Monday, 16 February 2015

Another unhelpful contribution wherein the place of Hippie Johnny is finally taken and the resultant outpouring of bile achieves its cosmic dimension.

Dear D
If one were only an Indian, instantly alert, and on a racing horse, leaning against the wind, kept on quivering jerkily over the quivering ground, until one shed one’s spurs, for there needed no spurs, threw away the reins, for there needed no reins, and hardly saw that the land before one was smoothly shorn heath when horse’s neck and head would be already gone.
Perhaps, there is not only saddling up for war. There is also an unsaddled 'quivering'. 
Here, I will respond to the comments which relate to the  dialogue mentioned earlier. The deep background of the piece was in a set of debates in the 90's involving PM Jr around the notion of productive labour and housework (from post 133). I think PM Jr won the battle but has since lost the war in that it is now a convention amongst marxists and others to include domestic activity under the category of abstract labour and within the totality of social reproduction. 

I think widening the definition of the labour process is a 'sociological' position (made to support political arguments in the here and now) and misses something irreducible and pre-social about what we will call 'care' (involvement or nurturing). It also demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding about class struggle where the produced character of the world that is not put into question. But such misunderstandings should be considered as inevitable where the critique of class society is not undertaken from a position of opposition to the centrality of production in human relations.

I have already mentioned that I consider the mentioned dialogue as problematic and a failure in that although I was happy with how it turned out, it did turn out unexpected, and did not follow the path I had hoped for it. It missed the questions I wanted it to address, perhaps because it was overly-constrained by what I anticipated it was permissible to say. Or perhaps I became distracted, and my head was turned by yet another white hart fleeing into the forest where, upon pursuing it, I got lost amongst the many branching paths. I should also mention here that I cannot actually remember what I wrote in it, so I am talking from 'memory' about it (this means, I am telling you what I think it should be about). 

The 'characters' of the dialogue are 60's musicians who are famous for their distance from the 'domestic sphere' and who are feeling somehow nostalgically utopian for an internal sociable space which, in their music, and from their intensified position, they identify as eternally present in communal intercourse. I represent the space as a beaten earthen floor, an image I attribute to Sei Shonagon (also a woman not associated with domestic chores). 

I think this originary 'safe space' is problematic and difficult to present. I do not see it as a space for the activities of social 'reproduction' but as a basic and universal architecture for communal 'grooming' (if that is not too besmirched a term - by which I mean the therapeutics and involvement in 'picking fleas'). 

The activity of humans is a thus a 'function' of the space in which they are present. I do like using the abstract noun 'function' (which you question) to argue against 'hard' historicism (productivist-materialism) because, perversely, it is an incongruous term for what I am arguing for - a soft anti-abstractionism. So, where I talk of function, I mean a set of behaviours that is brought forth from those gathered in the space which constrains them.

You are also slightly discomfitted by what you take to be my argument for roles and by the phrase 'what women actually do' (is that my phrase?) Perhaps, you are concerned that I am defending an essentialised this life-world of tasks and roles - and thus going to war for 'primitivism' or some such cause. That was not my intention.

Certainly, seeming to think in terms of assigning 'roles' is problematic and yet, paradoxically, in approaching activity as an irreducible species inheritance,  a different framing for escape is activated. This framing, perhaps, has no other purpose but to oppose the anti-essentialism of historicism where flexibilisation of productive activity is fixed to, and driven by historical development. Where mutability is asserted as a political goal, it too becomes a trap, a constraint on that which would prefer not to change in accord with its times.

However, I also  think 'involvement' or care is irreducible, there are non-historical requirements of human sociability which cause, in Laing's phrase, a Stone Age baby to be not distinguishable from a baby today (I am sceptical concerning the evolutionary trait of lactose tolerance on the grounds of smuggled larmarckism). The irreducible non-historical functions of care preserved throughout history by women are theoretically intriguing, no more than that. But still, it is worth discussing for intriguing's sake. 

We can say that care, or involvement, is not wholly within history in the sense that it is not directly caught within the pincer movement of capitalist expansion - where the necessity for the increase in productivity on one side is contradicted by the inevitable reduction of the amount of surplus value in each commodity on the other. As the productive process expands, labour power is progressively substituted by machinery which requires a further expansion of output to maintain/increase levels of surplus value extraction. 

So, if care or the domestic sphere, remains relatively autonomous from the wage process (i.e. surplus value is not extracted from it, it is not subject to increased productivity, 'labour power' is not substituted by technology within its tasks), then something of the human community is conserved within it which is distinct from the remnants of humanity which persist in the 'community of capital.' This difference in structuring is sufficient to permit a distance by which an 'other' perspective on the priorities of existence may be developed.

I am not at all arguing that the manner in which care or 'involvement' (Heidegger's term) is undertaken now is not problematic. Nor do I think that care is entirely ahistorical. I am also not saying that because women have been carers in history (subsequent to the initial division of labour) that they are 'natural' carers and nurturers. I do not think that there should be nothing but care, that the human community should be reduced to this and nothing else. I am just saying, that care is a constant and partially outside of both history and production - and that is significant. 

My intention was several fold: I wanted to present an 'unattractive' alternative to capitalism to make a point against the 'appeal' of liberation politics (such as that is); I wanted to make the alternative unappealing to the extent that, in challenging the alluring logic of oppositionism (i.e. the self-valorisations of, and the making of political capital from, revolt), it became perversely appealing; I thought it was interesting to argue that if something as unregarded as care lay outside the wage process and that if women undertook the majority of care tasks then this might be peered through as a portal to another life-world. 

My intention was very far from establishing a pretext for 'going to war'. On the contrary, it was about making the type of arguments from which political capital could not be made (grot shop thinking you could say); a challenge or test in the way that Camatte's 'dead end' is a challenge or test. I did not intend it as a political proposal, nor was it a mere intellectual exercise. I saw it, as I see all of my writing, as an experiment or exploration of what I do not know. This is very far from the conventions of leftism and thus, I imagine, largely incomprehensible. 

The nostalgia for domesticity of the piece appears through a series of distancing constraints. I think its atmosphere might be compared to the general concept of 'wabi-sabi' (the ideological sensitisation towards rusticity within an extremely mannered culture to which the rustic has become remote but not entirely alien). In other words, it is not a 'prescriptive' piece, and no single character gets to utter the party-line by which the author might indicate a potential war strategy - this is not to claim that the 'characters' are anything more than mouthpieces.  Even so, I think all claims of potential ways forward, or solutions within the dialogue, are either blocked by other claims, or by dramatic irony. 

The possibility of an extreme affective response to a cracked or misshapen pot is comparable to the living activity or 'functions' drawn between individuals across the beaten earthen floor. There is also an image in Tarkovsky's film Sacrifice of a chicken wandering through a house which I might have referenced and which somehow visually condenses what I intend 'function' in this instance to mean. 

And if care were to be resolved into an image, then it would show the transience of this child playing on bare earth and thereby also present the absolute eternality of all children playing there. The fleetingness is itself 'eternal' (which does not mean that 'it' happens all the time but that it may happen at any time).

Why this image of this version of a 'safe space'? I think it is an attempt to think through the 'non-demand' of extending the wage into intimate spaces as well as to not think in line with current feminist preoccupations. I was presenting a more eternalised and mystical notion of femininity which ideally resists political formulation. This is in itself coincidental to the question of 'care' or involvement, which I also wanted to explore as a utopian 'centre' of social relations (in the place of production or power).

I guess I should also reveal the subtext, which is a critique of the 'aspirational' and demand-based elements associated with the ideology of political correctness which has now been included in most class struggle formulations. I intended to present as an alternative to progressivism, wherein the liberation of humanity is realised via the increase in mechanisation, the wretchedness and abjection at the heart of nurturing, and how it is irreducible and cannot be speeded up or farmed out without also violently separating it from species being. 

I intended to show that 'caring' is austere and difficult, it necessitates, and is necessitated by, the beaten earthen floor between us all (a synecdoche for the eternal, but historically territorialised, sociability of our species) Before this bare and revealed space, capitalism, as a system of addictions and dependences, and of great and small obliterating events, is vastly preferable to the limited scale of 'the human community.' 

That is, the system of productions of history is, all things considered, better, faster, cleaner (in the way chain shops are better than small shops). Mine is a 'that may be so...' type argument against this world. For this reason, it is not surprising to me, that most 'opposition' to capitalism holds fast to the narrative that is being written by productive forces - that it desires the further extension of universal abstract equivalence into every area of otherwise uncertain and unquantified areas of experience.

The opposition to capitalism, by and large, is reducible to the search for a niche within what is - it is what Camatte ultimately discovers in Marx (the overwhelming desire to belong, and find a home in history). This is the logic that underlies the means and ends that is sublating expropriation. - the delusion that we can take what is and 'build on it.'

I intended to make the argument for the human community after acknowledging the 'superiority' of capitalism. The human community is, in all ways, less than capitalism. The human community is not a system for totalisation - as an endotherm it cannot, must not, overheat, it must homeostatically regulate itself via its internal relations by which it may disperse its surplus into the indifferent exterior. The human community is a set of (temporary) self-regulatory patterns of relinquishment (heat loss), the instances of which are always, in one way or another, set in the context of the possibility of their own extinction. It does not accumulate but pares itself down - it is stable because it is lessened. 

There is an optimality of conditions necessary to the human community (i.e. a non-historical conditionality, or what you term 'contra-historical sociality') which cannot be either reduced or exceeded. However, whilst such optimality is eternal, every instance of it is ephemeral - this is the site of 'care' or involvement. The 'contra-historicality' that is 'written into' human communities concerns a fleeting response to the call of  the  eternal rather than the relative longevity of this or that group of people. It seems to me that every truly human community depends upon a temporary convergence of forces which will soon be dispersed or overwhelmed. This is quite different to the linear progression of causes and events assumed by communists to be the motor of historical realisation. 

I have attempted to peel away the skin of several of my 'intentions' above, and now to another one. I sense something categorically in error within the representation of (what was called one hundred years ago) 'the woman question' within the masculinist discursive domain - my dialogue was an attempt to get at this error (although, as I mentioned above, I think I became distracted). I thought it was sufficient to simply present the 'woman question' on other than conventional terms (i.e. in the space of the beaten earthen floor) for this error to be revealed. However, I now think I am in a position to describe my intuition more directly.

There is, in masculinist discourse a dual problematic of representation and conversion (or recruitment). If we consider our correspondence, and its resultant long term project, as a sort of case study and embodiment of the problematic, then we can also consider how we have attempted to become aware of it in comparison to the self-awareness of other projects - where such awareness is taken to the point of optimal political viability, an operational boundary, and no further. In general, political projects are concerned with the pragmatics of their own reproduction, and do not allow themselves to explore the autumnal phase of their own decadence and decomposition. 

As good little hegelians we are aware that we are in constrained relation to the universal (to use a placeholder term). Even though, as one of its fragments, we belong to the universal and reflect its entirety (it can be extracted from the contortions and convolutions of our form just as it can from any other current particular), we cannot 'represent' it. It exceeds us. We do not have the capacity to present the totality on our terms. All of our presentations of the world are cramped by our lack of capacity; and what is revealed in our presentations of the world, is not the world, is the limit of our subjectivity. 

By extension, this incapacity before the universal has an impact on how we might present communism (to use another placeholder term) as communism can only be understood as a universalising 'movement'. The implication here is that we can only extrapolate on the nature of communism from the limits of our own subjectivity; the further we expand our vision the more inaccurate it becomes. 

A further implication is that, and this holds true for all masculinist discourses of social transformation, our discourse upon 'communism' is not undertaken from within communism (we do not speak for it) but it appears abstractly from an alienated position that is categorically situated in some other place. 

In other words, communist theory may be 'for' communism, it may be 'about' communism but it is not of communism, it is not immanent to it, or expressive of it. Communism may be reflected at a low and distorted resolution in communist activity but not more than it is in any other fragment of the world's other social intercourse. There may be no 'communisation' activity where communism is not already a universal relation, just as there is no exchange of commodities where abstract equivalence is not already 'globalised'.  

This deep flaw relating to the position from which representations are made necessarily interferes with all subsequent engagements. For 200 or so years the 'woman question' has appeared within masculinist discourse as a question that should be resolved. As with all equivalent 'questions' (e.g. 'the Irish question'), the solution appears more or less under the rubric of self-management or autonomy. In the case of women, the question has been framed in terms of property, suffrage, wages, legal status and reorganisations of institutional power. However, no matter how the 'question' is contextualised, the irresolvable dual problematic of 'masculinist' discourse persists: representation and conversion. 

It is for the reason that their entire political project rests on ignoring what representation is, and what it does, that I find male feminists to be both creepy and inauthentic. Their use of representational methods is necessitated by the extreme limitation of their subjective position (what occurs to them as 'politics' is little more than the universal application of their personal opinions). 

Representation in argument requires the replacement of the actual and present by abstract organising concepts; the failure in capacity to scale up political positions from the subjective to the actual, is compensated for by a surplus investment in abstraction. 

Abstractions are deployed to overcome physical limitations, thus power may be projected from a constrained material base where the deployed representation gains sufficient currency (although, at some point, a representation of power must be converted back into tangible force). Discourse is deployed speculatively to contain by representation real objects within social formations which would otherwise disperse. 

One outcome of representational politics is a fevered form of denunciation, where groups or individuals appear in discourse as physical carriers of this or that societal ill. This can be seen in practice within the left in the current craze for 'no platforming'. The idea that a space can be made 'safe' by denying a 'platform' within it to an anathematised opinion only reveals the ignorance of the deep flaw in masculinist discourse itself which, driven by the requirement to make political capital and constricted by the impoverishments of the representational form, appears entirely in terms of denial of access to its authorised spaces. 

As a brief detour, I intended the image of the beaten earthen floor to contrast with the very notion of a 'platform' where some may represent and others may not. The existence of a disputed platform already supposes traumatic events by which power has been abstracted from actual relations and displaced into the power to generate ideologies and representations. In reality, there is no danger in personal opinions, the real denial in society, the restrictions associated with masculinist power emerges where social structures generate decision making processes within a representational framework (i.e. the institutionalised over-investment in specific opinions). 

The reproduction by the left of the 'platform' as site for decisive discourses emerges within history where the traumatising process of generalised alienation has already reduced humans to dependancy on abstract categories. Where humans are denied the capacity to materially reproduce their conditions, they tend towards over-valuing opinion.

The struggle for the platform resembles that of the protagonists of the Maltese Falcon - the significance, power and wealth of the objective is relational, not intrinsic. A non-alienated community would categorically separate opinions from decision making processes, and decision making itself would have a minor place in social relations. The platform, or rather, the reproduction of, the struggle and need for, the platform as a privileged site necessary to representations and ideology, would become non-functioning, not resonant. 

To return to the above mentioned dual core problematic. What is it that causes male feminists to seem unpersuasive to the point of perturbation? What is it about them that makes the horse shy away and the dog whimper? In abstract terms, it is that first they must compensate for their constricted position by 'projecting' their power via representational forms and then they must persuade others of the viability of their cause (to make political capital from an event they have to convincingly and rapidly transform abstract representations into actual physical recruits - as if in Zero de Conduite the dummies in the final battle are coloured in to become real characters). 

Why is such discourse 'masculinist'? Probably because it is deeply historical, and only emerges at the point where recording 'awareness' and taking possession of awareness becomes a mode of power. It seems this occurs where, as you suggest, patrilineal forms of inheritance are instigated. Immediately, upon recording events, property is abstracted (i.e. both removed to a private sphere and subject to abstract laws) Masculinist discourse ascribes to property a cultic/fetishistic power, which in social reproduction comes to seem an intrinsic characteristic of the object. Possession of the discourse of property is a more significant indicator of power than the property itself. 

Well, that is the abstract version. And the contradictory heart, the deep motor, of ideological discourse still drives enthusiasts towards the mystery of other people's national liberation. But there is another, more visceral, and scandalous, reason to feel aversion before scions of political correctness... and which appears at the unreliable level of anecdotal recall. Some of those individuals who now ardently cheer-lead no platformism, and fanatically denounce skeptics, are the same who, not so many years ago, went out of their way to ridicule what they took to be feminist irrationalities. 

The 'problematic' of masculinist discourse as it is embodied by such individuals in their attempts at framing 'the woman question' is not located in the moral expediency of their more or less genuine conversion to feminist heuristics, but in the continuity of their lowdown bullying behaviour. Where before there was mockery, now there is fanatical denunciation but the political modus operandus, the bottom line is constant. We once again encounter the figure of the racketeer and arch-manipulator that is so prevalent with sects and cults. 

It is a tricky thing to extricate ourselves from masculinist discursive conventions. That is to say, it is beyond our personal capacities to secede from that which has brought us forth. We, I mean you and I, know from the women in our lives that the objects of our theoretico-practical study are of no relevance to them. We are but shed-men, hobby alchemists, tinkering (in an absurdist spirit) with scraps of ideology and looking for something which we are precluded from discovering. 

For us to somehow alter what we do, so as to make it more appealing to the women in our lives would be utterly futile. After all, it is because what we do is of so little interest to others that causes it to be so freighted with meaning for us - it is our domain, our umwelt. Of course, the entire universe is also contained equally within our obscurity, but latently, potentially, we cannot convert the inherent givenness or objectivity of our project into a 'plan' to be rolled out and realised. Our subjectivity conforms to the world but this cannot be reversed so that the world conforms to our subjectivity (the very proposal of revolutionaries).

There is no reason why women should be interested in what we do. It is not a matter of their not getting it, or of not understanding, or that it is an issue that might be solved by the improvement of our communication skills (as most proponents of a cause assume). There is simply no relevance in our efforts - the women in our lives may, or may not, have considered the content of what we do, but either way, they are aware immediately that there is nothing in it for them. We continue to speak beneath the threshold of their involvement. That is very important, it tells us we can't universalise our project, it is something we must face - but it is not fatal to the project's continuation. 

Masculinist discourse is constrained by abstraction, representational techniques and energy conversion problems - there is no way out of this approach that might gain a foothold, a platform, somewhere else. There is only this discourse that, when speaking of these things, all must speak within. Most women's disinterest in this type of discourse should be factored in as evidence for the limitation of what we are capable of presenting of the world - and as such we are not obliged to overcome the absence of their reception by use of yet further representational categories. If we see the world as a chessboard, and others cannot see it that way, then that is not to say it is not a chessboard, and the world is not how we see it, but it is a record of how things are not only how we see them. 

With that in mind, it soon becomes apparent that the 'woman question' cannot be solved within masculinist discourse, and even the framing of its appearance as a question is problematic. In our project we long ago understood that our efforts at formulating 'questions' fails to express what the question is intended to express and that the form of 'question' itself (as in the 'woman question') is entirely inappropriate and cannot be 'answered' just like that. Every problem is 'solved' on other terms and at other levels than those at which it is set. 

Then, by means of masculinist discourse, we set ourselves against masculinist discourse. We are structurally prevented from not using representations, and from not trying to convert others to our cause. And yet we are also skilled enough that our representations become oversaturated with referents, that they do not map wholly rationally from utterance to object. And we are also skilled enough that our efforts at conversion function only dissuade. 

We are compelled by discursive convention to present positive assertions on the objects which we cannot know, communism, human community, species being but these assertions may also function to other ends which we discover only later by associative leaps - we may find what this thing really is only by accident, but we have to set off on our exploratory expedition for it as if in search of finding what it is not. 

Where it is the convention of masculinist discourse to be directed towards successful outcomes (where power is first recognised via representation and then consolidated by converts), it falls to us to fail to convert representations into physical objects. This 'anti-politics' as we once called it does not map directly onto positive politics - we are prohibited from simple affirmative formulations - all too often, 'anti-politics' merely collapses back into the same politics but by novel means. Therefore we cannot positively assert an 'anti-politics' as if it were a political alternative.

Then, then, then, we are obliged to choose our weapon, and take up the via negativa. May we come to know our object by knowing what it is not? I think that is too simple. Like anti-politics, it is not enough to affirm the via negativa as a divinatory method. We should not assert not knowing as if it were another form of knowing (and make a virtue of it in the way that 'not voting' can be seen as a 'higher' form of participating in 'real' democracy). We do not have the potential to make authentically negative statements - we cannot 'not know' any more than we can know (the available objects and the ways of relating to them, are all set hard).

Then, instead it falls to us to play the licensed fool, and thus constrained by conditions, we are induced to add yet further positive statements (in all their weakness and limitation) to the world. But as fools, we may also add our statements in such a way that they lead to other than the represented ends (when I say L-U-V you better believe me L-U-V). Then we arrive again, but by another vehicle, at the destination, which is also a mode of transport, and elsewherely termed, non-identity thinking.

I'm frightened by the total goal / Drawing to the ragged hole 

To hell with it all



  1. A fragment of reply:

    I do not desire a human community anymore because such a thing is not possible and never existed, it is a universalizing fiction, Camatte’s promise is empty (or am I wrong here, what is he really saying?). The community is not, I think, some kind of space of sacrifice or debt, nor is it as Esposito, following Heidegger mainly, and then Bataille, Nancy and Blanchot, reckons it, as a kind of already existing ‘real movement’: ‘Community is situated neither before or after society’ (‘society’ here in reference to Tonnies’ Gesellschaft), ‘community is always already realized’. ‘All the authors who from Rousseau onward attempted to found community by reconstructing its originary logical conditions fail not because the conditions have forever vanished into an entropic vortex but because the conditions themselves are nothing but the very vortex’. There is also an interesting idea in the context of ‘care’ from Esposito, examining Heidegger, which does not, however, approach your more intelligent propositions: ‘What holds us in common, or better, what establishes us as beings-in-common, being-there-with, is that defect, that non-fulfilment, that debt. But also our mortal finitude. This is revealed not so much in that our relationship with others is thought in terms of being-toward-death, but instead the specific modality that this relationship assumes, or what we have already noted as reciprocal ‘care’. Care, rather than interest, lies at the basis of community. Community is determined by care, and care by community’. I think it is reasonable to say that community is impossible and unrealizable and that it already exists in the moments of care, but I also think this is meaningless in the same way that the real movement is meaningless and communisation is meaningless. Talking of community has become irrelevant to me. I think, again, that people have mistaken equalitarian society (the ‘originary community’) for human community, when it is actually a political structure based on vigilance and habit. I think that, in the right circumstances, the politics of ease - collective vigilance is easier than slavery - trumps productive capacities and the Marxian imperatives of the material base. That is, people have retreated from technology and productivism before as a constant and recurrent tactic to avoid slavery (the tribal zone idea). But there are no spaces to retreat to now, so everything is a fiction. Etc, etc.


  2. A fragment of reply 2:

    In the process of writing I am trawling through lots of theories and stuff, the point of which is only to destabilise ideas and assumptions, and I am, like you have done before (eg Species Being), only presenting my ‘perhapses’ (like your ‘that may be so..’) in the context of another fiction. I want to provide for the general reader the enveloping dead end which I am acquainted with. I have no interest in facts at all, only in thinking. Such a task is, of course, necessarily doomed, particularly with my impoverished grey matter, and in contradiction of our own determinist-buffalo stance. The resignation I admire is the Zen resignation of Nihilist Communism and taking tea, watching birds, in the afternoon, which is not a resignation I seem able to acquire properly in my life, though I can perhaps articulate it in writing. Nihilist Communism has always been better than me. Etc, etc.

    You wrote this, which I read this morning:

    “ The opposition to capitalism, by and large, is reducible to the search for a niche within what is - it is what Camatte ultimately discovers in Marx (the overwhelming desire to belong, and find a home in history). This is the logic that underlies the means and ends that is sublating expropriation. - the delusion that we can take what is and 'build on it.' “

    And yesterday I wrote this:

    ‘Marx and Engels do not ‘support’ what has happened in history in the way that others who see progress as beneficial sometimes appear to do, they merely claim to describe and expose the process. However, since they see the Industrial Revolution and the Bourgeois mode of production as providing, for the first time in history, the basis for a truly rational, enlightened and communistic mode of production they do see some value in the long and torturous road that humanity has trodden through history, and it is this acknowledgement which gives them away.’