Formaldehyde embalming the corpse: Looking back at The Coming Insurrection

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Right now the insurrectionary ultraleft is abuzz at the release of a new document by the so-called “Invisible Committee,” entitled A Nous Amis [To Our Friends]. For now it’s only available in French, but a translation is expected to appear under the Semiotext(e) brand as early as January 2015. I’ll probably read it once it comes out. Apropos its publication, however, I thought I’d take a look back at some of the enthusiasm and criticism generated by the group’s 2009 title, The Coming Insurrection.

Let’s start with the enthusiasm. John Cunningham wrote an appreciative piece over at Mute that explains the history and context behind the Invisible Committee’s weirdly anti-social politics — their various perversions and inversions. Cunningham situates them within the emerging “communization” milieu (an appellation that seems to have stuck, given their inclusion in Benjamin Noys’ collection Communization and Its Discontents). Predictably, Geoff Bailey of the International Socialist Review, a Cliffite theory rag, took a much more negative stance in his article “Searching for the New, Resurrecting the Old.”  Bailey sees The Coming Insurrection as tragically out of touch with the return of familiar patterns, conditions conducive to normal soft-Trot recruitment drives: “[T]he authors have overlooked some of the very real changes — the globalization of production, the expansion of access to communication technology, and the onset of new a systemic crisis — that open up new possibilities for rebuilding a revolutionary movement, even as they present new challenges.”

The following article by my friend Ashley Weger takes a different path. Weger, unlike Bailey, readily acknowledges the deep discontinuity of the present with the revolutionary movements of the past. Unlike Cunningham, however, she does not find the Invisible Committee’s reworking of traditional problematics all that promising. Some might dismiss Weger’s simply because it first ran in the Platypus Review, but such prejudices are silly. (I’m not even sure whether Platypus is still publishing; their last issue was the combined August-September issue, appeared late, and only had one mammoth panel transcript. October has no new issue yet, unsurprising considering the pitiful turnout at their inaugural European convention and ongoing boycott of their events).

A couple of Weger’s allusions to pop culture are a bit too clever or cute for my taste, but other lines are devastating. Regardless, this is a great piece.

coming-insurrection

The coming insurrection? A reflection on resistance at the Toronto G20

Ashley Weger
Platypus Review 27
September 1, 2010

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One of the results of these recent movements is the understanding that henceforth a real demonstration has to be “wild,” not declared in advance to the police. Having the choice of terrain, we can, like the Black Bloc of Genoa in 2001, bypass the red zones and avoid direct confrontation. By choosing our own trajectory, we can lead the cops, including unionist and pacifist ones, rather than being herded by them. In Genoa we saw a thousand determined people push back entire buses full of Caribinieri, then set their vehicles on fire. The important thing is not to be better armed but to take the initiative. Courage is nothing, confidence in your own courage is everything.[1]

— The Invisible Committee,
The Coming Insurrection

These few sentences prescribe the Invisible Committee’s advice for today’s budding radical. Concurrently serving as agitator and guidance counselor, their pamphlet’s understanding of the path towards overcoming capitalism is woven through with the demand to abandon the fear and inhibition taming one’s revolutionary, insurrectionary potential. As a theoretical justification for tactics of subversion, violence, and destruction in the name of anti-capitalism, The Coming Insurrection was without a doubt in the minds, hearts, and backpacks of the black-clad protesters who converged on, collided with, and combusted cop cars in protest of the Toronto G20 Summit in June [2010]. Perhaps less apparent is the manner in which the emphasis on the propaganda of the deed, à la the insurrectionists and those participating in Black Bloc actions, is hardly restricted to the usual, sable-appareled suspects. Rather, this lust for radical change rooted in “real struggle” represents the culture of the contemporary anti-capitalist Left en masse, and is reflective of a politics whose fervent affirmation of action expresses a non-critical, reified understanding of society.

Despite seemingly great differences between “mainstream” protest and “extremist” tactics, Black Bloc methods and the theory of the insurrectionists are in reality only more acute expressions of a political outlook shared by the contemporary activist Left as a whole: a naïve, ahistorical asseveration of action, despite the Left’s continued downward descent into the abyss of meaninglessness. Marx once described the predicament of emancipation being fettered by a gulf between thought and action, famously concluding that “philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” The mantra of the 21st century left seems to have amended this evaluation, posing that the point is to resist it. This fixation on resistance, contrary to popular imagination, does not reveal the Left’s strength, but rather its consensual degradation into pure symbolism. The actions, antics, and aftermath of the G20 protests underscore the current crisis of the Left: not a rain of rubber bullets aimed at it, but the perverse, perennial celebration of its own comatose state.

Global gatherings of the G20 have been celebrated for bringing together all flavors of left activism: religious social justice types pleading for peace, eco-warriors distraught over the destruction of Mother Earth, dozens of infinitesimal sectarian groups ironically endorsing the power of the masses, Fosteresque entryist union organizers championing any cause that gives their local more street cred, anarchists equipped with tear-gas-ready bandanas, hoards of protestors decked out in “Fuck the G20” shirts and marching to chants of equal chutzpah, and enough Tibetan flags to make one think he or she is jamming at a Beastie Boys concert circa 1994. The uncomfortable, odd couple dynamic of this conglomeration is a decades-long tradition, for these unlikely comrades share the streets time and time again, as they did in 1999 while battling in Seattle and in the host of protests against corporate criminals, global hegemony, and world capital that populate the landscape of the Left, post-collapse. Protest, it has been decided, is the least common denominator amongst what constitutes itself as the Left today, the arena in which divides are bridged in the name of unity against the enemy of all.

While constantly conceptualized as unprecedented, this form of politics is in reality formulaic, and the storyline of the G20 in Toronto has only reproduced the equation. Thousands gather for state-sanctioned, peaceful demonstrations seeking to inform those in power what democracy looks and sounds like — apparently, like hundreds of people mechanically shouting in unison. As the demonstration unfurls, a small militant population destroys property as a gesture of their “autonomy” and fearlessness to resist the intimidating batons and tear gas of police officers outfitted in riot gear. This is followed by intense retaliation from the police officers, chiefly against persons who committed no crime. Indeed, the G20 resulted in the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. To the embarrassment of police officers and the city of Toronto, nearly all these arrests and detainments, whether the result of the frenzy of the moment or an intentional abuse of power, were without merit. Continue reading

NYC panel event: THE MANY DEATHS OF ART

   Julieta Aranda | Gregg Horowitz
Paul Mattick | Yates Mckee

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65 W 11th St.
Wollman Hall (5th fl)
New School

February 23, 2013
6-9pm

Please register on our official event page
Join the event on Facebook

The “death of art” has been a recurring theme within aesthetic and philosophical discourse for over two centuries. At times, this “death” has been proclaimed as an accomplished fact; at others, artists themselves have taken the “death of art” as a goal to be accomplished. So while this widely perceived “death” is lamented by many as a loss, it is celebrated by others as a moment of life renewed. For them, art is all the better for having disburdened itself of the baggage of outmoded modernist ideologies. Insofar as the “death” of longstanding cultural traditions has in the past typically been understood to signal a deeper crisis in society at large, however, the meaning of death necessarily takes on a different aspect today — especially when the tradition in question is modernism, the so-called the “tradition of the new” (Rosenberg). Because the very ideas of “death” and “crisis” appear to belong to the edifice of modernity that has been rejected, these too are are to be jettisoned as part of its conventional yoke. Modernity itself having become passé, even the notion of art’s “death” seems to have died along with modernism.

We thus ask our panelists not merely whether art is at present “dead,” but also if traditions are even permitted the right to perish in conservative times. If some once held that the persistence of philosophy indicated the persistence of obsolete social conditions, does the persistence of art signal ongoing social conditions that ought to have long ago withered away? If so, what forms of political and artistic practice would be sufficient to realize art, and in what ways would realizing art signal something beyond art? Marx felt that the increasing worldliness of philosophy in his time (heralded by the culmination of philosophy in Hegel) demanded not only the end of philosophy, but also that the world itself become philosophical. If avant-garde movements once declared uncompromising war on art in order to tear down the barrier between art and life, would the end or overcoming of art not similarly require that the world itself become artistic?

The Many Deaths of Art event poster

Continue reading

Malcolm Christ, or the Anti-Nietzsche

Re­view: Mal­colm Bull,
Anti-Ni­et­z­sche (2011)

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Im­age: Pho­to­graph of
Friedrich Ni­et­z­sche (1882)
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On the Left’s re­cent anti-Ni­et­z­schean turn

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[W]hat makes Ni­et­z­sche’s in­flu­ence so un/canny is that there has nev­er been ad­equate res­ist­ance from a real Left.

— Geoff Waite, Ni­et­z­sche’s Corps/e (1996)

Few thinkers have en­joyed such wide­spread ap­peal over the last forty years as Ni­et­z­sche.

— Peter Thomas, “Over­man and
the Com­mune” (2005)

Op­posed to every­one, Ni­et­z­sche has met with re­mark­ably little op­pos­i­tion.

— Mal­colm Bull, “Where is the
Anti-Ni­et­z­sche?” (2001)

If Ni­et­z­sche’s ar­gu­ments could be said to have gone un­chal­lenged dur­ing the second half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, as the above-cited au­thors sug­gest, the same can­not be said today. Be­gin­ning in the early 1990s, but then with in­creas­ing rapid­ity over the course of the last dec­ade, a dis­tinctly anti-Ni­et­z­schean con­sensus has formed — par­tic­u­larly on the Left. Re­cent years have wit­nessed a fresh spate of texts con­demning both Ni­et­z­sche and his thought as ir­re­deem­ably re­ac­tion­ary, and hence in­com­pat­ible with any sort of eman­cip­at­ory polit­ics. Nu­mer­ous au­thors have con­trib­uted to this shift in schol­arly opin­ion. To wit: Wil­li­am Alt­man, Fre­drick Ap­pel, Mal­colm Bull, Daniel Con­way, Bruce De­twiler, Don Dom­bow­sky, Ishay Landa, Domen­ico Los­urdo, Corey Robin, and Geoff Waite. The list goes on.

Even a curs­ory glance at these writ­ings, however, suf­fices to re­veal some of the deep fis­sures that run between them. A great meth­od­o­lo­gic­al het­ero­gen­eity in­forms their re­spect­ive ap­proaches. Bull, for ex­ample, in­sists that to over­come the se­duct­ive qual­ity of Ni­et­z­sche’s ideas it is vi­tal not to read like him (“read­ing for vic­tory”);1 Alt­man seems to be­lieve, in­versely, that in or­der to un­der­mine his per­vas­ive in­flu­ence, it is ne­ces­sary to write like him.2 The con­tent of their cri­ti­cisms is far from uni­vocal, either. One com­mon thread that unites them is Ni­et­z­sche’s no­tori­ous hos­til­ity to mod­ern demo­crat­ic ideals, but even then the points of em­phas­is are ex­tremely di­ver­gent. While some crit­ics of Ni­et­z­sche prefer to re­main with­in the realm of polit­ics prop­er, oth­ers re­gister his op­pos­i­tion to demo­cracy at the level of eth­ics or aes­thet­ics. Dom­bow­sky falls in­to the former of these camps, seek­ing to trace out — through a series of elab­or­ate and im­pres­sion­ist­ic in­fer­ences re­gard­ing the au­thor’s read­ing habits, a kind of bib­li­o­graph­ic­al “con­nect the dots” — the secret of “Ni­et­z­sche’s Ma­chiavel­lian dis­ciple­ship.”3 Us­ing a more eth­ic­al frame­work, writers like Con­way rather look “to il­lu­min­ate the…mor­al con­tent of his polit­ic­al teach­ings.”4 Con­versely, in his book Ni­et­z­sche Con­tra Demo­cracy, Ap­pel loc­ates Ni­et­z­sche’s anti-demo­crat­ic im­pulse as emer­ging out of his con­cern with artist­ic prac­tices, in the con­stru­al of “polit­ics as aes­thet­ic activ­ity.”5

But whatever dif­fer­ences may ex­ist in their in­ter­pret­a­tion of the man and his thought, one thing is cer­tain: the tide has turned de­cis­ively against Ni­et­z­sche on the Left of late. Not that this is an en­tirely un­wel­come de­vel­op­ment. The vogue of French Ni­et­z­schean­ism, from Ba­taille and Deleuze down through Der­rida and Fou­cault, has been every bit as tire­some as its vul­gar anti-Ni­et­z­schean coun­ter­part. In light of the re­cent re­valu­ation of Ni­et­z­sche’s philo­sophy, however, we find ourselves com­pelled to ask wheth­er the anti-Ni­et­z­schean turn of the last few years truly sig­nals an end to the sway his ideas have held over the Left. Are we to be fi­nally dis­ab­used of his “per­ni­cious” in­flu­ence? Is this per­haps the twi­light of the ido­lo­clast? Continue reading

Painting of Trotsky by Henry Schnautz, 1950s

Some hitherto untranslated sections of Trotsky on Nietzsche (1908)

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Image: Henry Schnautz’s Trotsky (1950s)

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Here are a few preliminary, still very rough translations of passages from Trotsky writing on Nietzsche not available in English. There is probably some background required to know the various philosophical and literary (idealist and symbolist, respectively) movements he’s talking about, but I think that Trotsky makes a few essential points that are in line with later interpretations advanced by Adorno.  Which makes me wonder, did Adorno et al. perhaps read this essay? Was it available in German, even if not in English? The essay’s title in English would be “Starved for ‘Culture'” or something like that, from 1908.

Note the succession in the last paragraph: Nietzsche, Kant, the Marquis de Sade! Recall the second chapter of Dialectic of Enlightenment, where precisely these figures were juxtaposed with respect to the morality of the individual under enlightened bourgeois subjectivity.

Our impoverished “decadence” of the 1890’s was not the first declaration of aristocratic, or even intellectual-bourgeois aestheticism. But from the outset, how gutless (even cowardly) it was! It scarcely dared stammer on about the absolute end-in-itself of the aesthetic (though principally erotic) “tremor” [«трепета»], or of its protest against “tendentiousness” — i.e., in practice, against the grand morality of political obligations, which gravitated toward literature and strove to give the appearance of struggling against moralizing populism. This helped it come under the aegis of the journalistic Marxism of the time, which was of little interest to the Decadents taken on its own terms. They were both still psychologically connected, if you will, by the fact that both proclaimed a “new word” and both were in the minority. The Petersburg journal Life, a combination of third-rate Marxism and kitschy aestheticism printed on good paper for an inexpensive price, was the fruit of this strange coupling. Increasing colossally overnight, the vogue appeal of Gorkii developed in the same period. According to the current definition, the tramp symbolizes the revolt against petit-bourgeois philistinism. Untrue! On the contrary! For broad groups of intellectuals, the tramp turned out to be precisely the symbol of the sudden rise of petit-bourgeois [мещанского, also connotes “philistine”] individualism. Off with one’s burdens! It’s time to straighten one’s back! Society is nothing more than an imperceptible abstraction. I — and this is me! — here came to the aid of Nietzsche. In the West, he appeared as the final, most extreme word in philosophical individualism because he was also the negation and overcoming of petit-bourgeois individualism. But for us Nietzsche was forced to perform a quite different task: we smashed his lyrical philosophy into fragments of paradoxes and threw them into circulation as the hard cash of a petty, pretentious egoism…

Наш жалконький «декаданс» 90-х годов — и был этим первым провозглашением не дворянского, а интеллигентско-мещанского эстетизма. Но как он был по первоначалу робок, даже труслив! Он едва смел заикаться об абсолютной самоцельности эстетического (главным образом эротического) «трепета» и своему протесту против «тенденциозности», т.-е. на деле против больших нравственно-политических обязательств, тяготевших на литературе, старался придать вид борьбы против морализующего народничества. Это помогло ему стать под защиту тогдашнего журнального марксизма, который сам по себе декадентов мало интересовал. Их, пожалуй, еще психологически связывало то, что оба провозглашали «новое слово» и оба были в меньшинстве. Петербургский журнал Жизнь, комбинация из дешевого марксизма и дешевого эстетизма, на хорошей бумаге и за недорогую цену, явился плодом этой странной связи. Колоссальная, в 24 часа выросшая, популярность Горького — явление той же эпохи. По ходячему определению, босяк был символом бунта против мещанства. Неправда! Как раз наоборот! Для широких групп интеллигенции босяк оказался именно символом воспрянувшего мещанского индивидуализма. Долой ношу! Пора выпрямить хребет! Общество — лишь неуловимая абстракция. Я — это я! — На помощь пришел Ницше. На Западе он явился, как последнее, самое крайнее слово философского индивидуализма и потому — как отрицание и преодоление индивидуализма мещанского. У нас же Ницше заставили выполнять совсем другую работу: его лирическую философию разбили на осколки парадоксов и пустили их в оборот, как звонкую монету маленького претенциозного эгоизма… Continue reading

Three models of “resistance” — Notes

Notes


[1] “[The] political beginnings [of ‘resistance’] in the West are conservative; this helps to explain some of the politics of resistance.  It’s Edmund Burke, the British conservative, who actually counsels resistance against the radical change of the French Revolution in 1790.  About 75 years later, the same call was taken up by Mathew Arnold, who essentially argues for culture as a means of resistance against the tides of anarchic progress…Marx and Engels, when they [were] writing the Communist Manifesto, actually single out resistance in the form of reactionary socialism as a major stumbling block to any sort of revolution…Resistance has this sort of conservative cast in the 18th and 19th centuries.”  Albert, Michael; Cutrone, Chris; Duncombe, Stephen; and Holmes, Brian. “The 3 Rs: Reform, Revolution, and ‘Resistance’: The Problematic Forms of ‘Anti-capitalism’ Today.”  Platypus Review.  (No. 4.  April, 2008).

[2]Upping the Anti Editorial Board.  With Eyes Wide Open: Notes on Crisis and Resistance Today.”  Upping the Anti.  (No. 10.  May, 2010).

[3] Postone, Moishe.  Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY: 1993).  Pgs.

[4] Burke, Edmund.  Selected Works, Volume 2: Reflections on the Revolution in France.  (Liberty Fund.  Indianapolis, IN: 1999).  Pg 180.

[5] Paul, Alexander.  The History of Reform: A Record of the Struggle for the Representation of the People in Parliament.  (George Routledge & Sons.  New York, NY: 1884).  Pg. 138.

[6] Wolfe, Ross.  “Reflections of Resistance, Reform, and Revolution.”  Upping the Anti,  (No. 14.  November, 2012).

[7] Derrida, Jacques.  “Resistances.”  Translated by Peggy Kamuf, Pascale-Anne Brault, and Michael Naas.  Resistances of Psychoanalysis.  (Stanford University Press.  Stanford, CA: 1998).  Pg. 2.

[8] Ibid., pg. 16.

[9] Ibid., pg. 17.

[10] Dilthey, Wilhelm.  “The Origin of Our Belief in the Reality of the External World and Its Justification.”  Translated by Maximilian Aue.  Selected Works, Vol. 2: Understanding the Human World.  (Princeton University Press.  Princeton, NJ: 2010).  Pg. 19.

[11] “Fichte’s system is the culmination of subjective idealism.  This means simply that it completes the attempt to explain the world through the I, and to derive the nexus of all sensations and intuitions, of all that is given and exists, from the spontaneous, productive subject.  The essence of this system consists in raising all givenness, all beings, into something active, or more precisely, into the active I.  This givenness or reality is not sought for ‘out there’ in the world.  For Fichte there is no ‘out there.’  Rather the ‘out there’ exists only for consciousness itself.”  Dilthey, Wilhelm.  Hermeneutics and Its History.  Translated by Theodore Nordenhaug.  Hermeneutics and the Study of History.  (Princeton University Press.  Princeton, NJ: 1996).  Pg. 100.

[12] “The not-self is posited in the self…but all such counterpositing presupposes the identity of the self, in which something is posited and then something set in opposition thereto.”  Fichte, J.G.  The Science of Knowledge.  Translated by Peter Heath and John Lachs.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY: 1982).  Pg. 106.

[13] Dilthey, “The Origin of Our Belief in the Reality of the External World and Its Justification.”  Pg. 23.

[14] Ibid., pgs. 49-50.

[15] “As is the case with many other opinions of this great author [i.e., Schopenhauer], this opinion constitutes a development of propositions set forth by his teacher Johann Gottlieb Fichte, although he does not refer to him on this occasion, and rarely mentions his name at all without piling abuse on it.”  Ibid., pg. 12.

[16] “We know that multiplicity in general is necessarily conditioned by time and space and is thinkable only through them; in this respect, we call them the principium individuationis.”  Schopenhauer, Arthur.  The World as Will and Representation, Volume 1.  Translated by Christopher Janaway, Judith Norman, and Alistair Welchman.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY: 2010).  Pg. 152.

[17] Dilthey, Wilhelm.  Selected Works, Volume 3: The Formation of the Historical World in the Human Sciences.  Translated by Rudolf A. Makkreel and John Scanlon.  (Princeton University Press.  Princeton, NJ: 2002).  Pg. 55.

[18] Dilthey, “The Origin of Our Belief in the Reality of the External World and Its Justification.”  Pg. 42.

[19] “This activity then becomes the ego’s highest function; decisions as to when it is more expedient to control one’s passions and bow before reality, and when it is more expedient to side with them and to take arms against the external world — such decisions make up the whole essence of worldly wisdom.”  Sigmund Freud, The Question of Lay Analysis: Conversations with an Impartial Person.  Translated by James Strachey.  (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.  New York, NY: 1978).  Pgs. 23-24.

Compare with Dilthey: “A volition first produces an impulse to move, which, in the course of the imagined motion, is accompanied by barely noticeable feelings of pleasure: then the experience of resistance arises.  Does the impulse simply disappear in it? Does it vanish by turning into a mere sensory state? No, it persists, supplemented by the consciousness that the will is being restrained.”  Dilthey, “The Origin of Our Belief in the Reality of the External World and Its Justification.”  Pg. 20.

[20] Dilthey, The Formation of the Historical World in the Human Sciences.  Pg. 185.  My italics.

[21] Dilthey, “The Origin of Our Belief in the Reality of the External World and Its Justification.”  Pg. 14.

[22] Schmidt, Konrad.  “Final Goal and Movement.”  Pgs. 210-211.

[23] Bernstein, Eduard.  Selected Writings, 1900-1921.  Translated by Manfred B. Steger.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY: 1996).  Pg. 64.

[24] Luxemburg, Rosa.  Reform or Revolution? Translated by Integer.  (Haymarket Books.  Chicago, IL: 2008).  Pg. 46.

[25] Lenin, Vladimir.  “A Protest by Russian Social Democrats.”  Translated by.  Collected Works, Volume 4: 1898-1899.  (Progress Publishers.  Moscow, USSR: 1977).  Pg. 178.

[26] Lenin, Vladimir.  “Fear of the Collapse of the Old and the Fight for the New.”  Translated by Yuri Sdobnikov.  Collected Works, Volume 26: September 1917-February 1918.  (Progress Publishers.  Moscow, USSR: 1972).  Pg. 401.

[27] “The crude confrontation of subject and object in naïve realism is of course historically necessitated and cannot be dismissed by an act of will.  But at the same time it is a product of false abstraction, already a piece of reification.  Once this is seen through, then a consciousness objectified to itself, and precisely as such directed outward, virtually striking outward, could no longer be dragged along without self-reflection.”  Adorno, Theodor.  “On Subject and Object.”  Critical Models.  Pg. 249.

[28] Clearly, the differences between these two conflicting orders of reality — the natural and the historical — must not to be ontologized by erecting some kind of permanent boundary between them, thereby succumbing to a form of metaphysical dualism.  An underlying material foundation unites both nature and history.  Depending on the way that one approaches this unity, however, diverging pictures can result.  The paradigmatic example of this was given by Theodor Adorno’s student Alfred Schmidt in contrasting Marx’s concept of nature against that of his influential predecessor, Ludwig Feuerbach.  “What Feuerbach described as the unity of man and nature,” Schmidt explained in his 1954 study on The Concept of Nature in Marx, “related only to the romantically transfigured fact that man arose out of nature, and not to man’s socio-historically mediated unity with nature in industry.”  In this sense, at least, Feuerbach remained a materialist in the eighteenth century mold:  “Nature as a whole was for Feuerbach an unhistorical, homogeneous substratum, while the essence of the Marxist critique was a dissolution of this homogeneity into a dialectic of Subject and Object.  Nature was for Marx both an element of human practice and the totality of everything that exists.”  Schmidt, Alfred.  The Concept of Nature in Karl Marx.  Translated by Ben Fowkes.  (New Left Books.  London, England: 1971).  Pg. 27.

To be sure, Dilthey distinguishes the historical world from the natural world at several points in presenting his philosophical system: “[N]ature is a constituent of history only insofar as it has an effect and in how it can be affected.  The proper domain of history is, to be sure, also external; yet the tones that form a musical composition, the canvas on which we paint, the courtroom in which a verdict is pronounced, merely have their material in nature.  Every operation of the human sciences dealing with such external states of affairs has to do merely with the sense and meaning they receive through the activity of spirit and how it serves the understanding that grasps this meaning and sense in themThe difference between the human and natural sciences is not just about the stance of the subject toward the object; it is not merely about a kind of attitude, a method.  Rather, the procedure of understanding is grounded in the realization that the external reality that constitutes its objects is totally different from the objects of the natural sciences.  Spirit has objectified itself in the former, purposes have been embodied in them, values have been actualized in them, and understanding grasps this spiritual content that has been formed between them.”  Dilthey, The Formation of the Historical World in the Human Sciences.  Pgs. 140-141.  Still, the distinction between these two objective forms of external reality is posterior to their common experience as resistant to an individual’s will.

Despite their anthropological predispositions, Feuerbach and Dilthey each fell into the same fundamental error by conceiving nature as merely the baseline condition of human activity.  They failed to take into account the extent to which nature was itself conditioned by human activity.  “Labor is, first of all, a process between man and nature,” Marx wrote in Capital, “a process by which man, through his own actions, mediates, regulates, and controls the metabolism between himself and nature.”  In labor, especially industrial labor, man “sets in motion the natural forces which belong to his own body, his arms, legs, head, and hands, in order to appropriate the materials of nature in a form adapted to his own needs.  Through this movement he…develops the potentialities slumbering within nature, and subjects the play of its forces to his own sovereign power.” Marx, Karl.  Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1.  Translated by Ben Fowkes.  (Penguin Books.  New York, NY: 1882).  Pg. 283.

[29] Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich.  Manifesto of the Communist Party.  Pg. .

[30] Lukács, Georg.  “Class Consciousness.”  Translated by Rodney Livingstone.  History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics.  (MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1971).  Pg. 70.

[31] Marx, Capital, Volume 1.  Pg.  165.

[32] Marx, Karl.  Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts.  Translated by.  (Progress Publishers.  Moscow, USSR: 19).  Pg. 274.

[33] Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich.  The German Ideology.  ‘Pg. 47.

[34] “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat.”  Translated by Rodney Livingstone.  History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics.  (MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1971).  Pg. 185.

[35] Engels, Friedrich.  Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.  Translated by Edward Aveling.  Collected Works, Volume 24: 1874-1883.  (International Publishers.  New York, NY: 1989).  Pgs. 323-324.

[36] Freud, Sigmund.  Introductory Lectures to Psychoanalysis.  Translated by James Strachey.  (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.  New York, NY: 1989).  Pg. 364.

[37] “From what part of the mind does an unconscious resistance…arise? The beginner in psychoanalysis will… answer: it is, of course the resistance of the unconscious.  An ambiguous and unserviceable answer!… Resistance can only be a manifestation of the ego, which originally put the repression into force and now wishes to maintain it.”  Freud, Sigmund.  New Introductory Lectures to Psychoanalysis.  Translated by James Strachey.  (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.  New York, NY: 1989).  Pg. 86.

“We must above all get rid of the mistaken notion that what we are dealing with in our struggle against resistances is resistance on the part of the unconscious.  The unconscious — that is to say, the ‘repressed’ — offers no resistance whatever to the efforts of the treatment.”  Freud, Sigmund.  Beyond the Pleasure Principle.  Translated by James Strachey.  (W.W. Norton & Co.  New York, NY: 1961).  Pg. 13.

[38] Very little has been written concerning the historical conjuncture of reification, repetition, and resistance that takes place under the conditions of capitalist social life, much less in the moment of profound crisis within international Marxism (1914-1923).  Of the few authors who have touched on the issue, Postone has perhaps gone the furthest toward understanding their interconnection, albeit within a far more general purview.  He calls attention to the homology that exists between individual and social manifestations of this tendency to compulsively repeat.  “One could draw a parallel between [the Marxian] understanding of the capitalist social formation’s history and Freud’s notion of individual history, where the past does not appear as such, but rather in a veiled, internalized form that dominates the present,” Postone astutely notes.  “The task of psychoanalysis is to unveil the past in such a way that its appropriation becomes possible.  The necessary moment of a compulsively repetitive present can thereby be overcome, which allows the individual to move into the future.”  Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination.  Pg. 377.

[39] Lukács, Georg.  “Class Consciousness.”  Pgs. 76-77.

[40] Reich, Wilhelm.  “Ideology as a Material Force.”  Translated by Vincent R. Carfagno.  The Mass Psychology of Fascism.  (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux.  New York, NY: 1980).  Pg. 31.

[41] Adorno, Theodor.  “Sociology and Psychology.”  Translated by Irving N. Wohlfarth.  New Left Review.  Pg. 78.

[42] Any attempt to apply diagnostic categories acquired from the analysis of single subjects to larger groups — in moving from individual to mass psychology — obviously runs the risk of careless interpolation.  There is a danger of lapsing into mysticism, thus repeating Jung’s misguided inquiries into the so-called “collective unconscious” (and various speculations concerning its contents).  Yet as Adorno correctly pointed out, the applicability of theories pertaining to particular, individual subjects to a more universal, social subject is vouchsafed by the specific historical milieu out of which they both commonly emerged.  Inasmuch as psychoanalysis takes the individual patient as its point of departure, it already presumes a context in which persons come to be individuated — lifted out of self-enclosed, organic communities rooted in tradition.  In a word, the entire discipline takes for granted the existence of society.  More specifically, it takes for granted the society of exchange, wherein structures such as the family still play a powerful role in psychological development but consciousness is principally organized around the individual: “The social moment is…the origin [of] the individual with whom psychoanalysis concerns.  [This] itself is an abstraction vis-à-vis the social context in which individuals find themselves…through the dominant form of exchange between individual contracting parties.”  Adorno, Theodor.  Introduction to Sociology.  Translated by Edmund Jephcott.  (Stanford University Press.  Stanford, CA: 2002).  Pg. 112.

Of course, this recognition cannot by itself suffice to justify this procedure.  At the very least, it does not eliminate the need to exercise a certain delicacy when handling psychoanalytic concepts in a sociological key.  Nevertheless, it explains the partial legitimacy and the overwhelming suggestive power of notions like Jung’s “collective unconscious” or Durkheim’s “collective consciousness.” Ibid., pg. 113.  The real problem with such forula was not so much their illegitimacy, according to Freud, as it was their superfluity.  Repressed material belongs not only to the individual; its content belongs more broadly to humanity as a species.  Freud indicated as much in his final published work: “The term ‘repressed’ is here used not in its technical sense.  Here I mean something past, vanished and overcome in the life of a people, which I venture to treat as equivalent to repressed material in the mental life of the individual.  It is not easy to translate the concepts of individual psychology into mass psychology, [but]…not…much is to be gained by introducing the concept of a ‘collective’ unconscious the content of the unconscious is collective anyhow, a general possession of mankind.”  Freud, Sigmund.  Moses and Monotheism.  Translated by Katherine Jones.  (Hogarth Press.  New York, NY: 1939).  Pg. 208.  Thanks are due to Bruno Bosteels, who alerted me to this passage from Freud’s writings in his excellent Marx and Freud in Latin America.  (Verso Books.  New York, NY: 2011).  Pg. 88.

[43] Marx, Karl.  The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.  Translated by Terrell Carver.  Later Political Writings.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY: 1996).  Pg. 32.

[44] “[World history] presents the development of spirit’s consciousness of its freedom and of the actualization produced by such consciousness.”  Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich.  Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Volume 1: Manuscripts of the Introduction and The Lectures of 1822-1823.  Translated by Robert F. Brown and Peter C. Hodgson.  (Oxford University Press.  Pg. 118. 

[45] Nietzsche, Friedrich.  Untimely Meditations.  Translated by R.J. Hollingdale.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY: 1997).  Pg. 61.

[46] Freud, Sigmund.  The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.  Translated by James Strachey.  (W.W. Norton & Company.  New York, NY: 1966).  Pgs. 62-63.

[47] Freud, Sigmund.  “Remembering, Repeating, and Working-Through.”  Translated by Joan Riviere.  Pg. 150.

[48] Freud, Sigmund.  Beyond the Pleasure Principle.  Translated by James Strachey.  (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.  New York, NY: 1978).  Pg. 12.

[49] Freud, “Remembering, Repeating, and Working-Through.”  Pg. 151.

[50] Cutrone, Chris.  “Adorno and Freud: The Relation of Freudian Psychoanalysis to Marxist Critical Social Theory.”  Platypus Review.  (No. 24: June 2010).  Pg. 4.

[51] Marx, Karl.  Collected Works, Volume 34: Economic Manuscripts, 1861-1864.  (International Publishers.  New York, NY: 1994).  Pg. 397.

[52] Marx, Karl.  Capital, Volume 1.  Pg. 711.

[53] “The circuit of capital, when this is taken not as an isolated act but as a periodic process, is called its turnover.  The duration of this turnover is given by the sum of its production time and its circulation time.  This period of time forms the capital’s turnover time.  It thus measures the interval between one cyclical period of the total capital value and the next; the periodicity in the capital’s life-process, or, if you like, the time required for the renewal and repetition of the valorization and production process of the same capital value.”  Marx, Karl.  Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 2.  Translated by David Fernbach.  (Penguin Books.  New York, NY: 1992).  Pgs. 235-236.

[54] Maksakovskii, Pavel.  The Capitalist Cycle: An Essay on the Marxist Theory of Cycle.   Translated by Richard B. Day.  (Haymarket Books.  Chicago, IL: 2009).  Pg. 103.

[55] “Variable capital…loses its character of a value advanced out of the capitalist’s funds only when we view the process of capitalist production in the flow of its constant renewal.  But that process must have had a beginning of some kind.  From our present standpoint it therefore seems likely that the capitalist, once upon a time, became possessed of money by some form of primitive accumulation [ursprüngliche Akkumulation] that took place independently of the unpaid labor of other people, and that this was therefore how he was able to frequent the market as a buyer of labor-power.  However this may be, the mere continuity of the process of capitalist production, or simple reproduction, brings about other remarkable transformations which seize hold of not only the variable, but the total capital.”  Marx, Capital, Volume 1.  Pg. 714.

[56] Postone, Moishe.  Time, Labor, and Social Domination.  Pgs. 298-306.

[57] Marx, Capital, Volume 1.  Pg. 727.

[58] Jameson, Fredric.  Representing Capital: A Reading of Volume One.  Pg. 106.

[59] Lukács, Georg.  “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat.”  Translated by Rodney Livingstone.  History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics.  (MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1971).  Pg. 83.

[60] Marx, Karl.  Grundrisse.  Pg. 701.

[61] Rubin, Isaak.  “The Reification of Production Relations among People and the Personification of Things.”  Translated by Milos Samardzija and Fredy Perlman.  Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value.  (Black Rose Books.  New York, NY: 1990).  Pg. 24.

[62] Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination.  Pg. 377.

[63] Korsch, Karl.  “Marxism and Philosophy.”  Translated by Fred Halliday.  (Monthly Review Press.  2009).  Pgs. 53-54.

[64] Cutrone, Chris.  “Book Review: Karl Korsch.  Marxism and Philosophy.”  Platypus Review.  No. 15: .  Pg. 3.

[65] Korsch, “Marxism and Philosophy.”  Pg. 88.

[66] Lukács, Georg.  “What is Orthodox Marxism?” Translated by Rodney Livingstone.  History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics.  (MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1971).  Pg. 19.

[67] Lukács, “Class Consciousness.”  Pg. 52.

[68] Ibid., pg. 59.

[69] Lukács, Georg.  “Towards a Methodology of the Problem of Organization.” Translated by Rodney Livingstone.  History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics.  (MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1971).  Pg. 304.

[70] Jacoby, Russell.  Social Amnesia: A Critique of Contemporary Psychology from Adler to Laing.  (Transaction Publishers.  New Brunswick, NJ: 1996).  Pg. 4.

[71] Adorno, Theodor and Horkheimer, Max.  Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments.  Translated by Edmund Jephcott.  (Stanford University Press.  Stanford, CA: 2002).  Pg. 191.

[72] Lukács, Georg.  “Legality and Illegality.” Translated by Rodney Livingstone.  History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics.  (MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1971).  Pg. 168.

[73] Marx, Karl.  “Theses on Feuerbach.”  Translated by.  Collected Works, Volume 5: 1845-1847.  Pg. 4.  My italics.

[74] Lukács, Georg.  Tailism and the Dialectic.  Translated by Esther Leslie.  (Verso Books.  New York, NY: 2003).  Pg. 81.

[75] Lukács, Georg.  “Intellectual Workers and the Problem of Intellectual Leadership.”  Translated by Rodney Livingstone.  Tactics and Ethics: Political Essays, 1919-1929.  (Harper & Rowe Publishers.  New York, NY: 1972).  Pg. 17.

[76] Reich, “Ideology as a Material Force.”  Pg. 6.

[77] “The social situation is only the external condition that has an influence on the ideological process in the individual.  The instinctual drives through which the various social influences gain exclusive control over the emotions of an individual are now to be investigated.”  Reich, Wilhelm.  “The Authoritarian Ideology.” Translated by Vincent R. Carfagno.  The Mass Psychology of Fascism.  (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux.  New York, NY: 1980).  Pgs. 64-65.

[78] Reich, Wilhelm.  “A Practical Course in Marxist Sociology.”  Translated by Mary Boyd Higgins.  People in Trouble.  Pg. 36.

[79] Freud, Sigmund.  The Question of Lay Analysis: Conversations with an Impartial Person.  Translated by James Strachey.  (W.W. Norton & Co.  New York, NY: 1969).  Pg. 53.

[80] Reich, Wilhelm.  “The Emotional Plague.”  Translated by Mary Boyd Higgins.  Character Analysis.  (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.  New York, NY: 1990).  Pg. 511.

[81] Reich, Wilhelm.  “An Abortive Biological Revolution.”  Translated by Mary Boyd Higgins.  The Function of the Orgasm: Discovery of the Orgone, Volume 1.  (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.  New York, NY: 1973).  Pg. 238.

Interview conducted by C. Derick Varn with Jamieson Webster on Badiou, psychoanalysis, and the impossibility of closure

This interview was originally posted by C. Derick Varn at his blog, The (Dis)Loyal Opposition to Modernity.  Visit his site to read a number of other interesting posts and interviews.

Jamieson Webster, PhD, is a psychoanalyst in New York City. She teaches at Eugene Lang College and New York University. Her work focuses on clinical and theoretical psychoanalysis with an interdisciplinary focus on feminine sexuality, philosophy, and aesthetics. Her recent book Life and Death of Psychoanalysis has been on my radar for a while, and I was particularly intrigued by her critique of Adorno and her use/critique/admiration for Badiou.  We discussed Badiou and the state of psychoanalysis in the current. 

C. Derick Varn: In reading your Life and Death of Psychoanalysis, I noticed you spend a lot of time on the way in which Badiou enabled you to think about Lacan in a broader sense and broaden a since of inquiry in psychoanalysis.  Do you think Badiou has any implications for psychoanalytic practice that are unique to him?

Jamieson Webster: I do think that Badiou has implications for psychoanalytic practice that are unique to him. I’m happy that you see that I wanted to convey what Badiou opens up through his work with Lacan and that he enables something in particular for the practicing analyst. I’m hard on Badiou in the last part of the book. One must always be hard on one’s masters. But I certainly feel guilty about it from time to time and wonder if people can see how I only take apart the one’s I love. Badiou showed me a side of Lacan that was important in ways that I hope we can talk about. And he has an unprecedented, inimitable, at times even uncanny ability to clarify whole trajectories of thought. It is unbelievable what he is able to do in such broad strokes. It is not only Lacan —  but of course Lacan for me as a psychoanalyst is the most important — but Deleuze, Sartre, Beckett, Hegel, Marx, Plato, that he contextualizes in terms of the rigor of their philosophical, literary or political projects. Where they stand in relation to the question of truth. It is hard to pull back and get an overview — and I know this is something that I’ve faulted him for from one angle, too much distance— but he gives you this glimpse of the entire philosophical project at the same time that he treats these various constellations with respect and due diligence. He gets in trouble for this systematizing, and not only by me. The Deleuzians were out for blood I hear. But I’ve never been able to see Deleuze’s project so clearly before reading The Clamour of Being. What a great title?

But I’ve evaded your question. As far as clinical practice goes, there was something about Badiou’s notion of the event, the distinction between being and event, and the quality of the event as an event of absolute affirmation in its contingent, subjectivizing, historicity, that hit me like a flash of lightning. That this is what we, as psychoanalysts, listen for day after day. This is what we wait for, silence after silence. And it wasn’t merely as a characterization of what the unconscious event is that this made such an impact, it was also in terms of what I was missing in most of the other philosophies that I was reading at the time, perhaps notably in terms of The Life and Death of Psychoanalysis, in critical theory. I can see lineaments of the event in the thought of Adorno or Benjamin now, but not before having read Badiou, because their work is wrapped in too much negativity and indebtedness to dialectical thinking. The event is a radical break from both, the result of being able to maintain the tension of negativity and dialectical movement, but something that crashes through what I characterize as a kind of melancholic pathos in post-World-War-II philosophy. The event cuts through aporia, dialectical impasse, and infinite regress. It is ephemeral, it doesn’t last, but it has this cutting edge. As a practicing analyst, this is certainly something we face everyday and the work of the analyst is supposed to have the same impact- a cut, punctuation, words stopping you in your tracks, facing up to a truth that surprises and even startles. Important as well, the event is not a moment of synthesis but rather the emergence of something new. While there are syncretic or synthetic aspects to the event, I think Badiou’s stress on newness and the unforeseeable is important for the practicing clinician. Badiou does not emphasize understanding or knowledge, he does not emphasize synthetic-adaptive solutions to conflict or opposing positions (what analysts sometimes call the third). He emphasizes what I think of as closer to the emergence of a signifier from the unconscious, which is closer to a point of non-meaning or the reduction of meaning. The ground is cleared enough for something new to break in and shift ways of understanding, habitual conflicts, and seeming oppositions. And he not only theorizes the event as I’ve just characterized it, he practices it to my mind in his countless books which indeed shake you up and clear the ground.

Also important for a psychoanalyst — Badiou understands something powerful about love, something that I think I wanted psychoanalysis to have something to say about, but often couldn’t find, and I was floundering around, looking for a way out of the impasse of desire and love that Freud characterized so well. Badiou understands what it means to speak from the place of what he calls the event of love, the affirmation of the impossibility of two, making love this force of desire in the face of the ephemeral nature of love, an act of radical faith. Certainly, as an analyst, I also immediately hear the implications of transference. Serge Leclaire — Lacan’s disciple — said the analyst is someone in the difficult place of welcoming, even inviting, words of love from their patients but who must find a way not to deny them but also not to gratify them, allowing them to be spoken, which painfully, even tragically, only makes the difficulty of saying or having said, even worse — its only ever words.

You can see this clearly in Badiou’s reading of Beckett. He always quotes two sets of passages. One from the beginning and end of, Ill Said, Ill Seen, and another from the end of Beckett’s short story,Enough. The first, he says, is one of the most beautiful texts in French and captures the beauty of a kind of feminine abjection and the easing of that misfortune in the momentary acceptance of the void,

From where she lies she sees Venus rise. On. From where she lies when the skies are clear she sees Venus rise followed by the sun. Then she rails at the source of all life. On. At evening when the skies are clear she savours its star’s revenge. At the other window. Rigid upright on her old chair. It emerges from out the last rays and sinking ever brighter is engulfed in its turn. On. She sits on erect and rigid in the deepening gloom. Such helplessness to move she cannot help. Heading on foot for a particular point often she freezes on the way. Unable till long after to move on not knowing whither or for what purpose. Down on her knees especially she finds it hard not to remain so forever. Hand resting on hand on some convenient support. Such as the foot of her bed. And on them her head. There then she sits as though turned to stone face to the night. Save for the white of her hair and faintly bluish white of face and hands all is black. For an eye having no need of light to see. All this in the present as had she the misfortune to be still of this world.

And then,

Decision no sooner reached or rather long after than what is the wrong word? For the last time at last for to end yet again what the wrong word? Than revoked. No but slowly dispelled a little very little like the wisps of day when the curtain closes. Of itself by slow millimetres or drawn by a phantom hand. Farewell to farewell. Then in that perfect dark foreknell darling sound pip for end begun. First last moment. Grant only enough remain to devour all . Moment by glutton moment. Sky, earth, the whole kit and boodle. Not another crumb of carrion left. Lick chops and basta. No. One moment more. One last. Grace to breathe that void. Know happiness.

And from, Enough,

This notion of calm comes from him. Without him I would not have had it. Now I’ll wipe out everything but the flowers. No more rain. No more mounds. Nothing but the two of us dragging through the flowers. Enough my old breasts feel his old hand.

Badiou constanly turns back to these quotations, and if you know his voice, he reads them to you like a lullaby. Such helplessness to move she cannot help. On… One last. Grace to breathe that void… I’ll wipe out everything but the flowers… Enough. Love is not sentimental piety, it is not symbiotic sublime union, it is not utilitarian contractual relations, it is something closer to what Beckett is able to evoke… continuing on despite impossibility, an affirmation of absolute helplessness, dejection sometimes, and yet, miraculously, momentary affirmation, the arousal of a void that brings grace, truth, encounter, and love that drags and grows old, and only when everything has been wiped out, is it finally enough. Maybe I take things too far, but I think you can see in this the profound passage of the analysand in analysis. Continue reading

Platypus primary Marxist reading group, Fall 2012–Winter 2013

Fall 2012 – Winter 2013

I. What is the Left? — What is Marxism?

Sundays, 2–5PM EST

Eugene Lang College Building
The New School for Social Research
65 West 11th Street, Room 258
New York, NY 10011

• required / + recommended reading

Marx and Engels readings pp. from Robert C. Tucker, ed., Marx-Engels Reader (Norton 2nd ed., 1978)


Week A. Aug. 4–5, 2012

Whoever dares undertake to establish a people’s institutions must feel himself capable of changing, as it were, human nature, of transforming each individual, who by himself is a complete and solitary whole, into a part of a larger whole, from which, in a sense, the individual receives his life and his being, of substituting a limited and mental existence for the physical and independent existence. He has to take from man his own powers, and give him in exchange alien powers which he cannot employ without the help of other men.
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, On the Social Contract (1762)

• epigraphs on modern history and freedom by James Miller (on Jean-Jacques Rousseau), Louis Menand (on Edmund Wilson), Karl Marxon “becoming” (from the Grundrisse, 1857–58), and Peter Preuss (on Nietzsche)
+ Rainer Maria Rilke, “Archaic Torso of Apollo” (1908)
+ Robert Pippin, “On Critical Theory” (2004)
• Jean-Jacques RousseauDiscourse on the Origin of Inequality (1754) PDFs of preferred translation (5 parts):[1] [2] [3] [4] [5]
• Rousseauselection from On the Social Contract (1762)


Week B. Aug. 11–12, 2012

• G.W.F. HegelIntroduction to the Philosophy of History (1831) [HTML] [PDF pp. 14-128]


Week C. Aug. 18–19, 2012

• Friedrich NietzscheOn the Use and Abuse of History for Life (1874) [translator’s introduction by Peter Preuss]


Week D. Aug. 25–26, 2012

Human, All Too Human: Nietzsche: Beyond Good and Evil (1999)
• Nietzscheselection from On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense (1873)
• NietzscheOn the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic (1887)


Week E. Sep. 1–2, 2012 Labor Day weekend

• Martin Nicolaus“The unknown Marx” (1968)
• Moishe Postone“Necessity, labor, and time” (1978)
• Postone“History and helplessness: Mass mobilization and contemporary forms of anticapitalism” (2006)
+ Postone, “Theorizing the contemporary world: Brenner, Arrighi, Harvey” (2006)


Week F. Sep. 8–9, 2012

• Juliet Mitchell“Women: The longest revolution” (1966)
• Clara Zetkin and Vladimir Lenin“An interview on the woman question” (1920)
• Theodor W. Adorno“Sexual taboos and the law today” (1963)
• John D’Emilio“Capitalism and gay identity” (1983)


Week G. Sep. 15–16, 2012

• Richard Fraser“Two lectures on the black question in America and revolutionary integrationism” (1953)
• James Robertson and Shirley Stoute“For black Trotskyism” (1963)
+ Spartacist League, “Black and red: Class struggle road to Negro freedom” (1966)
+ Bayard Rustin, “The failure of black separatism” (1970) 
• Adolph Reed“Black particularity reconsidered” (1979)
+ Reed, “Paths to Critical Theory” (1984)


Week H. Sep. 22–23, 2012

• Wilhelm Reich“Ideology as material power” (1933/46)
• Siegfried Kracauer“The mass ornament” (1927)
+ Kracauer, “Photography” (1927)


Week 1. Sep. 29–30, 2012

• epigraphs on modern history and freedom by Louis Menand (on Marx and Engels) and Karl Marxon “becoming” (from the Grundrisse, 1857–58)
• Chris Cutrone“Capital in history” (2008)
• Cutrone“The Marxist hypothesis” (2010)


Week 2. Oct. 6–7, 2012

• Immanuel Kant“Idea for a universal history from a cosmopolitan point of view” and “What is Enlightenment?”(1784)
• Benjamin Constant“The liberty of the ancients compared with that of the moderns” (1819)
+ Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the origin of inequality (1754)
+ Rousseau, selection from On the social contract (1762)


Week 3. Oct. 13–14, 2012

• Max Horkheimerselections from Dämmerung (1926–31)
• Adorno“Imaginative Excesses” (1944–47)


Week 4. Oct. 20–21, 2012

• Leszek Kolakowski“The concept of the Left” (1968)
• MarxTo make the world philosophical (from Marx’s dissertation, 1839–41), pp. 9–11
• MarxFor the ruthless criticism of everything existing (letter to Arnold Ruge, September 1843), pp. 12–15


Week 5. Oct. 27–28, 2012

• Marxselections from Economic and philosophic manuscripts (1844), pp. 70–101
• Marx and Friedrich Engelsselections from the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), pp. 469-500
• MarxAddress to the Central Committee of the Communist League (1850), pp. 501–511


Week 6. Nov. 3–4, 2012

• Engels, The tactics of social democracy (Engels’s 1895 introduction to Marx, The Class Struggles in France), pp. 556–573
• Marxselections from The Class Struggles in France 1848–50 (1850), pp. 586–593
• Marxselections from The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), pp. 594–617


Week 7. Nov. 10–11, 2012

+ Karl Korsch, “The Marxism of the First International” (1924)
• MarxInaugural address to the First International (1864), pp. 512–519
• Marxselections from The Civil War in France (1871, including Engels’s 1891 Introduction), pp. 618–652
+ Korsch, Introduction to Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme (1922)
• MarxCritique of the Gotha Programme, pp. 525–541
• MarxProgramme of the Parti Ouvrier (1880)


Week 8. Nov. 17–18, 2012

• Marxselections from the Grundrisse (1857–61), pp. 222–226, 236–244, 247–250, 282–294
• MarxCapital Vol. I, Ch. 1 Sec. 4 “The fetishism of commodities” (1867), pp. 319–329


Week 9. Nov. 24–25, 2012 Thanksgiving break


Winter break readings

+ Richard Appignanesi and Oscar Zarate / A&Z, Introducing Lenin and the Russian Revolution / Lenin for Beginners (1977)
+ Sebastian Haffner, Failure of a Revolution: Germany 1918–19 (1968)
+ Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station: A Study in the Writing and Acting of History (1940), Part II. Ch. (1–4,) 5–10, 12–16; Part III. Ch. 1–6
+ Tariq Ali and Phil Evans, Introducing Trotsky and Marxism / Trotsky for Beginners (1980)
+ James Joll, The Second International 1889–1914 (1966)


Week 10. Dec. 1–2, 2012 / Jan. 5–6, 2013

• Georg Lukács“The phenomenon of reification” (Part I of “Reification and the consciousness of the proletariat,”History and Class Consciousness, 1923)


Week 11. Dec. 8–9, 2012 / Jan. 12–13, 2013

• LukácsOriginal Preface (1922), “What is Orthodox Marxism?” (1919), “Class Consciousness” (1920),History and Class Consciousness (1923)
+ Marx, Preface to the First German Edition and Afterword to the Second German Edition (1873) of Capital(1867), pp. 294–298, 299–302


Week 12. Dec. 15–16, 2012 / Jan. 19–20, 2013

• Korsch“Marxism and philosophy” (1923)
+ Marx, To make the world philosophical (from Marx’s dissertation, 1839–41), pp. 9–11
+ Marx, For the ruthless criticism of everything existing (letter to Arnold Ruge, September 1843), pp. 12–15
+ Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach” (1845), pp. 143–145

art is dead dada

Notes on the Death of Art

Just a few prefatory remarks for what follows.  The collection of quotes assembled here is by no means exhaustive, nor even definitive.  Some figures, like Hans Sedlmayr, are decidedly overrepresented here.  This is perhaps because he is so woefully underrepresented elsewhere, and because of the way in which his reactionary (but fascinating) viewpoint is symptomatic of the age.  Other figures, like Hegel, are underrepresented, because they receive so much coverage and attention.  (Although much of the original force and emphasis of his “end of art” thesis was edited out by his student, H.C. Hotho).

Nor should the quotes from these authors be thought to provide some sort of indisputable proof that art is, in fact, dead.  Whatever authority these authors might individually possess, or even collectively pooled together, I doubt that it would be enough to confirm art’s death once and for all.  Quite the contrary.  If anything, the variety of quotes listed below should demonstrate the obscurity of the notion that art is dead.  Despite their abbreviated appearance here, it should be clear that these authors mean quite different things by the “end of art.”  The motto has been fashionable for some time now, and much of its provocative character has worn thin.  My friend and fellow member of Platypus Bret Schneider pointed out to me recently that

the death of art and the ‘post’ condition is theorized everywhere in unfruitful ways.  I’m not sure if we can make it fruitful, but we can at least try to push theorists on this.  Mostly, it’s important not to assume too much about the ‘death of art’, which ought to be registered as in part just degraded to mumbo-jumbo, but perhaps in meaningful ways.  I can’t help but feel the whole ‘death of art’ thing is a ruse, and it is an older theory of art inadequately applied to new forms of culture that are not understood as new, specifically for this reason.

In any case, these quotes are for the most part lifted from texts in which they comprise some part of an argument, and because of the fragmentary form in which they are presented, that context is largely lost.  It might be possible to  construct a narrative out of it by piecing together little snippets of each (and believe me I have), but that is not at all the intention.

Finally, the topicality of this subject should be noted.  The debate over whether or not art can continue on or if it has nothing left to offer is far from settled.  Even recently, Paul Mason wrote a widely disseminated article, “Does #Occupy signal the death of contemporary art?” Dear readers (hypocrite lecteurs!), what do you think? Continue reading

Notes to “The Truth of Liberalism”


[1] “[T]he crisis of bourgeois society in capital after the Industrial Revolution and the failure of the ‘social republic’ in 1848, was the crisis of bourgeois society as liberal…a feature of the growing authoritarianism of bourgeois society, or, the failure of liberalism. As such, socialism needed to take up the problems of bourgeois society in capital that liberalism had failed to anticipate or adequately meet, or, to take up the cause of liberalism that bourgeois politics had dropped in the post-1848 world.” Cutrone, Chris. “Lenin’s Liberalism.” Platypus Review. (№ 36. July, 2011). Pg. 2.
[2] Marx, Karl. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Translated by Clemens Dutt, Rodney Livingstone, and Christopher Upward. Collected Works, Volume 11: August 1851-March 1853. (Lawrence & Wishart Publishing. London, England: 1979). Pg. 103.
[3] Marx, Karl. The Class Struggles in France: 1848-1850. Translated by Hugh Rodwell. Collected Works, Volume 10: September 1849-June 1851. (International Publishers. New York, NY: 1978). Pg. 67.
[4] “In sum, the project of modernity has not yet been fulfilled.” Habermas, Jürgen. “Modernity — An Incomplete Project.” Translated by Seyla Benhabib. The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, edited by Hal Foster. (Bay Press. Seattle, WA: 1983). Pg. 13.
[5] Tocqueville, Alexis de. The Ancien Régime and the French Revolution. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 2011). Pg. 2. Quoted in full by Losurdo, Domenico. Liberalism: A Counter-History. Translated by Gregory Elliott. (Verso Books. Brooklyn, NY: 2011). Pg. vii. Indeed, Losurdo’s choice to pattern his own study after that of de Tocqueville is no accident, as the great French liberal is one of the figures most harshly indicted in his study.
[6] The famous Tolstoian technique of ostranenie [остранение]. Shklovskii, Viktor. “Iskusstvo kak priem.” From Gamburgskii schet: Stat’i, vospominaniia, esse (1914-1933). (Sovetskii pisatel’. Moscow, Soviet Union: 1990). Pgs. 64-66.
[7] Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter-History. Pgs. 1-7, 27, 106, 241-246.
[8] On Calhoun: ibid., pgs. 1-7, 57, 163, 222; on Locke: ibid., pgs. 3, 42, 163; on Mill: ibid., pgs. 7, 202, 225.
[9] Ibid., pg. 301.
[10] Ibid., pg. 25. On liberalism’s “exclusion clauses,” see also pgs. 124, 163, 173, 181, 248, 341-343. On the “pathos of liberty,” see also pgs. 23, 40, 45, 49, 56.
[11] “The catastrophic crisis that struck Europe and the whole planet with the outbreak of the First World War was already maturing within the liberal world.” Ibid., pg. 323. And further: “[I]t is banally ideological to characterize the catastrophe of the twentieth century as a kind of new barbarian invasion that unexpectedly attacked and overwhelmed a healthy, happy society. The horror of the twentieth century casts a shadow over the liberal world even if we ignore the fate reserved for peoples of colonial origin.” Ibid., pg. 340.
[12] On enclosure: Ibid., pgs. 77-78, 121, 303, 308, 319.
[13] “[A]bsent from ancient Greece was the racial chattel slavery which, in the American case, was conjoined not with direct democracy but representative democracy.” Ibid., pg. 106.
[14] Ibid., pgs. 30-33.
[15] Grotius and Holland: Ibid., pg. 21; Locke and England: Ibid., pg. 24; the Founding Fathers and the United States: Ibid., pgs. 25-26.
[16] Ibid., pg. 77.
[17] While their account of capitalism is often uneven, this formulation does not altogether miss the mark: “At the heart of Capital, Marx points to the encounter of two ‘principal’ elements: on one side, the deterritorialized worker who has become free and naked, having to sell his labor capacity; and on the other, decoded money that has become capital and is capable of buying it…For the free worker: the deterritorialization of the soil through privatization; the decoding of the instruments of production through appropriation.” Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Volume 1: Anti-Œdipus. Translated by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. (University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis, MN: 1983). Pg. 225.
[18] Besides Marx’s characterization of this process as such, this is how it was referred to by one of Losurdo’s principal sources on the subject. Harris, R.W. England in the Eighteenth Century, 1689-1793: A Balanced Constitution and New Horizons. (Blandford Press. London, England: 1963). Pgs. 14-18.
[19] Marx, for example: “The immediate producer, the worker, could dispose of his own person only after he had ceased to be bound to the soil, and ceased to be the slave or serf of another person. To become a free seller of labor-power, who carries his commodity wherever he can find a market for it, he must further have escaped from the regime of the guilds, their rules for apprentices and journeymen, and their restrictive labour regulations. Hence the historical movement which changes the producers into wage-laborers appears, on the one hand, as their emancipation from serfdom and from the fetters of the guilds, and it is this aspect of the movement which alone exists for our bourgeois historians. But, on the other hand, these newly freed men became sellers of themselves only after they had been robbed of all their own means of production, and all the guarantees of existence afforded by the old feudal arrangements. And this history, the history of their expropriation, is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire.” Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1. Translated by Ben Fowkes. (Penguin Books. New York, NY: 1982). Pg. 875.
[20] Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter-History. Pgs. 90-92.
[21] For a more comprehensive gloss on British and French materialist thought, see Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich. The Holy Family, Or Critique of Critical Criticism: Against Bruno Bauer and Company. Translated by Richard Dixon and Clemens Dutt. Collected Works, Volume 4: 1844-1845. Pgs. 127-134.
[22] “[In England, t]he heaviest, worst-paid work was entrusted to a stratum that tended to be reproduced from one generation to the next, and hence to a kind of hereditary servile caste.” Liberalism: A Counter-History. Pg. 113. And further: “[O]ften excluded from the enjoyment of civil rights and negative liberty in England itself, the popular classes, by de Tocqueville’s [own] admission, continued to be separated from the upper class or caste by a gulf that calls to mind the one obtaining in a racial state.” Ibid., pg. 124.
[23] “While in London the zone of civilization was distinguished from the zone of barbarism, the sacred space from the profane, primarily by opposing the metropolis to the colonies, the American colonists were led to identify the boundary line principally in ethnic identity and skin color.” Ibid., pg. 50.
[24] “[Liberalism] excluded the non-European peoples from the sacred space of civilization, relegating much of the West to its margins.” Ibid., pg. 246.
[25] Losurdo, Domenico. Heidegger and the Ideology of War: Community, Death, and the West. Translated by Marella Morris and Jon Morris. (Humanity Books. Amherst, NY: 2001). Pgs. 14, 18, 24-27, 30, 37, 45, 47-48, 55, 57-59, 74, 76, 89-90, 119, 123-125, 141, 208, 214, 223-224.
[26] Kant, Immanuel. Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. Translated by Robert B. Louden. Anthropology, History, and Education. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 2007). Pg. 427.
[27] Ibid., pg. 299.
[28] “Unfounded on a historiographical level, the habitual hagiography [of liberalism] is also an insult to the memory of the victims..” Ibid., pg. 344.
[29] Ibid., pg. 311.
[30] Losurdo extends quite liberally upon the argument advanced by Léon Poliakov, asserting that Britain and American colonists understood themselves as the “chosen people” of the Old Testament. Ibid., pgs. 17, 19, 43-44, 63, 150, 229-230, 294, 306, 309-311. Elsewhere he traces this exclusivist mentality to another Jewish source: Martin Buber’s and Franz Rosenzweig’s idea of a “blood-community” [Blutgemeinschaft]. Losurdo, Heidegger and the Ideology of War. Pgs. 123-125, 214.
[31] Losurdo, Domenico. “Flight from History? The Communist Movement between Self-Criticism and Self-Contempt.” Translated by Charles Reitz. Nature, Society, and Thought. (Vol. 13, № 4. December 2000). Pgs. 478-479.
[32] Losurdo, Domenico. “What is Fundamentalism?” Translated by Hanne Gidora. Nature, Society, and Thought. (Vol. 17, № 1. March 2004). Pgs. 34, 40-41.
[33] Leonard, Spencer. “The Decline of the Left in the Twentieth Century: 2001.” The Platypus Review. (№ 17. November 18th, 2009). Pg. 2.
[34] Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter-History. Pgs. 54, 106, 220.
[35] Ibid., pgs. 19-20, 171, 229, 309, 311.
[36] Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Translated by Talcott Parsons. (Routledge. New York, NY: 1991). Pg. 98.
[37] “The degree of continuity between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has not escaped a whole series of scholars who cannot be suspected of preconceived hostility to the liberal world. While she generously overlooked the North American republic (which had had the merit of offering her refuge), Hannah Arendt explained the genesis of twentieth-century totalitarianism commencing with the colonies of the British Empire. It was here that ‘a new form of government,’ ‘a more dangerous form of governing than despotism and arbitrariness’ saw the light of day, and where the temptation of ‘administrative massacres’ as an instrument for maintaining domination began to emerge. But especially interesting in this context is the fact that not a few US scholars, in order to explain the history of their country, have turned to the category of ‘master-race democracy’ or ‘Herrenvolk democracy,’ in an eloquent linguistic admixture of English and German, and a German that in several respects refers to the history of the Third Reich.” Losurdo, Liberalism. Pgs. 336-337.
[38] “[F]or his plan to build a German continental empire, Hitler had in mind the United States model, which he praised for its ‘extraordinary inner strength.’” Losurdo, Domenico. “Towards a Critique of the Category of Totalitarianism.” Translated by Jon Morris and Marella Morris. Historical Materialism. (Volume 12, № 2. 2004). Pg. 47.
[39] “Rather than being one single book, The Origins of Totalitarianism consists in reality of two overlapping books which…fail to achieve any substantial unity…[Many have] noticed the disproportion between Arendt’s actual and thorough knowledge of the Third Reich, and her inaccurate understanding of the Soviet Union. In particular, they emphasized the difficulties in Arendt’s attempt to adapt the analysis of the Soviet Union (associated with the outbreak of the Cold War) to the analysis of the Third Reich (rooted in the years of the great coalition against fascism and Nazism).” Ibid., pg. 33.
[40] “Nazism and Bolshevism owe more to Pan-Germanism and Pan-Slavism (respectively) than to any other ideology or political movement.” Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism. Pg. 222. See also pg. 415.
[41] Losurdo repeats the theme of “master-race democracy” throughout: Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter-History. Pg. 102-107, 108, 122-125, 136-138, 150-151, 180, 219, 222, 225, 227, 229, 233, 240, 308, 317, 321.
[42] On Losurdo’s theme of the United States as a “Herrenvolk democracy,” see also Losurdo, “Towards a Critique of the Category of Totalitarianism.” Pg. 50. See also Losurdo, Domenico. “Preemptive War, Americanism, and Anti-Americanism.” Translated by Jon Morris and Marella Morris. Metaphilosophy. Pgs. 369, 374-375, 380-381.
[43] “It is very difficult to find a critique of this ‘master-race democracy’ in liberal thinking, which is rather often the theoretical expression of this regime. Herrenvolk democracy is instead the privileged target of Lenin’s struggle. The revolutionary Russian leader stubbornly placed in evidence the macroscopic clauses of exclusion in liberal liberty at the expense of ‘red and black skins,’ as well as immigrants from ‘backward countries.’” Losurdo, Domenico. “Lenin and Herrenvolk Democracy.” Translated by Graeme Thomson. Lenin Reloaded: Toward a Politics of Truth. (Duke University Press. Durham, NC: 2007). Pg. 242.
[44] “[T]he young Marx declares the United States to be the ‘country of complete political emancipation’ and ‘the most perfect example of the modern state,’ one that ensures the dominion of the bourgeoisie without excluding a priori any social class from the benefits of political rights…Engels’s position is even more drastically pro-American.…As for the history of the Communist movement as such, the influence of Taylorism and Fordism upon Lenin and Gramsci is well known. In 1923, Nikolai Bukharin goes even further: ‘We need Marxism plus Americanism.’” Ibid., pgs. 366-367.
[45] “The international press is full of articles or attitudes committed to celebrating, or at least justifying, Israel: after all — they say — it is the only country in the Middle East in which the freedom of expression and association exist, in which there is a democratic regime operating. In this way a macroscopic detail is suppressed: government by law and democratic guarantees are valid only for the master race, while the Palestinians can have their lands expropriated, be arrested and imprisoned without process, tortured, killed, and, in any case under a regime of military occupation, have their human dignity humiliated and downtrodden daily.” Losurdo, “Lenin and HerrenvolkDemocracy.” Pg. 245. See also Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter-History. Pg. 180.
[46] Losurdo, “Preemptive War, Americanism, and Anti-Americanism.” Pg. 368.
[47] Losurdo, Liberalism. Pg. 338.
[48] Fitzpatrick, Matthew. “The Pre-History of the Holocaust? The Sonderweg and Historikerstreit Debates and the Abject Colonial Past.” Central European History. (№ 41. 2008). Pgs. 500-501.
[49] Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter History. Pgs. 339-340.
[50] “Losurdo, “Towards a Critique of the Category of Totalitarianism.” Pg. 26. Continue reading

An exchange with conservative Swedish permaculturalist Øyvind Holmstad on the concept of “civilization”

Monuments to permanent unnature: The Egyptian Pyramids

I recently had an exchange with Øyvind Holmstad, a blogger and self-described conservative permaculturalist, on the subject of my reflections on the idea of “civilization,” which I posted not too long ago.  The only edits I made are grammatical.  Øyvind’s comments will appear in normal font, aligned to the left, while my responses will appear in goldish-orange, indented once to the right.

“…as Engels wrote in 1849, in the core of old Europe: “On the one side the revolution, on the other the coalition of all outmoded estate-classes and interests; on the one side civilization, on the other barbarism.”[62]”

I’ve really never thought of this distinction between culture and civilization as outlined in your article. If civilization really means technological control of nature, I don’t want civilization. But I think the alternative is not barbarism, but permaculture, applying the “technologies of life” to live in symbiosis with nature. So probably we’re better off with a permanent culture (permaculture) than with civilization.

I think I should work these thoughts into an article for the PRI-institute some day. Thanks for offering me this new insight!

Øyvind Holmstad said this on June 3, 2012 at 4:07 am |

No problem. Though I would again stress that the opposition of culture to civilization was usually invoked by right-wing nationalists, if not outright fascists. I think that is why Adorno, Elias, and others objected to any sort of hard-and-fast line of separation between them.

Also, “civilization” is usually contrasted to “barbarism.” Only under barbaric conditions is it contrasted to “culture.” The concept usually opposed to “culture” is “nature,” as structuralist anthropology taught us long ago.  Permaculture could thus be seen to signify a state of permanent unnature.  It is humanity’s lot to cultivate the earth.  In a different key, “culture” may be seen to be humanity’s mastery over nature. “Civilization,” by contrast, would be humanity’s self-conscious mastery of its own activities (i.e., freedom).But I imagine you and I would have very different ideas as to the extent of that cultivation.

Ross Wolfe said this on June 3, 2012 at 3:28 pm |

Thanks again for very interesting viewpoints and information! All this is brand new thoughts to me, so I anyway have to digest it a long time before I eventually write my article. Have you written other essays on this subject, or do you have some good ones to recommend? I don’t know what to name my article. Maybe “Permaculture, Nature and Civilization”?By the way, I’m not an academical so I can come up with whatever crazy ideas I like without influencing my career, I see this as my advantage. Anyway, if you had read “The Nature of Order” you would have known that Alexander has documented by empirical findings that order and wholeness in nature, art and architecture is one and the same, i.e., all nourishing art and architecture is unfolded through the same processes and laws. So I think that after “The Nature of Order” was published culture and nature are not opposites anymore.

I’ve only read “The Phenomenon of Life” yet, so I might should have finished the whole series before I eventually write my essay. I’ll have these new ideas in my mind while reading it.
Here are some of the findings documented in this work:

http://www.livingneighborhoods.org/library/empirical-findings.pdf

Øyvind Holmstad said this on June 3, 2012 at 4:03 pm |

First and foremost I identify myself as Alexandrin, after Alexander. Now that I see that Alexander has wiped out the oppositions of nature and culture, I feel even more proud of my identity. I believe this reunion of nature and culture has to be the basic of a new permanent civilization.And nothing of this I had ever thought of when I wake up this morning.

Øyvind Holmstad said this on June 3, 2012 at 4:23 pm | 

I continued thinking about these things tonight and couldn’t help myself from starting to write my essay, so here it is:

http://permaliv.blogspot.no/2012/06/permaculture-nature-civilization.html

I really don’t know if it’s of any interest for you, as I’m not full of knowledge like you. I’m just a hobby philosopher, so maybe you find it naive? But it’s a lot of naive people out there, so I’m sure some will appreciate it.

Øyvind Holmstad said this on June 4, 2012 at 12:00 pm |

Well, Øyvind, I think if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I do find your view a little naïve. But that’s not because it’s not erudite or sophisticated enough; often erudition and sophistication conceal an underlying weakness in an argument. (For me, I think my footnoting is largely a result of an obsessive-compulsive pattern. But obviously having a bunch of footnotes doesn’t mean that my argument is right).Ultimately, I think that the question of how humanity will continue to live in this world can only be resolved through a radical restructuring of how society organizes itself. Rather, society would have to finally become capable of self-consciously organizing itself, rather than remaining unconscious and uncontrollable. This, actually, would be the truth of concepts like economy and ecology, from the Greek οἶκος (oikos, or home). The relationship between these two terms is effectively analogous to the relationship between astrology and astronomy today.There’s a beautiful bit from the young (pre-Marxist) Lukács that I think still rings true, no matter how idealistic:

Happy are those ages when the starry sky is the map of all possible paths — ages whose paths are illuminated by the light of the stars. Everything in such ages is new and yet familiar, full of adventure and yet their own. The world is wide and yet it is like a home, for the fire that burns in the soul is of the same essential nature as the stars; the world and the self, the light and the fire, are sharply distinct, yet they never become permanent strangers to one another, for fire is the soul of all light and all fire clothes itself in light. Thus each action of the soul becomes meaningful and rounded in this duality: complete in meaning — in sense — and complete for the senses; rounded because the soul rests within itself even while it acts; rounded because its action separates itself from it and, having become itself, finds a center of its own and draws a closed circumference round itself. ‘Philosophy is really homesickness,’ says Novalis: ‘it is the urge to be at home everywhere.’

This, ultimately, must be the end of all ecology and economics: to make humanity at home in the world once more. I don’t think that this would mean a vast simplification of human production, or a global permaculture à la Mollison or whatnot. Humanity remains alienated from nature. This alienation can only be suspended through some balance of humanizing nature, or naturalizing humanity. I think that it would have to be some combination of both, but I would hope far more the former than the latter (insofar as in nature, we remain at the mercy of forces which dwarf us).

Ross Wolfe said this on June 8, 2012 at 7:29 am | Continue reading