Monthly Archives: April 2012
A few pieces of Commentary:
- I have been arriving to a similar conclusion as Zizek: Hegel is not simply teleological, in the moment of absolute necessary emerges from moments of complete openness. In other words, the issue at hand is not a simple acceptence of a pure task, but the realization of the possibilities created by absolute inversion. The movement of the dialectic applies even if there is no end school. No Endstaat.
- One can most definitely be a Hegelian, but not a Hegelian without qualifiers. Hegel is more of an event to which those of us take up his precedures are subjected to in a way that is a trace, but a trace that moved forward in history and whose moment is different.
- Vulgar Hegelians in inferior to vulgar Marxism, but Marxism is a materialization of Hegel. Yet it would contra to the spirit of both Marx and Hegel if we pretend that time is not changing things within a totality.
Wag the dog too much and the dog wags you.
I am of several minds about this, so I am going to lay out my own dialectical movements:
Thesis: Assange is increasingly moving from critique of spectacle through transparency to counter-spectacle. One of the strange things about Wikileaks is how obvious most of the information it leaked was and how if anyone had paid attention to the news most of it, although admittedly not all, would come as no surprise. Indeed, “We share the worlds secrets” seemed strange to me since most of them were open secrets, but whose confirmation is so threatening that Assuage is threatened with deportation and torture like that of Bradley Manning. Yet in watching this view, I noticed how much “liberalism” in both the good and bad sense of there is by Assuage’s framing here. Literally, he seems to be mirroring (or maybe parroting) the spectacle of CNN and BBC.
As my friend David Rylance said about this clip:
“It’s disturbing actually how manipulative *and* naive, simultaneously, the liberal-democratism Assange basically represents, whether he realises it or not, can get. On the one hand, it evinces this (theoretical) moral idea, this *principle*, that everyone ought to be given a platform for speech (though usually this just means the Right) but it also couples this with a subtextual (and what it thinks is sly) “fixing” of the game, stacking the deck with an undertow of expectation that the intellectuality of the “democratic value system” will carry the day, and encounters utter bafflement + learns nothing when they find themselves outsmarted at their own game. See, for instance, when Horowitz fumes about “settling their hash” in Iraq and “occupying them for years [who knows exactly who he's referring to here, since, uh, that *happened* in Iraq]“, Assange’s blinking response: “David, I mean, this is an incredible statement, though…” Wow, what a response, how, uh, polite. Liberalism.”
So I see Assange as representing a kind of “current traditionalism” of liberalism: transparency will keep governments honest in the same way force does.
Counter-thesis: It seems completely short sighted to condemn Assange for his tacit liberalism as we all operate in a world with assumptions out of the center of the revolutionary periods at the medieval ages and increased means of production and liberalization of ideas. It also seems like there is something very radical about the liberal notion of transparency being applied. I mean there is a reason people want Assange’s ass. Perhaps this parroting is actually deliberate ways to call attention to contradictions. In the same way Zizek plays the clown, Assange could be playing the liberal. Or, he may very well be that liberal but there is radicalism to keeping liberalism honest.
Sublation: We need a thousand more Assange’s even if he is merely a liberal pointing out how illiberal liberal society has become. Whether or not it is just a strategy or a sincere belief based on an abstract notion is actually somewhat irrelevant. Yet we also need to be weary that counter-institutions can mirror the institutions they are countering easily. An inversion often still accepts the basic legitimacy of the structure. So we need Assanges for our Assanges too.
One of the moves I have noticed in American disciplinary uses of Foucault and Delueze that I am find suspect, but do not know if I actually think is something I should reject: the move from material social relations to ideas about discourse communities. Now the Foucault/Delueze and company critique of the subject: the place of power in the person or the institution solely is not particularly innovative. It’s implied in Marx and the notion of classes, so the “death of the author” and the “birth of the discourse” seems implied in thinking about the the commodity fetish and ideological apparatuses as well as Hegelian Marxist notions of reification.
The self is a product of means of production: i.e. it is limited by social relationships in the same movement as it is created in reflection to those events. Consciousness may be separate, but one can almost see it as a feedback loop. This is still in an intersection of the material with the idea, which itself emerges from purely material history. The idea of the discourse as a the primary locus of power which one sees in a many of the Nietzsche-influenced post-Marxist thinker seems to keep this critique of the subject but more away from the material limitations. In other words, in one sense it clarifies the problem of classical subjectivity assumed in Kant, but in another sense it moves away from the material by either bracketing that concern out of the question or mystifying relations. One can see this in the synchronic approach used even by most structuralist thinkers after Althusser: Foucault has epistemes and then has the power/knowledge that causes this to emerge but does not address the material issue.
While not idealist in the “spiritual” sense of Hegel, but it does seem to take Heidegger’s notion that ideas drive history and move this into the discourse which keeps that immaterial property.
Is it any surprise that this kind of thinking has become dominant in an age where symbolic equality may be increased but real material disparity in wealth has become huge even by the standards of modernity? Is this merely a consequence of the discourse? Or is there some more material problem at hand?
It’s too nice a day to really go off on Foucault.
I have oft wondered about the supposed radicalism of Foucault? He and Chomsky are two of the most cited intellectuals in the world, and yet I have wondered about his radicalness. His historical understanding seems to be rooted in Althusserian structuralism, and his notion of power seems to be nebulous in a way that his refusal to define for reasons of avoiding “reduction” seemed both arbitrary and a mystification in and of itself. Indeed, his turn just before the end of his life was an ethical turn aimed at the self, which seemed to come out of some of his particular failures of predicting politics in localities (Foucault’s failure to understand Iran seems key.)
While I do deeply respect Foucault’s historicism and think his structural critiques of differing European periods are key as well as his points about the basic failures of the liberal state, I think the failure to truly address what power is and what the self is the point where Foucault can be seen as less profound as both the Nietzscheans and the structural Marxists that he built on. Listening to Hans Sluga interview on Entitled Opinions, the fact that power is kept nebulous leads Foucault to want to critique without being unable to question any of the basic assumption of his own epoch/episteme. Sluga actually that Foucault’s slipperiness on his relationship to Nietzsche is key. Foucault mystifiies power in a way Nietzsche does not in which power is both a net good but it is the ability to assert the will and make values through Umwertung aller Werte, or re-valuation itself. So power is not just violence but the means to create values. Foucault is not that precise, and thus avoids the “right-ward” drift of Nietzsche, but does this at cost of radicalization or the ability to more radically against general trends in specific moments.
This is why Foucault seems so useful: He gives us means to talk about the past and critique, but his central analytic of power is vague and even quietistic. Sometimes a little Hegel does one good.
Tamal Dasgupta is a founder of the Journal of Bengali Studies, and we recently discussed his journey out of Marxism and towards a Left Nationalism specific to Bengali Hindu people of India.
Skepoet: Tamal, would you like to describe your political journey to me?
Tamal Dasgupta: Sure Skepoet, I have been thinking along that line for some time. I guess my trajectory towards a formulation of a Hindu left needs to be mapped if i want to understand precisely where I stand now: I come from a family of communists. My grandfather joined Communist Party of India in early 1940s, my father is still actively with CPI-Marxist. I was in the students’ wing of CPI-M while studying in college.
A number of factors contributed to my conversion: first was a mix of Anarchism and Trotskyism to which I was exposed while looking for answers to what went wrong in the regimented communist movement. Then I noticed that mainstream left of India was never sufficiently indian, and I turned to Hinduism in order to understand why left is hinduphobic in India.
Then i came up with an idea of compradorship dominating the Bengalis who in turn were dominating the left movement in India.
T.D.: Skepoet, not just left nationalism, even certain varieties of rightist nationalism and almost all varieties of centrist nationalism oppose ethnic supremacism. Prioritizing and focussing on one’s own communal identity doesnt necessarily entail a belief in the superiority of one’s community vis-a-vis others.
Let me add that a sharp criticism of the Bengalis is a distinct feature of this left nationalism, or Hindu left that i am trying to postulate.Nationalism is not patriotism. Nationalism is in fact something very different from a narcissistic, naive and complacent masturbation of the self-aggrandizing parochial discourses of ethnic supremacism.
S.: What positions that the CPI-Marxist advocate that turned you off from that party?
T.D.: So far as the question of CPI-Marxist (and Indian communist parties in general) is concerned, I shall strongly suggest that you read my article “Understanding Hi-story” in that issue of JBS and tell me what do you think of my critique of the communist movement in Bengal. Particularly about CPI-Marxist, this has been a party of thugs and robbers and rapists and it has singularly destroyed Bengal through its regime for last 34 years. I mean we don’t need an academic discussion to prove that point that its misrule was a disastrous event in Bengal. It monopolised recruitments in all government offices and institutions including colleges and universities, and me and my wife had to get a job through their channels and thats how we came to New Delhi looking for university jobs.
S.: In some personal correspondence with me, you indicated that you are influenced by the Eurasian movement thinker Alexander Dugan. How do you see Dugan being useful for left nationalism?
T.D.: About Dugin: he is speaking of a fourth theory after the failure of liberalism, fascism and communism. I think his national bolshevism as opposed to western liberalism, his emphasis on the past traditions (though an uncritical celebration of the past is to be rightfully distrusted), natural traditionalism (green agenda) are interesting developments in nationalist thoughts. The entire Arktos experiment on myth, post-rational post-enlightenment mysticism are indeed important from the point of view of a new form of left/postleft communal, identarian, nationality oriented politics.
But I know so very little about Dugin. Am so eagerly looking forward to the release of his book in English.
Anyway, do let me know what do you think of Indian communist movement. I consider it (as you will find in that article “Understanding History” as well) as a movement of anti-national collaborators, not to speak of the standard regimented totalitarian intolerant quasi-fascist undemocratic structure of its marxist and maoist varieties (speaking from my previous anarchist-trotskyist viewpoints, which I have not yet discarded totally).
S.: Do you think the Marxism in India has been a source of lingering Euro-dominance?
T.D.: Not really euro-dominance. Soviet and Chinese, these two were the main spheres of influence, communist party of Great Britain initially acting as the courier of the Soviets.
S.: I see, so you think Indian interests were lost in the proxy war between the Soviets and the Chinese sphere? Also, what do you make of the Naxalite issue?
T.D.: In india, the mainstream left space went to staunchly anti-national communist parties since 1930s, a process that was complete by 1940s. Naxals are well within a continuous anti-national, hinduphobic tradition of the communist movement of India.
S.: Let’s refocus: What role do you see Bengali nationalism playing within the larger confederation of nations within India?
T.D.: Apart from the obvious function of protecting the interests of the Indic Bengalis worldwide, it should provide a template for similar movements (nationalist, post-marxist, post-enlightenment, revivalist, green) in other parts of the world. Within india, it should have the potential to provide the take-off point for a Hindu left, as I envisage.
S.: How would a Tamil left or a Punjabi left be different from a Bengeli left?
T.D.: It would be disastrous to use terms like Bengali left and Punjabi left, because of the inherent ambiguities in such phrases (any Bengali speaker who is also a leftist will come under that blanket category of Bengali left). I am least bothered about the existing left in India, there are many Bengalis and Tamils in that spectrum. They are not nationalists. and they are hinduphobic.
So first rephrase your enquiry and I shall answer.
S.: Okay, I see the concern there: how would a non-hinduphobic left nationalist movement differ in the various Indian national-ethicities?
T.D.: The cultural content will most obviously distinguish them from each other. also, their interests and concerns and focus areas will vary, just the way Russian nationalism will be different from Ukrainian nationalism. What Freud called “narcissism of minor differences” comes to play a role in differentiating neighbouring ethnic communities who otherwise may share some Witgensteinian ”family resemblances.”
S.: How do you see left nationalism in India differing from Hinduvta?
T.D.: Roughly, these differences will be along the lines of differences between, say, Christian left and Christian right.
S.: What are the most pressing issues for Bengalis in India right now in your opinion?
T.D.: Steady loss of identity, culture, heritage, history, nationality and sense of community because of the dominance of left-liberalism, and also grave threat from Islam (which can turn the hindus of Bengal into a minority, given the present trend of demographic changes and infiltration patterns form Bangladesh).
S.: Do you see the central government or the congress party doing anything about this?
T.D.: Congress has a long history of compradorship; and moreover it has been, since the days of the hegemony of M K Gandhi and J L Nehru and eversince the expulsion of Subhash Bose, a singularly anti-Bengali establishment, so whatever they’d do, it would be against the interests of the people of Bengal, that’s for sure.
S.: Anything you’d like to say in closing?
T.D.: In closing I would say that the Hindu left that I am trying to envisage academically and culturally (and may be later, politically) will restore the Bengalis to their context, their culture and history: it will revive the spirit of revlutionary nationalism that left an indelible mark on Bengal’s history and India’s struggle for independence, it will give birth to a forward looking, post-englightenment, cultural revivalist, naturalist/green and democratic Hindu discourse that may pioneer a new kind of understanding of Hindu and Indian identity in other parts of our country. That Bengaliness is a concrete manifestation of Hinduness, and we belong to a commonly shared space within indian history and culture along with other Hindu cultures and communities and linguistic nationalities (Slavs with a common Orthodox identity or Gaelic people with a common Catholic identity are some parallels which give a rough idea about what we Bengalis share with other Hindus) will constitute a focus area in the Hindu left discourse of Bengali nationalism. Hindu left can as well reverse the process by means of which the revolutionary space within Indian politics was occupied by the comprador forces of communists (the communist movement of India and its numerous derivatives, break-aways and satelites have been almost invariably collaborationists and staunchly anti-Hindu), and rescue the revolutionary and radical space from the ideologies of rabid Hinduphobia. Hinduphobia has been a characteristic feature and a pre-condition and a qualifying criterion of the left of India (and not Indian left, because this segment of Indian politics always doggedly resisted any “Indian” identiy, and the very word Hindu is a vulgar term for almost the entire existing left spectrum in India). Internationally, we may yet discover a revolutionary, postcommunist, nationalist, egalitarian, green side in the Hindu history, culture and identity. Hinduism is currently much maligned by the leftists of India as an unqualifiedly fascist and evil thing, and a Hindu left may be able to call their bluff, calling the compradors as compradors, and exposing the modus operandi of the bastard children of Macaulay and Muzaffar Ahmed.
There is a ideological binary opposition presented in much of the popular media for the last few decades about nature and nurture being opposed: it works itself up into the academy too with sometimes strong genetic determinist arguments–generally from scientifically questionable speculations by evolutionary psychologists–and then (admittedly rather rare) arguments from the humanities that everything is sociologically constructed (generally pulling from either Foucaultian influenced post-structuralism or structuralists visions of ideological apparatuses). Really, though, this dialectical opposition seems rooted in the early Enlightenment when both biological determinism and Cartesian special-pleading for the self set out two different visions of the human future.
I, however, increasingly doubt this move: The structural elements that wanted do deal only with the synchronic and not diachronic elements was a methodological move that gets reified into a stance that views ideas as either without a history or having a history, but biology is a historical science. It describes the development of organic life over time through processes that we have not entirely understood but have several mechanistic grasps of. This was why I always found the idea of nature problematic: nature implies as non-human totality, which seems to be special-pleading for the human species, or an undifferentiated totality, which is cognitively empty.
This has led to in re-reading Althusser, which I still find as problematic as I ever did as his hermeneutic for interpreting Marx implies that Marx either didn’t mean or didn’t understand his “true” methodology because even late works have “lingering” Hegelian idealism. This led me to take Althusser’s statement that ideology is not “ideal” but physical as manifested in the way we live and pair it, admittedly even to my mind, dangerously, with some ideas I have seen about the acceleration of human evolution. What I am about to articulate takes care of my view that Althusser’s synchronic understanding of historical materialism actually has the structure of the “means of productive forces” in ideology emerge almost without a history before there was an ideology there.
Even when I was in anthropology classes in the late 1990s, I remember being told that it was the consensus view that human evolution stopped with agriculture removing “natural” pressures from the evolutionary ecology of humans. I remember thinking though: How come Europeans developed lactose tolerance if this were true? Then I read Gregory Cochran’s The 10,000 Explosion, which is controversial and has some severe limitations even in my lay mind, but does talk about how social pressures would have genetically selective impulses and this could show up from disease immunities and, more controversially, relationships to authority and impulse control. Cochran admits that there are real limitations here and that there isn’t enough anthropological fieldwork paired with genetic testing to prove or disprove, but sexual selection in early agricultural society was exactly more extreme than in hunter-gather society since there was far more restrictions put on the survival of children, and in certain extreme examples, chieftains sometimes out reproduce serfs 1000 to 1.
Now I don’t know if we can take it as far as Cochran does, but he get to a point: Ideological and social impulses, which emerge from social arrangements in resource production and distribution actually change us physically. Furthermore, there is evidence that culture exists in any social mammal and thus emerges from “natural” conditions. This is say that both the “essentialist” view and the “social construction” view would largely miss the point: there is no dialectical opposition between “nature” and “nurture” nor does genetic determinism limit all social arrangements, but they modify each other in a feedback loop. Both the rubric of “nurtural” stances (or sociology) and “natural” stance (biology, comparative genetics) describe two different ways that human societies develop and interact. The question of dominance or innateness may miss the point: furthermore, both seem to assume that culture somehow emerges as a modern human conception out of nothing, or solely out of the means of production in ways that make “evolution” not possible. This confuses morphological differences with other differences too easily. There would be little morphological difference in modern humans because our social technologies have enabled us to stabilize our environment, but a variety of pressures socially would emerge to have influence on sexual selection.
So not only is ideology physical in the way Althusser meant as manifested by what we do and not just what we “believe,” but ideological pressures factor into to sexual selection ‘naturally” and thus have real effects there as well. It’s not eugenics or anything so crude at play here but developments from “natural” social responses because unless one believes the structures of production and the structures of society emerge ex nihilo, the social interactions come out of our biological and ecological limitations.
The dialectic of “nature/nurture” isn’t a dialectic at all. It is a false binary. Naturally.
I got some apple-mint, lavender, and rosemary plants at the market today, and I am preparing to have a discussion on Althusser. I left my computer in the city where I teach, so I can’t do any work on my research or short story, so I trolling youtube for Althusser videos:
These variety in quality and in coherence, although I admit to liking some of what Douglas Lain has to say.. and not just because we interview each other regularly.
Enjoy at your own risk.
Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama both appeared in a collection of essays by that title, Culture Matters. Neo-conservatives are always talking about culture while making apologetic for liberal capitalism by illiberal means. So, in a sense though, it is true that the culture wars and the cultural development over time does matter:
Economics and culture are different ways to explaining and conceptualization human relations whose very reification effects the relationships it describes. It becomes a rubric of description with a particular lens but over the time the lens affects the relationships themselves. The descriptive drafts to the prescriptive: economic policy assumes economic descriptors, traditions are standardized and even invented and forced into the collective memory, implicit and explicit laws develop from these code, etc. To some degree getting in too much parlance between the “base and the supra-structure” to use an unfortunate conception from Marxist to which Engels gave the dominance “in last instance” to the economic base confuses things: material conditions both changed and are changed by cultural practice. It’s not a mechanical feedback loop, but it has a similar relationship.
This is why the Radical Enlightenment and the Radical Reformation in Europe as well as Buddhist encounters with Modernity and the tensions within Confucianism fascinate me. In general, when economics confronts culture, economics wins: but the causal relationship is not all the clear. South Korean and Japanese capitalism, even more than Chinese state capitalism, retains a strong familial piety and Confucian element: the Chaebols that run Korea are operated almost like clans with a dominant family often promoting based on seniority and familial status. There are Chaebols that deliberately tried to buck this trend: Samsung being the most prominent example. Japanese companies still function on a hybrid model of the family clan, but with CEO’s often adopting outside of family to keep the appearance of the clan up and keep nepotism at a minimum for such a system.
Now we can get into these academic debates over how many modernities there are (multiple or singular) in spatial relations, if the general population has ever been truly modern in its attitude (Latour, Eco, etc), or if there can be a post-modernity (Latour again), but this is in a nexus of cultural existence. We can argue about how to break the various modern cultures into typologies (as Hofstede and Huntington did). We can argue about sub-strains within a culture like Haidt does. These moves, however, sometimes seem arbitrary, or at the very least, a form of trying to fit a amorphous emergent complexity into a set of taxonomic categories.
Sociology and philosophy have science envy sometimes. Forgive them their insecurities.
Anyway, in the spirit of this some disclosed readings including some poetry and science fiction. This is what is in my cultural input at the moment:
Anti-Nietzsche by Malcolm Bull.*
American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas by Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen
Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man by Jonathan I. Israel
Philosophies of Difference: A Critical Introduction to Non-Philosophy by Francois Laruelle (trans by Rocco Gangle)
Introduction to Antiphilosophy by Boris Groys
Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi
You are Not So Smart by David McRaney
Next Life: Poems by Rae Armentrout
The Orchards of Syon by Geoffery Hill
Infinite Thought by Alain Badiou (trans. and ed. by Oliver Feltham and Justin Clemens)
Consider this a sort of guide to what’s bouncing around in my head at the moment other than student essays and podcasts. I will be trying to weave these in as I begin some real writing on culture, which has been on my mind in this period of returning to economics.
It is interesting to me that two of the most Pacifistic variants of the Protestant reformation, the Quakers and the Mennonites, both have violent origins in the context of revolutionary change. Recently, I have been sort of going through the histories of Norman Cohn, which itself has a strange relationship to the Situationist International which is documented in Lipstick Traces, on the Mennonites and the radical reformation. While I often focus on the Radical Enlightenment as a locust point for history, it is important to remember that the early modern religious wars led to an establishment of a republic in England and began the fragmentation of the “Holy Roman Empire.”
While there is much to say on this topic, I noticed that both the Mennonites and the Quakers had particularly bloody origins: the Quakers were often the most militant in the New Model Army of Cromwell, and while they are only of the few sects from the period to survive in England (the levelers, the diggers, the ranters all being lost to history), the Quakers did not start adverse to violence: taking a middle path between the levelers, who believed in universal equality, and the ranters, who may not even have existed but whose partaking in sin to earn forgiveness is sort of a Antinomianist Christian heretic urban legend that reappears periodically in history in which the Brethen of the Free Spirit and the Cainians are also representative, the Quakers, however, were much more radically egalitarian than the Calvinist puritans. The Quaker pacifism, however, only emerges after the the Quaker Acts in the Restoration.
Similarly, Münster Rebellion and the radical Anabaptist violence in the Peasant wars after the Reformation led to some particularly horrific results. This is covered by Norman Cohn quite well. Menno Simons seemed to proclaim radical pacifism only after the complete degeneration the anabaptist communities and their crushing at the combined hands of Catholics, Calvinists, and Lutherans.
While I think this period can be explored in more depth by a left perspective as sort of a precursor and largely divergent set of idea that led up to “The Enlightenment,” but without the belief in “reason.” Anyway, what can be learned in the fact that many of the most radical protestant’s commitment to peace doesn’t seem to come out of religious dogma at first, but the experience of the excesses of violence?
It is an interesting question, isn’t it?