Massumi's Matheme

In the past I've written on how to spot digital philosophers. But let's name names. Who exactly do we mean? Digital philosophers are many: Democritus, Leibniz, Konrad Zuse, Wittgenstein (in the Tractatus but later he inverts), Edward Fredkin, Stephen Wolfram, and many others.

Analog philosophers are also observable in the wild. Deleuze is one of the most vivid examples of the species. I've also long admired Brian Massumi for his pro-analog chauvinism, proud and unapologetic. Let's remember that this is the man who, at the onset of the first dot-com boom, penned an essay titled "On the Superiority of the Analog." Massumi harbors a deep skepticism toward anything digital, particularly number and quantity. While not agreeing with Massumi -- for me the digital and the analog are co-equal -- I admire anyone willing to take a clear stand. He serves as an excellent case study in analog philosophy.

Massumi recently published 99 Theses on the Revaluation of Value: A Postcapitalist Manifesto (also online).  Written in geometric style (thesis, lemma, scholium), the book unfurls 99 theses over 135 pages, culminating in a proposal for a new kind of digital platform based on a "postblockchain speculative alter-economy" (20). I have sub-sub-interest in blockchain. Regardless, the ambient enthusiasm around blockchain from a few years ago has largely subsided, so I'll sidestep the ostensible terminus of Massumi's book in favor of its core motifs and allegiances. Ultimately this book is more about analog reality than digital currency.

It's difficult to summarize or outline a treatise written in geometric style. Instead let me chop it up, sort it, and collate it into phrases and sentences. I've extracted characteristic passages and collected them under a series of themes: awesomeology; Red Bull sublime; Google Deleuzianism; and analog chauvinism. Continue reading

The Ideology Issue

I'm thrilled to be included in "The Ideology Issue" edited by Andrew Cole for the journal SAQ, along with essays by Hortense Spillers, Eleanor Kaufman, Anna Kornbluh and so many other thinkers I admire. The problem of ideology critique was a major part of my theoretical formation as a student, and I was always disappointed to see how the topic had slowly vanished in recent years. Or as Hal Foster asks in his contribution to the issue, "How did critique become a bad object when, only a few decades ago, it seemed to be the cutting edge of cultural practice?" So when Andrew Cole pitched the idea of a special issue on ideology and critique I was keen to reengage with a theoretical conjuncture that has only grown more and more relevant in these hallucinatory times.

For "The Ideology Issue" I took the opportunity to write about the work of Fredric Jameson under the title "Meditations on Last Philosophy." The piece revolves around a few propositions and themes that I try to unpack along the way:

Figuration is superior to equation;

Form reveals the social situation;

The law of genre.

The essay is something of a companion piece to a previous essay of mine from 2016 titled "History Is What Hurts: On Old Materialism,” also devoted to Jameson. If you're paywalled and want to read either essay simply email me.

Stiegler and Lacan -- No Relation?

I won't bring up Lacan on Monday. But the non-encounter between Stiegler and Lacan recently struck me as important and I wanted to try to unravel the mystery...

Stiegler wrote frequently about technology and technical objects. But how does he compare to one of the key object theories, psychoanalysis? Surprisingly Stiegler's object theory was only partially psychoanalytic. What do I mean by "partially"? First it is clear that Stiegler was deeply influenced by Freud. References to Freud appear in almost every Stiegler book. Yet at the same time Stiegler had almost no relationship to Lacan. How to characterize the non-relation between Stiegler and Lacan?

From Freud Stiegler adopted the notions of narcissism, desire, and drive. Recall Stiegler's text on "loving oneself and loving others" reprinted in the English book titled Acting Out, where Stiegler works through the problem of primordial narcissism. "I call 'primordial narcissism' that structure of the psyche which is indispensable for functioning, that part of self-love which can sometimes become pathological, but without which any capacity for love would be impossible" (39). The book Symbolic Misery, vol 1 picks up on the theme of narcissism originally articulated in the previous text. And almost every book and article that follows contains numerous references to Freud.

On Lacan, however, Stiegler wrote almost nothing. Hunting for Lacan in Stiegler, a handful of brief references pop up here and there. Beyond simple references or footnotes, I remember only a few passages where Stiegler engages with Lacan for more than a sentence or two: in Taking Care on the mirror stage, and in States of Shock on the thing [das Ding]. I'm sure there are other passages I've overlooked, but the larger point holds: Stiegler had essentially no relation with Lacan. I find this surprising particularly since Stiegler was so invested in the operations of desire and enjoyment, as well as the intricacies of language and symbols, although perhaps not "the symbolic" in Lacan's sense. Continue reading

Let's Spit on Hegel

“Hegel is an asshole”--Karl Marx
“Hegel is an asshole”--Carla Lonzi
“Hegel is an asshole”--Gilles Deleuze
“Hegel is an asshole”--Rei Terada

Credit where credit's due for today's writing prompt: Carla Lonzi's 1970 tract "Let's Spit on Hegel," originally published by the group Female Revolt [Rivolta Femminile], collected as a book in 1974, with an English translation in Paola Bono and Sandra Kemp's Italian Feminist Thought (1991) plus a more recent version circulating online. How did Lonzi understand Hegel? And why did she want us to spit on him?

"Sputiamo su Hegel," wrote Lonzi and her comrades in the Female Revolt manifesto wheat-pasted on the walls of Rome and Milan in the summer of 1970: Let's spit on Hegel! "Hegel's dialectic does not address the liberation of women, that great population so oppressed within patriarchal civilization," wrote the feminist collective. Hegel's famous master-slave dialectic was merely the "settling of accounts between groups of men."

Picking up the sputiamo line from the manifesto, Lonzi wrote the longer text "Let's Spit on Hegel" that same summer of 1970. Lonzi's dissection of Hegel is precise and lethal. Let me reproduce the opening salvo, here in Veronica Newman's translation:

"Let us consider the man-woman relationship in Hegel, the philosopher who saw the slave as the driving moment of history. He rationalized patriarchal control most subtly of all within the dialectics of a divine feminine principle and a human masculine principle. The former presided in the family, the latter in the community. 'While the community takes sustenance only by destroying the happiness of the family and by dissolving self-consciousness in universal selfconsciousness, it produces, in that which oppresses and which is at the same time essential for it--in other words in femininity in general--its inner enemy' [Hegel, Phenomenology, §475]. Woman never goes beyond the stage of subjectivity. She recognizes herself in her relations by blood and by marriage, and thus remains immediately universal. She lacks the necessary premises for leaving the family ethos and for achieving the self-conscious force of universality through which man becomes a citizen. Her condition, which is the consequence of her oppression, is treated by Hegel as its cause. The difference between the sexes is used to form the natural metaphysical basis both for their opposition and for their reunification. Within the feminine principle Hegel locates an a priori passivity in which the proofs of male domination disappear. Patriarchal authority has kept women in subjection, and the only value recognized as belonging to them is their being able to accept it as their own nature. In accordance with the whole tradition of western thought, Hegel sees woman as, by nature, confined in one particular stage, which is given as much resonance as possible, but at which no man would ever choose to be born."

Hegelians will defend his rendering of an "enemy" female, this lady of "everlasting irony," as merely a kind of mock feminine, an effigy of woman necessarily to be overcome. Still, the logic of "one particular stage" remains particularly pernicious in Hegel, and, as we will see, it also supports his dim views on Africa and other parts of "world civilization" beyond the cozy confines of Europe. Continue reading

Taking Care

I was sad to hear of the passing of philosopher Bernard Stiegler, who died on August 5. I could not have claimed him as a mentor or friend, but I consider myself something of a devotee and our paths did cross on a few occasions. I still recall first meeting him as an impressionable young scholar in his IRCAM laboratory off the Place Georges-Pompidou in Paris. Even with my broken French, he received me graciously in his balcony office overlooking rows of busy researchers. Years afterward a group of us at NYU brought Stiegler to New York in 2009 to speak on "New French Philosophy and Media Theory," where I fumbled through a response to his formidable lecture. After a conference in Paris a few years later, I found myself unable to attend a dinner at Stiegler's house, a social faux pas that set the tenor for the rest of our (non) acquaintanceship. Naively I asked him to blurb a book of mine but, alas, he politely declined. A friend of his confided in me that Stiegler was put off by my treatment of him in Les nouveaux réalistes (The New Realists), and that Stiegler refused to be labeled a "realist" of any kind. (Of course that was never my intention; Stiegler was the counterpoint there, not the specimen.) Later the missed connections turned into something of an absurd game, at least for me. Stiegler was scheduled to keynote a conference in Weimar last year where I was also in attendance, but he had to cancel at the last minute. Then similar arrangements were announced for an event in Italy two months ago that was also eventually canceled, this time due to Covid.

To celebrate Stiegler's life and his influence on me and many others, I wanted to upload the original audio file from my lecture "Bernard Stiegler, or Our Thoughts Are With Control." This was the second of five sessions collected in the pamphlet series French Theory Today, and later revised for French publication as Les nouveaux réalistes.

"Bernard Stiegler, or Our Thoughts Are With Control" (download mp3)

Also of potential interest is the informal "Stiegler glossary" I prepared several years ago to assist in wrangling Stiegler's sometimes formidable technical vocabulary. The glossary probably needs some updating, but might be helpful nonetheless particularly for those coming to his work for the first time. Most recently I had the opportunity to contribute (with co-author Jason LaRiviere) to a special issue of boundary 2 on the work of Stiegler under the heading "Bernard Stiegler: Amateur Philosophy."

Stiegler wrote about philosophy and technology, about fault and accident, about forgetting and remembering. He had his Derrida side, of course, but I always preferred the Heidegger side. He was a great champion of Simondon, which I suspect added to the allure in the English speaking world where Simondon had remained untranslated for so long. Stiegler has pride of place in the film The Ister (2004), one of the few decent films made about philosophy. At the same time Stiegler had an outsize influence in other disciplines like media studies, given how much attention he gave over the years to technology. "After Plato and Derrida, it was Bernard who became the pharmacologist of technology," wrote Yuk Hui a few days ago, and I leave it to him to recount his memories of Stiegler in this moving commemoration.

Bernard Stiegler, New York University, April 2, 2009

There is no rebellion (there's only me earning a paycheck)

Conspiracy has roared back into American culture, although perhaps it never left. QAnon, "Epstein brain," 9/11 truthers, Russiagate, True Detective S02E06. Fueled by paranoia, the conspiracy theorist finds meaning in every detail, forcing the unrepresentable into the light of day (even if it doesn't exist). When faced with meaninglessness, the conspiracy theorist finds an abundance of meaning at every turn. In a fuzzy picture, or in a fragment of text, tenuous connections resolve into hard links by sheer will of intuition. In this sense, conspiracy theorists think inductively, through association. Conspiracy is a kind of network thinking, appropriate for a networked world. Recall those astounding drawings of power networks by Mark Lombardi, or the detective's bulletin board at the end of Usual Suspects. Somehow, someway...everything connects.

Conspiracies are one of the few ways in which class and anti-capitalism -- otherwise banned from mainline discourse -- pierce through the ideological fog and imprint themselves directly on popular culture. Jason LaRiviere reminded me of "Exiting the Vampire Castle," Mark Fisher's essay on liberal privilege, where Fisher remarked, in a parenthetical aside, that "many of what we call ‘conspiracies’ are the ruling class showing class solidarity." This makes sense to me, that behind every conspiracy is an aborted attempt to speak about class and power. The Epstein case is instructive here. On the one hand it is a story of sexual abuse and exploitation. But in another way, the Epstein case furnishes empirical confirmation of the most outlandish Pizzagate-style lunacy: the deep state and the uber rich *really do* traffic in kiddy sex. Such logic of indirection -- yes/no, wrong in one place but right in another -- is part of the logic of conspiracy.  Continue reading

No Demands

They have helicopters and armored vehicles. They're driving cars into crowds, firing teargas, and flash grenades. They're beating people with batons and trampling them with horses. They're murdering people in broad daylight. The brutality is flagrant and obscene. Yet "it's not police brutality, it's police practice," as Professor Dylan Rodriguez so accurately put it.

A healthy society must abolish its repressive state apparatus. I favor the abolition of the police, prisons, and the military. For the short term, we must put all police departments in immediate receivership, confiscating weapons and armor, then defund, demilitarize, and ultimately dismantle them. If you want to learn more about policing and prisons, I recommend reading the work of, among others, Michelle Alexander, Angela Davis, Alex Vitale, and Jackie Wang.

For the long term, all arms of the repressive state apparatus -- if any remnants still exist -- should be run on a principle of citizen service. Military service and policing must not be waged labor staffed by well-funded mercenaries. The concept of a "for profit" prison is obscene.

I support protest as a human right. Striking and agitating should be held in high esteem. While I ultimately consider non-violence to be both politically and strategically superior, media and popular hysteria around so-called rioting and looting is absurd. On the sources and uses of violence I recommend reading Frantz Fanon's classic text on racism and colonialism The Wretched of the Earth.

Since police sadism is evidence of a deeply distressed world, I call for a wholesale reinvention of society along principles of justice and human dignity. This will begin with an acknowledgment of the worth of all individuals and communities, particularly poor, black, and immigrant communities who have endured so much for so long. I support reparations for American slavery and decades of anti-black discrimination. This would include the redistribution of money and land, plus a broad social movement toward "truth and reconciliation."

Anti-black racism is deeply intertwined with capitalism and economic injustice. I thus support the creation of a new International labor movement. The aim of this movement would be to orient society toward the flourishing of all people, starting with the abolition of capitalism and an end to the exploitation of labor. Society should be organized around principles of citizen participation and radical democracy. To this end, I support the Green New Deal and advocate an immediate de-carbonization of the world economy, paired with a jobs guarantee and a housing guarantee.

Our society is injured and scarred. To encourage spiritual and bodily well-being, I support universal basic services, beginning with universal single-payer healthcare. As the current pandemic so vividly demonstrates, the for-profit hospital, medical insurance, and pharmaceutical industries are a public health nuisance and should be abolished, to be replaced by institutions working toward the collective good.

I support immediate expropriation of the wealth of billionaires, as well as the introduction of a global wealth tax. Following the ancient principle of debt jubilee, reprised recently by David Graeber, I advocate an immediate dismissal of all debt, including all student debt and so-called "structural adjustment" debt held by nations in the global south. Eliminating debt helps all people, but economic studies have shown that it particularly helps people of color. These debts should not be "forgiven" since that simply perpetuates a new form of symbolic debt; they should be dismissed and obliterated, ushering in a new golden age.

Our political leaders are abject failures. Members of congress, governors, and mayors both white and black have abandoned us. They should all be recalled, followed by a new constitutional convention on world democracy populated by citizen delegations. The current American president is a contemptible human being who should be immediately removed from office, brought to justice for his many crimes (political, moral, sexual), and excommunicated from planet Earth in the next available NASA capsule.