“Whenever you have a 'southern' or a 'northern' or an 'eastern' or a 'western' before an institution's name, you know it will be wildly underfunded." –Richard Russo
On March nineteenth the Chancellor of the University of Maine System, as well as the President, and select members of the Board of Trustees gathered in front of a crowd of students, faculty and staff in the Hannaford Lecture Hall, a spacious and new lecture hall (more often rented out than used for classes) to unveil the University of Southern Maine's new vision as a “Metropolitan University.” Two days later, on the twenty-first, twelve members of the faculty from such programs as economics, theater, and sociology met with the provost of the University to be "retrenched." Both of these events followed the proposal to eliminate four programs (American and New England Studies, Geosciences, Recreation and Leisure Studies, and Arts and Humanities at the Lewiston Auburn Campus) the week before. It was a strange and tumultuous week, and one that I fear offers a frightening glimpse of a future of higher public education in the US.
Full disclosure: I met Jeremy Gilbert at a Deleuze conference in Wales in the summer of 2008. He gave an interesting paper on Deleuze, Guattari, and Gramsci and I ended up talking to him at pub. The conversation was one of shared interests that went beyond Deleuze, it was a Deleuze conference after all, to include Simondon, transindividuality, and the broader problem of reimagining collectivity in individualistic (and individuated) times. As anyone in academia knows, the experience of meeting someone with shared interest is often ambivalent. There is the joy of finding someone to talk to, of feeling less alone in the wilds of academia, coupled with the sadness of feeling less original, less insightful. The latter feeling is of course intensified by a publishing culture that is predicated less on collective projects and more on developing a highly individuated name for oneself. In the years since then, as our projects progressed (his made it to print first) we joked about constituting a new school of thought, Transindividual Ontology and Politics (TOP)?
It seemed appropriate to begin a review of Common Ground: Democracy and Collectivity in an Age of Individualism with such a story, one that illustrates the way in which commonality of interests and ideas intersects with an institution geared towards individuation and competition. That we live in an “age of individualism” perhaps goes without saying. However, such a judgment raises as many questions as it answers. At what level are we to locate the individual? Is it, to borrow, words from Foucault, an “illusion,” an “ideological effect,” or a real functioning element of society? In short, are people deluded into seeing themselves as individuals, or is individuation a real material effect?
Jason Read has posted a draft of the talk he'll deliver at the Michigan State Graduate Student Conference (Feb 10-11), whose theme this year is "Occupy Philosophy." Among Read's topics are the location of Occupy between politics and economics, the transindividual status of individuals (referencing Balibar's development of Simondon), and the importance of the issue of debt, which operates both objectively, by enabling consumption even in the face of declining wages, and subjectively as constraint of life choices: "Debt is the future acting on the present. The idea of future debt, of the cost of student loans, acts on the present, determining choices and limiting possibilities."
[UPDATE 13 Jan 2012: Stuart Elden directs us to this interview with the translator, Susan Ruddick; see also this post on where to start in studying Macherey, and here for a sample chapter of Hegel or Spinoza.]
Beginnings without Ends. A review of Pierre Macherey, Hegel or Spinoza, translated by Susan M Ruddick. University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
The recent translation into English of Pierre Macherey’s 1979 work, Hegel ou Spinoza, not only exposes a philosophical classic to a new group of readers, but also fills in a gap in understanding the history and legacy of those who gathered in the nineteen sixties to produce Lire le Capital alongside Louis Althusser -- Etienne Balibar, Pierre Macherey and Jacques Rancière, three scholars who are sometimes called “Althusserians.” The current translation thus belongs alongside that of Jacques Rancière’s La Leçon du Althusser, Althusser’s Lesson (Continuum, 2011). Whereas Rancière’s book could be read as a refutation of Althusser’s project, revealing the hierarchical conception of knowledge that subverted his commitment to radical politics, Macherey’s book introduces “subterranean” aspects, so that we now see that the project which gave us such concepts as “symptomatic reading” and “materialistic dialectic” was as much a transformation of philosophy as it was a reading of Marx. The translation of Hegel or Spinoza is thus not only the publication of an important text, but a restoration of a bit of intellectual history, and thereby the precondition for new futures.
Instead of an #OWS poster today, we have this teach-in by Jason Read. It's very well-done: it affirms the inspirational affect of the event, and it is concise in its analysis without over-simplification. Among the themes:
Socialization of risk, privatization of profit (“We won’t pay for your crisis”);
Our subjectification as self-entrepreneurs and the resultant debt;
Financialization of the economy (from the entrepreneurial M - C - M' to the speculative M – M’);
Commodification of social life (Facebook, Google; “we occupy Wall Street because Wall Street has occupied every corner of our lives”).
Please send links to more teach-ins. Feminist Philosophers has the one by Zizek.
This is the first of a few posts on debt and literature on debt.
The story of so-called primitive accumulation is well known to readers of Marx. This story was political economy’s way of understanding the origins of capitalism, explaining how the world was divided into workers and capitalists. The story is a kind of grasshopper-and-ant tale, of those who save and those who squander, although Marx gives it a different literary spin. As Marx writes:
This primitive accumulation plays approximately the same role in political economy as original sin does in theology. Adam bit the apple, and thereupon sin fell on the human race. Its origin is supposed to be explained when it is told as an anecdote about the past. Long, long ago there were two sorts of people; one the diligent, intelligent, and above all frugal elite; the other lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living. The legend of theological original sin tells us certainly how man came to be condemned to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow; but the history of economic original sin reveals to us that there are people to whom this is by no means essential. Never mind! Thus it came to pass that the former sort accumulated wealth, and the latter sort finally had nothing to sell except their own skins.
Marx argues that this story is inadequate to account for the origin of capital. It is not enough to simply save money, because the accumulation of money does nothing to produce those with nothing to sell but their labor power. In order to get workers, a huge population must be separated from the means of production, cast off the land and out of the commons. The origin of capitalism is not a moral story of thrift, but a bloody story of expropriation; a story which eventually encompasses the whole history of slavery, colonialism, and even the reformation.
Marx ended Volume One of Capital with this critique, David Graeber opens his book, Debt: The First 5,000 Years with a critique of another contemporary fable. This fable concerns the origin of money.