Image: Pieter Brueghel
“The Flatterers” (1592)
Earlier today, I tried to make my way through this rather long, theory-heavy Facebook thread. It popped up on my feed and some of the first few comments seemed pretty interesting. You know: it concerned concepts and authors like totality, status quo ante, the proletariat, Jameson. Figured I could maybe dig some of the Deleuze and communization stuff, even if I agreed with it less. Then all of a sudden all these theoretical accretions and academic encrustations began to glom onto the original topics under discussion at this crazy, exponential rate — sometimes as backstory or context, but more often as just syncretistic add-ons and meaningless whirligigs, an intellectually promiscuous process of addition, lunatical topsy-turvydom, etc.
Maybe I just didn’t know enough of these theories or theorists, but I don’t think that’s it. Really, I’m not anti-theory at all; I’m good at it. I have a lot more patience for dense theoretical discourse than many people I know. (That much should be obvious to anyone who reads or even glances passingly through this blog). But there’s some massive leveling our generation needs to do. Most of what’s been written recently or being written right now needs to be mercilessly torn down, without remorse or concern about hurt feelings. The elbow-rubbing and chummy collegiality needs to go. We must separate the wheat from the chaff, the Hearts—Stars—Clovers—Blue-Moons from the ordinary cereal. Honestly, we’re far too easily impressed with ourselves and each other. Most of what we produce is total garbage, and we should have no problem owning up to that. No more compliments or gentle “critiques” that just mildly “complicate” or “problematize” whatever bullshit we’re on about lately. Could be way off but who knows.
Anyway, I communicated these sentiments more or less exactly as I just presented them here to the posters in this thread. It was probably ill-advised decision to do so, bound to piss off everyone involved. People tend to get really touchy and insecure whenever their intellectual credentials are challenged. Of course, I wasn’t looking to call anyone out or target anybody in particular, though I could have, but leave things at this fairly generalized level. Still, most in the thread had enough of a sense of humor about themselves to move on quickly and not take it really personally. Except for one person: Louis-Georges Schwartz. He had already complained about the supposed “theater of cruelty” operative in the “spectacle” that is my blog, and took exception to the brief piece I wrote up lampooning the feminist journal LIES. Both because I felt his contributions to the thread were particularly egregious in terms of their jargonistic excess, leaning liberally on Deleuzean mumbo-jumbo and other “continental” gibberish, and because he continued his crybaby routine by blocking me over a Facebook comment, I’m going to repost a couple of Schwartz’s logorrheic gems. As one irreverent left communist remarked upon scrolling through the thread, some of this shit almost reads as deliberate self-parody:
1) Deleuze does not have a “Return to Bergson book” though he did write a 1966 mongraph on the philosopher and uses Bergson’s concepts through out his career. 2) The question of how to articulate the dialectic with duration / a certain deleuzeanism is the secret subject of “The Present Moment” and part of the reason I was ownering about was of articulating the dialectic, deleuzian genetics, and badouvian generation this spring. 3) ‘the collective” (not exactly a TC term doesn’t have to “collective borrow reproductive issues from the culture of private ownership” but it does have to start the future with reproduction as it is or it will be repressing a struggle (because what you are calling “the collective,” Tim, is nothing but a rift, a gendered *ecart.* 4) Any decent person is eschatological. The “Stationary State’ is an eschatology too.
This too, though it abruptly ends with an announcement that he’s blocking me (he cutely even took the trouble to tag me, an uncommon courtesy):
To a certain extent it seems that preserving the systemic dialectic is an alibi ti call for a party or a subject. Articulating the historical and structural dialectics then becomes what we call the task of the party or subject (“clarifying the desires of the working class” / Strategy) and the legislative fantasies of Badiou or Kant’s “duty” can then be produced in all their Oedipal micro-fascism. The above passage is Deleuzean in so far as it takes the Bergsonian notion of duration to be a description of time which takes into account the changes wrote by the passage of time in the syntheses of time themselves. In that model the “subject of history” becomes history itself (just as in Bergson the subject becomes the universe and philosophy converts itself to theology.) Considering the Simon piece is largely about struggle within struggle, the Bergson cite doesn’t seem exactly corrective. The question thisk, I think: is thew temporality described in the citation from Simon above conceptually distinct from the temporality entailed in Autonomia (The time of labor trying exit the plane of capital.) TC needs such a time. The movement image gives the time of the Taylorist “scientific management”/ moment of subsumption and the classical worker’s movements, the time image the time of autonomous labor and relations of refusal. The time of rifts (the post 200 period when the wage demand has lost salience in the capitalist core needs a third time, a time that holds when the social as such has been replaced by economy.) Also, I’m blocking Ross.
There are some writers who can range freely over theorists and philosophers from different epochs and traditions, invoking obscure concepts left and right irrespective of their original context — writers like Adorno, Jameson, or even perhaps Benjamin Noys. Needless to say, as should be obvious from just these passing remarks, Louis-Georges Schwartz is not one of these writers, or even remotely of their caliber. He has none of that casual command of the topic at hand, none of the mastery over the concepts to wield them in a way that isn’t absurd and confounding. Also, and I want to reiterate this, it never ceases to amuse me that people actually block each other over stupid Facebook arguments. Pretty sad.
Furthermore, did what I wrote really come off as that anti-theory to begin with? That really was not my intention. If anything it was meant as a call to arms, to demand more from ourselves and each other, to strive for better and more discerning theoretical argumentation. Maybe I’m a bit off, as I said, and my concerns are misplaced. This could after all just be another empty call for ruthless criticism. I don’t know, though. Marx and Engels were hardly ever impressed by their colleagues or contemporaries. Engels said something to the effect that the only English text from 1820-1845 that deserved to be translated was Thomas Carlyle’s Past and Present. And Marx repeatedly referred to essays Lassalle sent to him, ostensibly supportive of Marx and Engels’ position, as “urine” (I think we can agree he was justified in issuing this judgment).
11:08am, 10—30—2013: Terence Blake, an Australian-born philosopher living in France influenced by Paul Feyerabend and Gilles Deleuze, has written up a response to this post in which he reasserts his admiration for a figure like Deleuze while at the same time lamenting the use to which his ideas have since been put. As he puts it, the great French metaphysician inadvertently ended up “diffusing a swarm of ‘words of power’ to be wielded by narcissistic poseurs.” You can read “Where have all the arguments gone?” on his blog.