Some provisional thoughts on Pierre Michon’s The Origin of the World and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s novels
What is the origin of the world? In French writer Pierre Michon’s eponymous novelette (of 84 pages) it is desire. Hence, the world is not the law of the language – or, as Michon writes, “words and their effects” – but the imperative of desire. But what is desire? Michon’s novel strives to show us that the world is not the certitude and stability of language as signifying, valorising power. Rather, language as world is an uncertain, precarious and ephemeral gestus, which, therefore, renders the world in its origin numinous. It is this that is desire. There is, of course, the question of “flesh”, and Michon does not fight shy of it at all: “Yes something in my class resembled her, it had bright eyes under plump eyelids and inky hair—but not the breasts or the ass, without even mentioning the earrings, and who therefore didn’t resemble her at all: Bernard, her son, who was seven years old and whose flesh was entirely superfluous to hers, because hers was a flesh more impetuous and dense than these thirty little-boy kilos.” Yet another example: “Helene’s dead flesh was radiant. Her flesh was no longer hers but was elsewhere, detached, free of her,…”
For Michon, flesh resides in between the two modes of its linguistic animation; thus alternating between instancing its own subordination to the power of objectification (and thus subjectivation), and instantiating the deobjectifying (and thus desubjectivating) force. Michon’s own preference is, however, clear. It’s for the latter. For him, the world (and its origin) is the evanescence of presencing. This world comes to exist in radical difference to the world as an object as its disavowal.
What the novel in question, therefore, gives us, and strives to be, is the evanescent ontology of difference. And what we have, as a consequence, is something aporetic, even paradoxical: metaphysics of the concrete.
In such circumstances, I am compelled to think of Michon’s novel vis-à-vis the novels of Alain Robbe-Grillet, especially ‘Jealousy’, and the “optical writing” (Barthes on Robbe-Grillet) they exemplify. Both Michon and Robbe-Grillet are, in my opinion, clearly grappling with the same philosophical question: the world as evanescence and/or numinousness. They, however, come to that question from two fundamentally opposed ontological presuppositions and with two utterly different stylistic approaches. As a result, the (literary) effects they produce in grappling with that question are radically distinct from one another.
For neither of them can the world be an object, a presence. But while for Michon the numinous origin of the world renders the world the ephemera of presencing; in Robbe-Grillet, evanescence as the world makes the world an absencing. The event as the world is, for Michon, presencing, while for Robbe-Grillet, the world as event is arguably presentation of the void of the world. Which is why world-becoming, for Michon, is the disavowal of objectification of the world — which is the world as presence-at-hand — by way of differing away, and thus withdrawing, from it. For Robbe-Grillet, on the other hand, the world as its own becoming is a disavowal of its subjectivation — which is precisely what linguistically ascertained presence-at-hand amounts to — by way of radical antagonism towards such an ascertained presence. Such antagonism seeks to efface, not abandon (as in Michon), the world as an object and a presence-at-hand.
In Robbe-Grillet’s novels, the constant chasing of the subject by the (pure) opticality of the object – registered in the effect of a hysterically obsessive subjectum and its critical paranoia – reveals that for the author of those novels the origin of the world is a void, and thus the world, and/or materiality, in its becoming is voiding or destruction as a process. That is why Robbe-Grillet’s novels are worlds as an excessive delirium of language that is always on the brink of implosion.
In stark contrast, Michon’s novel is world-becoming as the subjectum’s differentiating withdrawal from the linguistically ascertained, and thus objectified, world. In Michon, language — unlike the hysterically obsessive excessiveness that it is in Robbe-Grillet – is a constant striving for its own purification. This is rendered evident by the (literary) effect Michon, the author, therefore, produces: the gnomic, and enigmatic, sparseness of the novel’s prose.
We could perhaps then say that while Michon is a mytho-poetic writer in the best (that is, materialist) sense of the term; Robbe-Grillet is a dialectician of language in its most militantly destructive sense.
But while all of this would perhaps be adequate insofar as an aesthetic appraisal of the novel is concerned, it would fall woefully short as an explication of the philosophical, and political, effects that Michon produces as its writer.
We will, therefore, do well to confront the problem of love the novel deals with in tandem with the question of desire. Love is not synonymous with desire and yet the two are inseparable. Love is the affirmative obverse of desire as destruction. Michon grasps this perfectly. The novel demonstrates that love is not a relation, but an encounter. It is the divine violence of a gift that is dispossessing and yet precisely because of that refuses to be possessed. “She had flushed an even crimson, her white chin hesitating, weighing whether it would continue to bear her smile. It did; but in her eyes was a sort of call, a dream, a refusal sometimes seen on women,… a delicious servility and a vain shudder of revolt that was yet more delicious. She bridled, she relented, she offered up both her revolt and her defeat, the two grinding against each other with neither of them prevailing.”
And yet, love/desire is the sparsely beautiful and enigmatic language that is the novel – the linguistic precarity concomitant with constant withdrawal of language from its own presence as a way of self-purification. This reveals that for Michon love/desire is mythopoeisis: a subjectivity seeking its absolute purification. Hence, love/desire is, in Michon, not a machine that can destroy history. Instead, Michon’s love is, as we have observed earlier too, abandonment of history. Clearly, Michon’s vision of love – and desire – constitutes a kind of unfree mysticism. Much like what Marx had discerned in the philosophy of the Stoics.
That is perhaps the reason why the novel in question, unlike the novels of Robbe-Grillet, or the ‘works of love’ by surrealists such as Andre Breton, does not come anywhere near imploding – or collapsing unto itself – as the world it is. (In surrealism there is always the poetic beauty of mythic enigma and yet that is usually never unaccompanied by the destructiveness of the prosaic by way of delirious excessiveness of reason and its language.)
The enigmatic sublimity of ‘The Origin of the World’, which is its mythopoeisis, is then precisely its problem. It’s a problem that Michon shares with Nietzsche, pace Karl Loewith: the problem of striving to be pagan (“I will”) in a metaphysical world (of “Thou shalt”) that has come to be on account of paganism outliving itself. This is a world that has come into being — through the internal mutation of the proto-materialist, “crude-thinking” (in Brecht’s sense) pagan universe of rigorous particularism – as one of historical reason and/or other kinds of secular or religious metaphysics. Clearly then, this problem is at the heart of the mytho-poetic mode, which disavows the world of historical reason by seeking to continuously withdraw from it. This is radically distinct from the mode of the materialist dialectic, and its anadialectical thinking, that envisages redemption from history in terms of “profane illumination” (Benjamin), which amounts to destruction of world encaged in historical reason by way of (uninterruptedly) subtracting from it. In the mytho-poetic mode abandonment of history, and not its destruction through subtraction from it, constitutes redemption from history. If this is not unfree mysticism, wherein freedom is mere subjective illumination and ethics, what is?
Roland Boer as usual discovers gems in Stalin’s writings. This one definitely establishes Stalin to be the real founder of the principle of peaceful coexistence. Khrushchev and the Twentieth Congress simply stole it…
Originally posted on STALIN'S MOUSTACHE:
Against the standard position that Stalin saw enemies all around him and was seeking world conquest, it is worth recalling comments like these. This is from 1947, in response to an interview question:
Let us not mutually criticize our systems. Everyone has the right to follow the system he wants to maintain. Which one is better will be said by history. We should respect the systems chosen by the people, and whether the system is good or bad is the business of the American people. To co-operate, one does not need the same systems. One should respect the other system when approved by the people. Only on this basis can we secure co-operation. Only, if we criticize, it will lead us too far.
As for Marx and Engels, they were unable to foresee what would happen forty years after their death. But we should adhere to mutual respect of people…
View original 128 more words
“…the principle of Epicurean philosophy is not the gastrology of Archestratus as Chrysippus believes, but the absoluteness and freedom of self-consciousness — even if self-consciousness is only conceived in the form of individuality.
“If abstract-individual self-consciousness is posited as an absolute principle then, indeed, all true and real science is done away with [aufgehoben] inasmuch as individuality does not rule within the nature of things themselves. But then, too, everything collapses that is transcendentally related to human consciousness and therefore belongs to the imagining mind. On the other hand, if that self-consciousness which knows itself only in the form of abstract universality is raised to an absolute principle, then the door is opened wide to superstitious and unfree mysticism. Stoic philosophy provides the historic proof of this. Abstract-universal self-consciousness has, indeed, the intrinsic urge to affirm itself in the things themselves in which it can only affirm itself by negating them.
“Epicurus is therefore the greatest representative of Greek Enlightenment, and he deserves the praise of Lucretius:
“Humana ante oculos foede cum vita iaceret
In terris oppressa gravi sub religione
Quae caput a caeli regionibus ostendebat
Horribili super aspectu mortalibus instans,
Primum Graius homo mortalis tollere contra.
Est oculos ausus primusque obsistere contra,
Quem neque fama deum nec fulmina nec minitani
Murmure compressit caelum………………………
Quare religio pedibus subjecta vicissim
Obteritur, nos exaequat victoria caelo.”
(“When human life lay grovelling in all men’s sight, crushed to the earth under the dead weight of religion whose grim features loured menacingly upon mortals from the four quarters of the sky, a man of Greece was first to raise mortal eyes in defiance, first to stand erect and brave the challenge. Fables of the gods did not crush him, nor the lightning flash and growling menace of the sky…. Therefore religion in its turn lies crushed beneath his feet, and we by his triumph are lifted level with the skies.”)
“The difference between Democritean and Epicurean philosophy of nature…has been elaborated and confirmed in all domains of nature. In Epicurus, therefore, atomistics with all its contradictions has been carried through and completed as the natural science of self-consciousness. This self-consciousness under the form of abstract individuality is an absolute principle. Epicurus has thus carried atomistics to its final conclusion, which is its dissolution and conscious opposition to the universal. For Democritus, on the other hand, the atom is only the general objective expression of the empirical investigation of nature as a whole. Hence the atom remains for him a pure and abstract category, a hypothesis, the result of experience, not its active [energisches] principle. This hypothesis remains therefore without realisation, just as it plays no further part in determining the real investigation of nature.”
–Karl Marx, ‘Difference Between The Democritean And Epicurean Philosophy of Nature In General’
SOME SYLLOGISTIC ‘QUESTIONS’, AND OBSERVATIONS
What do we have here? Marx, the Epicurean affirmationist and anti-dialectician in a Hegelian garb? And was this not who Marx really always was? Is this not the Marx that Althusser and his band of Althusserians, particularly Macherey and Badiou, produce through their detour via the Greek atomists (and Spinoza in Macherey’s case), thanks to the ‘discovery’ of the “epistemological break” between Early Marx with his expressivist human ontology and subject and Late Marx with his antagonism between concrete labour and productive forces on one hand, and abstract labour and social relations of production on the other? Was this not the Marx that was always there, right at the very beginning — this being his doctoral dissertation — and who had only momentarily been obscured by the dross of Hegel’s dialectic and Young Hegelian dialectical anthropology? Did not the Marx of Capital, but especially of the Grundrisse, continue doing what he does in this doctoral thesis of his: mobilise and deploy the dialectical discourse against itself in order to have it break with itself? Is it not this break with the dialectic and its structure — which is tantamount to the universalisibality of the singular — that is evident here when he writes:” Abstract-universal self-consciousness has, indeed, the intrinsic urge to affirm itself in the things themselves in which it can only affirm itself by negating them.”? Sure, he uses the Hegelian-dialectical terminology and conception of negation to articulate this anti-dialectical universal. But is that anything more than his historically given threshold of sayability? So then, is the dialectic of productive forces and social relations of production that Marx elaborates really meant by him to be a dialectic? Or, is the relentlessness of the dialectical machine — that is his magnum opus Capital — not actually meant to indicate the relentlessness of the antagonism of the singular universalising to the dialectical universality? In fact, is that not the direction he unambiguously indicates in his Grundrisse, what with the text tending clearly towards according conceptual primacy to labour vis-a-vis capital and its labour theory of value?
The Althusserian conception of materialism of thought — which in Badiou’s conception of “subjective-materiality” finds a more rigorous and developed reformulation through Mallarme, but also Pessoa — is an Epicurean-subtractionist conception. Epicurus is so extreme in his anti-universalising rigorous particularism that it amounts to subtraction from the diremptive horizon of the universal and the particular, and is thus universal-singularity. Marx’s reading of Epicurus’s philosophy of nature points clearly in that direction. In the portion excerpted above he writes: “If abstract-individual self-consciousness is posited as an absolute principle then, indeed, all true and real science is done away with [aufgehoben] inasmuch as individuality does not rule within the nature of things themselves. But then, too, everything collapses that is transcendentally related to human consciousness and therefore belongs to the imagining mind.” The last sentence of this quote is particularly irrefutable as evidence on that count.
And this is the direction Althusser pursues in his later conception of aleatory materialism or materialism of the encounter. Badiou follows that path even further as is evident from his conceptions such as truth as “fidelity to the event”, the “universal-singular” and “subtractive ontology”. Both of them correctly grasp the materialist dialectic as the culmination of Epicurean rigorous particularism and thus subtractive universal-singularity. This evidently makes this materialist dialectic the operation of forcing the truth of the aleatory, the encounter, or the event a la Badiou. In fact, when Althusser articulates his conception of materiality as pure happening (the encounter) sans all matter, it is this Epicurean subtractionist conception of materiality that he strives to affirm.
That Marx himself adopted this Epicurean-subtractive modality of thinking – albeit in the discursive idiom of Hegelian dialectics — is evident in how he envisages and articulates his conception of natural history of capital in Capital, Volume I. Marx’s conception of natural history with regard to his discursive representation of capital as its own immanent critique – Adorno was to later further develop this conception of natural history in his Negative Dialectics — reveals how the emergence and generalisation of productive labour is constitutive of diremption between man, and nature-as-matter. Something that, therefore, renders labour, in its situation within and animation by that horizon of diremption, fundamentally immaterial.
Marx’s conception of capital in terms of natural history, therefore, also demonstrates that labour can emancipate itself from its constitutive condition of immateriality (or ideality) only in, as and through its self-abolition. That is encapsulated in clear programmatic terms in his Critique of the Gotha Programme. And labour in self-abolition would basically be materiality as a rupture with the horizon of constitutive diremption of labour in its immateriality and nature-as-matter, to be an affirmation of the singularity of nature as nonidentitarian excess of identity, or as the negativity of the historical in and as its own determinate presentation.
Clearly, therefore, materiality, a la Marx’s conception of natural history, is not simply nature-as-matter because matter is nothing but the constitutive obverse of the immateriality or ideality of labour. Rather, materiality, in this conception, is the duration and/or historicity of nature as nonidentitarian excess. This is precisely materiality without matter, as materiality should and can only be. In that context, the Althusserian conception of materialism of thought, and Badiou’s conception of “subjective-materiality” is an Epicurean-subtractionist rearticulation of this natural-historical conception of materiality without matter.
We can, therefore, also easily claim that Althusser and, especially, Badiou’s subtractionist rearticulation of the materialist dialectic – something they accomplish by reading the materialist dialectic in Marx through the prism of Epicurus and Greek atomism – is a reformulation of the Marxian conception of natural history in the discursive register of Epicurean and Greek atomism. Can we not?
Hardik Patel and Gujarat model, not exceptions to capital, but its norm: Some agreements and many disagreements with an ET article
The author of the article, Mr T.K. Arun, writes:
“…. Here is Hardik Patel, offering concrete proof that Gujarat remains at least as backward, culturally, as the rest of India, after spending 12 years in the supposedly transformative furnace of the Gujarat Model.
“This young leader of Patels, a dominant community of Gujarat, has convinced his people that being backward is the way forward. His slogan is simple: reservation or bust! It reflects a perception that getting a larger share of a relatively bland but existing pie is far more important than baking an all-new, mouthwatering pie for yourself. That view stems from the understanding that future prosperity is pie in the sky.
“If the participatory base of growth is broad and growth sustains at a high rate, the popular aspiration would be to seize a piece of an assuredly bright future, rather than to corner a larger chunk of the shrivelled present. Clearly, the future does not burn bright as a citadel of redemption from the dowdy present, even for a numerically large and economically powerful community of Gujarat such as the Patidars or Patels. Hence there has been no sustained, participatory growth in Gujarat, even if there has been sustained growth.”
Now, I couldn’t agree more with some of Mr Arun’s crucial observations here. But then the inferences I draw on the basis of those observations are starkly different from the ones that Mr Arun derives from them.
In my opinion, sustained growth and sustained participatory growth are, beyond a point, inversely related to one another. For, the rise in the rate of growth, on account of it being characterised by an increase in capital formation, implies increase in the organic composition of capital. And the rise in productivity concomitant with this increase in organic composition is tantamount to a simultaneity of increased same-skilling due to functional simplification of the labour-process and progressive diminution of living labour in the production process. That, in turn, means increasing precarity of socio-economic positions across the productive/reproductive board due to increasing supply in the labour-market and an attendant rise in competitive pressures on that market. (This increasing and accelerating precarity is often registered by, among other things, a spurt in growth of employment opportunities that are, however, extremely precarious and uncertain in nature. As a matter of fact, the marked rise in the number and type of such “bullshit” jobs that we have been witness to for a while now is nothing more than the system’s reactive attempt to manage its growing labour reserves both economically and politically.) Not only that, this increase in supply in the productive labour market is tantamount to an increase in what Marx termed the “industrial reserve army” that, precisely due to this spurt in its growth, serves to discipline and regiment the productive labour employed in an increasingly intensifying production process, which is undergoing this intensification thanks to the progressive increase in organic composition of capital.
But please do not mistake this contention of mine as the usual moribund ‘leftist’-protectionist plea for deceleration of such precarity. That is far from what I am trying to get at. My point precisely is that such precarity of socio-economic segmentation of the working class cannot not only be halted or slowed down, but needs to be clearly shown, at the level of multiple concrete situations, for what it generally is: capital existing as an open demonstration of the constitutive crisis it has always been. It’s on account of this permanent and open nature of the constitutive crisis of capital now that the ease with which the generality of this crisis is grasped by all inhabitants of the capitalist social factory in the sheer immediacy of their respective lived-experiences tends to significantly go up. And that, needless to say, enhances the probability of actualisation of militant anti-capitalist subjective interventions. It’s this that I think is the task before militants seriously committed to working-class politics today.
Therefore, there is, in a certain sense, a narrow path that runs in between the argument that increasing participatory growth will put an end to such reactionary assertions — which I insist will not be the case — and the protectionist ‘leftist’ insistence to slow down growth in order to preserve the earlier forms of segmentations and privileges and hierarchies within the working class and, as a result, within society as a whole. The latter is equally implausible. Therefore, it’s this narrow path that those aspiring to become militants of an effectively radical anti-capitalist, working-class politics should walk. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this increasing precarity due to acceleration of (capitalist) growth must be affirmed. This, not of course from the vantage-point of capitalist economic rationality that is occupied by the writer of the ET article linked above, but from the standpoint of communism. After all, this precarity of socio-technical division of labour is clearly what Marx would have characterised as capital digging its own grave. For, communism, as the actuality of the immanent critique of capital, would precisely be the new quality of abolished social division of labour. This is prefigured, within capital in its late decadent moment, by quantitative change from the relatively more stable technical composition of social labour of earlier moments of capital to a more precarised technical composition of social labour now.
Not for nothing does the Italian Marxist, Paolo Virno, call this late-capitalist, post-fordist moment of increasingly dispersed and precarious production process the “communism of capital”. To call this decadent late capitalist moment “communism of capital” is, however, not to affirm it in the sense of either celebrating it for what it is, or in a determinist, Bernsteinian fashion that views this situation, with misplaced hope, as capital lurching towards its own end. Rather, it is to affirm it in the sense of seeing in this situation the extremely heightened probability of breaking with capital itself and striving to leverage that through strategically apposite subjective interventions.
In that context, the rise of reactionary assertions of identity politics and rioting — like the Hardik Patel phenomenon in Gujarat — registers precisely this precarity of socio-economic power across the board due to sustained growth, which, as I have sought to argue above, is bound to be inherently anti-democratic and anti-participatory because of its capitalist constitutivity. To that extent the Hardik Patel rally that triggered rioting is a typically populist movement, which should be distinguished from movements that are popular on account of their radical transformative orientation in a strict material sense. And insofar as it’s populist, Patel’s movement ought to be characterised as reactionary anti-capitalism, if not also as anti-capitalism of capital.
It must be briefly mentioned here as an aside that populism, whether its ideological self-representation is leftist or rightist, is always the anti-systemic politics of the system (capitalist anti-capitalism) and is, to that extent, restorative. Of course, it is undeniable that the colour and tenor of such ideological self-representation is contingent on the objective location of the social forces from which a particular movement emanates. Earlier — i.e. in the conjunctural moment of early capitalism and embedded liberalism — leftist populisms were distinguishanble from the populisms of the right, because while the former produced social democratic effects the consequences of the latter were as reactionary and conservative then as they are now. Where the two populisms converged even then, however, was in their restorative orientation.
In this conjunctural moment of late capitalism and neoliberalism that convergence has become even more pronounced. The two ideological representations have, for all practical purposes, become virtually identical. Due to change in the objective social composition — which characterises the shift to late capitalism and neoliberalism from early capitalism and embedded liberalism — the two populisms now have not only the same restorative orientation but also produce, at an objective level, similar communitarian-reactionary effects. The distinction between the social-democratic reformist effect of left populisms and the reactionary-communitarian effect of right populisms now stands all but obliterated.
In such circumstances, it will be phenomena such as the Hardik Patel movement that will continue to rise steadily with every passing day. (In fact, this has been the dominant political trajectory since the years of the Mandal and the mandir.) And the increasing frequency of recurrence of this phenomenon of populist riot — in all possible kinds of shapes and forms — will keep enhancing the probability of successful anti-capitalist subjective interventions even as the failure of such interventionist initiatives will, like in a feedback loop, effect a further rise in the number, scale and frequency of such reactionary, populist-sectarian riots.
In other words, it’s through the progressive rise in the experience of suffering and pain — concomitant with the increasing frequency of such reactionary, otherising phenomena which not only register such suffering and pain but also reinforce them — that an effectively radical anti-capitalist politics is likely to come, if at all. For, if such politics continues to fail to seize its moment, which, dialectically speaking, is symptomatised, paradoxically, by the rise of such reactionary socio-political phenomena, we will continue our ever-accelerating counter-revolutionary descent into the bottomless abyss of reaction. This will be capitalism as barbarism, which as Marx insisted would be the common ruin of contending classes. We have, in fact, been in that moment for a while now. The moment of revolution is also the moment of counter-revolution and vice-versa. And if revolution does not disarm counter-revolution the latter will, as we can well see in and through the immediacy of our own lived-experience, continue to disarm the former with increasing alacrity.
Therefore, the problem lies with the Gujarat model not because it is a deviation from the so-called democratic and participatory norm of capital — something the article linked above argues — but precisely because it faithfully embodies the essence of capital, which is irrationally founded rationality.
Unless the state, and its attendant state power, are grasped and demonstrated as the operation of the grammar of social relations –in other words, the structure of circulation of value, and exchange — all attacks on the state, whether envisaged in terms of seizure of state power or in terms of resisting the state, and withdrawal from it, will only result in its recomposition and reinforcement.
So, deregulation that capital proposes should be grasped not as the disappearance of the state, but the recomposition of the modern state-formation that is the structure (or grammar) of circulation of value, and exchange — or recomposition of the regime of capitalist class relations — that is more favourable for capital as a social totality. Deregulation is, indeed, re-regulation. It has changed (recomposed) the modern state that represented social capital (capital in its social totality) in the early capitalist conjuncture of embedded liberalism to being an agency of capital in its late, neoliberal conjuncture. [In fact, this character of the modern state was already evident, albeit merely as localised instantiations then, in the early capitalist conjuncture itself. First, with Bonapartism and then with Fascism. Marx, vis-a-vis the political form of the reign of Louis Bonaparte, and, following in his footsteps, August Thalheimer with regard to German Nazism, had sought to explicate this phenomenon in terms of the “autonomization of the executive” (Thalheimer’s term). Mario Tronti’s conception of the “autonomy of the political” can be read as an updation and reformulation of Marx and Thalheimer’s conception of “autonomization of the executive” for the late capitalist conjuncture.]
Hence, a politics that seeks to disavow the power of the modern state, whose structure is formational, cannot afford to buy into the neoliberal plea for ‘deregulation’ as providing it the means to accomplish the historical attenuation of state, its governmental functionality, and the microcapilaries of power constitutive of it. Foucault’s politics — which derives from a more rigorously articulated theory of what is arguably anarchist politics, and which is based on the ethics of care of the self and “resistances” to power in terms of withdrawal from it — falls precisely into that error.
What such an error on Foucault’s part demonstrates, among other things, is that anarchist politics as a manifestation of its radical essence would amount to nothing less than libertarianism veering to the right. That would be a political subjectivity completely in sync with the structure of capital in its neoliberal conjunctural specificity.
The libertarian political subjectivity integral to Foucault’s affirmation of the ethics of care of the self — whether it be envisaged in a hedonist manner or a radical-communitarian one — gets objectively, and unwittingly, inscribed within the neoliberal political project. For, what else is neoliberalism but the conjunctural objectivity of capital as an accelerated horizon and dynamic of expanded reproduction and actual subsumption of living labour (or creativity, Marx’s “use-value”) by dead labour (capital as a structure of valorisation) respectively? Neoliberalism is nothing but the existence and perpetuation of capital as its own terminal crisis, and yet one that is not the unravelling of capital, which is the law of value and thus fetish character of social relations.
In that sense, neoliberalism is a unique conjuncture, wherein capital as an epochality of social relations is in crisis — symptomatised by the current instability or precarity of social locations in terms of the social power they embody — even as radical working class politics is in retreat. In such circumstances, the affirmative Foucauldian conceptions of infinite proliferation of language, the jouissance of boundless productivity through perpetual ascesis or constant differing away becomes a subjective obverse of this neoliberal objectivity.
Of course, such a genealogical subject constitutive of hermeneutic recovery of various historical moments of care of the self does effect recomposition, and thus subversion, of history/capital as a horizon of valorisation and power in order for it to expandedly reproduce itself. But what the affirmationist conceptual framework of Foucault, particularly late Foucault, tends to emphasise as subjectively radical are these recompositions-subversions, not the incipience of interruption of the horizon of history/capital itself that these subjective moments of subversion/recomposition simultaneously instantiate and thwart.
Hence, radical politics in this Foucauldian key of ethicality and ascesis would amount to the acceleration of different “resistances” to different operations of power, or regimes of truth, and their accelerated subversion that would further accelerate the production of new discursive regimes of truth. Foucault, all said and done, does not have a conception of subjectivity of political radicalism as interruption and abolition of capital as the horizon of valorisation and productive power. A subjectivity that by virtue of being an embodiment of the concept of limit of the singular truth of the event (determinate presentation of the void in social relations) envisages the praxis of political radicalism not just as infinite difference but as “infinite difference and infinite deployment of infinite difference” (Badiou’s conception of revolutionary subjectivity in Metapolitics).
And if neoliberalism is, as I have tried to argue above, the conjunctural objectivity of capital as an accelerated horizon and dynamic of expanded reproduction of capital and actual subsumption of living labour (creativity, difference) by dead labour, what would such a (libertarian) conception of accelerated subversions of the horizon of power finally amount to? In that context we can see the limit of what is often called Foucault’s Kantianism. On account of his conception of ethics as the relationship that the self establishes with itself in withdrawing from the moral law, I prefer to term Foucault’s Kantianism as his anti-Kantian (because it is clearly anti-deontic) Kantianism, or radical Kantianism.
So then, does Foucault affirm the neoliberal project? My sense is he does not. But can his conceptual method, and its attendant ethics as politics, be seen as neoliberal anti-neoliberalism? I think it can be.
Be that as it may, the proposal and/or manoeuvre of deregulation cannot be effectively combated, as Leninists after Lenin imagine, in terms of seizing control of state-power. For, in a neoliberal, late capitalist situation when that is no longer objectively possible due to heightened precarity of segmentation of the working class, the Leninist political credo of seizure of state-power easily becomes no more than the basis for a politics of struggling for the preservation/restoration of the given/previous state-formation (composition of capitalist class power) that the ‘deregulatory’ (read re-regulatory) manoeuvres attempt to dismantle/have dismantled through its recomposition.
Commitment to Leninism as a politics of seizure of state-power is, in this neoliberal conjuncture, no more than a commitment to social democracy. And what can social democracy of neoliberalism be save the oppressive and chauvinist lobby politics of some segments of the working class against other segments of the same class that are relatively and relationally disempowered vis-à-vis the former? This renders social democratic politics — including the state-capitalist form of post-revolutionary Leninism (read Stalinism) — an integral politico-ideological appendage of new institutional forms of capitalist control and domination such as prisons, psychiatric institutions, the modern hospital (may we also add trade unions), and so on. On this score Foucault is indisputably right, albeit the politics of libertarian “resistances” he derives from such inferences of his is merely an obverse of the social-democratic political subject of capital. In fact, Althusser , in his seminal explication of “ideological state apparatuses”, had arguably paved the way, albeit from a strictly Marxist perspective, for Foucault’s historico-conceptual work on governmentality. That ideology is not false consciousness but is material in being the instantiation of the default tendency of lapse at the heart of the practical actuality of the science of proletarian class antagonism is what informs Althusser’s explication of ideological state apparatuses.
Fidelity to Lenin in this neoliberal conjuncture must, therefore, be a betrayal of Lenin as the proper name for Leninism. We should strive, instead, to repeat Lenin, strive, as Zizek says, in a Kierkegaardian sense. That is, repeat Lenin with a difference. And this repetition of Lenin with a difference would be constitutive of a politics that breaks with the horizon of disjunctive synthesis between anarchism on one hand and Leninist socialism on the other. And such a politics in breaking with this disjunctive synthesis would be the affirmation of a conjunctive synthesis. Communism as the real movement constitutive of the abolition of given state of affairs is the actuality of this conjunctive synthesis. The question, therefore, is not one of choice: liberty or communism? Instead, it’s one of conjunction: freedom and communism. The simultaneity of political and cultural revolutions, wherein one struggles against immediate oppression while simultaneously seeking to transform the capitalist structure of social relations that is the mediate condition of possibility of such oppression, would constitute the affirmation of this politics of conjunctive synthesis.
Rosa Luxemburg, the German and Dutch left-communists who followed her, and the GPCR’s left-Maoists, together with the Italian (Operaists) and French (Euro-Maoists such as Badiou) inheritors of those legacies (European and Chinese respectively) provide us with various loosely interrelated politico-theoretical approaches to envisage this conjunctively-synthetic politics of communism that is repetition of Lenin with a difference. And in this it bids goodbye to Mr Socialism, that Leninist hobby-horse, as the intermediate stage between capitalism and communism that stems from workers seizing state-power. Rather, it envisages communism as communisation — struggle against immediately oppressive operation of (state) power while simultaneously reorganising concrete social relations of production to determinately abolish the necessitarian character of social relations (or capital as the operation of the law of value) as an uninterruptedly continuous process. This, in the words of the Nietzsche of ‘Ecce Homo’, would be “…negating and destroying are conditions of saying Yes” in its concrete realisation.
This, not surprisingly, spells a return to the classical Marxism of Marx, who minced no words in envisaging communism as “revolution in permanence”.
“…sometimes a man will appear in society for whom it has no ready-made character or at least none that is not being used at the moment by somebody else. First they give him one that doesn’t suit him at all. If he is a man of real originality and there is nothing his size in stock, incapable of trying to understand him, society ostracizes him; unless, of course, he can gracefully play the young juvenile who is always in demand.”
–Proust, ‘Fragments from Italian Comedy’ (Pleasures and Regrets)
This “man of real originality” that Proust presents us with is meant to articulate the exorcism of his very own predicament – the predicament of his writerly practice to be precise. How does one enter “society”, and mingle in it, in order to be able to critically reveal it for what it is: an economy of fetishised appearances? That is, how does a writer such as Proust ensure that his critique of “society”, as an economy of fetishised appearances – a regime of exchange-values or value-relation, to take recourse to Marx’s terminology – in being situated within that economy of value relation is not itself reduced to a fetish; an ideology?
But then who or what is this “man of real originality”? Marx writes in Capital, Volume I: “Whoever directly satisfies his wants with the produce of his own labour, creates, indeed, use-values, but not commodities. In order to produce the latter, he must not only produce use-values, but use-values for others, social use-values (And not only for others, without more. The mediaeval peasant produced quit-rent-corn for his feudal lord and tithe-corn for his parson. But neither the quit-rent-corn nor the tithe-corn became commodities by reason of the fact that they had been produced for others, whom it will serve as a use-value, by means of exchange.) In that light, we can perhaps say that Proust’s “man of real originality” is someone who produces himself only in order to have that production of the self serve the fact of its own existence. He is one who “directly satisfies his wants (to be or to exist) with the produce of his own labour (the labour of producing himself as his own being or existence).”
Clearly, therefore, he is as that “man of real originality” a use-value and its creator, but not a commodity and its producer. And that is because by virtue of being a “man of real originality”, somebody for whom “there is nothing his size in (society’s) stock, he is not a “social use-value”. That is to say, his existence or being is not something that has “been produced for others, whom it will serve as a use-value, by means of exchange”.
The fact that Proust’s “man of real originality” is so precisely because “there is nothing his size in (society’s) stock” is an apposite demonstration of him being a use-value that is, however, not a commodity. Which is to say, he as his own existence or being is a use-value that cannot and does not enter his historically contemporary relation of exchange, or value relation. That “society ostracizes him” symptomatises precisely that. His being a “man of real originality” is doubtless a use-value, but one that is not a “social use-value”. That is to say “a man of real originality” is the singularity of means as its own end.
Proust’s “man of real originality” is being or conation as determinate subtraction, and thus destructive excess, from the economy of fetishised appearances, or exchange/value relation. For, no ostracisation (or exclusion) by society can ever be truly and fully accomplished as long as society exists to identify, and thus include, the ostracised as thus ostracised. Clearly then, full ostracisation of something or someone by society can be truly accomplished only when society as a historically concrete realisation of the mode of valorisation and identification – that is, as the mode of exchange relation and value relation – ceases to be. That Proust’s affirmation of a “man of real originality” is also his affirmation of ostracisation by society thought to its farthest extremity is amply evident when he envisions, in ‘A Young Girl’s Confession’ (in Pleasures and Regrets), “the option of solitude” as “the final decision”, “the choice”, “the truly free act”. And such solitude, as the affirmation of ostracisation by society thought to its farthest extremity, would be a radical solitude, which in turn, would be nothing save communism as the universalisability of the singular.