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 27, 2008

Notes for the Debate: Alien vs. Specter

I want to briefly sketch out how hauntology, or the particular revision of it I have been working on, not only relates to but is ultimately indispensable for a xenoeconomic approach to capitalism. I am still finishing a more detailed post working this question out in relation to finance capital and speculation, but I feel the need to provide an abstract of my position, so as to build upon the debate that naughtthought has so pertinently outlined.

My point of departure was Rough Theory's critique of Derrida's Specters of Marx, the text in which hauntology was first developed. Derrida's approach here in large part continues his formalization of Benjamin's Marxism, resulting in a 'Messianic without messianism', a messianic promise emptied of every content, every substantial identification of the messiah or messianic time. Yet, following Agamben, I found this hollowed out version of Benjamin thoroughly unsatisfying, and this was only emphasized when Derrida applies the same operation to Marx, claiming that any substantial ontologization of the spectral - be it the proletariat, communism, the commodity-form, et cetera - is self-defeating, leading us to lose the truly subversive core of Marxism, which is the revelation of the spectral inherence/inheritance in and of existence. Derrida claims that any such ontologization is in the service of a conjuration seeking to rid us of the spectral, to lead us back to its real source in material existence.

My claim is that this completely misses the point of both Benjamin and Marx. Whereas Derrida seems completely preoccupied by apparitions, returns, revenants, hauntings, and so on, I claim that what Marx accomplishes with the notion of proletariat is a break with this logic. My thesis develops this in greater detail, but the basic point is that we can find in Marx hints that proletariat names not an existing social group amongst others, but moreover, a spectral inherence in politico-economic reality. The difference between this spectrality and those that Derrida analyzes, however, is that the proletariat is characterized not by incessant apparitions, hauntings, and so on, but rather, by an incessant failure to appear, an inapparation and absence. Unlike other ghosts, the proletariat haunts us by not appearing, not returning, despite our expectations and longing.

It is this spectral absence that is attested to in the whole symptomatology of failed revolutionary attempts and experiments. My point is that the proletariat is the name (or, to borrow a locution from Brassier or Laurelle, the non-conceptual symbol) of that which must remain inexistent, absolutely absented from the capitalist world. Inexistence here does not simply mean not existing as opposed to existing, but rather, something that neither exists nor doesn't exist for capitalism, something that cannot even enter the capitalist frame, something irreparably foreclosed to capital. Because existence or non-existence depends upon determination within a world, and the inexistent can never enter into such a world but is always rejected, left out and dispossessed, inexistence then characterizes something utterly indifferent to existence or non-existence, to any determination of existence.

The proletariat is then a peculiar kind of spectrality, that of the ancestral. (I started using this locution before reading Meillassoux, as a reference to the oppressed class of history in Benjamin's theses. Now that I have read After Finitude, my version of this concept has significantly deepened, and I have been working on a critical assessment of his work on the basis of what I'm doing here. So this is the first intersection between hauntology and specualtive realism.) The ancestral as I define it is that which is absolutely anterior to a world, that which must have been left out of a world so that it could have been, something that absolutely must not be (or moreover, that absolutely must not not-be either). The proletariat, as the revolutionary subject position generated by the very antagonistic structure of capitalism, must have been necessarily left out, a-voided, neutralized from the outset. So the question of contemporary Marxism is not, why did the revolution fail to happen, why did the proletariat act against its class interests?; the starting point must be the assertion that the proletariat does not exist.

In other words, the proletariat as ancestral is that which is necessarily foreclosed to capital; capital and its world only exist insofar as the proletariat is absolutely absented. [Here, the concept of foreclosure points toward another interesting intersection, between Laurelle's non-philosophy and Lacanian psychoanalysis. The crucial question is that of Lacan's later usage of this term, as it differs from his early work on psychosis, and primarily of the primordial foreclosure constitutive of the symbolic. As I understand it, if psychosis results when something foreclosed from the symbolic returns in the real, the ancestral involves something foreclosed from the real returning in the symbolic, as a non-conceptual symbol or non-signifier.] This brings up the matter of xenoeconomics: my point is that the non-correlational, non-decisional essence of capital is none other than the proletariat qua foreclosed ancestrality.

Capital only becomes capital, that is, it only admits the power to create value, once labor-power has been completely absented and dispossessed, that is, once it 'never existed in the first place', at least not as the original creative capacity to endow things with value. Labor-power is, for capitalism, only capable of investing objects with value insofar as capital first invests labor with this power, rather than the converse. By identifying the speculative Real of capital with the foreclosed proletariat, we are not secretly re-humanizing capital, because the proletariat is the complete loss of man, as Marx famously says. (This is not coincidently the title of my thesis.)

The political problem that arises from this is not one of reclaiming the power to create value from capital, or of becoming or reanimating or avenging the proletariat. It is a matter of redemption, which involves naming the proletariat as irreparably foreclosed to us. It is a matter of enacting the incompletion of capital by forcing into its texture the non-signifier of its foreclosed Real. Or, to be more concrete, it means organizing and reorganizing on the basis of a new social bond, or a shift within the existing social bond. If the capitalist social bond involves the already-accomplished foreclosure of the proletariat, then the bond I am describing simply means taking responsibility for this foreclosure, naming it rather than allowing it to go unspoken. The consequences, and concrete implementation, of this shift are precisely what I am trying to develop by way of a systematic explication of schizoanalytic practice.

So this is where I stand: xenoeconomics cannot do without a hauntology of the ancestral, a rigorous explication of the foreclosed Real of capital, which is to say, a forcing into existence of the inexistence of the proletariat. Perhaps this can lend a new ring to Marx's great task of the Communist party: to organize the proletariat as a class...To make a class of the non-class, so as to undermine class itself.


kvond said...

Wonderful essay.

I would want to ask you though, as you write, "the starting point must be the assertion that the proletariat does not exist," why would not such an analysis also lead one to conclude that the Bourgeosie does not exist as well? If the Proletariat is only spectral, wherein comes the substantiality of the imagined transitional class or even the "ruling class" rich? It is one thing to assume that that on whose behalf you revolutionize does not exist, but what happens when that which you revolutionize against does not exist either? If the Proletariat is a "foreclosed" class, I see no reason to speak of classes at all, unless one wants to conflate a vague notion of Lacanian Symbolic, and Capital itself, a conflation I see no justification for.

kvond said...

Or, to ask my question another way. Let us say that I and my co-workers are fruit pickers. We turn "stuff that grows on trees" into a material that can be packaged and sold. Now, let us say that we unionize, all of us, and others in the area get together and agree to strike unless our wages are raised. Our wages are raised.

Now, in what way is our unionization partaking of an ancestral and foreclosed category? What happens when a "foreclosed" category is acted behalf of? Where does the REALITY of union express itself?

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