Tag Archives: Alain Badiou

Marx! The Spectre is Still Haunting Us.

Just a few lines of thoughts and links that have been coming up recently.

Terry and I went to an interesting talk/reading group the other day at Xero, Kline and Coma, Pil and Galia Kollectiv‘s gallery. The talks had been organised by POCA, a research group exploring many themes but the one we were at was looking into the possibility of creating an antihumanist system for curating and whether this is possible. Central to antihumanism is the rejection of the human as an autonomous subject rather that humanity is historically relative and metaphysical. I’m still grappling with this but can be understood (I think) to reject the notion that a person stands independent and outside of expeience; knowledge and meaning is than perceived through analysis of the object beyond them. Empiricism, such as science. Science derrives meaning by experiential experiment. I suppose this is saying that the human precedes meaning. People like Marx on the other hand believes that humans are formed by the conditions they find themselves in and therefore an analysis of the whole is what is called for. This is what Capital attempts to do and why it goes beyond being just an economic work. One sticking point for antihumanists is the notion of inalienable human rights or the sovereignty of the individual, the notion that one has the right to do this and have that.

‘The young Karl Marx criticised the project of political emancipation, embodied in the form of human rights,
as symptomatic of the very dehumanisation it was intended to oppose. Marx argued that individuals are constantly in conflict with one another because of their egotism, supposedly inhererent under capitalism, and rights are necessary to protect them from each other. True emancipation, he asserted, could only come through the establishment of communism, which abolishes the private ownership of all means of production. While the mature Marx may have retained a belief in the inevitability of progress, he also became more forceful in his criticism of human rights as idealist or utopian. For the mature Marx, humanity is an unreal abstraction: because rights themselves are abstract, the justice and equality they protect is also abstract, permitting extreme inequalities in reality.’

This view is picked up on by Alan Badiou and Marx’s conception of the ‘free’ labourer being the crucial factor that turns a society towards a capitalist epoch. Anything is possible as long as we stay within the constrains of possibility. That is I am free to sell my labour-power to whoever but I have no option in whether or not. Freedom as bondage. Zizek also picks up on this in his book violence.

Where this now brings us to to Louis Althusser. Althusser is famous, apart for strangleing his wife, for teaching Alan Badiou, Ettiene Balibar, Jacques Rancierre among others and it is with Rancierre that he co-authored the book reading capital. This can very basically be seen as trying to remove what was left of an humanist aspect of Marx’s writing out of Capital. One online resource is here (which also has lots of other bits). A key text though is the one you will find on the POCA website under anti-humanist curating. Not read this yet but had a crash course in it on the night and still trying to get to grips with things so if you see glaring holes in my above analysis please point them out!

This is I think something that we will all relate to and understand as anti-humanism seems to point toward an inherent equality in the subject that does not need to be moralised but is rather like math 1=1 as such (this may be my most wild assertion here). The project of extracting meaning from Marx’s capital is one we have taken up and I think we would do well to follow these strands. You can listen to the previous seminars on the POCA website too. A good summary can be found on the venerable wikipedia

‘Althusser believes that Marx’s work is fundamentally incompatible with its antecedents because it is built on a ground-breaking epistemology that rejects the distinction between subject and object. In opposition to empiricism, Althusser claims that Marx’s philosophy, dialectical materialism, counters the theory of knowledge as vision with a theory of knowledge as production.[15] On the empiricist view, a knowing subject encounters a real object and uncovers its essence by means of abstraction.[16]

On the assumption that thought has a direct engagement with reality, or an unmediated vision of a ‘real’ object, the empiricist believes that the truth of knowledge lies in the correspondence of a subject’s thought to an object that is external to thought itself.[17] By contrast, Althusser claims to find latent in Marx’s work a view of knowledge as “theoretical practice“. For Althusser, theoretical practice takes place entirely within the
realm of thought, working upon theoretical objects and never coming into direct contact with the real object that it aims to know.[18] Knowledge is not discovered, but rather produced by way of three “Generalities”: I, the “raw material” of pre-scientific ideas, abstractions and facts; II, a conceptual framework (or “problematic”) brought to bear upon these; III, the finished product of a transformed theoretical entity, concrete knowledge.[19]

On this view, the validity of knowledge is not guaranteed by its correspondence to something external to itself; because Marx’s historical materialism is a science, it contains its own internal methods of proof.[20] It is therefore not governed by interests of society, class, ideology or politics, and is distinct from the economic superstructure.’

In terms of the rejection of ideology this is particularly of interest in the Homeland project the corpus of Bloch’s work being a Utopian Humanist one. Where does this take us then?


Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism

At Chisenhale Gallery 17/11/2010

Hi guys went to this tonight. Was really good, if you get chance to see him talk, do! Here are some notes from it, maybe this is a good idea for other lectures we all go to, maybe not. I’ll amble through some of his main points and occasionally link in others.

He starts with trying to relate the talk to Hito Steyerl’s film on at Chisenhale currently Crash.

This idea of a crash (post 9/11 and 2008, has left us with ideological junk.

He describes the crash as a failure of a reality system

In speaking of this reality system, that of capitalism and what constitutes it he uses the term hyperstitia – that the reality of capitalism is in essence the reality of a belief system. It is a system of beliefs about beliefs, all knitted together with an impenetrable confidence (although one that is fundamentally never defined.)

(Zachary Formwalt speaks of capital being invisible – it has no discernable substance.)

As such we are victims of an audacious confidence trick ie. the current co-illation use illocutionary force in order to sustain that. They say that ‘the current financial crisis was caused by over investment in the private sector’, we all know that this is bullshit, it was the bankers but the more they repeat this, the more that it becomes a truism. The media produces a disjunct. We experience cognitively the everyday, but the media reports something else. Therefore, people have, for example, no agent for the anger that we all feel about the bank bailout. That anger has no agent when 60% of broadsheets are produced by PR and the Unions are also to close to business.

He speaks of capitalism, after the crash (although he refutes the ‘after’ we have entered the crash but are still very much within) as existing more aggressively now than ever before. This is a shock doctrine upon a shock doctrine.

He discusses the idea of crash to tie into Hito Steyerls show but he prefers the imagery of where in Disney cartoons the character runs off a cliff and then remains in the air. Now, we have no ground beneath our feet and we should fall, but the nature of capitalism (persisting) and the nature of this innate confidence being something that holds us in the air.

Fisher says that he thinks also that Anti-capitalist movements have to be brought much closer to work. So many people attend protests on a Saturday and then return to jobs which may compromise that. How do we revive politics about work?

Of now he speaks positively. To imagine that in 1975 it would have been absolutely unthinkable that a decade later, the UK’s national industries would be privatised etc etc etc. Within a decade something went from unthinkable to inevitable. So what will we make inevitable?

These cuts are an opportunity. Compared to neo-liberalism and ideology where reality was dictated, where people knew exactly what they were doing because they were led to believe that the capitalist system was reality, without it we now know nothing. There has been no dominant ideology since modernity, especially post-modernity and definitely now when even neo-liberal ideology has shown itself to be fundamentally corrupt. Now we are in a stage of knowing nothing, and that the time of not knowing is the time for politics, for strategic optimism and hope.

Badiou and many others speak of retaining a certain sentiment of communism (aside of what it became and what it still could be) a communism of resource or a communism of autonomous sentiment. Badiou speaks of Art as an anticipation of the political event. He speaks of three things that we should work towards in order to begin to start to substantiate this new communism.

  1. Be in concrete relationship with local political activity (not party political). Practical political experiments in the locality because in the locality we experience a heightened sense of politics, personally, that we cannot affect anywhere else.
  2. B e creatively active in assuming contemporary notions of communal activity. Producing, nurturing, with others a creative intellectual space which is free of the hands of the state and of the market.
  3. Participate in the invention of new forms of presentation.
  4. TO SYNTHESIZE 1,2, AND 3.

I put the Badiou bits in whilst I was doing this, the rest is Mark Fisher!

David Harvey’s Spaces of Hope

Started reading David Harvey’s Spaces of Hope which is a good introduction for me on quite a few concepts of Marx and his work. Its interesting how Harvey introduces the book through his experience of teaching a module on Marx’s Capital (Volume 1) every year since 1971. At the time it was not the done thing in America but managed to go unnoticed for nearly a decade as it was taught in the geography department and was entitled Reading Capital. Harvey has managed to accumulate a unique position in doing so of peoples reactions to the text.

Spaces of Hope

specifically focuses on the spatial questions raised by Marx’s text, drawing out the importance space, geography and location has to the advancement and accumulation of capital, illustrated most simply by such methods of accumulation as buying cheaply in one market to sell at a premium in another. What Harvey is aiming to raise is the importance of the spatial to capital, how it is often been overlooked in Marx and I dare say how it may offer a space of resistance. Importantly this space also becomes the arena where class struggle is played out.

‘The geographical element in the Manifesto has to a large degree been ignored… When it has been the focus of attention it has often been treated as unproblematic in relation to political action… it is vital to recognize (as the Manifesto so clearly does) the ways in which geographical reorderings and restructurings, spatial strategies and geopolitical elements, uneven geographical developments, and the like, are vital aspects to the accumulation of capital and the dynamics of class struggle, both historically and today.’

He goes on to say how this account must be developed further, now, to develop more sophisticated understandings of bourgeois power and the suppression of workers rights.

This brings me at this point to two strands of thoughts for development. Firstly a clear call has been made to understand deeper the processes which shape capital accumulation (and invariably at its opposite pole deprivation) and also the question of class and the conception of work and labour. For me these form key themes which all of us share.

If we start with the latter points, that of class and labour it brings us nicely to what terry mentioned before, Mark Fisher. Totally interesting guy but something which stuck with me from Terry is who Mark talks of work which manages to go beyond class conceptions in their most commonly conceived forms. Instead and emphasis is put on the act of labour through which to unite. If we are to follow how Marx conceived of the working class it was as individuals who seal their labour for a wage and do not own the means of production of their labour. I think it is this in essence that Fisher gets at without any contentious class definitions. Indeed the process of defining ones class may only serve to divide and alienate a relatively united body of workers beyond the pale of recognition towards their shared goals and ideals. Adam Smiths term ‘the division of labour’ takes on a whole new meaning in this sense. Indeed the latest efforts to further push a wedge between ‘the people’ can be found in the Iain Duncan Smiths new conception of the benefit system Universal Credit. Cleverly disguised in name as an apparent socialist dream come true, it becomes devilishly clear that the intentions of the biggest overhaul of the welfare state is nothing short of an ideological attack on the conception of work and a workers rights therein. the rhetoric which accompanies this great upheaval of state benefit positions universal credit firmly within neo-liberal doctrine. The main points of which is a virtual ‘criminalisation’ of the work-less and unemployed and a concerted effort to further redact the commonality of waged workers. Indeed the increased number of social classifications employed by government to define its population such as the newly created managerial class serve to further alienate one from the other by creating false consciousnesses of differing interest and identity. This restructuring of the social space amounts to the removal of a workers right to choose their place of labour and in short is the ‘expropriation of the labourer’ which Marx speaks of – it is the removal of the commons from the worker not physically but conceptionally.

Likewise for university fees (I really need to extend this point but am running out of steam. At a later date! [Procrastination is resistance!])

What is interesting here is this initial request by Harvey to update our understanding of Marx has already been taken by the architect Keller Easterling in her book Enduring Innocence. In this book Easterling describes neo-liberal processes of capital accumulation through the expropriation of space by citing six contemporary examples, or stories as she calls them. One such story is that of the Love Boat, a holiday cruise ship that sails from South Korea to North Korea, and gains entry into some of North Korea’s most important and spiritual sites – a process that would seem impossible but is unbelievably true. How such contracts can be achieved in the quest to secure profit, which would fail around any other negotiating table, are based on certain jurisdictional ambiguities. Easterling argues that these ‘spatial products’ as she calls them, can only come about through the maintenance of righteousness which is built upon a base of excluding contradictory information.

Regimes or worlds of righteous belief are easy to find. Righteousness is a form of violence that most people cultivate. In marriages, families, professions, nations, and other consortiums of power, we are often in the process of recoding worrisome contradictory information to conform to our own story, our theoretical beliefs, the operational lore of our profession.

The ability of these spatial products to glance over political, social, ethical and jurisdictional subtefuges is based on a willingness to exclude problematics and maintain a decor of innocence. What is most important here though is that this protocol is not confined to neo-liberal processes of accumulation but is indeed practiced in most situations of exchange and upheaval. Similarly the guise of resistance can oft be seen to be wearing the mask of innocence and righteousness – it is a monoism of segregated worlds: that of the neoliberal as well as that of the radical. Due to the worrying closeness that forms of resistance can be to processes of capital gain Easterling suggests that effective activism may now rarely look like classic resistance. Indeed resistance need not correspond to that of ‘tragic counterculture with its principled self-valorizations – righteous dispositions they share with war’. What this set of positions risk is the same one as that of the avant-garde where intelligence is successive rather than coexistent.

Problematically for me is I am yet to find where Easterling actual describes what these alternatives may be. Indeed if we are to stay true to Marx when he says ‘philosophers theorise the world, the point is to change it’ (activism as opposed to fatalism) then it would seem that we are obliged to take steps towards nothing short of proletarian revolution. Yet I do not see these two positions as being contradictory but rather wish to embody the state of action that Marx demands but also to find alternatives to traditional forms of resistance in order to eschew the problematics of such actions found therein.

I haven’t watched the talk yet but perhaps this is where Alan Badiou asks whether activist art still has meaning (video link sent by Terry)

The author that Terry pointed us to, Paulo Freire, finds in the emerging global society a new context in which education cannot be indifferent to the reproduction of dominant ideologies and the interrogation of them. Freire shows why an acceptance of fatalism leads to loss of personal and societal freedoms, he argues against “progressive” liberalism and its acceptance of a world where poverty must inevitably coexist with opulence.

This is where I see our position now and think it is important to explore all of these points carefully in what we are uptaking. I am reluctant to use a language of resistance as I see reflected in it valorized self-righteousness which not only mimics the language of capital but also maintains systems of dominant ideologies. Secondly I think that in structuring what may become a syllabus we must as Freire requests interrogate these dominant ideologies and incorporate that into our structure. I think it would be a good idea to start with David Harvey’s lectures as you suggested Dan but also to incorporate the Marx library into this somehow. I think rereadings of Marx with updating is a vital endeavor in the current situation.