missing a trick

Gramsci, Selections from the Prison NotebooksI had decided I wasn’t going to reply to Adam Morton’s further intervention in this to-and-fro sparked by my blog post on Althusser’s Machiavelli and Us. Some debates are more productive than others, and I’m not sure that this one is getting anywhere in particular. Largely, his latest contribution, “The War on Errorism”, confirms this impression. For once again, Morton doesn’t engage with my reading. By which I mean (if that’s not obvious) that he merely, rather sweepingly, reiterates his own reading and asks, with an air of surprise, how could anybody see things any differently. And he gestures towards a mountain of secondary literature that supposedly confirms his view.

But I do feel now compelled to respond. Because it turns out that Morton is right. I did make an error, albeit not one that he noticed. And I feel somewhat embarrassed about it. Time therefore to make a mea culpa and set the record straight.

Of my brief reading of Gramsci, in which I point out that the couplet consent/coercion sets up a hierarchical relationship between the two, Morton asks, with rhetorical outrage, “Really? Can we have some reference to Gramsci’s texts here please? I find it difficult to conclude that Gramsci treated concepts in a primary/secondary relationship of hierarchy.” I was surprised by these questions from Morton because there clearly is a reference to Gramsci’s texts–and there was from the start, in Posthegemony–which he has now excised twice. Let me quote from the beginning of Posthegemony at more length:

No power can subsist on coercion alone. Hence Antonio Gramsci’s famous distinction between “hegemony” and “direct domination”: hegemony is “the ‘spontaneous’ consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant social group,” and direct domination is exercised by “the apparatus of state coercive power which ‘legally’ enforces discipline on those groups which do not ‘consent’ either actively or passively.” Hegemony, in fact, is primary: for Gramsci, power is grounded in consent, and force is employed only secondarily, “in moments of crisis and command when spontaneous consent has failed.” Coercion supplements consent, rather than vice versa. (1)

The last of these phrases, “in moments of crisis and command when spontaneous consent has failed” was quoted also in my previous blog post. But here comes the error. I have misquoted Gramsci. Whether this has a material bearing on my reading is another matter, but there is indeed a mistake of transcription here. And I apologize. Here is the full (and rather famous) passage from Gramsci:

The intellectuals are the dominant group’s “deputies” exercising the subaltern functions of social hegemony and political government. These comprise:

1. The “spontaneous” consent given by the great masses of the population imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is “historically” caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys precisely because of its position and function in the world of production.

2. The apparatus of state coercive power which “legally” enforces discipline on those groups who do not “consent” either actively or passively. This apparatus is, however, constituted for the whole of society in anticipation of moments of crisis of command and direction when spontaneous consent has failed. (Selections from the Prison Notebooks 12; my emphasis)

In short, in place of “moments of crisis of command and direction,” I put “moments of crisis and command.” This is a mistake. An error. I got it wrong. Once more, I apologize, and am embarrassed.

Now, there is much that can be said about this short passage in Gramsci. For what it’s worth, I don’t think that my mistake alters the text substantially so as to invalidate my reading. But perhaps it is symptomatic, in the way that Gastón Gordillo suggests. As I said before, I find his critique productive and helpful.

But the point is also this: we find such errors by engaging with the readings at issue, and returning to the text. By all means let us wage war on error (if not “errorism”), but we need to be still more ruthless about it. I do find it intriguing that Morton apparently both missed the fact that I was quoting Gramsci–asking “Really? Can we have some reference to Gramsci’s texts here please?”–and also missed the fact that I was unfortunately misquoting Gramsci. For all his grand gestures and lectures about reading and accuracy, for all his attempts to hunt down purported errors in what I have written, he seems to be missing a trick when it comes to a real, bona fide mistake that he would have spotted had he read my text, and Gramsci’s, with a little more care and attention.

Felisberto Hernández

Felisberto Hernández, Piano Stories

The Wednesday quotation, part XIX: I’ve been reading Felisberto Hernández, a very striking Uruguayan writer from the first half of the twentieth century who is practically unknown, especially in English. Some of his short stories have been translated, in a collection entitled Piano Stories (introduced by Italo Calvino, which should give a sense of why they might be of interest), but so far as I can tell this book never sold well and is now long out of print.

“The Stray Horse” is a story that begins by giving life to very concrete things: a marble bust, for instance, or furniture, or a pencil that “was anxious to be allowed to write” (17). Before long the narrator, a child depicted with his grandmother and with his piano teacher, Celina, with whom he is obsessed, can say that “the objects were more alive than we were” (18). As the story progresses, however, it takes on the perspective of the man that the child has become many years later and turns into a long disquisition on memory and on aging in which abstract ideas are presented with surprising vividness, as though they were tangible objects. It is as though the two halves of the story were mirror images of each other: the life of things, and the things of life that unite in (or divide) the narrator’s consciousness.

For in time, with the effort to recollect the past, the narrator finds himself multiplied, fragmented, transformed. He imagines a shadowy partner, who follows him wherever he goes and whom he dimly discerns to represent or incarnate the world of others around him. Though the two are often depicted as at odds, they also make common cause in the narrator’s adventures in consciousness and memory. This leads to an extraordinary passage that ultimately proves to be about something like creativity:

I have to thank him for the times he followed me at night to the edge of a river where I went to see the water of memory flow. When I drew some water in a jug and was saddened at how little and how still it was, he would help me invent other containers for it and comfort me by showing me its different shapes in the different vessels. Afterward we invented a boat in which to cross the river to the island where Celina’s house was. We would take along thoughts that fought hand to hand with our memories, knocking over or displacing many objects in the house. Some of the objects may have rolled under the furniture, and others we must have lost on our way back, because when we opened the bag with our hoard it was always down to just a few bones, and the small lantern we had been holding over the soil of memory dropped from our hands.

Yet the next morning we always turned what little we had gathered during the night into writing. (43-4)

Meanwhile, here is something I wrote a few years ago specifically on “The Daisy Dolls” (“Las hortensias”).

What is Philosophy?

Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s What is Philosophy? is in many ways quite a departure from their previous joint-signed books. I say “joint-signed,” rather than “joint-authored” because François Dosse in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: Intersecting Lives (which I reviewed for H-Madness) makes it clear that the book “was manifestly written by Deleuze alone”; he included Guattari’s name “as a tribute to their exceptionally intense friendship” (456). But even considered within the lineage of Deleuze’s solo output, it is somewhat anomalous. If anything, it hearkens back to his seminal texts of the late 1960s, Difference and Repetition and Logic of Sense, not least because it is not dedicated to any particular individual (unlike his books on Foucault, Bacon, or Leibniz) or any particular genre (unlike his books on the cinema). It is, almost, pure philosophy.

I say that it is “almost” pure philosophy because, first, as the title indicates What is Philosophy? is better classified as meta-philosophy. Deleuze is as interested in the “prephilosophical” or even the “nonphilosophical” that subtends philosophy. Regarding the latter there are a couple of interesting references to the work of François Laruelle, who is right now somewhat in vogue. Deleuze tells us that “Laruelle is engaged in one of the most interesting undertakings of contemporary philosophy. He invokes a One-All that he qualifies as ‘nonphilosophical’ and, oddly as ‘scientific,’ on which the ‘philosophical decision’ takes root” (220n5). The fact, however, that he finds Laruelle’s equation of the nonphilosophical with science “odd” indicates the second reason why Deleuze’s book is only “almost” pure philosophy: it is as much concerned with answering the questions “What is Science?” and “What is Art?” Indeed, the book as a whole might have been better titled “What is Thought?” For Deleuze is above all concerned to delineate the nature and specific domains of what he calls “thought in its three great forms–art, science, and philosophy” (197). And while it would therefore be tempting to say that the book therefore develops a philosophy of science and a philosophy of art (as well as a philosophy of philosophy), Deleuze is careful to warn that these three practices are very different and can only intervene in or interfere with each other in particular ways and within certain limits. Of the relation between philosophy and science, for instance, he claims that “The two lines are therefore inseparable but independent, each complete in itself [. . .] Philosophy can speak of science only by allusion, and science can speak of philosophy only as of a cloud” (161). Perhaps it would be best to describe Deleuze’s intent as an attempt to think about thought.

In most concentrated, telegraphic terms, Deleuze sums up the differences he discerns between the three forms of thought:

plane of immanence of philosophy, plane of composition of art, plane of reference or coordination of science; form of concept, force of sensation, function of knowledge; concepts and conceptual personae, sensations and aesthetic figures, figures and partial observers. (216)

Essentially (and still more telegraphically), these differences revolve around modalities of multiplicity: different forms of multiplicity, different means of organizing or navigating multiplicity, and different operations performed on multiplicity. What they have in common is that they each constitute a particular relation to chaos. On the one hand, they “want us to tear open the firmament and plunge into the chaos. [. . .] The philosopher, the scientist, the artist seem to return from the land of the dead” (202). On the other hand, they “struggle against chaos (203) and work to extract something from it: respectively, variations, variables, and varieties. As Deleuze puts is of art: “Painters go through a catastrophe, or through a conflagration, and leave the trace of this passage on the canvas, as of the leap that leads them from chaos to composition” (203). Chaos itself is unbearable. But the passage to or through chaos is (quite literally) vital, as it arms us in the still more important “struggle against opinion, which claims to protect us from chaos itself” (203).

Thought continually risks catastrophe–as Deleuze says, “what would thinking be it if did not constantly confront chaos?” (208). It even risks death, or a form of death, as the brain becomes “a set of little deaths that puts constant death within us” (216). But this is the risk we must take, for in fact there is nothing more deadening than opinion, with all its vapid discussion and dreary clichés: “the struggle with chaos is only the instrument of a more profound struggle against opinion, for the misfortune of people comes from opinion” (206). Opinion is the death of thought, but it will also be the death of us: a suffocating, weary, anticlimactic demise. Deleuze claims at the outset of the book that the very question “what is philosophy? can perhaps be posed only late in life, with the arrival of old age and the time for speaking concretely” (1). Faced with the possibility of death as a life-sapping “weary thought” incarnated in “those weary old ones who pursue slow-moving opinions and engage in stagnant discussions [. . .] like a distant memory of their old concepts to which they remain attached so as not to fall back completely into chaos” (214), it is as though Deleuze were striving instead for what Jorge Luis Borges describes as “The Other Death”: a passionate death willed upon the past that negates the present. For Deleuze, far better than unthinking cliché is the “nonthinking thought” that plunges the brain in chaos so as to extract “the shadow of the ‘people to come’ [. . .] mass-people, world-people, brain-people, chaos-people” (218). This sounds like a Nietzschean gesture to something like the Overman; perhaps it’s the particular utopianism of (non)thought, “revolution” as the “absolute deterritorialization even to the point where this calls for a new earth, a new people” (101). Still, it’s a reminder of the dangers of this line, or a certain ambivalence in Deleuze, that this book should end with a discussion of the negative, of “the three Nos” of nonphilosophy, nonart, and nonscience, described as collectively constituting “the same shadow that extends across [philosophy, art, and science] and constantly accompanies them” (218). Here Deleuze almost seems to be affirming the power of negation in quasi-dialectical manner. Almost.

“The Yellow Wallpaper”

Charlotte Perkins GilmanCharlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” is preoccupied above all with the secret and mysterious life of things. It’s concerned with the human and the non-human, and the surprisingly porous line between them. The narrator takes for granted that things have what she terms “expression.” Her only surprise is that, in the circumstances in which she finds herself, they turn out to be more alive than ever: “I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know how much expression they have!” (3). Yet immediately after declaring that the liveliness of things is an open secret, that “we all know” that they have expression, she backtracks somewhat by suggesting that perhaps she is more attentive to their mysterious vitality than most: “I used to lie awake as a child and get more entertainment and terror out of blank walls and plain furniture than most children could find in a toy-store” (3). In part, then, the plot turns on this uncertainty: is the narrator a special case, abnormal, perhaps insane? Or is she simply telling us something we all know, to some extent or another: that things are more like us and we are more like things than we care to admit. Then there is a third possibility: that the “we” she invokes is general but not universal. It may be that there are some, particularly women, who can sympathize with things and know what it is to be treated as a thing. And that there are others, above all men, whose sense of subjectivity depends on marking (exaggerating?) their difference from things, and on asserting their superiority over the objects around them.

From the outset of the story, the narrator has a sense that things are not quite right. The house that she and her husband are to rent for the summer is, she intuits, perhaps “haunted”–though she doesn’t want to say this outright, for fear she may be accused of “romantic felicity” (1). Is this her (supposed) problem, that she is too much of a romantic, too easily affected by her surroundings? Still, she “proudly” insists, as though to defy any such insinuations, that there is “something queer” about the place. But by contrast, her husband John won’t admit to any such intimation: he is “practical in the extreme [. . .] and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures” (1). But is his problem perhaps that he in fact takes too little interest in what can be “felt and seen.” For we soon observe that the narrator focuses intently on the sensible, on her senses and sensation. For all her misgivings, she eagerly describes the house, for instance, and describes its garden as “delicious,” as though she could physically taste it. Her conviction that there is “something strange” is confirmed by her senses: “I can feel it.” Her husbands responds that what she “felt was a draught, and shut the window” (1). So begins the confinement.

Encouraged to rest, forbidden from working or writing, stuck in a room with barred windows at the top of the house, the narrator becomes obsessed with the wallpaper that lines the limits of her seclusion. It provokes, from the start, intense feelings: “I never saw a worse paper in my life. [. . .] The color is repellent, almost revolting: a smouldering unclean yellow” (2). But equally, from the start, it is described as though it had a strange (if self-destructive) will of its own: its “lame uncertain curves [. . .] suddenly commit suicide–plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions” (2). Over time, the narrator elaborates on the contradictions that she perceives in the paper, perceiving faintly “a kind of sub-pattern in a different shade, a particularly irritating one, for you can only see it in certain lights, and not clearly then” (3). Eventually, she comes to conclude that “it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about the pattern. I don’t like it a bit” (5). And ultimately, the tensions in her own situation, that of a frustrated woman writer, hemmed in at all sides by a husband who dismisses her sensations as hysteria, come to parallel and merge with the strains that she perceives in the patterns around her. She tears at the paper, grasping at the presence she perceives within it: “I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled” (8).

None of this is really about identification. The narrator has written herself into her surroundings, which in turn have opened up to her. It’s best to think of this as a production–better still, a co-production–of an expansive subjectivity immanent to the things of this world. Against the authoritative (and authoritarian) airs of her doctor husband, the narrator makes the whole world tremble and vibrate. And in the end, her particularity, her singularity, affects him, too, when he falls down in a faint upon entering the room that she has made her own by abolishing the distance between subject and object, human and inhuman. She has become part of it, and it finally becomes her.

not nearly far enough

Adam MortonAdam Morton continues the discussion prompted by my reading of Althusser’s Machiavelli and Us. (See also his earlier post and my response.) Again, he’s less concerned to engage with my reading of Althusser per se than to give me a somewhat heavy-handed lecture on how to read in general. But I don’t find his purported distinction between “interpreting, appropriating, or negotiating a text” (outlined also here) particularly helpful. It sounds to me like one of those irregular verbs: I negotiate a text; You merely interpret it; He, she or it has the nerve to appropriate it. Except that it turns out that there’s another twist to the declension: Jon Beasley-Murray goes so far as to “importune” the text. Quelle horreur!

To put this another way: I don’t claim any particular purity to my own reading of Althusser. All readings are messy. They are inevitably interested in some way or another, and mine is clearly informed by my own interests. There are no doubt elements of appropriation (if you want to use these terms) as well as interpretation and negotiation. But I do try to read Machiavelli and Us, and also the various texts discussed in Posthegemony, with care and attention, alert particularly to their tensions, slippages, and contradictions. This is because all texts “say more than they do” (to use Morton’s own symptomatically awkward phrase) and I’m interested precisely in this excess. Again, though, I find it especially productive to think of Althusser’s book with such slippages in mind, in part because this is the tack that he himself takes in approaching Machiavelli. As Althusser notes, “Machiavelli grips us. But if by chance we want to grasp him, he evades us: he is elusive” (4). In my terms: something always escapes. Which is why, in similar spirit, I make much of the revisions and changes that Machiavelli and Us underwent over time. Morton is apparently less concerned with such things; well, so be it.

Let me conclude with a word or two on Gramsci. Morton criticizes me for saying (in the prologue to Posthegemony) that for Gramsci “hegemony, in fact, is primary: [. . .] power is grounded in consent, and force is employed only secondarily’ (1). He tells me I “would have to be aware that coercion/consent [. . .] come as a couplet.” But I am of course quite aware of this fact. My point is that in any such couplet (including also the others indicated by Morton: “state/civil society,” and so on) there’s always a fundamental dissymmetry: one of the pair is primary; the other appears to be supplementary. More complications then ensue, but I was merely pointing out that for Gramsci it is hegemony (defined as “‘spontaneous’ consent”) that is primary. Coercion, then, is presented as a supplement: employed, Gramsci tells us, “in moments of crisis and command when spontaneous consent has failed.”

A rather more interesting critique of Posthegemony is that I don’t in fact spend half as much time on Gramsci as I should. Rather I focus, at length and for reasons I outline in detail, on the work of Ernesto Laclau (and Chantal Mouffe). But in his review, ”Affective Hegemonies”, my friend and colleague Gastón Gordillo upbraids me for what he calls my “masterful silencing of Gramsci.” By generally avoiding Gramsci’s work, concentrating instead on his neo-Gramscian avatars, he suggests I am ironically “perhaps paying oblique homage to the man who first thought about hegemony.” By contrast, then, Gordillo implies that it is time to “appropriate” Gramsci a little more thoroughly, to work harder at disrupting the banalities and superficial readings propagated as part of “the academic infatuation with Gramsci.” Indeed, Gordillo’s main criticism of Posthegemony (and it is a smart and attentive reading that he offers) is that it goes not nearly far enough in the task of “importuning Gramsci” for which Morton would otherwise condemn it.

a bit of a leap

Adam MortonAdam Morton responds to my brief account of Althusser’s Machiavelli and Us with a fairly lengthy blog post on “Machiavelli, Gramsci, Althusser, and Us”. But he doesn’t so much respond to my reading itself; what he intends is a more comprehensive swipe at the notion of posthegemony as a whole. Which is fair enough, but a bit of a leap.

Anyhow, on Althusser… Morton asks “whose reading” this is that detects in Althusser “a posthegemonic reading of Machiavelli,” to which I unapologetically confirm that it is indeed my reading. Whose would it be otherwise? But it’s a reading that, I hope, is attentive to some salient aspects of the text, not least its ambiguities, product in part of fairly constant revisions over a long period. Morton reiterates what I call a hegemonic reading of Machiavelli and Us, a reading that I point out myself; it is admittedly pretty obvious. My own interest is in the tensions between that aspect of the text and another that is in sync with the late Althusser’s aleatory materialism of the encounter, which I term posthegemonic. Morton’s interest is in consolidating and underlining only the first of these two readings so as to show Althusser’s resonances with Gramsci. Again, fair enough in its own way, but it’s no less an “appropriation” than my focus on the tensions within the text.

Indeed, compared to conventional readings of Althusser, Morton’s take is perhaps even more idiosyncratic, as neo-Gramscian theories of hegemony were quite explicitly opposed to an Althusserianism understood in terms of over-determination, history as a process without a subject, and the like. Another way of putting this is that Machiavelli and Us is interesting and problematic precisely because it points to two possible ways out of canonical Althusserianism: both towards the concept of hegemony and radically away from it. As such, it anticipates the contemporary dilemma of cultural studies. Morton likes the first path; I acknowledge it’s there, but prefer the second.

Morton then jumps to a lightly revised series of quotations from his book on post-revolutionary Mexico. There’s a certain tension here, as whereas on the blog the claim that “calls, then, to analytically displace hegemony and move towards a posthegemonic politics should be resisted” is presented as following on from the discussion of Althusser (“then”), in the book the rather similar claim that “calls for a wholesale retreat from the logic of hegemony and the move towards a posthegemonic politics should be resisted” comes merely as the start of the second of three discussions of critiques of hegemony. And the subsequent sentence, that “A posthegemonic condition [. . .] refers to the presumption that ideology critique is now superfluous in an age where affective relations or bodily dispositions are regnant” is sourced in the book to my 2003 article “On Posthegemony” (as well as to an article by Benjamin Arditi) while on the blog it’s apparently derived from my 2010 book, Posthegemony. On the blog, Morton then refers directly to his own book, but Revolution and State in Modern Mexico is hardly much more “detailed” on this point than the blog post: both contain almost exactly the same assertion that (in the book’s words) “this extremist take on hegemony theory and its attempt to decentre analysis from the strategic field of the state, however, merely collapses into a ‘pluralism of micropowers’, conceiving ever more microcosms of meaning within a world of individuated actors (Poulantzas 1978: 44)” (10). Despite the invocation of his student Poulantzas, we’re now far removed from Althusser, even though we are oddly enough still dealing with what, in discussing Machiavelli and Us, I described as “a strange, tortured text that bears all the marks of its” revisions.

What’s more, then Morton shifts to quoting an article of his from 2007 that is a critique of Randall Germain, and which never mentions posthegemony in the slightest. In that article, it is Germain’s notion of a “collective ‘us’” that prompts the comment: “I am troubled in IPE by something Raymond Williams (1980, p. 3) long ago articulated: the acceptance of total contingency when attempting to assess forces in struggle over hegemony” (“Unquestioned Answers / Unanswered Questions” 135). I’m not entirely sure how what we can only call Morton’s “appropriation” of his own critique of Germain relates to my blog post, my book, or posthegemony in general–though I would note that questions about determination are indeed properly Althusserian, if not (of course) the concern of Machiavelli and Us.

In Althusser’s interpretation of Machiavelli, there is no “struggle over hegemony” at all, in that he observes that The Prince and the Discourses alike are books about beginnings: they are about the leap, always under-determined if never entirely contingent, that establishes a new political regime. It is its under-determination, its element of contingency, that opens up a space for politics–and for Althusser, Machiavelli’s work is fully political, fully inscribed in a political space that cannot be determined in advance. Whether or not you feel that what is to be instituted is a form of hegemonic politics (Morton will probably say it is; I stress rather Althusser’s ambivalence and increasing hesitance), there’s no doubt that the leap itself has nothing to do with hegemony. As with all the many ruptures that mark Althusser’s thought (from the famous “epistemological break” he claims to detect in Marx’s work, to the “lightning flash” in his discussion of the “Piccolo Teatro”), the real political moment is this posthegemonic fracture that his texts themselves re-enact. Perhaps Morton’s blog post, too, is trying for a similar leap?

“The Metamorphosis”

Franz Kafka, The MetamorphosisPerhaps the oddest thing about Franz Kafka’s celebrated short story, “The Metamorphosis,” is how stubbornly it resists the notion that it is an allegory or extended metaphor. Though dreams are invoked in the very first line–“Gregor Samsa woke one morning from uneasy dreams” (28)–the notion that the protagonist’s transformation itself is anything other than real is soon roundly denied: “It was not a dream” (28). Of course, we might still want to read the tale allegorically, but not without pausing to consider the thoroughly matter-of-fact tone in which the whole affair is described. Nobody finds it particularly remarkable that Gregor has turned into a cockroach (or dung-beetle or whatever precisely it is). And, horrific though the change is, everyone is determined that life must go on regardless. At first, Gregor himself even holds out the hope that he might still take the train and continue work as before. The closest he comes to surprise at his fate is the observation that “It’s not yet going as well as I thought. But I’m fine now. Oh, the things that can come over a person!” (36). Which is putting it mildly indeed. In short, the only real surprise is the general lack of surprise that pervades proceedings.

There is little thought or investigation into how or why Gregor has suffered this fate. Nobody evinces either wonder or real curiosity. It’s not even an issue for Gregor himself, while his family shoo away any investigators (the doctor, say) whose role it might be to look into the causes of this strange phenomenon. Gregor’s sister instigates an experiment to see what kinds of food the bug might like–“to try out his taste she brought him a large selection” (46)–but the family never tries to find out, for instance, whether he can really hear or understand what they’re saying. They do end up leaving the door to his room open in the evening so that he can vicariously participate in their company. After all, “family duty towards him commanded that they should swallow their disgust, and put up with him in patience, just put up with him” (59). His changed circumstances ultimately constitute an irritation, an inconvenience. His parents and sister will have to adapt their lifestyle and routines, not least because Gregor had been their provider and breadwinner. But the problem itself is to be neither addressed nor eliminated. It is simply a matter of fact.

Gregor’s metamorphosis does induce a series of other changes: his father, for instance, who previously was somewhat bug-like himself (fat, idle, slovenly, parasitic), takes a job at a bank; his sister and mother likewise find ways to replace Gregor’s lost earnings; the family loses some of its servants and takes in lodgers, accelerating their slow decline and loss of status. But ultimately no one learns anything–and nor, I think, is the reader encouraged to believe that there is any kind of moral or lesson here. We are no longer to believe in any over-arching explanatory narratives. Indeed, we see that those who try to impose such lessons (the chief clerk, for example) are motivated by the most petty of self-regarding interests. It is better, Kafka suggests, to acknowledge simply that we are in a world governed by chance and statistical regularities, in which the odd exception or irregularity should not unduly disturb our everyday habits. We are in a world, in short, best described in terms of biopolitics: patterns, probability, general expectations governing generations and populations rather than exemplary individuals. Occasionally, shit happens. But the only thing we should understand is that there is nothing really to understand. Nothing to see, move along please.