Manifesto of the Communist Party

Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party

Some of the least read and least remembered pages of Marx are those in which he takes on various other radical thinkers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a litany of names that are now almost entirely obscure and forgotten: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Charles Fourier, Robert Owen, Henri de Saint-Simon, and the like. Scanning these pages–and others like them, denouncing for instance the state of German philosophy at the time–the eye tends to glaze over, the mind wander. These are surely intellectual battles that belong in the past. However much Marxism is a minority option today, these other thinkers seem to have left still less trace on our contemporary debates. Where, after all, are the Fourierists and Owenites now?

Yet it’s surely worth reconstructing (what Pierre Bourdieu might call) the full field of positions occupied by the nineteenth-century Left, if only to bring out the stakes of what Marx says elsewhere, and to uncover the limits of what could and could not be said or thought at the time. Plucking Marx alone as the sole voice for radical change is to mangle and misunderstand his ideas as much as it means forgetting a wealth of other options that he chose not to take.

It is quite clear, for instance, that one distinguishing factor for Marx was the Communism in his view had to be revolutionary. To talk of “Revolutionary Communism” would be a tautology. Hence in the Manifesto of the Communist Party he and Engels criticize what they call “Conservative or Bourgeois Socialism”–represented here by Proudhon–for desiring “the existing state of society minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. [It wishes] for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat.” Or, in a second variant, they argue that “by changes in the material conditions of existence, this form of Socialism [. . .] by no means understands abolition of the bourgeois relations of production, an abolition that can be effected only by a revolution, but administrative reforms, based on the continued existence of these relations” (70). Of course, put like that, we might suspect that there are still a few Proudhonites (in all but name) lurking in contemporary politics. Indeed, in some sense they seem already to have succeeded, rhetorically at least, in their wish for “a bourgeoisie without a proletariat.” Aren’t we all middle class now? And is it not the case that we endlessly see politics replaced by administration of one sort or another, from the Welfare State to the neoliberal technocracy that has all but replaced it?

The paradox, however, is that to be anti-revolutionary is also to be against the very same bourgeois order that the “Socialistic bourgeois” seek to uphold. For the “revolutionary and disintegrating elements” are essential components of modern capitalism, as Marx and Engels argue in an earlier (and rather more famous) section of the Manifesto: “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production [. . .] and with them the whole relations of society. [. . .] All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned” (36, 27). Any attempt to mitigate the constant crises that are intrinsic to the capitalist order are reactionary at best, missing both the spirit of capitalism essence of Communism.

So what kinds of revolution do Marx and Engels endorse? The perhaps surprising answer at the end of the Manifesto is: any and all. “In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things” (77). These very much include bourgeois revolutions, too, which is why “the Communists turn their attention to Germany,” precisely because (Marx and Engels argue) it is “on the eve” of just such a revolution that, in turn, “will be but the prelude to an immediately following proletarian revolution” (76). So for all the now-obscure apparent splitting of hairs with Proudhonites and the like, it’s striking that the Manifesto is also surprisingly pragmatic as it tells us that Communists will work with a wide range of parties–in France, the Social Democrats; in Switzerland, the Radicals; and so on–despite acknowledging their flaws and limitations. For everything is in the service of the goal: “the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. [. . .] Working Men of all Countries, Unite!” (77).

The Gramscian Moment

Peter Thomas, The Gramscian Moment

Peter Thomas’s The Gramscian Moment is probably the highlight to date of a revival in studies of the Italian Marxist philosopher that has been gathering pace for the past twenty years or so. This revival has been accompanied (and enabled) by Joseph Buttigieg’s edition of the Prison Notebooks, translated into English for the first time in more or less unexpurgated, uncondensed form. The third volume of this massive effort only appeared in 2007. Hitherto, the Anglophone world had to rely mostly on Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith’s Selections from the Prison Notebooks (1971), plus a few other collections. Given the immense influence that some of Gramsci’s key concepts–not least, the notion of “hegemony”–has had on so many fields, it’s amazing that it has taken so long for his work to be fully available. Or to put this another way: never perhaps has any cultural critic been cited so much and yet been read so little.

Not, however, that the full publication of the Prison Notebooks resolves all the many obstacles to interpreting the text. For they are indeed “notebooks,” famously fragmentary, with numerous repetitions and rewritings, compiled in the most arduous conditions and left unfinished (if indeed by that time there was any thought that they could be completed) at Gramsci’s death. As Buttigieg notes, then, the temptation is to try to “reconstruct” the final text that Gramsci may have written had he been able to do so:

Whenever this takes place, the notebooks become a happy hunting ground from which one picks what is ‘important’ and discards what is deemed ‘incidental’–and, of course, everyone accuses everyone else of not having identified the ‘right’ fragments and the ‘correct’ relations between them. (“Introduction.” Prison Notebooks Vol. 1. 63)

And through Thomas quotes approvingly from Buttigieg on this point (and many others), arguing that Gramsci’s work is necessarily incomplete, he is equally keen to assert that the notebooks “have a fundamental coherence” (46) and cannot simply be harvested willy-nilly for any and every project on the Marxist or post-Marxist Left.

On the contrary: Thomas’s contribution is a battling intervention that seeks to rewrite and recast Marxist theory for contemporary times. Specifically, he plays off two antagonists: Louis Althusser, whose critique of Gramsci in the 1960s he describes (following André Tosel) as “the last great theoretical debate of Marxism” (8); and Perry Anderson, whose famous 1976 article “The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci” he excoriates for its sequence of supposed misreadings.

Thomas clearly has rather more respect for Althusser than for Anderson, and the vehemence of his criticism of the latter is at times surprising and certainly excessive. The argument is essentially that Anderson blames Gramsci’s apparent incoherence for the subsequent rise of a form of Western Marxism that focuses on civil society rather than the state, culture rather than politics. This shallow, bastardized Gramscianism then posits hegemony as merely a matter of persuasion and ignores the continuing importance of coercion even in the West. Thomas argues, however, that this claim that Gramsci’s own hestiations and “antimonies” are to blame for the uses to which he is put rests on inadequate attention to the Prison Notebooks‘ complex textual history. At the same time he admits that “it could indeed be objected that there is a certain amount of pedantry” involved in his detailing Anderson’s supposed interpretative errors so exhaustively, not least “now, at a distance of thirty years” (82).

One might add that Thomas’s vehemence is even odder given that he and Anderson seem to agree in all the fundamentals. For they both have the same vision of what Gramsci might ideally have said: the only difference is that Thomas claims to have found it, whereas for Anderson it is sadly missing. And they both seek this “ideal Gramsci” in order to short-circuit the link that quasi-naturally gave us Eurocommunism on the one hand and the likes of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe on the other. In other words, they both seek a Gramsci who is “posthegemonic” in so far as he would be clearly distanced from the appropriation of the term “hegemony” that has been dominant in cultural studies (and elsewhere) since the 1970s, and that I detail at some length in my own book, Posthegemony.

In fact, Thomas has very little to say about hegemony. And when he does come to define the concept, he hardly distinguishes himself from those with whom he is otherwise in such bitter disagreement: Hegemony, he tells us,

emerges as a new “consensual” political practice distinct from mere coercion (a dominant means of previous ruling classes) on this new terrain of civil society; but, like civil society, integrally linked to the state, hegemony’s full meaning only becomes apparent as the social basis of the dominant class’s political power in the state apparatus, which in turn reinforces its initiatives in civil society. The integral state, understood in this broader sense, is the process of the condensation and transformation of these class relations into institutional form. (144)

Honestly, I scarcely see (say) Stuart Hall, Dick Hebdige, Larry Grossberg, or any other proponent of cultural studies disagreeing with this characterization. What’s more interesting here is that, over the course of a few lines, what begins as a definition of hegemony swiftly becomes instead a description of the “integral state.” And, when it comes to politics, that is where Thomas’s interests lie: his is a Gramsci of the integral state and “passive revolution” far more than a Gramsci who would be the founding figure of hegemony theory. Consistently, systematically, Thomas downplays the importance of hegemony to Gramsci, and indeed of Gramsci to hegemony (stressing by contrast the term’s Leninist credentials).

But it is in the debate that he stages with Althusser that Thomas reveals the heart of his reconceptualization, and this is where the book is at its best and most intriguing. For whereas others have taken the Prison Notebooks’ description of Marxism as the “philosophy of praxis” to be a euphemism or (frankly, not very convincing) attempt to evade the Fascist censors, Thomas proposes to take the term with utter seriousness, and to reclaim Gramsci for philosophy. He wants, in short, to put the “philosophy” back in to the philosophy of praxis. And in that this was the terrain on which Althusser pressed most hard, it is here that Thomas fights hardest to redeem what he sees as the three key tenets of Gramsci’s thought: historicism, immanence, and humanism. For Thomas, Gramsci radicalizes and absolutizes each of these terms. And so he concludes, summing up the book as a whole:

This study has argued that the “Gramscian moment” of 1932 explored the themes of the Theses on Feuerbach by means of the concepts of ”absolute historicism,” “absolute immanence” and “absolute humanism.” These concepts should be regarded as the three “attributes” of the constitutively incomplete project of the development of Marxism as a philosophy of praxis. Taken in their fertile and dynamic interaction, these three attributes can be considered as brief resumes for the elaboration of an autonomous research programme in Marxist philosophy today, as an intervention on the Kampfplatz of contemporary philosophy that attempts to inherit and to renew Marx’s original critical and constructive gesture. (448)

It’s worth noting, however, two things. First, this return to the “Gramscian moment” is also undoubtedly a return to what Thomas himself terms the Althusserian moment that put concerns about historicism, immanence, and humanism on the map. Unlike Anderson (or Thomas’s version of Anderson, at least), Althusser proves a worthy antagonist and the serious engagement with his thought is one of this book’s highlights. In fact, hidden within what is often a ponderous and repetitious tome on Gramsci are the elements of a short but smart take on Althusser that reminds us of the French philosopher’s decisive contribution to our considerations of the relationship between philosophy and Marxism.

Second, as Thomas engages with Althusser, his own account comes closer to what we associate with French structuralism and post-structuralism, with curious effects on his account of politics as well as philosophy. For instance, he has increasing recourse to Spinoza as justification for his construction of Gramsci’s immanentism and historicism–and yet it is Althusser, rather than Gramsci, who is most associated with the Dutch marrano. Moreover, mentions of “hegemony” fall away even more markedly than before, replaced by invocations of “the molecular, individualizing logic of disaggregation endemic to the passive revolution” (424) or of the logic of habit and personhood, of “states of mind or ‘beliefs’ that are as strong as material facts” (404), that remind us still more of Foucault and even Deleuze and Guattari.

In sum, Thomas’s points us towards a Gramsci that would be a curious beast, but not unwelcome for all that: a posthegemonic Gramsci that returns us to seminal French debates of the 1960s and 1970s but also indicates perhaps new ways of conceiving politics as well as philosophy now that civil society is definitively withering away.

discontent

Michael Barnholden’s Reading the Riot Act: A Brief History of Riots in Vancouver is not a great book. But it’s a useful corrective to the notion that this city is (or even should be) immune to social disturbances. This June’s bit of social disorder may have been unusual, but it was far from unprecedented. Even the 1994 Stanley Cup Riot was far from the first of its kind–or the most significant.

We learn, for instance, that when it comes to sports riots it’s the 1963 and 1966 Grey Cup (Canadian Football) riots that were Vancouver’s largest, at least in terms of the number of participants and arrests. The 1963 melée started with a bit of over-zealous policing in the Castle Hotel beer parlour, and ended with 319 arrests, mostly for public drunkenness but also for unlawful assembly.

But it’s not just sports games that provoke Vancouverites to manifest their discontent. They also riot over music (the Rolling Stones Riot of 1972; the Guns ‘n’ Roses Riot of 2002) and even good old-fashioned politics. Or rather, bad politics as much as good. Barnholden’s survey begins with anti-Asian riots in 1907, when Chinatown and Japantown were both trashed. But they are followed swiftly by the Free Speech riots of 1909 and 1911, when the city authorities came down hard on agitation and organization promoted by the Industrial Workers of the World (the Wobblies).

An annotated list of other disturbances follows. There were then unemployment riots in the 1930s, anti-internment protests in the 1940s, counter-cultural riots in the 1970s, and anti-APEC riots in the 1990s. Barnholden doesn’t restrict his survey to the streets: he points also to a long history of prison riots at the BC Penitentiary.

So this is a useful aide mémoire to a century’s history of violent social protest (or protests that have been violently repressed) in Vancouver. Ultimately, however, the analysis of these incidents is both superficial and dogmatic.

It’s dogmatic in that the book provides us with a fairly schematic class analysis that purports to explain each of these incidents equally: “What all these events have in common is that they are essentially episodes in a larger ‘class war’ between the ‘governed’ and the ‘governors'” (18). And yet the very use of scare quotes around the key terms “class war,” “governed,” and “governors” already suggests that not even Barnholden really believes what he’s saying. Though class undoubtedly plays an important part (not least in the panic that arises when property is destroyed), almost each and every one of these outbursts of violence is rather more complicated than a simple face-off between governed and governors.

And the book is superficial precisely because it doesn’t want to get into complexities. Supposedly, we’re told, its aim is to redescribe these incidents from the bottom up, “to reread and rewrite a people’s history” (15). But this is a history that doesn’t, for example, involve interviewing any actual people or doing much if anything in the way of archival research. Instead, we get a précis of contemporaneous press reports followed swiftly by the ritual declaration that of course it was all about class.

Beyond the clichéd denunciation of capital, there’s hardly any attempt to embed this series of rather varied violent confrontations within a broader narrative of the city and its class politics, working class history, race relations, or the impact of mass culture (to take only a few obvious elements). By highlighting the brief, spectacular moments in which violence flares and glass is broken, Barnholden reminds us that there is a history to be told here. But he doesn’t tell it.

destruction

[From my prologue to Rodrigo Naranjo, Para desarmar la narrative maestra: Un ensayo sobre la Guerra del Pacífico.]

“Creative Destruction: Ruins, Narrative, and Commonality”

Marx and Engels long ago noted that capitalist productivity entails unceasing destruction and destitution. As they put it in the Communist Manifesto: “Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones” (38). Destruction is not a mere by-product of capitalist development; it is its fundamental pre-requisite as the formal subsumption of labor, whereby older technologies are maintained even as they are assimilated into capitalist relations, is replaced by real subsumption, which demands the fundamental transformation of all aspects of the productive process. But as a result, capitalism is also truly revolutionary: it abruptly does away with the hierarchies and injustices of earlier social formations, if only to replace them with a regime that is even more insidiously unequal and unjust. Ruins of the past may persist: more or less mute reminders of what has gone before, but these too are often enough caught up in the revolutionary whirlwind. If capital can profit from the ruins it creates, it does so, turning them for instance into historical theme-parks, sites for leisure or aesthetic contemplation. Ruined places and peoples can be treated with a certain exoticizing sympathy, at the same time as they are held up as object (and objectified) lesson in what happens to those who do not adapt fast enough to changing times. In short, they can be resignified as part of a master narrative of progress. More often, however, capital moves swiftly on, brutally unsentimental about the devastation it leaves in its wake. Still, there is something strangely creative about the destruction wrought by capitalist modernity, a fact analyzed by theorists from Werner Sombart to Joseph Schumpeter.

Some have celebrated capital’s tendency to build on ruins, seeing it in Darwinian terms as an instance of the survival of the fittest. As Schumpeter argues, “the essential point to grasp is that in dealing with capitalism we are dealing with an evolutionary process” (Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy 82). Others have been more ambivalent or even downright critical. Recently, Naomi Klein has revived the notion of creative destruction with her observations in The Shock Doctrine, but with a twist. For Klein, catastrophe is not so much endemic to capitalism as a necessary supplement for the particular hyper-capitalist ethos that goes by the name of neoliberalism. What she terms “disaster capitalism” arises in the twentieth century with the Pinochet dictatorship, only then to spread around the world. Klein argues that the successful implementation of neoliberal “reforms” depends upon a catastrophic “shock,” whether that be imposed from above (as in Chile) or whether it be an apparent “Act of God” (such as Hurricane Katrina) from which capital can opportunistically profit. In this version, it is not capitalism on its own that engineers the destruction upon which its creativity depends: some external force or sovereign violence intervenes to pave the way for economic restructuring, which is in turn devastating in its own way. But the shock comes first: the political has priority, and contemporary capitalism is rather more Leninist that its proponents would like to believe.

For Marx and Engels, the effects of capitalism’s creative destruction are epistemological as much as they are social, political, or economic. “All that is solid melts into air,” as they famously observe, “all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind” (38-39). Intrinsic or extrinsic to capitalist production, it is crisis that allows us to see the truth of bourgeois society–and perhaps the preconditions of any society–clearly for the first time. The continual catastrophes that mark modernity allow an opening to capital’s posthegemonic kernel: every trace of ideology is swept away. Indeed, all narratives are briefly disrupted and we are left with a glimpse of what Giorgio Agamben would call bare life. Not only therefore does creative destruction do away with the oppressive social structures of the past: for all the neoliberal dictum that in the face of disaster “there is no alternative” to free-market deregulation, it also suggests that capitalism may not be the only beneficiary of the very crises that it lives and breathes. Catastrophe offers a turning point. It provides space for the rearticulation of well-worn mantras, which may gain renewed purchase when our defenses have been downed. It may also subsequently provide a mythic origin for new narratives and new articulations, perhaps more sinister than hitherto. But further, crisis has the potential to allow something genuinely unheralded (if perhaps long felt) to emerge: in laying bare what Marx and Engels term man’s “relations with his kind,” it reveals what we have in common. However much it hits some more than others, the propensity to be touched by calamity is ultimately a condition that we have in common with others. Moreover, disaster tends to exert a brute levelling, to provoke shared affects and induce fellowship. So as Rebecca Solnit argues, “extraordinary communities” are built on the very ordinary experience of common practices and habits that emerge out of destruction.

Read more… (.pdf file)

dialectic

An interesting post from Steve Shaviro over at The Pinocchio Theory, on “Pluralism and Antagonism”. The nub of his argument is that a Deleuzian anti-dialecticism might re-invigorate Marxist categories.

In this situation, contradiction and negativity have become rather sterile resources for change, I think. Deleuze’s notion of the virtual allows for a wider range of resources. Instead of a dialectic, Deleuze (and Guattari) propose a vision of how capitalism simultaneously unleashes and regulates fluxes of energy and matter, of desires and subjects and objects.

But my question concerns the opening phrase, “in this situation.” Shaviro refers to the post-1960s stagnation of the Left and radical theory itself. This is the period that I’d describe in terms of posthegemony.

My question is whether we should assume that the dialectic ever functioned as it claimed to do. For Deleuze, surely not.

Or to put it another way. At Brock, Negri repeatedly insisted that the dialectic of labour and capital was at an end. But a more thorough-going Deleuzianism would insist that there never was such a dialectic.

We have moved, in other words, from a period in which the concept of the dialectic was at best well-rooted only in appearances (and so thoroughly ideological), to a period in which its prior bankruptcy is clearer now than ever.

I’m interested in thinking through the nature of that transition, which is not (cannot be) as far as I can see an transition in the functioning of politics and economics themselves. Rather, what has changed is only a certain regime of visibility or of epistemology. Which is not to say that an epistomological change has no effects. But collapsing one transition into the other too quickly is rather problematic.

Meanwhile, I know I’ve featured this image before, but even so…

Girl Refuting Hegel's Dialectic Model of History“Girl Refuting Hegel’s Dialectic Model of History,” by Michael Laster

storytelling

In his autobiography, The Future Lasts a Long Time, Louis Althusser twice provides the same capsule definition of materialism:

“My objective: never to tell myself stories, which is the only ‘definition’ of materialism I have ever subscribed to” (169)

“‘Not to indulge in storytelling’ still remains for me the one and only definition of materialism” (221)

[“‘Ne pas se raconter d’histoire,’ cette formule reste pour moi la seule définition du matérialisme.”]

I like this definition, for reasons I’ve hinted at before. The real follows no narrative; stories are always elaborated around, and an inevitable distortion of, the real.

photo by Martin ParrMeanwhile, Susan is getting excited about boredom. (Catchphrase: “boredom, not as boring as you think.”) It’s in part an elaboration of her suburbs project. (Catchphrase: “suburbs, not as boring as you think.”) She’s enjoying A Philosophy of Boredom. (The Times: “Lars Svendsen (boring name), a professor of philosophy (boring subject) from Norway (boring country), has written a quite fascinating book.”)

And I’ve mentioned boredom before, both as a kind of degree zero of affect, and in terms of Agamben’s discussion of Heidegger.

photo by Martin ParrBut if we think of boredom as a result of narrative failure–the point at which stories fail to entertain–could it not be recast as the materialist affect par excellence?

As Deleuze says, in what is one of my favourite lines of his (which I’ve also cited before): “Tiredness and waiting, even despair are the attitudes of the body.”

“These are tough times for boredom”, claims Michael Crowley. I’m not so sure. The fact that we endlessly seek distraction (Crowley mentions ubiquitous TV and the “wormhole” of the internet) signals less “boredom’s demise” than how easily distracted we are, precisely because of our underlying disaffection.

We flip through the channels and click through the pages, listessly, mechanically. We have an ever smaller attention span for the stories we are told. Are we then close to a “materialist way”?

The images in this post are from Martin Parr‘s “Boring, Oregon” project. Parr is today’s high priest of boredom, with Bored Couples and the Boring Postcards trilogy. See Jonathan Bell’s review and also a fine collection of Swedish boring postcards.

discontinuity

This post is part of Long Sunday’s “Carnival of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak”.

I’m going to jump in here with a brief note on continuity and discontinuity in Spivak’s text, “Scattered Speculations on the Question of Value.”

The nub of Spivak’s argument is this: she presents a critique, first, of what she terms “the continuist version of Marx’s scheme of value” (In Other Worlds 155), but second and more importantly, also of “all ideologies of adequation and legitimacy” (171).

The notion of value as continuity (of unruffled exchange, or even a series of more or less orderly exchanges and transformations) is at best mistaken, at worst ideological, and so complicit.

Hence Spivak’s recourse to “the concept-metaphor of the text” (171) and textuality, to indicate the overdeterminations, the loose ends, the “situation of open-endedness” that characterizes the process by which value is produced as “an insertion into textuality” (161).

But the point is that there are discontinuities and then there are discontinuities.

For if capitalism puts forward ideologies of continuity, the latest of which is the dream of unregulated world-wide instantaneity effected in globalization, in fact it functions always by means of a series of ruptures, of breaks in that flow. Globalization can only be a tendency, another version of the same basic ideology of continuity. In practice, “even as circulation time attains the apparent instantaneity of thought (and more), the continuity of production ensured by that attainment of apparent coincidence must be broken up by capital” (166). Here, maintaining a distinction between productive center and comprador peripery, between the First World and “the dark presence of the Third” (167), is crucial. But also even immediately in the production process: value arises from the discrepancy between use and exchange, from the super-adequation of labour power. It is discontinuity, not continuity, that constitutes the ruse of capital.

Yet Spivak will have no truck with any notions of flow and immanence counterposed to capitalist segmentarity. From the outset she brackets off “the anti-Oedipal argument” of Deleuze and Guattari as “but a last-ditch metaphysical longing” (154). Moreover, and for all her agreement with the notion of capital’s liberating aspects, its “‘freeing’ of labor-power” (161), she is harsh in her critique of any utopian faith in what we might call the deterritorializing powers of Empire. “Telecommunication” (for which we could substitute now the powers of cognitive or communicational labour) only “seems to bring nothing but the promise of infinite liberty for the subject” (167; my emphasis). And this is because “economic coercion as exploitation is hidden from sight in ‘the rest of the world'” (167).

No. Against discontinuity: more discontinuity, or perhaps better, other modes of discontinuity. Against the capitalist ruse of extracting surplus in the discrepancy between labour power and exchange value, Spivak defends what she describes as the “radical proto-deconstructive cultural practice” of “bricolage, to ‘reconstellate’ cultural items by wrenching them out of their assigned function” (170). This is, no doubt, a defence of eclecticism. And here, incidentally, Deleuze and Guattari somewhat surprisingly reappear, now applauded for their concept of desiring-machines as “originarily unworkable” (170).

But here’s the question, and in some ways it’s a question for Deleuze and Guattari too: can in fact these two modes of discontinuity, the one governed by capitalist expansiveness, the other by a principle of avant-garde defamiliarization, really be distinguished so easily? Can we still say so unreservedly that “the computer, even as it pushes the frontiers of rationalization, proves unable to achieve bricolage” (170)?

Or to put it another way: Spivak recognizes a certain ambivalence in the word-processor, and so in the machinic and the collaborative communicational labour it enables; but does she explore that ambivalence far enough?

1980s word processor
Cross-posted to Long Sunday.