Some random thoughts on the rationalism/irrationalism divide


If we historicise religion in terms of its pagan provenance we can clearly see religion as unreflexive atheism. That reading is precisely what is at stake in Gramsci’s critical entanglement with the consciousness and culture of what he termed the subaltern. Something that comes across rather clearly in his critique of Bukharin’s manual of Marxist sociology.

On the other hand, the conception of the rational in Hegel’s system of philosophy of history is deeply theological — theology here to be read as the mystification of religion through a hypostasis of its material basis. Albeit, the historical thinking of metaphysics and idealism that is prominently at work in Hegel while he is building his system of philosophy (of history) provides us with the resources needed to reconceptualise rationalism as materialism, against the Hegelian-systemic grain of theology as it were.

One way, my preferred way, of reading materialism off Hegel is provided by Althusserian Pierre Macherey’s deconstructive reading of Hegel’s criticism of Spinoza. He also demonstrates a similar approach when in his affirmative reading of Adorno’s mobilisation of Hegel’s conception of negativity in ‘Negative Dialectics’, Macherey rigorously explicates such Adornesque mobilisation of Hegelian negativity as Spinozist conatus, which is an extensional, and thus non-productive, positivity.

In that context, religion needs to be approached not as a closed system of mystification but, like every other thing in modernity (especially, its theologised commodity of secularism), as a terrain problematisable in terms of it already always being internally divided between the materiality that is its emerging or political (re-)emerging, and its mystified, theologised presence. It’s perhaps time now to revive once again the (Marxian) project of reconceptualising reason/rationalism in terms of materialism as constant movement of internal division between idea and matter, and thus as critique, polemicality and politics, rather than get caught in the (Weberian) historicist and positivist binary of rational contra irrational.

Iqbal’s Aurangzeb: A figure of sectarian reaction or radical internationalism?


“The political genius of Aurangzeb was extremely comprehensive. His one aim of life was, as it were, to subsume the various communities of this country under the notion of one universal empire. But in securing this imperial unity he erroneously listened to the dictates of his indomitable courage which had no sufficient background of political experience behind it. Ignoring the factor of time in the political evolution of his contemplated empire he started an endless struggle in the hope that he would be able to unify the discordant political units of India in his own lifetime. He failed to Islamise (not in the religious sense) India just as Alexander had failed to Hellenise Asia. The Englishman, however, came fully equipped with the political experiences of the nations of antiquity and his patience and tortoise-like perseverance succeeded where the hasty genius of Aurangzeb had failed. Conquest does not necessarily mean unity. Moreover, the history of the preceding Mohammedan dynasties had taught Aurangzeb that the strength of Islam in India did not depend, as his great ancestor Akbar had thought, so much on the goodwill of the people of this land as on the strength of the ruling race. With all his keen political perception, however, he could not undo the doings of his forefathers. Sevajee was not a product of Aurangzeb’s reign; the Maharatta owed his existence to social and political forces called into being by the policy of Akbar. Aurangzeb’s political perception, though true, was too late. Yet considering the significance of this perception he must be looked upon as the founder of Musalman nationality in India. I am sure posterity will one day recognise the truth of what I say. Among the English administrators of India, it was Lord Curzon who first perceived the truth about the power of England in India. Hindu nationalism is wrongly attributed to his policy. Time will, I believe, show that it owes its existence to the policy of Lord Ripon. It is, therefore, clear that in their political purpose and perception both the Mughals and the English agree. I see no reason why the English historian should condemn Aurangzeb whose imperial ideal his countrymen have followed and whose political perception they have corroborated. Aurangzeb’s political method was certainly very rough; but the ethical worth of his method ought to be judged from the standpoint of the age in which he lived and worked.”
–Stray Reflections: The Private Notebooks of Muhammad Iqbal

The figure of Aurangzeb Iqbal constructs here through his inimitable reading of history is, without doubt, the source of Pakistani nationalism. In fact, it will neither be an error nor an exaggeration to suggest that Iqbal’s Aurangzeb can be, and perhaps is, the basis of nationalism among certain sections of subcontinental Muslims as a whole. But before Indian leftists fall for the temptations of Indian nationalism – something almost all of them are quite susceptible to – and see this as a legitimate reason to condemn Iqbal as a sectarian reactionary, they would do well to attend dispassionately and carefully to his conception of nation and nationality. Not only that. They equally need to re-examine Pakistani nationalism itself with as much materialist rigour as they can possibly summon, and thus without too much nationalist prejudice. Of course, to do that they will need, first and foremost, to take off and put aside their syncretism-tinted glasses. Syncretism — from which springs the bankrupt Indian secularist imaginary of Hindu-Muslim amity and which has many Indian leftists in its vise-like grip — is precisely what Iqbal completely shakes up and disrupts. Of course, in doing that he arguably shows us the way for developing an organically-rooted and militant approach to think and envisage non-sectarian politics on foundations that are much more rigorously materialist than the airy culturalist notion – consciously avowed or not – of Hindu-Muslim amity with its basis in the so-called Indic tradition of syncretism.

What is most striking about Iqbal on that count is his conception of nationality. Precisely the thing that has had many leftists and almost all liberal-secularists of India paint him as a sectarian reactionary. Iqbal was constantly at pains to distinguish his conception of Islam as a nation from the blood-and-soil type of racial-territorial European nationalisms, the nationalism of the English included. The book, ‘Stray Reflections: The Private Notebooks of Muhammad Iqbal’, has multiple entries in which this distinction is sought to be elucidated and emphasised in different registers. For now, let me quote from the entry, Fanaticism’, to demonstrate that: “Criticise an Englishman’s religion, he is immovable; but criticise his civilisation, his country or the behaviour of his nation in any sphere of activity and you will bring out his innate fanaticism. The reason is that his nationality does not depend on religion; it has a geographical basis – his country. His fanaticism then is justly roused when you criticise his country. Our position, however, is fundamentally different. With us nationality is a pure idea; it has no material basis. Our only rallying point is a sort of mental agreement in a certain view of the world.”

Here then we have the category of nationality — a categorial term that Iqbal is compelled and constrained to use by his objective threshold of sayability — come across as extremely fraught and openly pregnant with contradictions. One that, therefore, easily lends itself to being read against its own grain, thanks to the manner in which it constitutively operates in Iqbal’s thinking and discourse. For, if nationality is a pure idea with no territorial-racial basis what is at stake is not strictly a conception of nation. Rather, nationality can then be read merely as a word that in its discursive articulation poses, in spite of its terminological denotation, a post-national, if not an out-and-out internationalist, conceptual valency. One could, of course, still argue that such a conception of nationality — nationality as a pure idea – is post-national only in being imperial. Iqbal’s attempt to uphold Aurangzeb’s (failed) imperial vision against the (successful) imperial vision of the English would also seem to point in that direction.

However, if one were to pay heed to Iqbal’s affirmation of Islam as a kind of atheological theology – something that Annemarie Schimmel reveals in ‘Gabriel’s Wing’ through her brilliant and astute explication of how Iqbal construed the Quranic injunction of there being no god but god – one would recognise that Iqbal understood the idea of Islam, and thus Muslimness, not as an a priori metaphysical ideal, and a mystified/reified identity, respectively. Iqbal understood the idea of Islam, instead, as an axiom of demystifying difference (if not nonidentity in a rigorously Marxian sense), and Muslimness as a mobile political horizon of de-identitarianisation and demystification.
That Iqbal grasped the Islamic conception of god in terms of the univocity of being as difference should not surprise us given Iqbal’s well-known Nietzschean philosophical propensities. His reading of the Islamic conception of god in terms of the univocity of being as difference is wholly consistent with Nietzsche’s metaphysics-destroying conception of self-valorisation as will to power. (Here self being minimal self in the sense of being the concrete historical register and index of the ontico-ontological of differing away vis-à-vis the self as a metaphysically valorised presence.) This is revealed with utter clarity when Iqbal in his major theological-philosophical work, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, critically poses his reading of the Quranic conception of “divine life” as the infinite scope of the creative self against medieval theologian Ibn Hazm’s reading of the same in terms of the infinity of serial change progressing from an imperfect state to a relatively more prefect state. Allow me to cite from the relevant section of the book at some length:
“It was the fear of conceiving Divine life after the image of human life that the Spanish Muslim theologian Ibn Hazm hesitated to predicate life of God, and ingeniously suggested that God should be described as living, not because He is living in the sense of our experience of life, but only because He is so described in the Qur’an. Confining himself to the surface of our conscious experience and ignoring its deeper phases, Ibn Hazm must have taken life as a serial change, a succession of attitudes towards an obstructing environment. Serial change is obviously a mark of imperfection; and if we confine ourselves to this view of change, the difficulty of reconciling Divine perfection with Divine life becomes insuperable. Ibn Hazm must have felt that the perfection of God can be retained only at the cost of His life. There is, however, a way out of the difficulty. The Absolute Ego, as we have seen, is the whole of Reality. He is not so situated as to take a perspective view of an alien universe; consequently, the phases of His life are wholly determined from within. Change, therefore, in the sense of a movement from an imperfect to a relatively perfect state, or vice versa, is obviously inapplicable to His life. But change in this sense is not the only possible form of life. A deeper insight into our conscious experience shows that beneath the appearance of serial duration there is true duration. The Ultimate Ego exists in pure duration wherein change ceases to be a succession of varying attitudes, and reveals its true character as continuous creation, ‘untouched by weariness’ and unseizable ‘by slumber or sleep’. To conceive the Ultimate Ego as changeless in this sense of change is to conceive Him as utter inaction, a motiveless, stagnant neutrality, an absolute nothing. To the Creative Self change cannot mean imperfection. The perfection of the Creative Self consists, not in a mechanistically conceived immobility, as Aristotle might have led Ibn Hazm to think. It consists in the vaster basis of His creative activity and the infinite scope of His creative vision. God’s life is self-revelation, not the pursuit of an ideal to be reached. The ‘not-yet’ of man does mean pursuit and may mean failure; the ‘not-yet’ of God means unfailing realization of the infinite creative possibilities of His being which retains its wholeness throughout the entire process.”

Now if one were to read, in this context, Iqbal’s attempt to affirmatively counter-pose Aurangzeb’s imperial vision against that of the English, one would have to acknowledge the fact that he’s not merely posing one imperial vision against another. What he is attempting to accomplish in apparently doing that is, instead, a historicizing of Aurangzeb’s imperial vision in order to refound it, admittedly through provocative rhetorical means, by reading it against its own grain. This opens the way for concretely and historically articulating — precisely through such against-the-grain-reading of that imperial vision — a political horizon of nonidentitarian internationalism. That such is his intention is arguably indicated by what he writes at the end of his entry on Aurangzeeb: “Aurangzeb’s political method was certainly very rough; but the ethical worth of his method ought to be judged from the standpoint of the age in which he lived and worked.”

Now that brings us to the question of contradiction between Iqbal’s demystifying, if not always rigorously nonidentitarian, conceptions of nationality, Islam and the Islamic idea of divine life on one hand, and the ideological self-representation of Pakistani nationalism on the other. A contradiction that is admittedly sought to be resolved with the latter instrumentalising the former, thereby rendering it an identitarian discourse. And to come to terms with this conflict one will have to begin by grasping the objective basis of the emergence of Pakistani nationalism through a process of historicisation.

There can, I guess, be little doubt that both majoritarian and minoritarian communalisms in their multiple local specificities have been, and still are, direct functions of colonial and/or capitalist modernity. They have been, or are, functions of colonial and/or capitalist modernity in the sense of communal (and caste in the case of caste politics) identities being historically-indexed concrete markers of competition for social and economic power in its entirely modern sense. Labour historian Raj Narayan Chandavarkar insightfully demonstrated that.
In that sense, the emergence of Pakistani nationalism – as a political articulation of Muslim communalism in pre-Partition India – ought to be grasped as the coming together of different Muslim communities (divided from one another on the basis of language, regional specificity and even caste hierarchy) waging their locally respective, communally-indexed struggles against equally varied forms of majoritarian domination through cornering of modern social and economic power. That Jinnah’s conception of Pakistan as a Muslim nation arose, as Ayesha Jalal has demonstrated, from a conception of Muslim federalist politics within pre-Partition India, clearly reveals Pakistani nationalism in its inception to be an articulation of sedimented class conflict. One that could very well have been conceptually articulated by Iqbal’s conception of Islam as a mobile political horizon of de-identitarianisation. But precisely because Muslim nation as a pure idea was envisaged in modern territorial (and thus ethno-linguistic) republican-federalist terms, thanks to the concrete social objectivity of varied Hindu-Muslim communal conflicts, Pakistani nationalism emerged as an idea and practice riven with acute contradictions and conflicts.
The less-than-successful attempt at identitarian consolidation of Pakistan into a homogenised nationhood of subcontinental Muslims sought to paper over and repress the ethno-linguistically and/or socio-economically indexed class contradictions internal to this supposedly homogeneous Muslim community of the subcontinent, rendering federalism in Pakistan a modality of mutual bargaining among various sections of its ruling elite, and simultaneously an instrument in the hands of these regionally divided sections of that elite to regiment and control their respective subject-populations (read working peoples). The disaffection this idea of Pakistani nationalism – an idea-in-practice — has yielded is there for all to see.
But then again this is not exactly exclusive to Pakistan. The failure of the Indian national project, which has also primarily been a pure idea, both in its secular and religious/communal articulations, is precisely on account of the same contradiction of seeking to homogenise various territorial and/or ethno-linguistic, and caste- and community-based heterogeneities, which also historically index class divisions, into a pure idea of Indian nationhood through the modern political instrument of federalised unionism. What makes matters worse here is that unlike in Iqbal’s conception of (Muslim) nationality as a pure idea, the idea of India is construed and envisaged, even and especially by the arch-secularist Nehru (a la his Discovery of India), as a transhistorical and metaphysical ideal, almost Kantian, to be generalised. Needless to say here that Iqbal’s conception of (Muslim) nationality as a pure idea — wherein this pure idea is meant, philosophically speaking, to be an axiom of demystifyication and thus de-identitarianisation — is radically distinct from this metaphysical and conservatively Kantian idea of the secular (to say nothing of the religious-nationalist) Indian nationhood. It, therefore, offers more possibilities in terms of being rendered a discourse that can be refounded to articulate a radical internationalist political project vis-à-vis the subcontinent from its determinate location in Pakistan.
That Pakistan has become a constituency tailor-made for the reception of the global re-emergence of the Islam as a pure idea of togetherness against dominance – albeit this time in a completely spiritualised and thus reactionary form – must be attributed to the failure of Pakistan as a nation-state on account of the historical contradiction at its very core. But the truth also is that if there is any discursive form organic to the Pakistani project that can be posed as an effective counter to this identitarianised, reactionary Pan-Islamism, it’s Iqbal’s conception of (Muslim) nationality as a pure idea that, as I have insisted above, points clearly in the direction of nonidentitarian internationalism, what with its discursive registers of Islam and Muslimness being no more than historically concrete and determinate indices of such an ecumenical politico-hermeneutic approach. I see such conceptions of Iqbal’s as the only ones capable of discursively articulating the constellating of the struggles of the Pakistani proletariat in its nonidentitarian diversity with the equally diverse working-class struggles in the rest of the subcontinent; India and Kashmir included.

Some critical observations on the Kantianism of Levi-Strauss’s dialectic and how a ‘formalised in-humanism’ could be extracted from it


“The savage mind totalizes. It claims indeed to go very much further in this direction than Sartre allows dialectical reason, for, on the one hand, the latter lets pure seriality escape (and we have just seen how classificatory systems succeed in incorporating it) and, on the other, it excludes schematization, in which these same systems reach their consummation. In my view, it is in this intransigent refusal on the part of the savage mind to allow anything human (or even living) to remain alien to it, that the real principle of dialectical reason is to be found. But my idea of the latter is very different from Sartre.
“In reading Critique it is difficult to avoid feeling that Sartre vacillates between two conceptions of dialectical reason. Sometimes he opposes dialectical and analytical reason as truth and error, if not as God and the devil, while at other times these two kinds of reason are apparently complementary, different routes to the same truths. The first conception not only discredits scientific knowledge and finally even leads to suggesting the impossibility of a science of biology, it also involves a curious paradox; for the work entitled Critique de la raison dialectique is the result of the author’s exercise of his own analytical reason: he defines, distinguishes, classifies and opposes. This philosophical treatise is no different from the works it examines and with which it engages in discussions, if only to condemn them. It is difficult to see how analytical reason could be applied to dialectical reason and claim to establish it, if the two are defined by mutually exclusive characteristics. The second conception is open to a different objection: if dialectical and analytical reason ultimately arrive at the same results, and if their respective truths merge into a single truth, then, one may ask in what way they are opposed and, in particular, on what grounds the former should be pronounced superior to the latter. Sartre’s endeavour seems contradictory in the one sense and superfluous in the other.
“How is the paradox to be explained, and avoided? Sartre attributes a reality sui generis to dialectical reason in both the hypotheses between which he hesitates. It exists independently of analytical reason, as its antagonist or alternatively its complement. Although in both cases Marx is the point of departure of our thought, it seems to me that the Marxist orientation leads to a different view, namely, that the opposition between the two sorts of reason (analytical and dialectical) is relative, not absolute. It corresponds to a tension within human thought which may persist indefinitely de facto, but which has no basis de jure. In my view dialectical reason is always constitutive: it is the bridge, forever extended and improved, which analytical reason throws out over an abyss; it is unable to see the further shore but it knows that it is there, even should it be constantly receding. The term dialectical reason thus covers the perpetual efforts analytical reason must make to reform itself if it aspires to account for language, society, and thought; and the distinction between the two forms of reason in my view rests only on the temporary gap separating analytical reason from the understanding of life. Sartre calls analytical reason reason in repose; I call the same reason dialectical when it is roused to action, tensed by its efforts to transcend itself.”
–Claude Levi-Strauss, ‘History and Dialectic’ (The Savage Mind)

That dialectical thinking is fundamentally and precisely all about vacillation — envisaging dialectical reason and analytical reason as complementary, and then oppose them to one another as truth and error – is something that is completely lost on Levi-Strauss when he criticises Sartre for his (left-Hegelian) articulation of dialectical thinking by way of such vacillation.

The problem with Sartre’s articulation of dialectical thinking is not this vacillation between analytical reason as the concrete instantiation of dialectical reason as the determinate overcoming of analytical reason, and dialectical reason as the abstraction of such overcoming. In fact, the explication of dialectical reason as such an interplay of the concrete and the abstract, makes such vacillation its lifeblood. The problem, instead, is that this vacillation is orientated in Sartre’s thinking in terms of pure seriality. But even on this count the stress of Levi-Strauss’s criticism of Sartre falls not so much on his conception of pure seriality as on the escape that this pure seriality is meant to be, in my view an unrigorous, articulation of. That, needless to say, leads Levi-Strauss to a conception of dialectical reason, wherein it is not the pure seriality of escape from analytics. Rather, for Levi-Strauss, dialectical reason is destined, in its infinite perpetuation, to yield analytics. He construes the infinition of dialectical reason as the infinite proliferation of infinite analytics or analytical reasons. Thence his conception of the savage mind as one that totalises.

Therefore, the paragraphs excerpted above — which are, in a sense, the crux of Levi-Strauss’s theoretical and philosophical approach – unambiguously demonstrate that his conception of savage mind is not only an anthropologised and ethnicised conception, but is, in the same movement, a kind of Kantian elevation of the same to the status of a metaphysical tribune of pure reason, which is a governmentalising constitutivity of multiple practical reasons by way of adjudicating among them and thus interpellating them into being integral parts (placeholders) of that constitutive governmentality.

It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the dialectical reason Levi-Strauss affirms through his conception of savage mind is — notwithstanding his insistence that its provenance is in Marx – basically Kantian. And this, not surprisingly, compels the French anthropologist to conceptualise or formalise the dialectic as a structure, a deep structure to be precise. Or, how else can one explain Levi-Strauss’s conception of dialectical reason here as an expressivist totality of infinite analytical reasons (or, infinite analytics of finitude)? And this Levi-Straussian conception of structural dialectic is arguably nothing but a reformulation of Kant’s “transcendental dialectic” (in his Critique of Pure Reason), albeit in the discursive locality of ethnology and modern anthropology.

Kant’s “transcendental dialectic” is a formalised dialectic, wherein the dialectic is grasped in its abstraction and thus conceptually rendered a transcendental or a priori structure and form that is expressed in and by an infinite multiplicity of concrete practices and their respectively specific practical reasons. Here we can clearly see how Kant’s transcendental conception of the dialectic – not unlike Levi-Strauss’s structural dialectic — renders it a govermentalising, adjudicatory metaphysical tribune of pure reason vis-à-vis an infinite multiplicity of practical reasons that are, therefore, mutually relativised analytics precisely on account of being mutually articulated.

That is so because Kant does not grasp practical reason (or analytic) as the effect of the noumenon (thing-in-itself) as the determinate excess of the horizon of relationality. Rather, for Kant, the noumenon becomes the basis for envisaging a new order of relationality among multiple practical reasons because in his eyes there is an ontological similitude among all of them precisely because those multiple practical reasons in their difference determinately express the noumenon (thing-in-itself) as the excess of the horizon of relationality. Therefore, it’s not for nothing that speculative materialist Quentin Meillasoux sees Kant as a figure of Ptolemiac counter-revolution, not Copernican revolution, in western philosophy. The noumenon is precisely that which cannot be inscribed within the horizon of relationality – or the symbolic order — that it nevertheless founds in the process of effectuating itself as the determinate presentation of void of the horizon of relationality, or the symbolic order. Kant’s philosophical move is counter-revolutionary in that he thinks the noumenon only, however, to conceptually articulate it by privileging its effect over itself as its own instantiation.

The fundamental philosophical kinship between Kant’s “transcendental dialectic” and Levi-Strauss’s structural dialectic shows, among other things, why the latter’s attempt to articulate a critique of ethnology, as a discourse complicit in the colonial enterprise, by way of developing the discipline of structural anthropology ends up as a heroic failure. Thanks to his Kantian conception of the dialectic as an ahistorical, and thus metaphysical, structure, the ethics of Levi-Strauss’s anthropological critique of colonialism is unable to develop a political register for articulating itself. In fact, his Kantian conception of the dialectic as an ahistorical deep structure does not allow his ethicality of critique to move beyond its moral registration. And that, not surprisingly, once again restores the colonial civiliser, albeit this time around as the benevolent anthropologist-tribune, who is now there to enforce the moral law of mutual respect between the savage and the civilized (or the raw and the cooked) by way of instituting the structuralist epistemological project of relativism in order to conscientise the latter.

In this context, it must be said that Levi-Strauss’s conception of the dialectic as an a priori deep structure, not unlike Kant’s “transcendental dialectic” with which it has a fundamental philosophical affinity, amounts to what Hegel called “bad infinity”. The “bad infinity” of Levi-Strauss’s structural dialectic derives, not unlike Kant’s “transcendental dialectic”, from it being transcendental in its infinite totality. That does not, however, imply that we take recourse to Hegelian, or for that matter Sartre’s left-Hegelian, “good infinity” as the way to critique and break with this Kantian/Levi-Straussian bad infinity. For, this Hegelian – or left-Hegelian – “good infinity” is nothing but transcendental bad infinity by other means. By introducing history as the unfolding of the geist – or an expressivist, quasi-materialist human ontology in case of the left-Hegelians – all such good infinity amounts to is transformation of infinite totality of transcendental bad infinity into infinite totalisatiion.

What we need to do, instead, in order to rigorously critique and break with the transcendental bad infinity of Kant, and the Kantian Levi-Strauss, is to think the Hegelian good infinity in its extreme. This Hegelian conception of good infinity, a la the quasi-historical dialectic of Hegel, admittedly enables the envisioning of the historical dialectic by providing what is, in essence, still an ahistorical dialectic with the appearance of epochal motion. And while that can, and often is, dangerously deceptive because the repetition of the ahistorical structural dialectic now has the appearance of historical motion and epochal change, it also opens the way, as it did for Marx, to think it in its longee-duree, and thus in its extreme, so that its appearance of the structure-exceeding historical motion becomes its own immanent thinking, rendering that historical motion and the attendant epochal change real, and not merely apparent. This thinking-in-the-extreme, it must be stated here, is not something that has to be forcibly interpolated into this quasi-historical dialectic. Rather, the very fact that the transcendental or formal dialectic now has a historical appearance, renders Hegel’s quasi-historical dialectic — his so-called good infinity — something that virtually calls out to be thought in the extreme, and thus against its own grain. After all, the shift that is effected, from infinite totality of transcendental bad infinity of the Kantian dialectic to infinite totalisation (repeat totalisation) of the so-called good infinity of the Hegelian dialectic, shows that totality is no longer an accomplished a priori fact but is a project that one has to perpetually seek to accomplish through a perpetual process of totalisation. Clearly, the a priori, and thus teleology, of infinite totality continues to persist but now as a schizz, a crisis: it opens itself up precisely in closing itself.

To get a sense of what thinking Hegel’s good infinity — or his quasi-historical dialectic — in the extreme amounts to, we might do well to attend to the following excerpt from Fredric Jameson’s The Hegel Variations:
“…the form of of the syllogism can also be useful if we focus attention, not on its results or conclusions, but rather on that ‘middle term’ shared by both subject and predicate–a kind of Hoelderlinian primordial unity, from which…both terms emerge and to which they strain to return at the end of the logical process. Even these examples, however, suggest yet a further lesson, namely the need to stress an open-ended Hegel rather than the conventionally closed system which is projected by so many idle worries about Absolute Spirit, about totality, or about Hegel’s allegedly teleological philosophy of history.
“Indeed, the doctrine of the middle term suggests a very different Hegel who may serve as a corrective to the traditional ones: this is the Maoist Hegel proposed by Alain Badiou, in which the metaphysical spirit is expansive rather than centripetal or cyclical. Here the central dialectical movement is identified as One dividing into Two, and it is clearly quite distinct from those figures that emphasize (for example) the return of consciousness into itself….”

Clearly, this move of brushing Hegelian (and left-Hegelian) “good infinity” against its grain, also, at once, does the same to the transcendental bad infinity of Kant and Levi-Strauss. Such against-the-grain reading of transcendental bad infinity – which is concomitant with the thinking-in-extreme of the so-called good infinity of Hegel – will amount to an affirmation, not of some new good infinity against bad, but an immanentist bad infinity in radical antagonism to both the transcendental bad infinity of Kant and such Kantians as Levi-Strauss, and the good infinity of Hegel.

This immanentist bad infinity, which is immanentist in an active practical-materialist sense, is the infinity of remainder and/or excess. More rigorously and precisely, it’s the infinity of determinate production of void vis-à-vis the horizon of relationality or symbolic order in its concrete mediations. This is, therefore, not escape as Sartrean pure seriality but is, instead, a leap that seeks to suspend precisely such seriality that is merely the obverse of the bounded seriality of Kant’s transcendental dialectic (or Levi-Strauss’s structural dialectic), or, for that matter, the seeming open-endedness of the Hegelian geist in its historical unfolding. This immanentist bad infinity is a conception of nowness or finitude in its uninterrupted infinition. This immanentist bad infinity, or finite-infinity — the transfinite in Badiou’s Cantorian set-theoretic terms – is “infinite thought” in radical and thus unpunctuated antagonism, not only to the infinite totality of transcendental bad infinity of Kant (and Levi-Strauss) and so-called good infinity of Hegel; it’s also in radical antagonism to the phenomenological and/or deconstructive conceptions of practice of infinite finitudes. In the latter, the suspension of infinite totality/infinite totalisation is thought as the difference of the “a-whileness” (Heidegger) of finitude as an interiorised and thus phenomenologically-reduced experience.

In radical contrast to that, the immanentist bad infinity — which late Althusser variously conceptualised, by way of a protracted detour through Greek atomism, Lucretius, Machiavelli, Spinoza and even Heidegger, as “transcendental contingency”, “necessity of contingency” and so on – is the remainder or excess (as the determinate production or presentation of void) as the institution of its own duration and historicity.

This immanentist bad infinity — which stands affirmed in breaking with transcendental bad infinity of Kant by brushing it against its grain in the process of thinking the Hegelian good infinity in the extreme – is also a reading-against-the grain of Kant’s formalised “transcendental dialectic”. So, this immanentist bad infinity, as an against-the-grain reading of Kant’s formalised dialectic (and thus of Levi-Strauss’s Kantian structural dialectic too), is an envisioning and articulation of the dialectic as the limit-form of the ontological excess of both the dialectic itself as an abstracted structure, and the individualised hypostasis of concrete practical reasons that in being hypostatised thus mediate into being the dialectic as that abstracted structure.

This conception of the dialectic as limit-form of ontological excess, as opposed to the formalisation and abstraction of the dialectic into a transcendental structure as in Kant (and Levi-Strauss), is what Badiou terms “formalised in-humanism” in his The Century. Badiou’s “formalised in-humanism” is, unlike in traditional epistemology, not an identity between the form or concept, and its object of “in-humanism”. Rather, as the term demonstrates through its fraught lexical and semantic appearance, it’s meant to articulate the form or concept of precisely the impossibility of formalisation or conceptualisation. And, for Badiou, this impossibility in being an active occurring – a “taking-place” – is the Real in its human-exceeding in-humanity. In other words, Badiou’s “formalised in-humanism” – which is our immanentist bad infinity in and against the transcendental good infinity of Kant’s formalised dialectic – is an allegorical conceptual figure of constellated construction of transindividualised ontological excess. This would be nothing save the truth of the absent-cause – the a priori of no a priori as it were – in its forcing.

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?

Marx: An Epicurean in Hegelian disguise?


“…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


http://blogs.economictimes.indiatimes.com/cursor/hardik-patel-blows-up-the-gujarat-model/

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.

With Lenin against Foucault, with Foucault against Lenin


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”.

Nietzsche’s Hellenism: A case of heroic failure


Is it any longer historically possible to retrieve the non-moral ethics of Classical Hellenic antiquity? For, is the inescapable modern condition of our historical being — not just in the West and the Muslim world, but even in our apparently pagan polytheistic society too — really pagan and polytheistic? Objectively speaking, isn’t the polytheistic appearance of our society not the realisation of a metaphysical pantheism? One where every difference is not singular, as it would be in a situation that is historically and fundamentally pagan, but a particularity of a universal, because each such difference is a placeholder for that universal. Conversely, are societies where monotheism, in some form or the other, determines the religious belief of the majority and gives their respective cultures the appearance they have, really monotheistic?

Wasn’t, therefore, the attempt to retrieve Greek ethics constitute Nietzsche’s most heroic failure? The following passage from Karl Loewith’s ‘Nietzsche’s Revival of the Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence’ — the second appendix of his ‘Meaning in History’ — unambiguously reveals that: “Nietzsche undoubtedly achieved the metamorphosis from the Christian ‘Thou shalt’ to the modern ‘I will’, but hardly the crucial transformation from the ‘I will’ to the ‘I am’ of the cosmic child, which is ‘innocence and forgetfulness, a new beginning and a self-rolling wheel.’ As a modern man he was so hopelessly divorced from any genuine ‘loyalty to the earth’ and from the feeling of eternal security ‘under the bell of heaven’ that this great effort to remarry man’s destiny to cosmic fate, or to ‘translate man back into nature,’ could not but be frustrated. Thus, wherever he tries to develop his doctrine rationally, it breaks asunder in two irreconcilable pieces: in a presentation of eternal recurrence as an objective fact, to be demonstrated by physics and mathematics, and in a quite different presentation of it as a subjective hypothesis, to be demonstrated by its ethical consequence. It breaks asunder because the will to eternalize the chance existence of the modern ego does not fit into the assertion of the eternal cycle of the natural world.”

In such circumstances, when pantheistic modernity — and the capitalist mode it is constitutive of — is an inescapable global condition, might it not be, politically and intellectually speaking, a better idea to save the tradition(s) of monotheism from the conformism it has fallen into — one which articulates and construes monotheism in terms of church-like institutionality — by historicising and rethinking the tradition(s) of monotheism as a witness of the messianic eruption of the singular, thereby seeking to practically render such eruption of the singular multiple. In other words, would it not be politically more meaningful not to shun the conceptual in the name of some kind of phenomenology of multiplicity and difference? Something that would not only give rise to the problem of epistemological void but would also result in infinite regress as the only possible practice and thinking of politics. Would it not, instead, be more productive — both intellectually and politically — to re-envision the conceptual in terms of the impossibility of knowledge: that is, concept of the impossibility of knowledge? Adorno in his Negative Dialectics, for instance, gives us precisely such a rethinking of the conceptual when he affirms the concept as one that is orientated towards nonconceptualities.

When Proust lends himself to being read through Marx


“…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.

An observation on why Spinoza’s conception of the ethical is materialist


“We see that this natural Divine law does not demand the performance of ceremonies—that is, actions in themselves indifferent, which are called good from the fact of their institution, or actions symbolizing something profitable for salvation, or (if one prefers this definition) actions of which the meaning surpasses human understanding. The natural light of reason does not demand anything which it is itself unable to supply, but only such as it can very clearly show to be good, or a means to our blessedness. Such things as are good, simply because they have been commanded or instituted, or as being symbols of something good, are mere shadows which cannot be reckoned among actions that are the offspring, as it were, or fruit of a sound mind and intellect.”
–Spinoza, A Theologico-Political Treatise

A rather obvious reading of the above passage would be to see it as a version of the fantasy of pure reason. But then we could also follow in Macherey and Althusser’s ‘Spinozist’ footsteps and read this quite differently. Spinoza’s god is the singularity of being and reason — a la the Spinozist conatus. His conatus or being can, therefore, be construed as the uninterruptedly, as opposed to sequentially, continuous excess of symbols that are deposited in and as the determinate moments constitutive of precisely this infinitely excessive, and thus dispersive and non-teleological movement, and which as those symbolic deposits tend to acquire a life of their own by getting instituted as commands (or, as Spinoza would say, human laws). That Spinoza conceives of being as a willing-knowing singularity becomes evident if we follow, later in this text, his explication of god as the concomitance of willing of things that come to comprise the world and the knowledge of those things.

Read in this manner, this Spinozist ‘version of the fantasy of pure reason’ can be envisaged, as it indeed is by Althusserians, as a theoretical mode to ground the practice of ideology-critique, which as that practice is derived from Marx’s articulation of his dialectical method as the theory of critique of political economy. Following Marx, who adopted Hegel’s dialectic only to see it precisely as the inverted reflection of the antagonism to the dialectic itself, Althusserians, particularly Macherey, would read ideology — which Althusser quite correctly characterised as the movement of its own displacement — as the image, or symptom, of its own absence, void or impossibility. And this is an approach that can arguably be read off Spinoza, including from his unambiguous suggestion here that “symbols of something good, are mere shadows” of that good.

The reason why Spinoza is open to such a reading is possibly because his thinking of being a la conatus — which for him is also, at once, “the offspring, as it were, or fruit of a sound mind and intellect” — precludes the need for it to be the ground for some kind of a moral law. In Kant, on the other hand, we have the moral law kick in as retroactive rationalisation (read metaphysicalisation) — and thus prospective regimentation — of multiple instantiations of pure reason as practical reason.