Friday, January 16, 2009

I have problems with Badiou, Ranciere, and these trends of thought that descended from Kant

Of Assembly from Larval Subjects by larvalsubjects

While I would be the last person to ignore the importance of signifiers, I do think this form of theory is myopic and functions to cloud the other associations that make up our world. What is ignored in all of this is the role that roads play in sustaining particular social orders, networks among various individuals or among various corporations, technology, relations to “nature” in a variety of ways, political economy, and all the rest. All of these things become invisible when we adopt an approach like Zizek’s because the social world has been hegemonized by the signifier.

The Hegemonic Fallacy thus simply invites us to look at these complex networks, how they’re put together, how they’re engineered, how they’re assembled, and so on. In engaging with this sort of cartography all sorts of other relations become visible that might allow us to strategize more effective means of producing change. I have similar problems with Badiou, Ranciere, and a host of others. The target isn’t so much Kant as these trends of thought that I see as descended from Kant. I want an ontology that allows me to see how things are put together and that doesn’t dominate things with a single principle from which all of them are to flow. [...]

I share this position with both Graham and Shaviro. Just as Graham and Shaviro both argue that the in-itself is not unique to humans, but rather to relations among all objects, I too hold that there is nothing unique or exemplary about the human-object relation and that therefore relations among objects, human or otherwise, is an ontological question rather than an epistemological question. I argued this long ago before I encountered object-oriented philosophy or critiques of correlationism in a post on Hegel. [...]

Quite the contrary, part of the target of the Hegemonic Fallacy is precisely all those orientations of thought that seem so consistently to banish the furniture of the universe. [...]

Here, perhaps, I should develop an account of self-referentiality. Assuming Bryan has been keeping up with my recent posts on these topics, he will recall that in addition to the Ontic Principle I have also formulated Latour’s Principle, the Principle of Reality, the Principle of Act-uality, and the Ontological Principle.

Of particular importance in this connection are Latour’s Principle and the Principle of Reality. The Hegemonic Fallacy doesn’t deny that some differences dominate and overdetermine other differences. Rather, it denies that all differences can be traced back to a single ground or origin that contains them “virtually” as Hegel’s category of Being already contains all the subsequent categorical determinations. The Principle of Reality states that the degree of power or reality possessed by an entity is a ratio of the extensiveness of the differences it makes.

By this principle, some differences have a very low degree of power such that their existence is almost imperceptible to any other entity in the universe. Other entities vastly extend their power, producing differences in countless entities as in the case of the relationship of the sun to the planet earth and all of the creatures that populate the earth. Consequently, this principle allows us to begin developing an account of how a number of entities can be tightly bound up with some other entity or assembly of entities.

Latour’s Principle states that there is no transportation without translation. According to this principle, if we can speak of entities like capitalism or class, then we must be able to discuss how these entities are assembled or put together. How does class come to be an entity? How does capitalism come to be an entity? If this question emerges, then this is because capitalism and class must transport itself to other entities and this requires translation or labor.

That is, the entities cannot simply be subsumed like so many variables in a mathematical function. Moreover, those entities that are enlisted or assembled by these “super-entities” often resist and have other ideas. Capitalism must enlist machines of all sorts, computers, humans coming from a variety of different ethnic backgrounds and biological dispositions, the body of the earth, and so on. Latour’s Principle simply dictates that we account for how these translations take place.

One of the things that I love about Marx– especially the later Marx of Grundrisse and Capital –is that he is attentive to precisely these sorts of questions. Adopting Balibar’s language, we could say that Marx is deeply sensitive to the question of how masses are turned into classes or multitudes into a people. Marx does not begin with capitalism or class as a given, as a primitive notion, but painstakingly shows how certain differences or entities intervene and unfold, generating new entities. Hopefully all of this is a little less boring.

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