Process of Domination, the article

I finished my final edits yesterday on an article for a new journal called Black Box, which PM Press will be putting out. The article is adapted from a talk I gave last year at the Institute for the Humanities, which I posted on this blog. In the final edition of the article — which like the talk tries to introduce a general audience to Alfred Schmidt, Backhaus, Reichelt and Bonefeld, show how they drew on and enhanced elements of Adorno’s thought, and draw on their work to analyze Canada’s economic policy — the editor wisely excised some of the longer quotes and technical discussion I added, because they rightly thought they would be too much for a general audience. Nonetheless, since I imagine people who read this blog would appreciate the more technical quotes, I have uploaded it. (blackboxfinaledit)

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Video accompaniment to History and Obstinacy

The Alexander Kluge Archive has a number of videos that present “points of entry” to History and Obstinacy. They even have English subtitles.

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Fetishism and natural history

The latest iteration of an article I have been developing in light of Marx’s monetary theory of value and the relation between his use of fetishism, natural history and primitive accumulation:

This article posits a new interpretation of how Marx utilizes Charles de Brosses’s theory of fetishism. In contrast to accounts, like Keston Sunderland’s, that focus on the parallels between Marx and de Brosseses’ accounts of fetishized consciousness, I focus on how Marx employs de Brosses’s description of the “fetish object” in his account of money — as a thing that possesses “fetish-characteristic” properties. By aligning this aspect of Marx’s theory of money with his account of natural history, I show, that like the fetish object, money’s “social power” consists in the ability to protect people from the misfortunes generated by the “natural laws” of capitalism. This leads me to conclude that Marx deployed de Brosses’s theory in a far more pronounced way than has been recognized. For while de Brosses held that fetishism could be overcome by enlightened thought, Marx is pointing out that capitalism compels us to act in ways to acquire money and to treat it as inherently valuable — even if we know if it Is inherently worthless – to protect us from the ‘primitive’ society we have collectively created.

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State Violence, State Control

I am dedicating this week to putting the final edits on an article based on my talk about critical theory and the domination of nature, posted here last summer. The article also draws on my article on the state in Viewpoint, State Violence, State Control: Marxist State Theory and the Critique of Political Economy. Long overdue in linking it, do have a gander if you fancy.

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Chris Wright on my thesis

Chris Wright has been extraordinarily gracious in dedicating a series of posts to my thesis on his blog.   I have not had the time to look at them properly, but what I have seen promises to be extremely helpful when I set about turning the thesis into a book.

I’m sure he’ll be happy to hear that I certainly plan on jettisoning the conclusion, which appealed to the standards you are obligated to follow in a phd thesis on the basis of some hasty and slap-dash thinking. I also plan on rejigging the first chapter on Marx so that it highlights his ambiguities and addressing value-theoretic approaches in some capacity — a chapter or two — after my chapters on Lukacs, Adorno and Lefebvre. This will hopefully set up a better conclusion in which I argue that aspects of Marx, Lukacs, Adorno, Lefebvre and VFT should be aligned in some way so that the critique of political economy articulates a critical theory of society.

Unfortunately, after having just completed teaching six classes from scratch over the past year, all these issues have been pushed to the recesses of my mind. I plan on working my way back into them over the summer by finalizing the papers I’ve posted here on Lukacs and crisis, Ranciere, Backhaus/Reichelt and Adorno’s Marxism as well as spinning my Lefebvre chapter off into a journal article. Since I am also set to have much lighter teaching schedule over the coming academic year, with any luck I should also have the time to start on the book when I will certainly give Chris’s comments the time they deserve.




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Notes on the Preface to History and Obstinacy.

The preface to H&O provides a number of important definitions that frame the subsequent chapters. These definitions indicate that whilst N&K’s definition of Marxian categories are not marxologically sound, they are utilizing them in an expansive way, to analyze the relationship between history and obstinacy (the book’s appendix provides a lengthy definition of these, and the other categories).

Labour is defined as the ‘human ability to change matter purposefully’. Therefore, labour does not only consist in commodity production, but also ‘engenders social relations and develops community.’

This sets up a discussion in which N&K set up relationship between labour, history and obstinacy. In essence, I see the crux of this relationship as follows: they hold that labour produces both heteronomy and autonomy. They are concerned with how this has occurred historically (where it has mostly produced heteronomy), how this influences the present, and the contemporary relationship between historical heteronomy (capital/capital within us) and what they term counter-capital (obstinacy/autonomy).

Here are what I see as the important passages:

“In abbreviated outline form, this book is about the POLITICAL ECONOMY OF LABOUR POWER [ARBEITSKRAFT]: of what do those human characteristics capable of bringing  about material change consist? How do the “essential” powers of humans come into being, so that we are able to work, control our lives, and become autonomous? The economy of this labour capacity is capital’s polar opposite. It constitutes COUNTERCAPITAL” 73


“We apply the term “political economy of labour power” — in other words the battle between OBSTINACY AND HISTORY — to domains not traditionally associated with industry: the politics of love, war, and the “capitalism within us.” We have matter-of-fact reasons for adopting this cross-mapping approach. For one thing, it disrupts our habitual ways of seeing. Labor capacities rule daily life, just as they react virulently when societies create monsters such as fascism, for example. It is essential that we recognize our labour in all its aggregate states, and not solely in those belonging to mid-level functionality” 76










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Notes on History and Obstinacy I

I finished reading History and Obstinacy yesterday. Since I read it in bits in pieces on the bus during term time, I didn’t give it the close reading it deserves. So I am going to re-read it and post reflections on it as I do. I’ll start with the introduction.

I found the introduction very interesting, but unusual for several reasons. I think it does a good job of discussing H&O in comparison to N&K’s first work. It also provides an enticing discussion of their more recent work on politics, which I hope will be translated. Yet, despite a good discussion of Freud, a surprising amount of the introduction focuses on contextualizing N&K’s work in comparison to canonical literary and theoretical works. While this is certainly interesting, it seemed odd that there is a more in depth discussion of Deleuze  than the figure that Fore acknowledges to be N&K’s mentor: Theodor W. Adorno. Moreover, although Fore makes an interesting claim that N&K are from the generation of ’58 rather than ’68, there is not really a discussion of N&K’s biography or their previous work. (Indeed since this claim is not substantiated it also brushes against the earlier contextualization of N&K’s first collaborative work as a product of ’68). In essence, and I imagine this will come as no surprise to readers of this blog, I found it odd that the introduction did not focus on contextualizing N&K and H&O in reference to Frankfurt School Critical Theory and its place in German history.

I think such a theoretical contextualization is important because as I see it H&O is largely concerned with developing a number of Adornian concepts. Since some of these concepts are Adorno’s most difficult, such as natural history, it seems to me that the reader would benefit from some attempt to summarize them. Unfortunately, the introduction does not do so. I’m also afraid it also makes some curious missteps that occlude the influence of Adorno.

I’m far from a fluent German reader, yet I found it surprising that there was not discussion of how Eigensinn (translated as obstinacy but also willfullness, self-will, and autonomy) could be said to draw on Adorno’s notion of autonomy and heteronomy.

I also found it odd that the introduction draws parallels between Engels’ Dialectics of Nature and H&O, rather than Benjamin and Adorno’s notion of natural history. Surely the former, unlike the latter, does not entail a critical account of how the muck of ages have solidified damaged life under the pernicious rule of second nature.

Finally, and this is entirely my hobby horse, I would have loved a discussion of how the interpretation of Marx that influenced figures from the ’58 generation fit into their work. There are several interesting quotes about Marx’s anthropology and allusions to Capital (unfortunately, the famous quote about the bees and labour is credited to the Grundrisse), but no discussion of N&K’s interpretation of Marxian categories nor a contextualization of this interpretation alongside the work of Adorno and Alfred Schmidt. (Oddly Balibar is used to interpret Marx). This is surprising, for not only have two of the reviews of H&O had a field day criticizing N&K’s sloppy Marxology, but also because these interpretations are an essential aspect of H&O.

This brings us to how I see H&O and my primary interest in it. Like the other great Frankfurt theorist of ’58, Alfred Schmidt, I see N&K’s Marxism as concerned with aligning Marx with Adorno’s theory of natural history. Although the interpretation of these categories brushes against the rigorous interpretation of the New Reading developed by the generation of ’68, it seems to me it is also potentially an important compliment. For whilst the former lead to great strides in understanding Capital, I think H&O points to the importance of supplementing this New Reading of value with an account of “Capitalism within us” and of historical-specificity with how human history, as one of subjugation and domination, has formed humanity. It is these areas and more that my forthcoming notes will focus on.










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