Frames /sing


Monthly Archives: April 2009

Having a Beer with Philosophy

Sometimes I regret that philosophy is not done this way, in conversation (was this not the meaning of the Socrates method before it was formalized and staged in dialogues). Tim Thornton tells of a fond memory he had, when he had the fortune of sitting with Davidson in a pub, passing from intermittent dialogue to Dionysus.

Interestingly, this was a conference when Davidson finally came out and said IT, animals don’t have minds:

It was at a conference in Reading in 1996, a last chance to see Quine in this world, an opportunity to watch Dennett get the better of Searle and to hear Davidson say he was tired of being subtle about the matter and that animals really didn’t have minds.

Its interesting because I find in Davidson’s thinking the roots for a pan-psychic presupposition, founded upon a Spinozist grammar of affects. For me such a momentary lack of subtlety is perhaps less of note, for philosophy at times requires subtlety (here, how “mind” is restrictively defined). In this case Davidson seems merely to have claimed something of the order: beliefs cannot be categorically ascribed to animals, an issue he skirts in “The Three Varieties of Knowledge”. As I have argued elsewhere, such ascription must be context dependent, and as such only is a rational linguistic framework upon an already working triangulation that readily occurs in animals, and in us (as we are animals as well). I do though find it significant how we read philosophers when they just come right out and say something that otherwise in theory they were quite careful to step around, it is something like, “Enough with philosophy, this is what I think!” It says something about the authority we grant to thinkers, perhaps like how we do to painters. You have been there, you have looked at it, what do you think (not, what would you argue)? I think that this is the charm and substance of Tim Thornton’s recollection. We can see ourselves there. 

I often think how nice it would be to sit with philosophers of influence, how disappointing perhaps, the knight without his chainmail and shield, but also, so much more understandable.

The “Slave of Love” in Latin Poetry

A Theory of Romanized Subjectivity: Alienation as Traverse

The aim of here is to take survey of the trope servitium amoris, a slave of love, as it appears in three poems of the Roman Love Poets. And to do so such that it reveals both something of the internal dynamics of its function as a trope in poetic form, but also so that the figure itself can be shown to reflect a subjective change in the way that experience qualifies authentic Roman expression, as an objective limit. It is my thought that within the rise of the servitium amoris trope, one can see an internalization of experience, psychologizing the needs and desires of the lover via a hypothetical servitude, drawn from a real social hierarchy, and also a simultaneous segregation of those affects, a personalization of love, setting the lover apart from all other social forms such that as a privatized experience it can be reintegrated into social contexts, via that form. In brief, by borrowing from the form of institutional slavery itself, and expressing its normalized cruelties and humiliations as a private subjectivity, the poet can claim both a freedom from social norms (through this subversion), and also a re-inscription upon those norms (through homology). Through this trope of servitude, the poet explores a new locus of experience, setting forth its grounds, and circumscribing its limits, and it is through this trope that the poet seeks to contextualize his experience within sociability, giving it a language and authenticity.


The adventure begins with Catullus 63, a poem that even in meter, the Galliambic of traditional Attis worship, seems to break radically from the forms of Latin love contemplation; from the start, by invoking the heavy, drum-like repetitions of a formal ceremony, the poet is both calling towards an ancient past, but also a modern break, fusing a primordial and a metropolitan self. Read more of this post

Ever Watch a Leaf Blow?…The Synthesis of Life

Ever watch a leaf blow, and for a flicking moment, out of the corner of your eye, think it is a living thing?

A follow up on: Big Dog: Our Selves, and perhaps on: Anselm’s Proof of God, Wittgenstein’s Lion, Davidson’s Belief

We live in extraordinary times, don’t we?

“The Bit That Never Really Worked”: Davidson’s Concept Dualism

All Language Games are The Same?

 Tim Thorton has found the discussion we were having over his (over a beer) interesting thoughts on Davidson’s Conceptual Dualism. Is it true that Davidson held there to be only two conceptual frameworks, two kinds of causal explanations, the physical and the mental? In his recent post “Davidson, McDowell and Conceptual Dualism”  he quotes Rorty against any notional reduction of the realm of reasons to a sui generis, “forms of intelligibility” or even a “space”. Or course Rorty’s game is that he wants to deprive philosophers of any authoritative position in relation to other discourses. Philosophers have no privileged access to something which is affirmatively “meta” to all else. Therefore for Rorty,

“All language games are sui generis. That is, they are irreducible to one another… But this sense of ‘sui generis’… is philosophically sterile.
If we are trying to give philosophy Wittgensteinian peace, we should do what Dewey did: try to make all the philosophical ‘dichotomies’ look like over dramatizations of the banal fact that different tools serve different purposes.”

Wittgenstein of course  is rather fast and loose with the concept of “language game,” which seems to serve as too much mortor with very little brick, so much so Rorty’s claim that all language games are sui generis amounts to little more than any sub-set of human communications is its own kind, certainly not a very helpful claim.

The question is not whether they are all irreducible to each other, but in what specific way this is so for the concepts of the natural and the reasoned (or the physical and the mental). Tim Thornton questions whether Davidson should be called into this debate, mostly it seems because that in Tim’s view, though there is a homology between Davidson’s Anomalous Monism and McDowell’s position, Davidson’s Conceptual Dualism never really worked:

But there is an important distinction between the McDowellian distinction Rorty criticises and the Davidsonian one that Floris and I used to think about. The Davidson of anomalous monism seems to focus on the mental versus the physical whilst McDowell thinks that reason versus nature is the uber distinction what makes mind versus the natural world seem so problematic. So there’s already a sense that the McDowellian distinction is supposed to be more general than the one in play in Davidson’s (perhaps misleading of his own thoughts) writing about the metaphysics of mind.

It’s supposed to capture something general in the way that reasons connect together, distinct from nomological or statistical subsumption: something that might be common to political discussion and appreciation (if that’s what we’re about) of soccer and carpentry. This general logical difference (a difference in the kind of explanation they support) might form the basis of a reply to Rorty’s challenge. Whether one would want to recruit Davidson to this response seems to me to depend on whether one is focusing on his (it’s the same but different) account of the mind (the bit that first prompts a comparison with Spinoza), or whether one thinks that that bit never really worked but that his account of the role of rationality in content ascription was first rate and floats free. (I took this line in my book on Wittgenstein.)

Rationality Without Triangulation?

I am a bit unclear about this idea that the Conceptual Dualism part of Davidson didn’t ever work. Work to do what? I am even more perplexed that Tim seems to ask that we do away with this deadend “bit” of Davidson (only a bit?), the part that puts him in affinity with Spinoza, and to take hold of his theory of rational ascription. The problem is, I cannot imagine how his theory of rational content ascription gets off the ground without his conceptual dualism firmly in place, since for Davidson our ascriptions of mental content stem directly from our triangulation of Knowledges (“Three Varieties of Knowledge”). The Conceptual Dualism is built right into the structure/fabric of our ability to causally interpret events in the world via an interconnection with events read as behaviors (caused by beliefs). And in subversion of a non-Naturalized approach to these questions, Davidson traces this capacity, perhaps somewhat problematically, below the threshold of the linguistic, something that animals regularly do.

I have not read Tim Thornton’s book (too academically expensive), so I cannot comment in depth upon the line of thinking that he follows there, Wittgenstein on Language and Thought : The Philosophy of Content, but I have to say that given Davidson’s commitment to a Triangulation of Knowledges, its principles of coherence and charity, and a categorical intersubjective leg, I cannot see how the rationality of content ascription “floats free” from the entire view. In fact it is precisely in the ascription of mental content that Wittgenstein and Davidson most greatly diverge, in the famed reasons vs. cause dispute; and it is in ascription itself that I find Wittgenstein inconsistently categorical and rhetorical, as I discuss in “The Trick of Dogs: Etiologic, Affection and Triangulation”. I have my Spinozist stripes, so perhaps Tim’s dismissal of the Davidson/Spinoza comparision out of hand is something I cannot easily abide, but it seems to me that it is not awayfrom Spinoza, but towards him, if we are to make the most out of the groundwork of Davidson’s Triangulation. That is, human beings do not only triangulate knowledge of mental content in terms of propositional sentence ascription, but clearly such ascriptions depend upon a very rich triangulation of affects, the way in which we feel the world as sensical through the assumption that others are the same as us, and the value of events in the world is based upon how others must be experiencing them. And more than this, it is within Spinoza’s “imitation of the affects” that we best understand what Wittgenstein had to say about knowing and pain.

The “moral” Attribute

As Van der Burg points out, Davidson’s difficulty comes from an apparent reduction of the metaphysics of Substance to the phsyical, understanding that scientific materialism itself is a metaphysical position. And as SOH-Dan pointed out in the citation of Davidson in interview, he did not mean to restrict possible Concepts of causation to merely Two. Tim Thornton’s excellent, having-a-beer-inspired suggestion that there may even be a “moral” conceptual causal chain actually points us toward the possibility that Spinoza suppressed the traditional Augustine trinity of ontological attributes, condensing “love” into the conatus and a theory of the affects. What is important about this is that far from the general collapse of all “language games” into family resemblance sui generis  pockets of discussion wherein there is no substantive difference between “talk about soccer or carpentry” and “talk about agreement” is that while talk about the former indeed may exhibit local rules of engagement, talking about the latter actually directs our attention to how agreements between local “language games” can be found, in our experiences and presumptions that others are like us. This does not give philosophers a privileged place above other discourses, but rather gives them a role in the imagination of our solutions, providing architectures that may or may not be built, just as poets write poems that may or may not be sung.

“Let him prepare the soul…”: Disagreement as Amputation

“Let him prepare the soul as a ready sacrifice to the Lord by earnest prayers…For it is not small presumption to dismember the image of God”

– 17th century (?) surgeon’s handbook, on how to advise the patient on the coming amputation

The above quotation is found in the book The Island at the Center of the World, which in often somewhat overly enthused prose tells the compelling story of the Dutch Colony of New Netherland, centered on the island of Manhattan – a forgotten, non-Puritan ideological root, in the tree of American history. An early Capitalist wonderland.

This sentence just haunts in all that it prescribes, evokes and circumscribes. I see its truth echo back down through the history of philosophy, literature and politics. Perhaps to get the sense of it one requires the descriptions of amputation that precede it, the extraordinary experience and act of limb severing:

There were many techniques, all of them hideous. Typically, the patient, fully awake, was placed in a chair with two men holding him down. The doctor would use his hands to “pluck up the skinn and muscles” of the limb in question, then, as one wrote, “we cut the flesh with a razor or incising knife…to the bone, the said bone must be diligently rubbed and scraped with the back of the sayd knife, which back must be purposively made for that effect, to the end of the periost which convereth the bone, may be lesse painful in cutting of the bone. Otherwise it teareth and riveth with the same, so causeth great dolour…This being done, you must saw the bone with a sharpe saw…” Without anaesthetic or sedative the horror was often enough that the patient died before the saw finished its work.

Aside from the cringe-worthy description, I want to point back to the quote at the top of the page. We are told by people like Lacan that there is a Big Other which symbolically constructs our universe. While I don’t favor his theoretical reductions and the dominance of the signifier, I think something is to be said for the general equivalences that map from our experiences of rational coherence, and the coherence of our body as a whole: agreement between persons help constitute a kind of body, not in metaphor, but rather a REAL body which involves the transfer of affects across the boundaries of our limited selves. Experiences literally travel from flesh to flesh, in waves because the mutuality of our flesh makes of us a community. In this way I think often there is an anaesthetic when it comes to occasions of disagreement and dissent, one in which we seldom have an eye upon the living body where amputations are falling. And where there is personal commitment, we often cannot see the extended limbs of sense with which that person is expressing themselves. When the handbook tells “It is no small presumption to dismember the image of God” our eyes must turn to the images of god that populate our mutuality of perceptions. And when we amputate we must really grit our teeth with a sense of just what we are cutting and why.

Cutting At the Body Politic

Now this may lead to some who have great desire for transformation to simply want to grit their teeth for the sake of teeth gritting, and chopping for the sake of chopping, usually those that disassociate themselves from the limbs that they are cutting. The Body Politic is desireously seen as diseased and need of acute address. For these I suspect, aside from the eros of violence there is a dream-for union with a New Body, floating there in the future. So much more I would think that we should look at the bodies around us, trace the lines of affect confluence, the mutualities of perception, the living wholes that shadow through.

I have in mind the example of Antigone who I often return to under questions of morality. She just will not cut that limb of her family as it possesses its own health, and the State will sever her all too willingly. I have in mind the discussions we have had on Kant lately, over at Mikhail’s place [Metaphysics and It Ethical Consequences.; Running The Red Light, Being Late For A Poker Game. ] which seem to come down to not whether Kant’s ethical framing can be rigorously justified, but rather that Kant is saying to those that love him something like “Its no small presumption…” And with this I agree. One disrupts the body with a great weight of consciousness, and should know what it is that one cuts, like the chiseler with marble. Even the experimenters with the body should appreciate the range of their actions, the richness of what they contribute. I have in mind as well the difficult and interesting questions surrounding Apotemnophilia and realize that given this post, though I’ve been putting it off I should probably finally watch Quid pro Quo (I wish they made these kind of transitive movies with more depth): 

It is important to see that even as Apotemnophilics look to sever their bodies, they do so as to form other bodies, microbodies, cross-transfers of wholeness, a kind of reaching of the “image of God” through imperfection. It is notable perhaps that those with the so-called Body integrity identity disorder (BIID) are predominantly white, middle-aged males who form a kind of idealized and banalized core of middle class Western society. A hideous perversion put on us by the perversions of Capitalism as some might have it, or alternate forms of corporeal development, selves made obliquely.

What fascinates me is the search for already present “images of God” body wholes, the circuits of completion that are already operating upon which we bring together our greatest powers. These are the viabilities of rationality, though many of them are nascent to awareness.

As Hölderlin concludes in “Mnemosyne” that last hymn of his sanity:

Himmlische nemlich sind
Namely, the Heavenly are
Unwillig, wenn einer nicht
Unwilling when one does not
Die Seele schonend sich
Take care of their soul
Zusammengenommen, aber er muβ doch; dem
Summoning-it-all-together, but yet he must; for him
Gleich fehlet die Trauer.
Thus lacking is lament.

It is only that “the soul” is ever not something in one’s possession, bled across others in time and space as it must.

The Copiousness of Copies

[click on diagram for larger version]

[Bruno Latour makes this citation correction for the article discussed below: the paper and the theory is Bruno Latour and Adam Lowe and here is the exact reference to the soon to be published version: « The Migration of the Aura – Exploring the Original Through Its Facsimiles », a chapter prepared for Thomas Bartscherer (editor) Switching Codes, University of Chicago Press (2010).]

I’ve been thinking on it for some time, on the back burner. Here is a follow-up diagram to my critique of Latour’s interesting essay on art in the age of rich, digital replication, wherein he points out that the very aura of originality can move from the original work of art. As I pointed out, Latour’s standard for accepting the authority of originality based upon the very fecundity of copy-production as shown through its history (copiousness) failed to account for his negative assessment of the flattening of Holbein’s The Ambassdors, as it had been restored into a photographic cartoon of itself. What is treasured in an original are the traces (copies) of the full-forces of causes that brought it into existence, imprinted there, a causal picture that Latour entirely neglects. We see history imprinted in the material of the original. In this way originalities become keyholes into the past, as well as accountings for nexus points which explain our current compliment of copious states.

“Bad” copies are those that obscure either the germane or discoverable causes, or lack the connective influence to replicate themselves.

The original discussion: The Flatness of Latour’s Concept of Origin and Holbein’s The Ambassadors.

[As a sidenote, Spinoza’s Substance stands in unique position to all three of these criteria. Any one point of modal expression of Substance is: necessarily loyal to germane causes, infinitely rich in causal explanations, and fecund to its own production all to the degree of its power to affect or be affected.]

Balibar’s Spinoza and Politics: The Braids of Reason and Passion

The life of the passions, like that of reason, is similarly conditioned by the struggle to persevere in being; like reason, the passions express a natural (though inadequate) mode of human Desire. Does this mean that the passions, which are a constant cause of conflict between men, represent the antithesis of sociabilty? Not at all. What Spinoza demonstrates is that there is another form of the genesis (or “production”) of society, which springs from the passions themselves and which is worked out in them and through them, even if, in this case, the result is not necessarily a harmonious society (85)

Etienne Balibar, Spinoza and Politics

How Passions Bring Us Together

Recent discussion made me realize that there is an very significant text out there on Spinoza that is likely quite under read, and it is best to give it a boost. While much attention gets paid to Spinoza’s vast metaphysical claims, much less is directed towards his very early championing of liberal democracy freedoms (one of the first in European history). And seldom when his political views are examined does the analysis seem to fit snuggly back into his metaphysics. It often appears to be the case that there are two slightly disjoined topics, the metaphysical and then the political (we can insert “the psychological” which is also a branch of his thinking that sometimes is taken with some autonomy from the rests).

With great surpass, this cannot be said of Etienne Balibar’s Spinoza and Politics, very inexpensively available from Verso. The book is a brilliant slim volume, perhaps the best work on Spinoza from the neo-Marxists (though Negri’s The Savage Anomaly is inspiring, or at least quite inspired).

I want to post here a pdf of the book: Spinoza and Politics, Etienne Balibar [click here].

If you want to get a grasp on the lines of political argument as found in the Ethicsplease at least read the fouth chapter, “The Ethics: A Political Anthropology” (76-98), where Balibar braids together two separate descriptions of the social, one rational, one affectual, passing back and forth between the third and fourth books of the Ethics. (Warning, it does take a close reading, with page-turnings best done with the Ethics  in hand). He does such a wonderful job of drawing out the two, mutually supporting arguments that are almost in hidden dialogue with each other, that he makes much of the rest of Spinoza political thinking more clear. What comes through is that counter to a Hobbesian mythology of a natural, animal state of the war of against all, even our greatest conflicts between persons and society are alreadysocial. There is no pre-social state of conflict. This is a conclusion of the utmost theoretical consequence for it undercuts much of what is projectively assumed about the nature of goverment, and it has bearing upon the very roots of epistemology and perception. Additionally, it brings into bold relief the mistaken simplification that Spinoza viewed the affects or the imagination in solely a detrimental, or antithetical fashion.

Here I provide a copy of the excellent diagram he includes to help the reader follow his explication. It is a figure that I have returned to many times, both in the reading, but also later in thinking through Spinoza’s position. And below that is a from-text summation of part of the argument.


“Suddenly the Anarchists are Back”: the 1880s all over again

I’ve already linked it, as has Anodynelite, but I thought in view of recent discussion of Marxism it would be good to post a brief bit of the Charlie Rose David Graeber interview, in particular to the historical rise and fall (and possibly rise again) of anarchism as a viable counter-Capitalist mode of moral critique. David Graeber rests something of his hopefulness of the viability of anarchist principles on the idea that history has return somewhat to the possibilities that inhabited the pre-20th century, and that we simply cannot afford to revisit the State brutalities, and World Wars of our recent past. While Marxists now tell us, “give us one more chance, we’ll get it right,” David Graeber seems to suggest that our return to the pre-Marxist conditions actually allow us a different future than the one we already chose, a non-Marxist address. This telling parallels well the passage I quoted from Graeber’s book in my last post on the alternative critique of Capitalist society, and Marx, provided by Mauss.

Interview here

Charlie Rose: Does anarchy have future?

David Graeber: I think so. Why, I mean…I think we are at a really interesting historical moment. I think in a lot of ways we’ve kind of returned to what was happening a century ago. If you think about the sort of classic days of anarchism, say 1870s, 1880s, 1890s… up to World War I basically, that was a period of relative global peace, and it was a periord much like the age of Globalization. People used to say things like…I remember reading someone writing in 1901 saying, “Its hard for us to remember those days, but there used be these things called ‘passports’ and some people had to show them at borders.” I mean people were just moving around much more freely. The idea of war between what where considered civilized countries seemed to be a thing of the past. And during that period anarchism became the center of this sort of imaginative revolutionary Left.

All of a sudden you had World War I, and…which as everybody represents it was one of the most foolish wars in history. It wasn’t really about anything….and, suddenly anarchism disappears and Marxism is everywhere, and seems much more plausible. If you think about the reasons for that, it seems to me…the 20th century – most historians today think that the 20th century ran from about 1914 to maybe 1991, “The Short 20th Century” they sometimes call it – well the 20th century was probably the most violent century in human history…It was almost entirely made up of either fighting World Wars or preparing for World Wars. And, during that period, certainly I would say that anarchism didn’t look particularly realistic because one thing that anarchist would never be good at is building gigantic, mechanized, killing machines: armies. (I think that is altogether to our credit.) …On the other hand, Marxist regimes, often that was about the only thing they were particularly good at, so…

Charlie Rose: [chuckles]

David Graeber: [chuckles too]…they were pretty good at it…But, you get 1989, 1991, the wall falls, those regimes fall apart…suddenly you’re back at an age where it seems like you’re back in the 1890s. It looks like war between industrialized countries isn’t possible, you have globalization again, suddenly the anarchists are back.


Playing Cat and Mauss: The Historical Crisis of Socialism

All this talk about Marx lately had me returning to a passage in David Graeber’s book Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology pdf here. I’ve mentioned the book before, and though I find something of its writing style and organization a bit jarring, I would recommend it for its perspective. There is much to harvest from there. David Graeber had recent (in)famy for being involved in a contract dispute at Yale, his contract failing to be renewed for any formally given reasons, a dismissal others claim to be politically motivated (2006). Here though he sets out an interesting micro-history, the way in which Mauss attempted to address the possible future of socialism in view of the failures of Lenin in Russia, yet still abhorant the vanguard and pro-violent thinking of Sorel. Outlined, it seems, is a path forward, though stillborn in history, which concerns itself with immanent, anarchist-like principles of organization (I am no anarchist), which reject the kind of violenced, intellectual elitist thinking that sometimes tugs at the theorizing of the academic Left. Graeber here suggests that the tendency toward the vanguard and its heirarchies is something that directs itself both Right and Left, (likely with the university system of text-producing intellectually playing their suitably scholastic role). The call for intellectual, ideational rupture, followed by violenced rupture and reframing of society is revolution in the dream of the elite.

Mauss was a child of Orthodox Jewish parents who had the mixed blessing of also being the nephew of Emile Durkheim, the founder of French sociology. Mauss was also a revolutionary socialist. For much of his life, he managed a consumer coop in Paris, and was constantly writing screeds for socialist newspapers, carrying out projects of research on coops in other countries, and trying to create links between coops in order to build an alternative, anti-capitalist, economy. His most famous work was written in response to the crisis of socialism he saw in Lenin’s reintroduction of the market in the Soviet Union in the ’20s: If it was impossible to simply legislate the money economy away, even in Russia, the least monetarized society in Europe, then perhaps revolutionaries needed to start looking at the ethnographic record to see what sort of creature the market really was, and what viable alternatives to capitalism might look like. Hence his “Essay on the Gift,” written in 1925, which argued (among other things) that the origin of all contracts lies in communism, an unconditional commitment to another’s needs, and that despite endless economic textbooks to the contrary, there has never been an economy based on barter: that actually-existing societies which do not employ money have instead been gift economies in which the distinctions we now make between interest and altruism, person and property, freedom and obligation, simply did not exist.

Mauss believed socialism could never be built by state fiat but only gradually, from below, that it was possible to begin building a new society based on mutual aid and self-organization “in the shell of the old”; he felt that existing popular practices provided the basis both for a moral critique of capitalism and possible glimpses of what that future society would be like. All of these are classic anarchist positions. Still, he did not consider himself an anarchist. In fact, he never had anything good to say about them. This was, it appears, because he identified anarchism mainly with the figure of Georges Sorel, an apparently quite personally distasteful French anarcho-syndicalist and anti-Semite, now mainly famous for his essay Reflections sur le Violence. Sorel argued that since the masses were not fundamentally good or rational, it was foolish to make one’s primary appeal to them through reasoned arguments. Politics is the art of inspiring others with great myths. For revolutionaries, he proposed the myth of an apocalyptic General Strike, a moment of total transformation. To maintain it, he added, one would need a revolutionary elite capable of keeping the myth alive by their willingness to engage in symbolic acts of violence – an elite which, like the Marxist vanguard party (often somewhat less symbolic in its violence), Mauss described as a kind of perpetual conspiracy, a modern version of the secret political men’s societies of the ancient world.

In other words, Mauss saw Sorel, and hence anarchism, as introducing an element of the irrational, of violence, and of vanguardism. It might seem a bit odd that among French revolutionaries of the time, it should have been the trade unionist emphasizing the power of myth, and the anthropologist objecting, but in the context of the ’20s and ’30s, with fascist stirrings everywhere, it’s understandable why a European radica l- especially a Jewish one – might see all this as just a little creepy. Creepy enough to throw cold water even on the otherwise rather appealing image of the General Strike – which is after all about the least violent possible way to imagine an apocalyptic revolution. By the ’40s, Mauss concluded his suspicions had proved altogether justified.

To the doctrine of the revolutionary vanguard, he wrote, Sorel added a notion originally culled from Mauss’ own uncle Durkheim: a doctrine of corporatism, of vertical structures glued together by techniques of social solidarity. This he said was a great influence on Lenin, by Lenin’s own admission. From there it was adopted by the Right. By the end of his life, Sorel himself had become increasingly sympathetic with fascism; in this he followed the same trajectory as Mussolini (another youthful dabbler with anarcho-syndicalism) and who, Mauss believed, took these same Durkheimian/Sorelian/Leninist ideas to their ultimate conclusions. By the end of his life, Mauss became convinced even Hitler’s great ritual pageants, torch-lit parades with their chants of “Seig Heil!,” were really inspired by accounts he and his uncle had written about totemic rituals of Australian aborigines. “When we were describing how ritual can create social solidarity, of submerging the individual in the mass,” he complained, “it never occurred to us that anyone would apply such techniques in the modern day!” (In fact, Mauss was mistaken. Modern research has shown Nuremberg rallies were actually inspired by Harvard pep rallies. But this is another story.) (17-19)

Now Mauss’s essay is well-known and actually quite influential in a shadowy way. It provided an alternate conception of ways that primative cultures, and even modern cultures negotiated their identies and exchanges. No longer does the Marxist/Capitalist mythology of universal barter sit well as the necessary ideological underpinning of justice. The point here though is that in Mauss were some historical doubts that we today might well retain, in particular as we contemplate the recent discourses of the academic Left, dreaming of radical breaks with what is possible in society. It seems to me that in particular his distrust of vanguardism, his first hand view of top-down historical failures when coupled with a differential notion of human bonding through gift, and incorporated into a cybernetic conception of the post-human, provides us a view forward, through the mechanisms of Capitalized communication. This, instead of any dying attempt to reformulate the intellectual elite through the full reanimation of Marx’s corpse. The only choices are not some essentialized and projected Capitalism and a not-yet-attained Marxist Communism.

Click here for a nice interview of David Graeber by Charlie Rose (roughly 20 minutes), wherein he addresses the principles of his proposed anarchism. Warning for Badiouists: do not compare this interview, and David’s substantive articulation, with that of Badiou’s recent prevaricating discussion at Hardtalk.

Quote from the Interview: “In academia there is a hierarchy, and…you’re supposed to be scared, you’re supposed to be, um,  sort of cowering before people. And I was never disrespectful before people, but I didn’t cowar.”

In Praise of Scholarly Enemism: People are Animals Too!

Larvel Subjects emerges from his coccon to spread his wet-wings in a new sun. In this thought-post , he objects to what he calls “kumbaya politics”, specific it seems to the humanism of the some from the academic Left. While I have no idea what events he is responding to (a post, a book read, a professor he quarreled with?), and thus cannot trace the real target of his thinking, there is an important thought in his semi-argument which inspires thoughts on abstractions of opposition (While I use Larvel Subject’s declamations here, my thoughts are directed beyond whatever political position he holds. In so doing I approach not only aspects of his argument, but the way that they connect to the Revolutionary, Marxist politics we here recently have been discussing: concepts necessary of radical breaks. They are the platform for ruminations.):

Here it is not a question of being tolerant or recognizing that “everyone is human”. Indeed, one wishes that the tender hearted humanists would recognize that all humans are animals and that animals often prey upon one another and exercise terrific cruelty on one another, not out of malice or wickedness, but simply out of pursuing their own interests. However, no matter how nice these people are, when faced with a system that causes so much human misery and such disproportionate privilege, certainly it follows that the friend/enemy distinction is entirely operative. In fact, what is disgusting is not the operation of the friend/enemy distinction, but those who would deny its presence, treating the field of struggle as if it were flat and everyone were in the same position.

To my ear this supposed dichotomy betweeen the “tender-hearted” human (which is co-operative and communal) and the “animal” (which is driven by warring self-interest) is one of the most enduring and naive projections around. It is founded upon the largely Christian message that there are divine and animal parts of the human being: the selfishness of primative, animal, affective, emotional interests, versus the angelic, other-worldly “human” state. Its jarring that intellectuals still think this way. What is animal in us (all of us being animal) is not particularly some kind of naturalized “prey upon each other” penchant for “cruelty on one another”, but all of our behaviors. Not only do animals attack and kill one another, but they also commune with great intimacy and sacrifice, negotiate boundaries, modify their environments and any number of complexly related interactions. Larval Subjects seems to feel that because we are not just human beings but animals, and animals naturally “pursue their own interests” there is an inherent contradiction between human pursuits of interests, and our animal ones. While it is certainly admitted that the “friend/enemy distinction” is “operative” (who would deny this, I have no idea), they question is, what place does such a distinction have in politics? What good does it serve? (It is a mistake to make of the friend/enemy distinction some kind of naturalized Good animal expression: all our expressions are animal ones.)

The Traps of Oppositional Thinking

What is at stake here, in praise of academics who suppose the friend/enemy distinction not only to be operative, but essential, is what I read to be Oppositional Thinking: my thoughts become most clear to me, and others, to the degree that they are in opposition to something other (to some principle, or more readly, some persons who are the enemy). The difficulty with Oppositional Thinking, in particular that of the political realm, is that when one thinks consistently in this way and begins to identify oneself within an essential opposition, a curious thing seems to happen. Your personal investment is no longer in the defeat of the very thing that have declared yourself in opposition to, but rather in the perpetuation of very state of opposition itself. In just this way one actually works to preserve the very thing you have declared you wish to overcome. The enemy gives you purpose.

It is precisely this kind of projective imagination that seems in play when nostalgia-ridden academics require only the complete end to Capitalism as proof that justice has been achieved (or even substantially pursued). The cry is “Yes, a lot of things have changed, but that is still Capitalism!” It is that we must invent newer and newer forms of Capitalism, just as a fundamentalist Christian has to invent newer and newer manifestations of the Devil, in order to maintain the authority of our protest voice, and really the coherence of our own identities as protesters.

Living In the Land of the Enemy

Beyond this descriptive insistence in which the enemy continually has to be recreated, I believe that one also invents a strange sort of detachment from one’s own investments in the world, one’s day to day connections to lived lives. Like born-agains, one is living-in-enemy-territory, painfully partaking in the very forms of supposed universal cruelty of the System, losing track of the complexities of local violences (how deleterious, I have often thought, is even a frown worn throughout the day, or a person habitually ignored, as it spreads its ripples across attendant faces.) Further, this detachment actually allows one to actively invest in the very systematic structures that one theoretically objects to. For instance a professor argues against heirarchial knowledge systems in a way that in practice manifestly performs and trains them, inculcating her or his students in the classroom. The abuses and cruelties of human relations can often be clearly evident in professor feifdom mentalities of knowledge-as-jargon power that make up professor/student exchanges. By and large, projections of wholesale and systematic friend/enemy distinctions promote detachments from real relations (lived) such that war is imagined by academics to be only something that can be accomplished in the Heavens of ontological disputes. “Yes, I am guilty of Capitalist Relations, but I fight the good fight up there in the Ethersphere!” is the confession.

I believe something of this kind of thinking/detachment can also be seen in Larval Subject’s notion of “objective guilt”. It is interesting, if not an outright confusion, that he qualifies his participation on Capitalism as “non-intentional” instead of simply “animal” self-interest:

Rather, objective guilt is instead a function, despite any intentions that a person might have, of the functional role that a person’s actions play in an overarching system of social relations. Thus, for example, as someone who has a 403 retirement plan, I possess a share of objective guilt with respect to how Capital functions to stratify society, how it exploits other groups of people, how it organizes war and poverty, how it destroys the environment, and all the rest. This objective guilt has nothing to do with my intentions as an individual person. No, my intention as an individual is to set aside a certain percentage of my wages for investment so that I might some day be able to retire and sustain my existence until death. I have no desire or intention to exploit others, to organize poverty, to promote war, to destroy the planet, etc. However, objectively my investments participate in all of these phenomena.

It is not without coincidence that it is immediately following this self-confession that the myth of the non-tender-hearted animal is presented, to bookend the justification of one’s course in life. I am not too-guilty of the crimes of Capitalism because a) Explicitly, I do not intend to be, and b) Implicitly, I am an animal and just naturally pursuant of self-interest. This seems precisely the kind of internal contradiction and self-justification that is generated in Oppositional Thinking: an under-grounding myth of naturalized forces, and detachment from real-world, lived relations under the category of (entirely human) “intentionality”.

It is not just that such enemy-making thought leads to a kind of performative self-contradiction, an identity entrapment for the loyal believers, but it also leads to a practical restriction on where people look for real-world solutions to problems of injusitice. To take a small example. If one is a priori committed to the view that something called “Capitalism” is inherently evil, some kind of pervading monstrous, crushing influence, the very notion that one might turn to Capitalism itself for solutions becomes foreclosed. Microcredit with its power to transform societies of poverty through the lending of money to the most impoverished and disempowered in small increments can become simply the perceived infiltration of an insideous force, the enemy creeping within. One’s fantasy-space of premises shapes the very models of our freedoms, a fantasy-space that can seldom come under review for those who have memorized the founding tenets of analysis.

The Animal Within

To return to the picture of the “animal” within. There is a mistaken conception of the Animal that presumes that “war of all against all” is somehow the most natural and essential of states, and that we all must be soberly loyal, as animals to this fact. This requires some form of non-animal abstract social contract (Hobbes), or sublimation of primitive parts (Freud), but also a rightful embrace of what is deeper: pure “self-interest”. Self-interest is in my view necessarily other-interest. Not only in human beings, but in the “lower” animals as well. Yes, the friend/enemy distinction is operative, but it is not essential. It is context dependent and something often best overcome. One is never naturally my enemy. The myth of an essentially segregated “self-interest” buried in the animal is one that has paid very little attention to real animals in the world, a myth that requires essentialized kinds presumed to be in essential opposition. Oppositional Thinking in the same way often requires the imaginary projection of an enemy that one works to perpetuate both in the imaginary and material sense, so as to maintain one’s meaningful position in the world, seeing the hand of the Devil everywhere, so that one can fight it (and with far-cast eyes fail to see what one is actively invested in).

[Addendum: Anodynelite has a wonderful post up which also has some connection to the friend/enemy distinction:

I am more than happy to make friend/enemy distinctions, to draw lines in the political sand. But from here, it does not follow that I believe “radical breaks” are possible, or that friend/enemy distinctions are always productive intellectually. I do not believe that because friend/enemy distinctions exist within a political economy that we have carte blanche when it comes to “revolutionary violence” as a means to our political ends. I do not believe that modes of non-violent resistance necessarily preclude friend/enemy distinctions; quite the contrary, I believe that the most effective and ruthlessly efficient methods of resistance at our disposal are non-violent.

Here: Latour has Answers ]