Material Conditions of Philosophical Practice

The conference was an absolute success. The quality of the papers and discussions, the broad range of topics which nonetheless converge in so many productive ways, the enthusiasm, the camaraderie, the tone and atmosphere,  all simply astounding. I might do a recap post in the next few days, but for now I need to record a thought I had in response to Graham Harman’s wonderful paper. There he fleshed out his antipathy toward materialism as a philosophical doctrine, which in his account falls prey to a correlationist mixture of epistemological and ontological claims. While I broadly concur with the rejection of materialism as Harman characterizes it, I think this characterization misses a certain lineage of the term. When the recordings become available, you’ll be able to hear these problems raised, but here I want to flesh out my point a bit more than the question-answer format would allow.

This lineage is not the same as the one reaching back to the Pre-Socratics, one which Harman sees as generally continuous with contemporary variants of both scientific and ‘post-Marxist’ types. The latter category encompasses thinkers like Zizek, Badiou, and Meillassoux, who all endorse forms of ‘upward reduction’ of objects to their determination relative to thought (even if this is in the depersonalized form of mathematics or the symbolic order). In a sense, the Marxist tradition at large straddles both types: in differing measure it advocates a sort of vulgar scientism or determinism, and a characterization of the everyday in terms of ideological abstraction.

Graham described quite persuasively how this twofold character is rooted in the very earliest Greek philosophy, so I won’t recount it here. Yet there is another lineage that does not fall prey to either tendency, by Graham’s admission, and despite the above described compromised nature of Marxism, this second lineage originates in Marx himself. I’d like to argue that when Marx speaks of materialism, he is using it in this sense, one insulated from the first lineage (this is perhaps why Marx would eventually condemn his own dissertation on atomism as still ‘too bourgeois’).

Materialism in Marx’s sense is neither a metaphysical nor an epistemological doctrine; it is not a philosophical doctrine or theory in any ordinary sense. Rather, it is a meta-philosophical doctrine about the relation between philosophy and its material conditions of possibility. In this regard, both the content of philosophical discourse and the methodological form of that discourse must be referred to the conditions under which philosophical practice occurs. Material conditions in this regard can begin quite narrowly: philosophy requires various material and institutional supports, from universities and publishing houses down to brains and paper. But these conditions, of course, never exist in isolation, and depend upon a certain mode of production that not only conditions their genesis, but their distribution, maintenance, etc. Ultimately, philosophical practice depends upon a broad economic, political, and social condition that enables it to occur, whatever its function within society may be.

Now this does not imply that the content of philosophical theory is itself somehow determined according to its material/economic condition. Content is relatively autonomous in the regard, in that one can conceivably formulate the same philosophical position under very different socio-economic circumstances. Material conditions do nonetheless exercise certain constraints upon both philosophical practice and content, and this can be seen both in explicit cases of the prohibition of certain positions, and subtler cases in which a certain constitution of both academic and popular culture renders specific positions unpopular or even unthinkable. This under-determining constraint is classically referred to as determination in the last instance.

This notwithstanding, the material condition does not directly determine the content of theory. Or, to be more precise, while the content of such theories may be in principle explicable by way of some materialistic or naturalistic account, even if we cannot yet provide such an account, such explicability does not amount to justification for one’s commitment to specific theoretical claims. Justification can only be given in normative terms, owing to conformity to the fundamental norms under which any rational discourse is possible. In fact, when, in giving reasons, be it for a theoretical claim or any other activity, one principally refers not to one’s own autonomous assumption of responsibility as a rational subject, but to some heteronomous condition, in other words, when one considers oneself obligated not by virtue of some determination within the discursive space of rational agents, but by virtue of a material fact that, more than simply constraining possible actions, effectively decides ones actions itself, one has fallen prey to ideological obfuscation. Ideology is precisely this sort of misrepresentation of one’s free action as an expression of the agency of an inert material condition. And as a further twist of the knife, this sort of disavowal need not occur explicitly within the space of discourse: one can, for all intents and purposes, claim responsibility for one’s obligations and commitments, while nonetheless betraying the contrary in practice, acting as if one is bound by some purely fantasmatic necessity.

Because philosophy always operates under a specific material condition, materialist philosophy must be attentive to the specificity of its relation to this condition. This relation is not necessarily manifest in theoretical content, but it certainly is in the practice through which this content is produced. For example, as a graduate student at a university, I have a specific relation to the political-economic mode conditioning my philosophical work: I take out loans, I pay tuition, I work, I have limited resources whose use is determined by administrators with whom I have limited contact, etc. The central concern of materialism in this regard is not the content of one’s position, which becomes relatively equivocal, but the practical form of its production. The content would become a concern if it were used to justify a particular practice of philosophy. It is on this basis that Marx so strongly condemns all varieties of philosophical idealism, especially Hegel, which in his eyes amount to an apologetics for idealism about philosophy, or the thesis that the practices conditioning philosophical thought are either no concern for philosophy, or must necessarily be as they are for philosophical activity to proceed (Hegel would advocate a variant of the latter).

The relation between philosophical practice and material condition is one in which the former is either complicit with and supportive of the latter, or indifferent (which amounts to passive complicity), or in which the former actively contests or challenges the latter to some degree. Materialist philosophy must first of all recognize the nature of its own situation in relation to its material condition, and address the thereby (often incidentally) politically committed character of its practice, no matter how apolitical its theory. (Here we should specify that this politically-inflected character is not unique to philosophical practice, but applies to productive practices writ large, including those of other theoretical disciplines like the sciences.) And secondly, it must evaluate whether or not this commitment ought to be maintained, or if on the other hand a change in practice is warranted.

So materialist philosophy (as opposed to ‘philosophical materialism’) is not itself a philosophical doctrine or position, at least not in the straightforward sense. Yet here we are obliged to indicate the limitations of the Marxian approach: the very distinction between material condition and the conditioned practice is itself a philosophical distinction, and in this regard meta-philosophy does not escape philosophy. It still begs the question of why we should understand the world through the material/practice dyad, a distinction itself produced through a certain practice, specifically a practice of philosophy as offering an authoritative interpretation or understanding of the world, even when it resorts to the meta-level that treats philosophy itself as an object within the world. Attempting to frame this practice in relation to its material condition is problematic for self-evident reasons.

This is clear when we reflect on the amphiboly within Marx’s work of material condition and economic re/production of that condition. In the above, I was speaking as if the two are interchangeable, and indeed, one gets the same impression from Marx himself. Yet the latter is different in kind; it is as much a practice as those constitutive of philosophy, even if it is broader and globally operative. We could even say that philosophical practice is a particular case of the broader economic praxis which generally determines the manner in which material conditions are effective. The difference between economic praxis, or the mode of production, and specific practices such as those of philosophy, is not between two different kinds of practice, but between the generic form of practice (practice here meaning specifically a mode of appropriation and use of material conditions) and a specific practice which must fall within those generic parameters. However philosophical practices make use of their material conditions, they must conform to certain criteria; without going into too much detail, they must treat these conditions as capital, and must either use them in such a manner that their value is continuously expanding, or at the very least, remaining stable. That philosophical practices are extremely difficult to effectively monetize, and hence render profitable, is one of the greatest threats to the discipline. In any case, the relation between generic and specific forms of practice, on the one hand, and generic and specific uses of material conditions, on the other, is something left relatively vague in Marx’s account.

This is where non-philosophy becomes relevant: the Marxian materialist treatment of philosophy becomes caught in the very trap it sought to disarm (that of confusing material conditions with their mode of appropriation; instead of specific modes, however, it confuses materiality in general with the generic mode of appropriation), and so what is required is its radicalization, or the transformation of the treatment of philosophical practice such that it does not simply reproduce this practice at a higher level. What is missing is a rigorous account of the manner in which the material conditions of capitalism are irreducible to their capitalist appropriation, and hence are capable of constituting the material conditions of communism. Hence, we must provide an account of not only materialist approaches to specific practices, but of a generic materialist practice that would disarm the ideological structure of capitalist practice tout court. This would result in a use of the (meta-)philosophical paradigm of materialism that does not reproduce the philosophical pretension of authoritative interpretation, but that no more renders this interpretation relative and indistinct. Rather, it determines this paradigm according to a Real condition that cannot be equated with any particular mode of production, sanctioning no authoritative characterization. Such a practice is already incongruent with capitalism as much as pre-capitalist modes, insofar as both depend upon determinations of propriety or ‘authoritative use’, whereas the non-philosophical transformation initiates a distinctly non-authoritative use without-propriety. Ideological forms of propriety claim an authority derived from their heteronomous determination by their material condition; the non-ideological suspension of propriety submits its authority to its real condition without the expectation of a renewed sense of authority. Autonomy in communism amounts to a non-authoritative submission to one’s real conditions, which in other words entails the recognition that no actions can be legitimately derived from those conditions, and hence all justification refers only to the collective determination of the rational community (not objective circumstances).

This treatment of the relation between Marxian materialism and non-philosophy is extremely provisional, and owes far more to my own hermeneutical hubris than to Laruelle’s treatment of Marxism (Introduction to Non-Marxism), which I’ve only recently started reading. This is why I’ve left it so sketchy. Nonetheless, the core point I want to drive home is that, while it is not itself unproblematic, Marx does offer a very different sense of materialism than the one rightly criticized by Harman, one which has massive consequences for philosophy, and for theoretical activity in general.

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28 Responses to Material Conditions of Philosophical Practice

  1. Pingback: Reid weighs in « Object-Oriented Philosophy

  2. Austin says:

    I wonder if Hallward’s reading of Marx as a voluntarist (or perhaps even Sartre’s notions of radical individual/social freedom even in light of pre-existing material conditions) would also fit well with what your espousing here? It seems that both Sartre and (Hallward’s) Marx (maybe Sartre moreso) would escape the materialistically determined ideological propriety that you identify above. For even though both thinkers would admit that material conditions have a foundational role in the formation of modes of production that arise from them, could it be said that their emphasis on the radical freedom of subjectivity (in spite of material conditions, or perhaps in response to material conditions) provides a proper framework for a “non-authoritative submission to one’s real conditions” that leaves both the material conditions and the subjective response to the former ultimately irreducible to one another?

    • reidkane says:

      I think Hallward’s reading of Marx, at least as presented at the conference, was absolutely dead on; didn’t disagree with a word he said. In that regard, yes, I think this reading is totally consistent with his sort of voluntarism. As for Sartre, I’m unfortunately under-read, but from what I know of the basics, I think you’re right to see parallels. To be honest, I’m skeptical about the phenomenological starting point, but other than that, the basic outlines of his work all the way through seem very close to what I’ve been doing with Marx. I guess I need to read more…that’s in part why I enjoyed your paper so much!

      • Austin says:

        Yeah, I actually agree with unsettledness toward the phenomenological starting point. I feel that that’s one area that held him back from really developing his thought further and from him garnering the respect that his later thought deserves.

        Great post though. Thanks. I’ve recently been introduced to Laruelle as well and have found much there that seems appealing. Now I just need to actually wade through the French in order to read the primary material!!

  3. Great stuff here, Reid. I very much agree on the Marx front. He just doesn’t fit easily or in a straightforward manner with traditional materialism. For example, he repeatedly describes value as immaterial, while nonetheless it is entirely real. Harvey has a wonderful diagram on page 195 of A Companion to Marx’s Capital, tracing the relations that must simultaneously be thought in Marx’s framework: Relations to nature, technology, modes of production, social relations, reproduction of daily life, mental conceptions of the world. What I find so interesting here is that Marx is not talking about society in opposition to nature, but rather is diagramming human and nonhuman relations in collectives. This is a very different sort of materialism, focused on living practices and relations, rather than on reduction. It is exactly this that I’m trying to think in my own work in social and political philosophy.

    • reidkane says:

      Yeah, I agree re: Marx. The point would be how to understand the practical basis for things like a nature/culture or natural/normative division that does not already presuppose the latter. You see this to an extent in the beginning sections of The German Ideology. This is not, however, to simply reduce things to that practical basis, but to reveal both our involvement in their perpetuation, and the real potential for other ways of using and reproducing them.

      I’d only be careful with the language of ‘balance’, even though I’m sure you’re using it as a term of convenience here. One thing I greatly appreciate in Zizek is his resistance to any recourse to a ‘natural balance’ to which we must return. The true point is that every distribution of these elements is ‘unbalanced’, and thus our goal isn’t to restore them to their proper balance, but to come to terms with the impropriety of every arrangement, and thus devise a mode of collective self-determination that does not appeal to any such fictional criteria of legitimation.

      Collective existence would only be a sort of ongoing experimentation, an interminable research as to what the given collective body can do, without the limiting prescriptions as to what it should do (short of the experimental imperative that it should perpetuate this research…of course, this imperative itself happens within a normative space, and cannot apply to the ‘non-subjective’ elements of a collective, but in this view nature itself is nothing but an ongoing experimental groping, be it one without safeguards for ensuring safety and prosperity…sorry, sort of went off on a tangent there).

      • reidkane says:

        er, by ‘balance’, I was referring to your remark about ‘restoring to their proper place’ below.

      • Hi Reid,

        No, when I speak of terms “getting out of whack” with one another I’m not referring to anything like balance, but am emphasizing that they are autonomous domains even while related to one another. So the point is that change can come from a variety of different domains, not just the semiotic domain of ideological representation. My gripe with Zizek and Badiou is that the other five domains aren’t even on their radar, but rather their discourse unfolds entirely in the semiotic domain of “mental representations”. It’s pretty difficult, I believe, to change much of anything if we don’t know the lay of the land and that requires an investigation of production, technology, and our relations to nature.

        I think you hit on something really important here with your references to ongoing experimentation. One of the major differences between Marx’s dialectic and Hegel’s dialectic is that for Marx there isn’t any ultimate synthesis or reconciliation (again this gets to the balance issue).

  4. I forgot to add that one of the interesting things about Harvey’s sorting is that these six domains of actants– relations to nature, modes of production, technology, social relations, reproduction of daily life, and mental conceptions of the world (what I’d call the “semiotic”) –can get out of wack without one another. They are dialectical relations rather than causal relations that can develop in autonomous ways. Thus, for example, new technologies can significantly transform modes of production, natural disasters can undermine social relations and modes of production, mental conceptions of the world can outpace modes of production and the reproduction of daily life, creating collectives of human actors (social relations) that lead to significant transformations of modes of production, etc. One of my gripes with a good deal of Marxist theory as it’s bandied about today (I mostly have in mind Zizek and Badiou, who I deeply admire, as you know) is that they more or less evacuate Marxist theory of these other five dimensions, focusing almost entirely on “mental conceptions of the world”. I believe that when this occurs we’re doomed to ask the wrong sorts of questions and develop the wrong strategies of resistance because we become blind to how the collective within which we find ourselves is organized. It’s not a question of dismissing the semiotic but of putting it in its proper place.

  5. A couple of questions, however:

    First, what does it mean to disarm capitalist appropriation tout court? I think we throw this term “capitalism” about and talk about capitalism– I’m not necessarily accusing you of this –without being clear as to just what we’re referring to. This, I think, is a big part of the problem with these discussions. It is necessary to be clear as to the specificity of capitalism and just what makes capitalism capitalism.

    Second, and more importantly, why is this a problem of ideology? This is my biggest gripe with Zizek. He ends up treating a problem that pertains to the reproduction of daily life, a certain form of production, and a certain form of social relations as a problem of the “realm of mental” relations tout court. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that ideology doesn’t play a role in the reproduction of daily life and forms of production, but I think the role it does play is pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. This would entail that ideology is really beside the point in addressing this system. The system functions quite “well” on its own regardless of the presence or absence of ideology. Moreover, ideology critique seems to have little impact on the functioning of that system. Proof of my first thesis, I think, is that the ideologies of both the left (such as it is) and the right in the United States are equally amenable to the functioning of the capitalist system. Proof of the second thesis is that ideological critiques have been around for quite a while but seem to have done little to diminish the march and intensification of capitalist modes of production. All of this suggests to me that we should be looking elsewhere, outside the analysis of the semiotic, for how change takes place.

    • reidkane says:

      Good questions.

      1. The problem here is a bit delicate. By capitalist appropriation, I’m referring to something occurring within a specific legal/normative space, in which a certain form of property relation becomes hegemonic, and moreover, in which this form is granted undue authority on the basis of being ‘objectively superior’ or even ‘objectively correct’. Nonetheless, this is not to grant some undue priority to a particular practical sphere. While the normative sphere is purely composed of material/practical constellations as much as anything else, it has achieved a relative practical separation and dominance, and likewise, the capitalist form of appropriation has come to dominate this already elevated sphere of practice. The point, however, is not simply to be done with a certain legal/normative construct, but to be done with the whole practical constellation behind this construct.

      Capitalism, as far as I understand it, refers to something relatively precise: first, the constraint imposed upon the possible uses of materiality by private property; second, the displacement of the will of property owners onto the material itself, ie the logic of capital as self-expansion of this material, the end to which all human action is ostensibly a means; third, the whole practical constellation underlying and supporting the first two, which includes but is not limited to the dominant role afforded to the practices constitutive of the legal/normative sphere constitutive of economic activity.

      2. Ideology, as I understand it, is not simply something ‘semiotic’ in your terms, but refers to a short circuit between the semiotic and its broader material/practical condition, such that the practical priority this sphere has attained is understood as an essential priority. In other words, it is not an intra-semiotic problem, but a problem of the relation between intra-semiotic production and its material/practical basis. Because this relation is obscured within semiotic practice, its practical nature is obscured and treated as natural, invariant, and ultimately not at issue. The problem of ideology critique is therefore not one of critiquing the content of various discursive positions, but of critiquing the manner in which the relation between discourse and its extra-discursive conditions is obscured by the very form of discourse (or discursive practice).

      I’m not sure how clear I’m making myself…but I hope you get my point. In neither case is the point to afford priority to the sphere in question, but to undermine the manner in which it has achieved priority in practice, and insulated its own practical constitution from intervention by making its practical basis opaque, either as apparently necessary or apparently unimportant.

  6. Pingback: Marxist Materialism « Larval Subjects .

  7. If by “expansion” you mean the production of surplus-value, I largely agree, though I would add that you can’t have capitalism until you have wage labor. In and of itself I don’t think private property is equivalent to capitalism, insofar as you can have social organizations where private property exists while the production of surplus-value isn’t present. I think that’s an important point in these discussions given some of the ideology (in my sense) that swirls around Marxism in the United States. And here it’s worthwhile to remember Marx’s two equations: C-M-C and M-C-M. Capitalism pertains to the later. Money is put into circulation to make more money. Most of us work according to the C-M-C relation, circulating our money to buy commodities. That’s a different beast entirely.

    Thanks for your clarification of the concept of ideology. In my view it would be better just to throw out the term altogether or to restrict it to the semiotic because I think it does predominantly draw theorists to the semiotic domain, functioning on the normative, signifiers, narratives, the legal, and so on to the detriment of all these other domains that are far more important. For example, Deleuze’s concept of a machinic assemblage captures nicely the non-semiotic domains you seem to be alluding to above while cleanly distinguishing this domain from the normative, the legal, the signifying and so on. The ideological, then, would fall in the domain of “collective assemblages of enunciation”. My point here is that the multiplication of terms or concepts allows us to preserve important differences among these domains so we can more clearly see their dynamics and helps to avoid the fall into the mentalistic/linguistic that characterizes so much contemporary theory. I still find any reference to the normative in a Marxist context extremely jarring and misguided. This is not because Marxists are immoral or unethical folks (there’s a robust ethical thought there), but because the normative inevitably refers back to the Kantian in some form or another in these discourses and because Kant’s deontological moral theory is the reigning ideology of capitalist legal systems and moral thought (it’s the basic framework of contractual agreement, property ownership, rights, etc). In this regard I think it’s important to carefully detach Marxist thought from this sort of capitalist ideological thought, even if only at the level of the terminological choices one makes (poor choices of terminology allowing theoretical technologies to be co-opted by those sorts of reactive ideologies). These are just my terminological choices of course. I’m not objecting to the content behind your use of the unfortunate term “ideology”, just suggesting that it’s rather misleading and invites a focus on the representational realm alone.

    • reidkane says:

      Just to clarify, I didn’t mean to suggest that private property is sufficient for capitalism. By form of propriety, I meant more than mere private property, the manner in which ownership is only legitimate/sustainable insofar as the value of one’s property is capable of ‘autonomously’ developing. This is a way of relating to one’s property that is irreducible to private ownership, and already involves a reversal whereby the property-owner becomes a function of his property.

      As for the second point, I don’t think we’ll come to agreement here because I read Marx’s work as essentially Kantian, if a radicalization of the Kantian project. I think his own characterization of his work as a ‘Critique of Political Economy’ is not a terminological coincidence in this regard. In this way I generally follow Alfred Sohn-Rethel, who sees in Marx an epistemological revolution that gives Kant a material grounding rather than rejecting him.

      The term ‘ideology’ does have a lot of baggage, but I don’t think its too far gone yet.

  8. Joe says:

    Where are you, Reid, picking up a distinction between material conditions and practice in Marx? You are probably far more well read with him, so I won’t be surprised if you are right.

    However, looking at the opening sentence of the Theses on Feuerbach makes me wonder:

    “The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively” (my emphasis).

    If it were the case, or if through accrued… regressions in either Marx or marxists, that a distinction was being maintained between practice and material conditions, I’d have no argument. I think the whole of the Theses is a strong statement against this distinction though. I mean this in every one of the theses too, not just the fashionable number eleven. The obsession with culture and ideological representation, or semiotics Levi might say, is what Marx calls in Thesis 2 “a purely scholastic question” (Marx’s emphasis). This on-going criticism of cultural-marxism, for lack of a better phrase, threatens to itself do just what Marx criticizes Feuerbach for in Thesis 4:

    “Feuerbach starts out from the fact of religious self-alienation, of the duplication of the world into a religious [i.e. ideal] world and a secular one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis.

    But that the secular basis detaches itself from itself and establishes itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the cleavages and self-contradictions within this secular basis. The latter must, therefore, in itself be both understood in its contradiction and revolutionized in practice. Thus, for instance, after the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the former must then itself be destroyed in theory and in practice.”

    This is probably more prominent among the “Third Culture” sorts of scientific-intellectuals – the Alan Sokals and New Atheists and New Agers (per Zizek’s analysis) who want to naturalize alienation, if not show us how it’s really a matter of atomic individuals deceiving themselves or causing themselves suffering by not having the right attitude. They want to find the material conditions for our problems as separate from actual (collective) practice. The New Agers or Western Buddhists as Zizek will call them are an interesting case, since practice is often an explicit component of their ideology. Like Marx’s “contemplative materialists” though, their limitation is often reducing alienation or suffering to attitudes and other abstract objects determining us and how we feel.

    All in all, this is good stuff. You whip me up in a way I need.

    • reidkane says:

      The distinction runs throughout Marx’s work: means of production/labor; dead labor/living labor; constant capital/variable capital; etc.

      Your reference to the Theses gets at an important point, which is that the distinction itself is artificial, an effect of a segregation of material reality in practice. But the point is not for all that to simply say the distinction is false, a distortion of the underlying reality. The point is to understand, explain the production of this distinction, such that it can be effectively undermined or transformed through a transformation of practice. If it were sufficient to simply change the way one regards the distinction in thought, then we’d still be idealist.

      The same goes with the sphere of discourse. The point isn’t to disregard it, but to reject approaches that don’t account for its practical genesis, its being contingent on a given form of social synthesis, and hence that render opaque any possibility of its transformation.

      At the end I do try to say that I nonetheless find Marx’s approach problematic insofar as the source of these distinctions is an original nexus of practical and material reality, or as you seem to be suggesting here, a materiality inseparable from its practical appropriation, but that is not to reinstall the root of contemplative materialisms, but to suspend the sufficiency of practice (including contemplative practice) to its material basis. Okay, but thats a point that goes beyond the hermeneutical question you raised. Thanks for the comment!

  9. kvond says:

    Bourdieu. (Contra Latour).

  10. Benoît says:

    Could you be a bit clearer with what you mean to say in your last four paragraphs, things became unclear when you began questioning the very distinction practice/material conditions

    • reidkane says:

      Practices are things people do, and material conditions are whatever is required for that doing. For Marx, material conditions must be understood in terms of the practices that produce and reproduce them, just as practices must be understood in terms of the conditions that constrain and enable them. The problem in Marx is he abjures any thinking of material conditions apart from their involvement in a given mode of practical reproduction. He has good reason for doing so – these sorts of reflective materialism tend to reinstate idealist problems – but my point is that its also problematic to ignore the question. Non-philosophy opens the possibility of an operational treatment of matter-in-itself, one which enacts the irreducibility of matter to appropriation within the sphere of practical appropriation. I think this is the only rigorous basis for a form of socio-economic organization that no longer resorts to propriety as the principle of the relation between matter and practice.

      • Benoît says:

        I see. Re-reading your closing paragraphs, the impact argument seems to be that we lose out on a practical or more proximate transition to communism, this consisting of a re-appropriation of material conditions which, luckily, weren’t reducible to capitalist means of reproduction of those conditions.

        In simpler terms: we throw out the baby with the bath water.

        The alternative then is a rejection of material conditions and modes of production without distinction, which average people kinda can’t get their heads around.

        Am I following you correctly?

        • reidkane says:

          “the impact argument seems to be that we lose out on a practical or more proximate transition to communism, this consisting of a re-appropriation of material conditions”

          I’m not quite sure what you’re saying here, could you clarify?

          “The alternative then is a rejection of material conditions and modes of production without distinction, which average people kinda can’t get their heads around.”

          I’m not clear on this either. Its not a rejection of conditions, its a matter of a different use of them and a different attitude toward that use. Nor is it a rejection of modes of production in general, but a different mode that no longer displaces responsibility onto conditions in the form of objective necessity.

          I’m not sure what that last remark about ‘average people’ is getting at, but it seems completely wrongheaded. I don’t see good reason for any distinction between kinds of people…I don’t know of any reason why anyone couldn’t understand the basic gist of it, which is that our collective agency alone determines what we must do. Saying anyone is incapable of grasping this responsibility, be it for natural or cultural reasons, seems unjustified and profoundly conservative.

          • Benoît says:

            I’m not quite sure what you’re saying here, could you clarify?

            I’m pondering the bottom-line benefit of your position versus the one your call into question in your article.

            The benefit seems to be that by introducing an irreducibility into the relation between material conditions and means of reproduction we’re able to re-appropriate them for other uses, i.e. communism. This explanation takes into account your clarification but I wasn’t too far off to begin with.

            ’m not clear on this either. Its not a rejection of conditions, its a matter of a different use of them and a different attitude toward that use. Nor is it a rejection of modes of production in general, but a different mode that no longer displaces responsibility onto conditions in the form of objective necessity.

            There I wasn’t trying to restate your argument but rather explain the implications of following through with the position your call into question. And the implication that comes into view for me is that if we assume an inextricable link between material conditions and their means of reproduction (you say “amphiboly”), then we reject the whole thing but that introduces the vertigo of “well, we rejected everything, now what?”, whereas your position allows a smoother, more practical transition to communism.

            I’m not sure what that last remark about ‘average people’ is getting at, but it seems completely wrongheaded. I don’t see good reason for any distinction between kinds of people…I don’t know of any reason why anyone couldn’t understand the basic gist of it, which is that our collective agency alone determines what we must do. Saying anyone is incapable of grasping this responsibility, be it for natural or cultural reasons, seems unjustified and profoundly conservative.

            You don’t have to be conservative to encounter people for whom the idea of rejecting the system of capitalism wholesale is quite vertiginous. That wholesale rejection would seem to follow from the amphiboly you note in Marx’s understanding, while your own would avoid it (and so the scariness…); I’ve tried to explain why that seems so above.

            I hope I’m being clearer. Forgive me, I’m not so well-read in Marx but I’m trying to understand the practical implication of your writing here.

            • reidkane says:

              I don’t think it makes sense to talk about ‘bottom line benefit’ for two reasons: 1) This is not a matter of changing from one condition to another, but of changing the relationship or producers to their conditions in such a way that the possible outcomes are greatly expanded. This should in principle exclude outcomes that involve exploitive and destructive relations for the most part, but such a change is never once and for all, and must be won and re-won at every moment of social production. 2) This involves a change in the very way people evaluate what is beneficial and what is harmful, because it shifts from an individual to a collective basis of evaluation (or more precisely, from a collective evaluation that fetishizes the individual, the family, and the nation to one that tries to give equal weight to all forms of collectivity).

              “The benefit seems to be that by introducing an irreducibility into the relation between material conditions and means of reproduction we’re able to re-appropriate them for other uses, i.e. communism.”

              Yes but again, its not simply a matter of reappropriation for a different use, but a different attitude toward use in general, such that proprietary claims no longer become its basis.

              “And the implication that comes into view for me is that if we assume an inextricable link between material conditions and their means of reproduction (you say “amphiboly”), then we reject the whole thing but that introduces the vertigo of “well, we rejected everything, now what?””

              Yes, absolutely. This is precisely what Mark Fisher (Kpunk) has been getting at with his his notion of ‘capitalist realism’.

              “You don’t have to be conservative to encounter people for whom the idea of rejecting the system of capitalism wholesale is quite vertiginous.”

              Well of course most people aren’t ready to up and drop this mode of production immediately, nor will a simple argument win them over. It will involve a long and hard work of convincing, winning over, etc, which is what I’ve tried to outline in my recent post on “counter-institutional politics”.

              • Benoît says:

                I’m glad to see we’re more on the same page than it seemed

                I don’t think it makes sense to talk about ‘bottom line benefit’ for two reasons

                I understand how neglectful of nuance that term may be, and I should’ve used something more expressive, but it’s not too unfair a use when I mean to evaluate the value of your position to the traditional Marxian position. Really, this is neither here nor there though.

                Yes but again, its not simply a matter of reappropriation for a different use, but a different attitude toward use in general, such that proprietary claims no longer become its basis.

                A lot of our differences seem to stem from my poor (or lazy) choice of words, and so you’re well within your rights to dispute those choices. But I did wish to include the elements you append, it’s just that from where I’m sitting re-appropriation captured your expressiveness. This also responds to your two prior points concerning my use of “bottom-line benefit”.

                Yes, absolutely. This is precisely what Mark Fisher (Kpunk) has been getting at with his his notion of ‘capitalist realism’.

                I haven’t read his book nor followed his blog in some time, so I’ll definitely take a look at his work on this point.

                However, what would be your response to Žižek in places such as the end of The Ticklish Subject or his concluding essay in Contingency, Hegemony, Universality where he speaks of the requirement of an experience of pure negativity being key to moving to a new positive order (or: his reading of Hegel’s emphasis on the French Revolution’s ‘pure negativity’)

                Well of course most people aren’t ready to up and drop this mode of production immediately, nor will a simple argument win them over. It will involve a long and hard work of convincing, winning over, etc, which is what I’ve tried to outline in my recent post on “counter-institutional politics”.

                Yes, it’s this unready character which I wanted to point to rather than some sharp, black and white division between those who know and those who don’t.

  11. kvond says:

    http://www.jstor.org/pss/656183

    “The Scholastic Point of View”

  12. Really great read. Honest..

  13. Nina Mcelroy says:

    If only I had a quarter for each time I came to planomenology.wordpress.com.. Amazing writing.

  14. Pingback: From the blogs « Anti-National Translation

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