Tag Archives: Utopia

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?