunkel shows a more nuanced understanding, indicating how and when such political action can be useful. The criticisms of Groys and Žižek are warranted to a degree, but they are rendered in reductive, absolutist terms and lack the nuance Kunkel shows elsewhere. First, it’s possible that Žižek’s and Groys’ work may neither encourage nor stifle any urgency for political action. They may ultimately be irrelevant. Second, the choice between promoting and inhibiting action and urgency is only valid if all meaningful political action is defined as programs and strategies. Kunkel’s reading of Žižek highlights the limits of his thought for his programs and strategies, but this is not the only way one might meaningfully contribute to the intellectual orientation of the Left. His analysis of Jameson and direct action in the Graeber chapter reflect that he is aware of this fact; Jameson preserved the Marxist legacy and the practices of spontaneous organization have served as reminder that society “is the active creation of its constituents.”<sup id="fnref:19"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:19" rel="footnote">19</a></sup> Despite these qualifications, the either/or logic remains a limitation of the book as a whole. The reader is introduced into this logical structure through the very title, <em>Utopia or Bust</em>. While this limitation is not debilitating, it is important to keep in mind because the logical and rhetorical structure can be naturalized into an absolute truth as the urgency of the moment often puts blinders on individuals in the shape of this logic. </p> <p>Kunkel may be correct in claiming that the Left can no longer content itself with the “blank proposition that another world is possible” and asking amidst the many failures of capitalism, “which world do we want?” However, <em>Utopia or Bust</em> does move beyond the limiting either/or logic of its title, but there are indications in the book that its author is not confined by this way of thinking. Whether he moves beyond those limitations in future writings remains an open question. </p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>Signs of this recognition and urgency can be seen in the media attention garnered Thomas Picketty’s scholarly work on the inequality and the distribution of wealth. If Picketty’s work appeared at earlier time, it might have gone unnoticed. <em>The New York Times</em> actually published “expert” opinions on the question, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/03/30/was-marx-right">“Was Marx Right?”</a>&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>Benjamin Kunkel, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1781683271/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Utopia or Bust</em></a>, 1.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>Timothy Shenk, “Thomas Piketty and Millenial Marxists on the Scourge of Inequality,” <em>The Nation</em>, April 14, 2014. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>David Wallace-Wells, “How Benjamin Kunkel Went from Novelist to Marxist Public Intellectual,” <em>Vulture</em>, March 11, 2014. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p>Kunkel, 66. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:6"> <p>Kunkel, 68, 73. “In what rival body of work is there more of the contemporary world to see?”&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:7"> <p>Kunkel, 73.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:7" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:8"> <p>Kunkel, 142.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:8" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:9"> <p>Kunkel, 144.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:9" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:10"> <p>Kunkel, 141, 142. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:10" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 10 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:11"> <p>Kunkel, 149.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:11" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 11 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:12"> <p>Kunkel, 165-166.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:12" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 12 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:13"> <p>Kunkel, 165, 168.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:13" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 13 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:14"> <p>Graeber states on his twitter profile that he engages in anarchist actions like the Occupy movement but refuses to be identified as “anarchist.” &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:14" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 14 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:15"> <p>Kunkel, 133. Graeber makes this argument in <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1612191290/?tag=contrivers-review-20"><em>Debt: The First 5,000 Years</em></a>, and Kunkel is primarily concerned with this text. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:15" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 15 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:16"> <p>Kunkel, 133.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:16" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 16 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:17"> <p>Ibid.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:17" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 17 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:18"> <p>Kunkel, 72. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:18" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 18 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:19"> <p>Kunkel, 134.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:19" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 19 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Pete Sinnott, Jr.) http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/5/ Marxism Thu, 24 Jul 2014 06:26:16 +0000