Monday, May 21, 2007

The two languages are not far apart

This has long been the issue on which I break with more traditional Marxists; and it is still the issue on which I tend to differ with Jodi and many of the other folks I read most avidly today in the blogosphere, as well as more generally with both Frankfurt School and psychoanalytic (e.g. Zizek) approaches.
But I note that very often, these days, when I read more traditionally “dialectical” Marxist stuff (whether Frankfurt School, or Lacanian School, or just work emphasizing political economy) I tend to just mentally translate the language of negativity, contradiction, etc., into the language of virtuality that I get from Deleuze (and that Deleuze gets from sources, like Bergson and William James, that have been considered disreputable, because too blandly and unconflictually pluralist, by most 20th century Western Marxists).
The fact that I can make this sort of translation so easily suggests to me that the two languages are not as far apart as partisans on either side have often made them out to be. (And I should add that I am equally irritated by dismissals of Delueze, like Zizek’s, that make him out to be some muddle-headed liberal pluralist or New Age prophet or Jungian archetypalist, and by the ritualistic denunciations of the old-fashioned dialectics of Marx and Marxism by thinkers, like Lazzarato, who are in fact analyzing capitalism entirely within the horizon of Marxian concepts).
There are definite commonalities. Both the Hegelian/dialectical language of negativity, and the James/Bergson/Deleuze language of virtuality, insist that all those things that are omitted by the positivist cataloguing of atomistic facts are altogether real. Both locate this reality by asserting that the “relations” between things are as real as the things themselves, and that “things” don’t exist first, but only come to be through their multiple relations. Both construct materialist (rather than idealist) accounts of these relations, of how they constitute the real, and of how they continually change (over time) the nature of what is real. Both offer similar critiques of the tradition of bourgeois thought that leads from Descartes through the British empiricists and on to 20th century scientism and post-positivism.
The advantage of Deleuze, to me, is that he offers a wider, and more complex and nuanced, notion of “relations” than the Hegelian tradition does. Now, of course the Hegelian argument is precisely that the William James and Bergson pluralist approaches substitute a blandly observed multiplicity of indifferent connections for the sharpness of antagonism and radical change (and of course the valorization of “more complex and nuanced” is itself a part of the strategy of thus neutralizing antagonism). But the Deleuzian argument — radicalizing Bergson and James and giving them an edge that perhaps they don’t possess on their own — aims to both give a fuller picture of what the system of things-as-they-are excludes, and to provide for the possibility that practice can invent methods and situations that are theoretically unforseen... This entry was posted on Monday, May 22nd, 2006 at 11:49 am and is filed under Theory. The Pinocchio Theory

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