Post-Futurist Anti-Capitalism (re-blogged from Anti-National Translation), as well as Notes and Oscuridades (UK), and my Tumblr

Entrance to the Perisphere, 1939 New York’s World Fair, Queens.  Designed by Harrison and Fouilhoux.

Post-Futurist Anti-Capitalism

A recent summation of my post “Memories of the Future” appears on the excellent Anti-National Translation website.  It is reproduced below.  My thanks to the author of that blog.

Ross Wolfe, of the Charnel House, has a long post on the temporality of radical politics, criticising, among other temporal orientations, various forms of hankering after divers real and imaginary pasts, and particularly the longing for a ‘prelapsarian past, of the “good old days” before everything went wrong’.  Much of the post is devoted to Franco “Bifo” Berardi and  his latest book, After the Future (2011).

Among the targets are Jewbonics/MondoWeiss blogger Max Ajl.  His text “Planet of the Fields” was in Jacobin magazine and not published online, as far as I know.  Wolfe alleges that:

It soon becomes clear, however, that the only way the author thinks humanity can survive is for it to reinstate the past.  Against bourgeois society’s “ceaseless drive to urbanization, industrialization, and capital- and input-intensive agriculture,” Ajl follows Colin Duncan in stressing “the centrality of [‘low-impact’] agriculture.”  He thus counterposes an order founded upon a more modest, traditional agrarian model to the megalopolitan nightmare-city of the last couple centuries.[34]  In order to carry out this neo-Neolithic revolution, Ajl calls for a policy of “repeasantization” — a telling slip-of-the-pen.[35]  Presumably, what he means by this is not literally the restoration of some sort of peasantry, as this feudal title tends to imply a certain legal and political status: enserfment, congenital bondage to the land (the manor or estate of a local nobleman), and the compulsory alienation of one’s property and labor to his lord as part of a corvée system.  Most farmers are not peasants.  Rather, what Ajl probably has in mind is a new yeomanry, tilling the soil in the bucolic splendor of the countryside.  Although he insists that “smallholder agriculture is not an antiquarian curio,” the spirit that animates Ajl’s atavistic vision is clearly conjured out of the ideological ectoplasm of romantic anti-capitalism.[36]  It is nourished on “the view that if only capitalism had not come into existence we could all be living in a happy hobbit-land of freed peasants and independent small producers.”[37]

(Personally, I have a problem with the simplistic ortho-Marxism Wolfe seems to be channelling in his criticism of the term “peasantry,” as I believe that the peasantry as a class are defined by the objective contradiction between proletarianisation and autonomy/communisation, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

Wolfe continues, and this is where it becomes relevant to the concerns of this blog:

This would perhaps seem a neat bit of buffoonery — a quaint throwback to the petit-bourgeois socialism dismissed in the Manifesto as “reactionary and Utopian”[38] — were it not for the widespread support it enjoys in anti-capitalist circles today.  The idyllic past it portrays is, of course, a fiction.  Family farming has since the 1970s become fetishized by the “small is beautiful” Left, roughly around the same time as family-owned farms began to go extinct (transformed into subsidiaries of large-scale agribusiness).  Leftish urbanites and self-proclaimed student radicals today often see in traditional agriculture the vestiges of a simple, honest, and upright way of life that has otherwise been lost in modern times.  Seldom is it remembered that in former times the provincial homestead was a bastion of conservatismand bulwark of the ancien régime, home to ignorance, illiteracy, patriarchy, superstition, and the domestic slavery of women.[39]  Not for nothing did Marx and Engels contemptuously refer to it as a haven for “the idiocy of rural life.”[40]

In the absence of any viable future, the gaze of all humanity turns impotently toward the past.  What emerges from such inauspicious times as these is thus a renovated passéism, in which the only imaginable society other than the one which presently endures must be seen as reminiscent of its earlier incarnations.[41]  Instead of forging a way forward into the great unknown, into an as-yet-unseen social formation, the only path that presently seems feasible for humanity is to flee into the familiar comfort of a new dark age.  Even Ajl’s “Planet of Fields” is just one step removed from Zerzanite primitivism.  To their credit, Mohandesi and Haider explicitly reject this latter-day Neo-Luddism,[42] reasserting the openness of the present.  Ajl, by contrast, addresses the primitivists’ challenge only en passant, obliquely brushing it aside on the grounds that nomadic hunter-gatherer society could never support a large population.[43]  And yet the Zerzanites can be said to possess at least one undeniable, if somewhat dubious, merit — the extreme lucidity with which they express their madness.

The post continues developing its critique of Bifo and gestures towards some alternative orientations to the past and future.  What I want to push, though, is the point that various forms of “post-futurist” romanticisms have become the default mode for anti-capitalism today, pervading the #Occupy movement, for example.  While the critique of this sort of romantic anti-capitalism is well developed on the Marxish left (see e.g. 3WF), the important messages is that that some apparently Marxist anti-capitalisms (Ajl is above all an anti-imperialist) are also mired in the “post-futurist” romance.

Also read: Ben Lear on lifeboat communism.

Related articles

Notes publication, Oscuridades, etc.

Jamie Patel of the publication Notes, run by students at Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, approached me about contributing a piece for the publication.  A worthy endeavor, methinks.  A journal of theory, creative writing, and poetry, Notes caters to a market that has up to this point been sorely neglected on campus: critical thought and investigation, accepting and promoting “anything that involves and would stimulate original thought.”  In the meantime, Jamie has been kind enough to re-blog my recent post “Memories of the Future.”  My own tastes incline me away from much of the post-Henri Lefebvre French theory they discuss on the site, but this is hardly a matter of principle.  It is encouraging to see these kinds of initiatives taking shape.

Also, many thanks to my friend Lucas Sutton from London, author of the blog Oscuridades, where Astorian noir is still gestating, for his thoughtful notes and comments in response to the post.

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5 thoughts on “Post-Futurist Anti-Capitalism (re-blogged from Anti-National Translation), as well as Notes and Oscuridades (UK), and my Tumblr

  1. There is one BIG difference of the past and the present, that is that WE ARE THE FIRST AND ONLY TIME IN HISTORY THAT IS GENUINELY FRIGHTENED OF BEAUTY:

    “Later, Katalin Bende, also working on the project in our office, asked me to explain what I meant by this true liking and about people’s fear of it, and why anyone could be afraid of true beauty. “What kind of beauty could go so deep that a person would be afraid of creating it?” she asked.

    I told her that, in my view, a difficulty we modern people encounter can sometimes go something like this: When centers are properly distributed in a truly beautiful structure, one cannot avoid seeing the I (what a religious person might also call God). In the 20th century there has been something almost like a taboo, against seeing the I, or true beauty, or God. Hence the discomfort. This discomfort that modern people feel with real beauty – especially that architects and designers feel – is almost legendary. Working with architects, I have experienced it again and again. Many traditional shapes, especially the most profound shapes with deep and serious centers in them, for some reason trouble modern architects profoundly. Even when an architect does want to borrow a traditional shape for a building (as postmodernists sometimes do), he often feels he has to make the shape “modern” in order to feel comfortable with it. So, for many decades, architects of the 20th century felt that they had to take a traditional form and distort it, so that they could demonstrate that they had possessed it, and so that their colleagues would not laugh at them for being archaic.

    Let me put it another way. The history of the 20th century has been one in which people do not want to see God nor, therefore, true beauty either. The role religion has, for many become uncomfortable. Many people want no part of it. They do not want, even, to get near it. And for that reason, they also do not (cannot) want, in their lives, any kind of true beauty. True beauty is the quality of being in touch with the I. A structure with true beauty – the beauty which brings something in touch with the I – is, in effect, something we cannot avoid, in some part, seeing God. For this reason, the underlying design vocabulary of the 20th century, almost throughout the century, asserted that designers should create structures which are “interesting”, “pleasing”, “fantastic”, “exhilarating”, “with elan”, and so on – anything but beautiful – indeed never truly beautiful. That word has unalterable meaning, cannot be contaminated, and during the temporary insanity of the 20th century, struck a nerve which people could not tolerate.” – Christopher Alexander, The Luminous Ground, page 295-296

    People who are genuinely afraid of the past are genuinely afraid of beauty, because there’s nothing they fear more than to see the face of God, they are even terrified of the possibility of seeing the faintest shade of God!

    • The death of God and the death of art are related. Hans Sedlmayr, the ultrareactionary (i.e., Nazi) art critic pointed out this very fact. Both God and art deserved to die, however, in order to make humanity both beautiful and divine — so that we could become God.

  2. Hi Ross, I’m an avid follower of this blog and a huge fan of your work. I apologize in advance that this comment will be somewhat unrelated, but recently I’ve read an essay of yours (Substance, Causation, and Free Will in Spinoza and Leibniz) and I absolutely have to praise you on it. I’ve never been particularly interested in philosophical debates, but the way you were able to simply and understandably break down the two philosophers’ complex ideas was incredible. The addition insight you provided was also phenomenal. I’m now planning to read the original texts, and I was posting this partly with the hope that you wouldn’t mind steering me in the direction of other related works. Any help is much appreciated. — Rob Helsel

    • Thanks for the praise! Wow, that’s one from the archives. I wrote that ages ago, though I think still fundamentally agree with my conclusions (I’m a Spinozist at heart).

      You’re looking for primary philosophical texts related to Spinoza and Leibniz? As in, works on metaphysics written around the same time? Or articles that relate to the problem of freedom? Kant’s gloss on this in the Third Antinomy of the Critique of Pure Reason (on freedom vs. necessity) is a timeless classic.

      • Hello, sorry for the late reply. I’ve been extraordinarily busy these past few weeks.

        Anyways, all three of the different topics you’ve suggested sound fascinating to me. I feel like the realm of philosophy is so diverse that it’s hard to know what specific area to delve into first. I was also wondering if you have any suggestions as to where I can find primary texts. It seems like whenever I go to libraries or bookstores they have a large number of books talking about primary philosophical works, but never the works themselves. Finding them online is just as much of a pain as well, because they’re either not there or the glare of the screen becomes a nuisance.

        Also on a side note, it doesn’t surprise me to find out that you identify as a Spinozist. Only a Spinozist would write a joking review of As the Roots Undo in the form of a Spinozist geometrical proof! On a side note to the side note, I found the parallels between your review and Kant’s Critique of Judgment to be brilliant. How’s that for pulling one out of the archives?

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