philosophy as not philosophy: para-ontology, hauntology, schizoanalysis

"Articulating the past historically does not mean recognizing it ‘the way it really was’. It means appropriating a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to hold fast that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to the historical subject in a moment of danger. The danger threatens both the content of the tradition and those who inherit it. For both, it is one and the same thing: the danger of becoming a tool of the ruling classes. Every age must strive anew to wrest tradition away from the conformism that is working to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer; he comes as the victor over the Antichrist. The only historian capable of fanning the spark of hope in the past is the one who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious. And this enemy has never ceased to be victorious."
- Walter Benjamin, Thesis VI

"The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice."
- Karl Marx, Thesis III

Monday, October 20, 2008

Economic Alien(ation)

With all of the philo-gossip about the crisis, the revenge of Marx, the relation between crisis and political transformation, blah blah blah, I think the most thrilling echo I've heard came by way of Mark at k-punk, in his post "Nihilism without Negativity". That post led me to discover two blogs that seem quite exciting, Splintering Bone Ashes and No Useless Leniency, who have set us all up for a new cold war: no longer Soviet Communism vs Liberal Capitalism, we now have Hauntological Eventalism vs Accelerationist Xenoeconomics.

[To clarify, SBA opposes what he understands as hauntology with two positive options, either accelerationism or Badiou-style eventalism. I think there are compelling reasons to see the latter as far more in line with hauntology, however, if we understand the absently insisting object of hauntology (as Mark so eloquently put it) as closely related to the void of the situation, that which is included without belonging, an invisible part which exists only as absented from representation. This is obviously a speculative identity and needs more support, which I won't provide now but will attempt in a following post.]

I'm being cute, but I don't think it's far-fetched to say there is far more at stake here, theoretically, than there ever was in the Cold War, and not only because it involves an absolute radicalization of the two positions. Of course, this isn't really a debate, we don't even really know yet what xenoeconomics involves, or what hauntology will be once liberated from Derrida's sleight-of-hand conservativism, nor have we seen the possible consequences of a contemporary, post-Soviet Event, or an absolute acceleration of capitalism. We don't really know what is at stake. Yet imagine my surprise, in discovering that my recent posts on the crisis have advocated accelerationist thought experiments, and even a kind of hauntological-xenoeconomic hybrid, whose roots are in my thesis (soon to come).

An upcoming post on spectrality and speculation should clarify these matters to some extent, at least on my part. To offer a brief, very brief idea, I believe the alien, radically non-decisional element of capitalism, which is at the heart its power to create value, must be tied to the concept of the ancestral as I've been developing it (the ancestral as I conceive it is related to, but distinct, from Meillassoux's ancestral, and is indebted to Agamben's operational time, Benjamin's concept of history, Derrida's spectrality, Santner's creaturely life, and foreclosure in both Lacan and Laurelle).

We can divide capital into 1) invested capital, and the returns it procures in the form of surplus value, a value created in excess of the value invested - this is capital as such, capital that becomes capital in acquiring a return in excess of investment; and 2) uninvested, liquid capital, capital with the potential to create value and add it to itself, in other words, capital that does not yet exist as capital, but that is nonetheless the potential for capital to exist - capital itself, in itself but not yet for itself. (I recall a discussion of this in Anti-Oedipus that went over my head at the time. May be time to return there.) Yet these two moments of capital are posited as mutually implicated and reciprocally presupposed, that is, you do not have one without the other. Obviously, you do not get a return of surplus value without the initial investment, you do not get the for-itself without the in-itself. But moreover, the liquid or virtual capital doesn't come from nowhere, and its accumulation presupposes an already-appropriated surplus.

What SBA seems to be proposing with xenoeconomics is an approach to capital itself as radically foreclosed to this implication, completely divested of any relation to actual investment - a propriety-without-appropriation, or surplus-without-investment. Capital itself, in this sense, is no longer simply presupposed by the creation of value, as the potential to do so, but rather is radically indifferent to instances of investment or to actual creation of value. Anyone familiar with non-philosophy will get the gist of what I'm claiming here. And wouldn't the non-conceptual symbol, enacting the foreclosure of this pure, indifferent creative power, be nothing less than labor-power, and the Stranger-subject who performs this symbolization (cloning) while not pre-existing this operation, be none other than the Proletarian-subject?

The proletariat as revolutionary subject of capital only exists, I claim, by rejecting the wage relation as just compensation, and enacting the foreclosure of that priceless power of labor to actually create (through work) a potential exchange value. Capital, on the contrary, maintains a potential power to create actual exchange value, occasioned by productive labor as its support. Exploitation is that relation of the capitalist dyad whereby the power to create a potential value, labor-power, is wholly assimilated to value qua exchange value, and hence any potential value not homologous to this relation is foreclosed, rejected, unsymbolizable. In this way, not only is the potential value produced by labor only actualized through exchange, but this potential is only granted to labor by investment in production. Capital simultaneously appropriates and forecloses the creative power of labor.

What is left out of the capitalist dyad, liquid and invested capital, or potential and actual creation of value, is a potential value that is radically indifferent to its form of actualization, and an actual creation radically indifferent to a potential it realizes in its product - the Identity-without-unity and Duality-without-distinction of these. As far as I'm concerned, xenoeconomics must seize upon this foreclosure, this extimate alien at the heart of the capitalist dyad, which is none other than the ex-appropriated labor-power of the Proletarian-subject. (For more on this ex-appropriation, an appropriation that is also a foreclosure of the appropriated, see my discussion of ancestrality and language in this post.)

As I've made clear in my accelerationist thought experiments, pushing capitalism beyond its ultimate limit - capital itself - and hence leading it into auto-disintegration, would either swallow up the state as well and lead to catastrophic social chaos (warlordism, et cetera), or short of this, would force the state to intervene at the level of economic life (as opposed to capitalist life, in Braudel's terms). Now the latter, I propose, could take the form of an investment in the genesis of new forms of collective organization of economic functions, but these are only dreams, fantasies: the state will only reproduce its own social bond (and even the former option would only be a regression to the base level of this bond, i.e. masculine sexuation). If we want to generate a new social bond, we must not wait for the state - this was the failure of Bolshevism, of course - we must do it now, we must act whether the situation is ripe or not, in the spirit of Lenin and Luxemburg. Schizoanalysis, as I understand it, is the practical generation of this new bond.

When Mark proposes that the acceleration of capitalism relies on the state, rather than being inhibited by it and antagonistic to it, he is absolutely right, but this is nonetheless a false problem. It is by virtue of providing an obstacle, an inhibition or prohibition, to accelerating capitalization that the state serves as its condition: the obstacle is at the same time the motor, the prohibited behavior is motivated, egged on, by the prohibition itself. Zizek makes this point again and again, that the dynamics of capitalist production are triggered by the very obstacle that limits them. Without some minimal level of restrictions, limitations, legal and institutional supports, the capitalist dynamic would never get off the ground.

In terms of this crisis, we can say that it is because of the state that acceleration reached such a vertiginous level, a level so great that it began to exceed the supports that allowed it to develop at all, and threatened to undermine its own conditions. Once the acceleration reaches a certain intensity, it becomes unsupportable, falls apart, and must be reconditioned, with a new set of regulations, a new configuration of the market and its politico-legal support. Now that we have reached such a threshold, withdrawal of the state would lead to disintegration immediately, so we don't need to intensify, accelerate, any further. The question of accelerationism is not one of removing the impediment of state regulation and support, so that the dynamics of capitalism can be fully unleashed. It is rather that of a dynamic that only grows in relation to a limit-condition, and that at a certain point undermines its own condition by exceeding its limit, threatening both condition and conditioned in the process. Again, we don't need to accelerate further, we've reached escape velocity, the only question is whether or not the mutually assured destruction of the state and capital is to be abated by a reconditioning of the dynamic and its limit.

So, to return to the question of my last post, what does this mean for those of us on the ground level, trying to enact a new praxical organization and a new social bond? We are at the point of maximum acceleration, or rather, it has just passed, and we are now suspended in a kind of vague, transitional space between reconditioning and collapse. This transition will doubtlessly be navigated by the state and the global finance apparatus, the limits displaced and reestablished, the dynamic recommenced. Yet we are all nonetheless witness to this eerie suspension of the capitalist dyad, in which investment (lending) is overwhelmingly frozen. The possibility this opens for ground level mobilization is significant, though slight: it is the possibility of installing an analytic function that would radicalize this suspension, by forcing into the socio-symbolic texture a potential value indifferent to any realization, a potential that was missed in actuality but nonetheless inheres therein as foreclosed, ancestral, spectral. The flip side of this forcing of a sterile potential is the genesis of an actual praxis or production radically indifferent to any determination by capital, investment or realized surplus.

To bring this out of such a top-heavy theoretical formulation, we can say that the crisis, in suspending the determining power of capital, can open for us all the way to a radically heterogeneous kind of solidarity or social bond. The basis of this bond is that, in admitting that capital determines value, we must have given up, before we were aware of doing so, on that power: we lost our relation to a value that has no relation to determination. In more concrete terms, every one of us, no matter what class or social standing, is only where she is, only enjoys the privileges she does, only has the chance to live, because of the sacrifices and struggles of our ancestors, who gave up everything so that we might inherit the world. This is not to say that every predecessor sacrificed for us, but that we all bear the mark of some sacrifice that was made on our behalf, and this is what I call the ancestral dimension. If a new social bond is to grow, it must abandon the selfish concern with ourselves and our contemporaries, as well as with our children, who are always our own, and instead seize upon our universally shared indebtedness to our ancestors, to those who wanted us to have a better world, a better life. Or rather, we are not indebted, we are ourselves the debt owed to them, despite their preclusion from any repayment.

This is all very rough at this point, but the gist of my claim is that this crisis can provide us with many opportunities to raise questions with the social bond of capitalism, which is basically the obliteration of the ancestral dimension. It is by intervening in such instances of suspension or deactivation of master-signifiers that schizoanalysis can enact their conversion into non-signifiers, which can then become the raw materials of analytic machines. An analytic machine is a collective arrangement within an existing institution or social body that reorients the latter's praxis on the basis of a continuous experimentation with organizational programs, materials, and productions. To be clear, I am not saying that capitalism is one such master-signifier that has now encountered a crisis by way of which we might appropriate it. My point is that the social bond of capital is instituted by master-signifiers, and that a crisis in capitalism will inevitably amount to a crisis in the stability of this social bond.

This is not to say that schizoanalysis can only operate in the wake of such global crises; a general crisis such as this one is only an example, and in fact, capital is constantly generating crises, every single day, although they are typically more local and specific. From crises in the personal finances of a family, to the potential failure of a business, the loss of jobs from a community due to outsourcing, the constant threat of nihilistic depression and detachment... Master-signifiers are constantly being threatened by the very order they instate and condition. The strategic question, then, is where to intervene, and how to develop the practical application of conversion, production and circulation of non-signifiers, installation and engineering of analytic machines, and so on.

In short, so long as the principle focus of xenoeconomics is on the global relation between capitalism and states, and not on concrete social arrangements, organizations, institutions, it will never amount to more than sterile theoretical speculation. Schizoanalysis seizes on the concrete questions raised by xenoeconomics - those of the relation between the social bond of capital and the necessary foreclosure of the ancestral - and incorporates them into a practical engagement with such arrangements, aiming at the genesis of new organizations of production and enunciation that enact a new social bond.


Finally, I want to thank Nicole at Rough Theory for her kind mention and recommendation of my blog. The thoughts I've been working on recently, including my thesis, are very much indebted to her fantastic reading of Marx, as well as her brilliant critique of Derrida's Specters of Marx. My work would not be the same without her inspiration and influence, and so it is quite an honor to have her support.


augenblick said...

I'm pretty sure it's in response to stuff like this that Marx wrote The Poverty of Philosophy.

Reid Kotlas said...


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