Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Monthly Archives: March 2008


Hamlet's FatherI’ve just finished reading Specters of Marx, and am fighting to get a particularly stupid grin off my face. I had read this work a long time ago, in another life entirely, and what struck me then – and therefore remained in memory – bears little relation to what strikes me now. I have been promising a number of people that I would at some point re-read and comment on the work here – tonight’s post will at best be a very partial gesture at this promise. At the moment, I am simply too gleeful to write anything sensible on the text: I am finding myself – quite literally – laughing in enjoyment of the parallel – beautiful and perplexing – that Derrida sketches between himself, criticising Fukuyama, and Marx, criticising Stirner. What a delightful, ironic self-critique and, of course, critique of Marx. I’ll need to leave this – and, with it, the overwhelming bulk of the text – completely aside, until some point when I am feeling a bit less captivated by it…

I do want to archive a couple of issues here for later, more adequate development. First, as will probably be clear from the discussion I’ve already written here on “supersensible” categories like “value”, I like the use of metaphors related to the spectral, in trying to capture what’s unfolding in Capital – the issue of what I’ve been calling “supersensible” categories, what Derrida tends to refer to as the sensuous non-sensuous, is, I think, perhaps the most central dimension to the argument in Capital. And the metaphor of spectrality, as Derrida deploys it here – to capture the dual sense of something invisible/intangible/supersensible and something embodied or incarnated – is a particularly comprehensive metaphor for grasping the strange social characteristics of the sorts of entities Marx is trying to pick out, through categories like “value”, “abstract labour”, and “capital”. Whether Derrida quite grasps the practice theoretic dimension of the argument, I’m uncertain, but the metaphorisation is difficult to surpass.

Second, Derrida makes a very nice distinction that expresses something that has been nagging me in my own writing – a distinction that I will likely steal, although I don’t believe Derrida wields it in quite the way I likely will. Derrida spends quite a lot of time making a case that Marx distinguishes between spirit and spectre, or good and bad instantiations of spectrality. For Derrida, this argument is bound together with a claim that Marx shares with the people Marx criticises, a common desire to banish spectres – a fear of the spectral. Again, I would need to spend much more time with Derrida’s text to decide whether I agree with this critique. In a short-term and selfish sense, what I take from the distinction Derrida draws, is the realisation that I need to express much more clearly two dimensions of Marx’s “spectral” that emerge in the course of my own argument. Capital involves a complex critique of the empirically sensible – capitalism figures as a haunted context, in which empirically sensible entities are incarnations of supersensible relations. The supersensible dimension of capitalism figures in Capital both as the object of critique (the social practices that constitute supersensible social entities like “value” need to be overcome, in order to transcend capitalism), and as part of the standpoint of critique (the potential to “carve up” existing social practices, ideals, and institutions in different ways – the latent structure of alternative organisations of social life, necessarily reproduced with the reproduction of capitalism – provides an immanent standpoint from which the reproduction of capital can be recognised as a form of domination). Derrida’s argument about Marx’s attempt to distinguish spectres and spirits intersects in complex ways with this sort of claim – for present purposes, I am simply flagging for myself that Derrida’s argument reminds me that I need to be clearer in my own writing, about the complex ways in which Marx’s critique of empirical “givens” runs through his conception of both the target and the standpoint of his critique.

One brief critical comment, which I will hopefully have time to develop more adequately in the future: Derrida seems to take Marx as offering a critique from the standpoint of use value, and therefore takes exchange value as the target of the critique – certainly not an uncommon reading, and Derrida’s version is vastly more sophisticated than most. My argument has been to take more seriously that the “elementary form” is actually the commodity – not some part of the commodity – and then to tug on this thread, to uncover within Marx’s argument an analysis of a tripartite social structure in which an unintended side effect of our collective practice is the generation of a dynamic of historical transformation that is effected via the transformation of material nature and overtly social institutions, in such a way as to enact or confer on specific aspects of our practical experience, those qualitative attributes that we intuitively experience as “material” or “social”. This is a difficult point to express – for present purposes, suffice to say the argument does not use the concept of a “material world” or “use value” as an “unexplained explainer” for other phenomena, but rather attempts to account for the category of “materiality” and “sociality” (and, for that matter, “historicity” and a number of other pivotal categories) in their distinctive capitalist forms.

I suspect that a great deal of Derrida’s critique here hinges on Derrida’s conviction that Marx is too “spooked” to allow both “content” and “form” to float free, untethered to some ontological ground – too foundationalist to maintain that critique has no “standpoint” outside what is criticised. I read Marx somewhat differently, of course – as an immanent critical theorist, and so as someone not seeking an external ground, but still as someone who tries to answer the question of why we find it so intuitive, to think that the “material” world should be able to provide such a ground, to perceive the determinate qualitative characteristics we most readily ascribe to materiality, as simple negations – as what is left behind, once everything anthropologically specific has been stripped away. Marx also, of course, uses the categories he analyses – an immanent critique must – and so those dimensions of our practical experience that we enact as “material” realities carry a critical force in his argument. So do those dimensions of our practical experience that we enact as (overtly) social. And so do those dimensions that we enact as “spectral” – that are not subject to immediate empirical verification, but whose existence can be deduced through watching how empirically-observable realities unfold over time. But I’m being very abbreviated, and possibly quite unfair to Derrida’s concerns – I’ll have to take this up again, at an earlier hour, when I can do better justice to the text…

Fragmentary Thoughts on Anger

I’ve been pausing for the past few days over the thought of writing something on Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech. I’m not skilled at writing on such things, and there has certainly been no lack of commentary on this speech from other fronts. In any event, as always seems to be the case with current affairs, my thoughts are at a tangent to much of what – even I would agree – is more important to discuss about this speech… Just a few brief words then, tonight, since this tangent keeps nagging at my thoughts…

What struck me at the time I listened to the speech, and what has kept returning to mind over the past few days, are two themes: the discussion of anger, and the role subterranean anger plays in politics; and the more tacit conception of political transformation as a process that does not emerge from a “pure” space, where good or bad, ideal or regressive, impulses exist in some form untouched by their opposites. Trauma and transformative potential, while not identical, are intertwined legacies of contemporary historical dynamics – the possibility that we could be other and more, is part of what constitutes the traumatic, scarring experience of what, in practice, we are. Those who would effect transformation emerge from this complex crucible – scars and hopes, trauma and creation, interpenetrate. There is no untainted space from which politics begins. What distinguishes transformative politics is the commitment that something transcendent already does reside within our imperfections – that part of what we already are, is the possibility to become something better and more – that our present situation, in and through its imperfections, is not our fate or some kind of static given, but the seed around which as-yet-unrealised possibilities can crystallise. The movement here is very complex – a strange, difficult combination of acceptance and acknowledgement of our starting point, with collective self-criticism that refuses to accept that this starting point must also be an end. Obama’s speech touches on such issues – and also suggests that, absent the active assertion of the possibility for transformation, scarring and anger remain as forces that can be tapped and mobilised against transformative practice.

The problem may be even more complex. As I’ve written in relation to Adorno’s work before, there is a sense in which active participation in transformative projects aggressively confronts us with the non-necessity of our own scars and traumas – forces us to surrender the reassurance that our lives had to be the way they have been – compels us to give up the notion that nothing could have been done. Asserting the possibility for a different future involves the direct confrontation with the loss of that past that could have been ours – that past that now never will be – while at the same time we assert our own potency in effecting change. Adorno suggests that the psychological demands here are both high and conflictual, pulling in different directions. Particularly in circumstances in which transformative politics seem all too likely to fail, one risk is the temptation to retreat from what can be an unbearable recognition that history could have taken a different course: to endorse retroactively the necessity for our own loss by imposing a similar loss on others, to identify with and become part of what has created our own scars. The issue of what we do with our anger – of how we acknowledge and open a space for anger over sacrifices that have by now become constitutive of us, and that can therefore no longer be rescinded – is therefore a central political question…

Apologies for not being able to develop these thoughts in a more adequate way. There is a sense in which this constellation of issues – the hybridity of people and of our times – the inadequacy of abstracting individuals or situations into clearcut categories – is always very close to me, too close to enable effective writing… There is something about the simultaneous practice of a kind of fundamental acceptance, combined with a refusal to link acceptance with a passivity in the face of the given – something about the need to bind a fundamental empathy together with a relentless critique – that strikes me as central to the practice of transformation. Perhaps some day I’ll be better able to express what I mean…

Science of Logic Reading Group: Essential Hegel

Just a very quick note to folks following both the in-person and the online versions of the Science of Logic reading group. First, so that I won’t perpetually ping the good folks who have contributed to the online group, every time I do an organisational post like this one, I’ve finally created a page where all the contributions to the group are archived. On the organisational posts, I’ll profile anything new – this week, for example, folks might want to wander over to Monagyric, and take a look at Tom Bunyard’s “The ‘Ontologisation of the Ontical’ – Hegel’s ‘Sleight of Hand’ at the Opening of the Logic”, which discusses Adorno’s Negative Dialectics, Plato’s Parmenides, and the opening to the Logic – arguing that Adorno might have misrepresented what Hegel is attempting to achieve, and threading a different path through Hegel’s opening gambit.

Second, for the in-person folks: this is a good week to catch up a bit. Those of us who are reading the whole Science of Logic will be trundling through everything up to the end of Book One – meaning that we finally reach the transition from Being to Essence. This transition provides a nice opportunity for those who are dipping in more selectively: jump in at Chapter 3: The Becoming of Essence (how can you possibly resist a chapter with a section on “Absolute Indifference”?) – the chapter isn’t long (and, if needed, you can skip the remark on Centripetal and Centrifugal Force to make it even shorter), but will give a feel for the movement of the text as Hegel effects this major transition. Then, if you can bear with just a little more reading, peek into the very beginning of Book Two, and read the opening paragraphs prior to Chapter One: Illusory Being.


Georges de la Tour MagdaleneThe sorts of conversations that have been possible on this blog, and on the other places I’ve stumbled across since starting this site, have been more important to me than I can easily express. Online interactions can be difficult to navigate – misinterpretations are easier, conflicts can escalate more quickly, discussions can spiral in more negative directions, than similar face-to-face interactions. I’ve been active in online discussions of various sorts since back in bulletin board days, and so I have a fair sense of what can go wrong.

When I realised people were actually reading this blog, that conversations would be possible about my work here and at other sites, I wanted to see whether it were possible to incubate different sorts of interactions than I had had in the past – interactions where contention and debate could take place without the sometimes ugly spirals that can characterise online discussions. And I also wanted to escape some of the constraints of face-to-face discussions, to feel free to extend myself intellectually in ways that often aren’t possible in traditional institutional settings, to make an advantage out of some of the depersonalising elements of online discussion, in order to have conversations that can explore ideas in a way that separates those ideas more from the person who puts them forward, than is generally possible in face-to-face interaction. None of this is some sort of ideal of communication – I don’t think communication “ought” to be so abstracted from the personal – but it was the specific form of communication I was seeking out here, as a form of interaction less available – for me – in face-to-face settings.

I’ve discussed in earlier posts the reasons that, initially, I posted pseudonymously here and why, even when I decided to “out” my identity, I still didn’t use my first name, even though it was easy at that point for anyone to look it up: previous experience in online discussions had shown very clearly how quickly things could go in very ugly gendered directions – I wanted at least the buffer provided by gender not being immediately evident to drive-by visitors to the blog. To the extent this is ever possible, I hoped people might deal with my ideas, and not with “me”, unless we were having a discussion where something about my personal background was relevant. Again, I’m not stating an ideal here – not suggesting that this is what discussions “ought” to be, or that it’s inherently better to differentiate ideas from their bearers, or anything like that. I’m just describing what I see as a very personal motive for seeking out a very specific kind of interaction that is difficult to find elsewhere, where for a period I can worry much less about gendered interpersonal dynamics than I often can in everyday life.

Gender issues aside, I also made a decision, which perhaps I follow through on better at some points than others, to try not to take offence at the things people say or the way positions are articulated – to try to find the best point I can see, in whatever position I’m addressing, and respond to that. This doesn’t prevent miscommunication. Sometimes the best point I can see, still isn’t what the other person meant – sometimes other people are offended by what I intend to be a positive restatement of what I take them to be saying – things still go wrong. Generally, though, on balance, and with most people who have landed here, I hope I’ve been largely successful at communicating that I’m interested in taking other people seriously, in de-escalating and redirecting conversations that seem in danger of getting a bit heated, in having largely productive discussions, where it becomes possible – for me at least – to learn something from them. It’s what I’m looking for from blogging, and largely it’s what I’ve managed to find here.

Sometimes it fails spectacularly. One recent interaction – I won’t link to it, but have screenshotted it, blanking out the other person’s photo and identifying details. I stumbled across a blog referring to an event in which I participated recently. The post plugged the event, and then quoted some text from my blog, made fun of the complexity of my writing, and then asked a question about what I was trying to say. Part of what I mean, when I talk about trying to respond to the best point I can find in something, is that in general I seriously don’t take criticisms personally, even when they are voiced disrespectfully – and, if I’m going to respond, I address my comments to the substantive points raised, and generally aim for discussion, rather than for self-defence. So I responded; and the reply then consisted of this blogger’s description of the kind of sex he fantasised having with me (if folks care about this sort of thing in deciding whether to click through, it’s not a subtle comment).

My main reaction to this is a feeling of tired familiarity at how often exactly this sort of thing used to happen when I posted in discussions where my gender was more evident than it is here. There are some other complicating factors, which I won’t go into here, which make this incident less removed from my real world life than I would like. I don’t know what sort of discussion I’m looking to open, by posting about this… Incidents like this are depressing, in what they show about the ready-to-handness of this kind of behaviour. But I think what is striking me about this incident, is the way it reinforces something I’ve been feeling about publishing (as, of course, we all need to do) in settings other than the blog. Although this guy quoted some material from the blog, he knows my name – and therefore gender – from the conference program, where, along with all the other presenters, I spelled the name out in full. Every time I have provided details for a conference program or other material I knew would end up online, I’ve felt very conflicted over doing this, because it means that my full name now circulates, immediately gendering my work – taking away the possibility of the less pronouncedly gendered interactions that I’ve been able to cultivate online. I think I’ve been telling myself, as I hand over what should be this least personal of personal details, that I am being ridiculous – that I’m experiencing something as a loss, when nothing is really taken away. I think this incident stands out for me as an indication that I wasn’t entirely wrong – that something has been lost, and that a further level of anonymity – at least to casual readers – has been taken away.

The thing is, the way I’ve carved out a space here is, I know, a very apolitical response to a political problem – I’ve opened a level of freedom for myself by creating a small space of personal ambiguity, which has meant that it’s generally only the folks who stick around, who have some curiosity and interest in what I’m writing, who know much about me personally. This strategy doesn’t hit at the fundamentally political issue of how knowledge of the personal is wielded. So there’s a sense in which this sort of temporary shelter I’ve erected here has perhaps never been appropriate. But it has been more important to me than I can adequately explain to be able, for a time, in one part of my life, not to need to worry about such things…

We’ll see if I keep this post up :-) I’m not sure yet whether I’ll think better of it and take it down…

The Matter with Form

Apologies for the recent silence on the blog – I’ve been preoccupied with offline things, and blogging will unfortunately remain slow for a bit. I did want to point to a very nice recent post over at Larval Subjects, on “Social Multiplicities and Agency”. This post continues Sinthome’s recent reflections on the problem of how to thematise agency, asking whether the starting assumptions of much social and political theory – assumptions manifest, in particular, in a form/matter dichotomy – drive theory to oscillate between antinomic poles of abstract structure and agency:

At the heart of what I will call the “Althusserian model”, is the old Aristotlean conception of individuation based on the distinction between form and matter. While Althusser’s social structures are historical in the sense that they come to be and pass away and are thus unlike Aristotle’s forms which are eternal and unchanging, social structure is nonetheless conceived as forms imposed on passive matters, giving these passive matters their particular form or structure. The passive matters in question, of course, are human individuals. I am formed by social structures tout court and without remainder. In response to this conception– and I realize that I am unfairly simplifying matters –we should ask if this is an accurate conception of either agency or the social. Does not Althusser and other structuralist inspired Marxists severely simplify both social dynamics and the social itself? When Badiou speaks of the “state of the situation” “counting-multiplicities as one”, has he not severely simplified how the social is in fact organized, creating the illusion that there’s a monolithic structure at work in social formations? Do not Lacanians and Zizekians severely simplify the social by reading all social phenomena through the lens of the symbolic and formations of sovereignity (Lacan’s masculine sexuation)? Perhaps, in these simplifications, we create the very problems we’re trying to solve and end up tilting against monsters of our own creation.

Sinthome reaches for new metaphors for thinking the social, and finds productive resonance with certain themes in evolutionary theory, which provide tools for thinking, not the reduction of the social to the natural, but rather a more complex and multilayered conception of the social:

To draw the parallel to Althusser and similarly minded theorists– emphasizing once again that I am not seeking to apply natural selection to social formations, but to think the organization and levels of social formations –where the Althusserian form/matter social model postulates two thing (social structure and individuals), where one thing, the social formation, hierarchically imposes form on another (individuals), Gould’s model envisions a number of different levels in which distinct processes take place. As Gould goes on to say, “…[A]djacent levels my interact in the full range of conceivable ways– in synergy, orthogonally, or in opposition” (73). That is, among the different levels processes taking place can reinforce one another, they can be independent of one another, or they can be in conflict or opposition with one another. Were such a nuanced and multi-leveled conception of the biological carried over into social theory, we would no longer engage in endless hand-wringing as to whether or not agency is possible, nor would we need to postulate theoretical monsters like the Lacanian subject or subjects of truth-procedures. If such moves would no longer be necessary, then this is because we would no longer postulate hierarchical and hegemonic relations among the various strata or levels of social formations. Instead, we would engage in an analysis of these various levels and strata, examining the relations of feedback (positive and negative) that function within them, their relations of synergy, orthogonality, and antagonism, and the various potentials that inhabit these relations. Here we would need to look at the variety of different social formations from individuals, to small associations like groups (the blog collective for instance), to larger groupings and institutions, to global interrelations, treating none of these as hegemonizing all the others, but instead discerning their varying temporalities, organizations, inter-relations, points of antagonism, and so on. This, I think, is far closer to Marx’s own vision– or at least the spirit of his analyses in texts like Grundrisse and Capital.

I agree with this characterisation of Marx’s work – my discussion in the recent HSS paper of how Marx uses the concept of “inversion”, gestures at how I would begin to develop this position. I hope to be able to spend much more time on how this kind of analysis plays out concretely in Capital, in the coming months.

Sinthome’s post also resonates with the recent discussion of Diane Elson’s work (here and here), in which I was exploring Elson’s take on the concept of “determination” in Marx’s work. Much as Sinthome mines concepts used to think evolution, Elson deploys metaphors from chemistry to try to move beyond thinking of structure as something that subsists separately to, and exists in an external causal relationship with, what is structured.

All of these discussions remind me again of one of my favourite characterisations of Marx’s work, from Paul Lafargue’s Reminiscences of Marx:

He saw not only the surface, but what lay beneath it. He examined all the constituent parts in their mutual action and reaction; he isolated each of those parts and traced the history of its development. Then he went on from the thing to its surroundings and observed the reaction of one upon the other. He traced the origin of the object, the changes, evolutions and revolutions it went through, and proceeded finally to its remotest effects. He did not see a thing singly, in itself and for itself, separate from its surroundings: he saw a highly complicated world in continual motion.

His intention was to disclose the whole of that world in its manifold and continually varying action and reaction.

Compare with Sinthome’s lovely description of:

capitalism as a heterogeneous multiplicity with a variety of different levels, often at odds with itself, spinning off in a variety of different directions, calling for nuanced and local analyses and strategies

Apologies for the associative character of this post – systematicity eludes me at the moment… ;-) Much more on these themes in Sinthome’s original post.

Anticipating Hegel

I’m coming down with a cold – and working on Lukács – and one or the other of these things is making it very difficult for me to write anything intelligible to anyone else. I did want to mention, for anyone who hasn’t clicked through in a while, that Tom Bunyard from Monagyric and I have continued our discussion on Hegel in the comments here, gradually working out a common vocabulary so that we can figure out where, if anywhere, we might disagree on Hegel’s work. Tom has the final word for the next few days at least, but I hope to pick up the threads from that discussion as soon as I’m feeling a bit better and have gotten through some of the work that pays the bills (or, in this case, pays for conferences…). It strikes me, though, that this conversation might be particularly interesting for those who have been following the reading group, as the discussion revolves around the method and intention of the Logic, with Tom approaching things from a reading of the Encyclopedia Logic and my approaching from a (fairly tentative) reading of Science of Logic, and with much of the discussion revolving around the sorts of metatheoretical themes that Hegel raises in his prefaces and introductions “by way of anticipation”, before he dives down into his more rigorous formal presentation (which, among other things, is much harder to read).

Over at Grundlegung, Tom (not Bunyard!) has a fantastic post up on “Hegel and the Form of Law”, which also takes inspiration from Hegel’s prefaces, and then explores some of the threads connecting Philosophy of Right with the unpublished early work Spirit of Christianity and Its Fate. Tom argues for a continuity underlying the apparent differences separating these works (somehow this seems oddly appropriate, as an argument to make about Hegel – that his work contains its own immanent order, constituted amidst the flux of its own transformation…). In his words:

I take it to be a key feature of Hegel’s mature views that freedom (secured by a relation to law) requires two central components: that certain objective conditions obtain and that certain subjective conditions obtain. It is in light of this two-fold approach that I suggest that we can find a perspective from which the apparent tension between Hegel’s early and late conceptions of lawfulness can be resolved. In the early Hegel, the pressures shaping his reaction to Kantianism mean that the emphasis is laid upon these subjective conditions—namely, our orientation towards our responsibilities, how we think, feel and enact them. In the later Hegel, his more conservative tone (whether genuine or feigned to avoid the real threat of censure) leads to an emphasis upon the necessity of our duties as citizens and ethical beings, as well as the broad shape of the objective social structures needed to realise our freedom, and which Hegel thought that progressive modern states were approaching.

Nevertheless, I think we can see both early and late Hegel as bringing together substantially similar subjective and objective conditions, taken as encompassing our own comportments and wider societal structures understood via an analysis of the concepts of right, in his diagnoses of modern life. Both share the idea that the form of law, of universal principles, can present a threat to liberty. This is so whether the danger is agents becoming self-alienated through enslavement to laws they legislate to themselves, or through the all-too-familiar alienation engendered by the impersonal legal-bureaucratic sphere that underlies the institutions of modern public life. But it seems to me that neither of Hegel’s positions represents a rejection of law which would seek to replace the law with something else (e.g. desire, well-being or community).

For the early Hegel, the solution is an ethics that attempts to ameliorate the imperative form of law which brought an oppressive element with it. As for St. Paul though, whose influence I see throughout that book, ‘love fulfils the law’, rather than replaces it. (I am not sure how well this fits with the picture of Paul and the law presented by Adam here.) I have taken up the suggestion that such an ethics is partially illuminated by reference to the ‘holy will’; and if it is right to say that God is love, then a will infused by love may merit description as such a holy will. But again, there is an important sense in which law remains in place regardless; the universal demands of politics and ethics have normative force whether or not we can escape the alienating effects of the law-form.

In the mature Hegel, the insistence on the absolute injunctions of the law are easier to see. But this remains coupled with an analysis of the necessary response to laws if they are to set us free rather than dominate us. We find Hegel saying of laws, “they are not something alien to the subject. On the contrary, the subject bears spiritual witness to them as to its own essence.” Here, I suggest both subjective and objective aspects are in play. To overcome alienation from laws will require us to understand them in a way that shows their inner rationality, so that we can come into a ‘homely’ affective and cognitive relation to them. The flip-side of that is ensuring that they, and the institutions and practices that give body to them, actually be rational such that we can express our freedom through them.

Much more in the fully developed argument…

The Production of Labour

I keep meaning to put up a pointer to Praxis, which is always discussing interesting topics at the intersection of economics and deconstruction. :-) The posts over there are consistently worth the read, but I wanted to post a specific pointer today to a nice post up on Keynes, written partially in dialogue to some of the things I’ve put up over here on Marx’s “labour theory of value”. A brief selection:

The innovation of Keynesianism was to reverse the terms in which neo-classical economics had understood the labour-production relation. Neoclassical economics sees labour as the means to the end of production. Keynes’s general theory sees production as a means to the end of labour. Faced with the great depression, and massive unemployment, Keynes proposed deficit-financed government expenditure as a means to ‘produce’ employment. The actual commodities labour produced were incidental – as Keynes vividly illustrates with his great example of burying bank-notes down coal mines, and then digging them up again. Keynesianism – ‘rescuing’ capitalism from itself, and from the looming threat of socialism – can be seen as bringing into the open something that was implicit in earlier mainstream economic theorising: the extent to which economic activity works to produce not commodities, but wage-labour. And – as the social unrest that the great depression brought to the surface suggests – the production of employment is essential if capitalist society is to survive. This is, of course, because people need food to eat. But it’s also because the social system of wage labour serves as an incredibly potent mechanism of discipline and control. When the Keynesian revolution brought ‘full’ employment explicitly to the forefront of policy-making, capitalism, one might say, showed its hand.

I unfortunately have no time today to comment adequately, but at least wanted to put up a pointer to the post, which is worth a read in full.

Free Floating Discourse

Off the wall question: I keep encountering a particular formulation in the work of quite good students who are trying to outline their methodology for research projects. It’s not unusual for someone to say something like: “My method is discourse analysis”.

Now, I react to this statement, sort of the way I would react to someone saying: “My method is statistics”. It gives me a rough ballpark sense of what sort of thing the student wants to do, but is nowhere near specific enough (to me) to indicate what the student actually plans to do (and the formulation itself also strikes me as awkward, as if it doesn’t quite express the habitus for how the term would be used in academic writing).

My question is: I see this so often, that students must somewhere be being taught that this is okay – that “discourse analysis” is a specific enough term that further clarification or specification of their method is not required. I’m curious whether I’m running into a strange displinary issue – whether this term actually does have a quite narrow and specific meaning, such that it would be intuitively clear to anyone who doesn’t scuttle around across disciplinary boundaries as often as I do? I always end up writing things like: “But what kind of discourse analysis? What do you plan to do?” – and the sheer repetition is starting to feel crotchety and pedantic, as if I’m asking students to explain the obvious. Am I?

Science of Logic Reading Group: Countdown

It’s been ages since I’ve written a proper update post for the Science of Logic reading group, which continues to meet in person, albeit with a hiatus around the recent conference. This week and next we are tackling the mammoth section on Quantum and the not-quite-so-mammoth section on Quantitative Relation. The online discussion has been a bit quiet as everyone has been busy with the beginning of the term, other writing commitments, and similar distractions. I’ve added occasional posts, but mostly in the form of comments on isolated paragraphs or short passages. Tom Bunyard, however, has leapt into the breach, offering a fantastic overview post on the structure of the Logic – initially in the comments here, but now cross-posted to his blog Monagyric. In the discussion following Tom’s overview, Tom and I have also managed to replicate the major lines of discussion that have preoccupied the local reading group, so those who are curious to get a rough sense what we talk about in person, might want to peek in on the comments from around here.

The discussion with Tom below may not give a completely accurate sense of the local discussion, however: someone sitting in on the group for the first time last week, commented afterwards that it was like attending the Vienna Circle – so perhaps I should say, if you want a sense of how our discussions go in person, then read the discussion I’m having with Tom in the comments section below, but then imagine that discussion taking place among a group of positivists. Hmmm… I’m not sure even I can imagine that, and I attend these discussions every week… L Magee has generously offered, however, to take the blame for this association, believing that recent thesis work on document formats may have caused a certain positivist air to rub off on the group… Perhaps all this will be useful in the end, as LM and I are hoping finally to get around to our much-delayed project of writing something on The Positivist Dispute in German Sociology, for a conference later this year…

Moving right along… Some background on the group, since I haven’t posted details in quite a while, and an updated list of contributions to the online discussion:

Joining the Fray:

Anyone reading on who would like to contribute some material to the online discussion, but who would like a bit of background on the reading group first, can find some here. Note that, for whatever reason, I’m not finding pingbacks all that reliable lately, so, if you do write something, and I don’t pick up on it here, please email me to let me know.

Online texts of Science of Logic can be found:

In English: from MIA

In German: from Project Gutenberg

Posts so far in the online discussion:


Logic Sketch, Monagyric, Tom Bunyard – a follow-up discussion on Tom’s post can be found at Rough Theory


What in the hell… is the spirit of practicality?, what in the hell…, Nate, on the first Preface

What in the hell… happens next?!, what in the hell…, Nate, on the second Preface

Opening Discussions, Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, on the first Preface and a fragment of the Second (Note that I’ve reprised some of this material in the conference paper here – the paper covers a lot of ground on Marx and also on Hegel’s Phenomenology, but ties the comments on the Prefaces I make in the original posts, together with a more extensive commentary on Hegel’s method.)

Preparing for Being, Now-Times, Alexei, commentary on the other contributions on the first Preface

Masters and Slaves, Now-Times, Alexei, commentary on the second Preface, with reference to the issue of emancipatory possibilities

Transformative Negativity, against the Abstract Ought, Now-Times, Alexei, continuation of post above, with specific reference to the ethical import of Hegel’s approach, and with comparisons between Phenomenology and Logic


Hegel’s Science of Logic: Introduction, Perverse Egalitarianism, Mikhail Emelianov

Introduction (Some More Random Observations), Perverse Egalitarianism, Mikhail Emelianov


With What Must the New Year Begin?Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, on “With What Must the Science Begin” (Note that I’ve reprised this material in the conference paper here – the paper covers a lot of ground on Marx and also on Hegel’s Phenomenology, but the section on the method of the Logic is more accurate and complete than the material in the original post from which it was redrafted.)

Concretion and Appearance, Now-Times, Alexei, reflections on the relationship between appearance and Concept, spanning Phenomenology and Logic

Let It Be, Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, reflection on one aspect of the discussion of the “Concretion and Appearance” discussion at Now-Times

Not Adding Up, Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, reflection on the remark on “The Kantian Antinomy of the Indivisibility and the Infinite Divisibility of Time, Space and Matter” from the section on Pure Quantity

Mini-Posts and Tangents

The Most Stubborn Error, Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, comment on par. 356, on approaches that regard their own essence as a negation

From Something, Nothing Comes, Rough Theory, N. Pepperell, comment on par. 130-131, on the way in which indeterminacy can be a form of determinacy

Background and General Comments

Online Resources on Hegel – English, Now-Times, Alexei

Online Resources on Hegel – German, Now-Times, Alexei

The Comfort of DeterminismPerverse Egalitarianism, Mikhail Emelianov, reflections on Kant, Leibniz and Hegel’s desire to erase the distinction between form and content

Great(er) Scott!

So it’s finally happened. Prompted by an email asking him to identify his secret blog, Scott Eric Kaufman has just outed himself as the hitherto faux-donymous author of what in the hell…:

My real name is Scott Eric Kaufman. I have a public blog that you may have read. You may ask yourself, why is the public blog so much better written than the pseudonymous blog? The answer is that I never intended this blog for public consumption. An email I received prompted some soul-searching, after which I feel it is unethical to continue this charade.

The depths of Scott’s deception – the intensity of his betrayal of those of us who have interacted with him over the years as both “himself” and as his alter ego “Nate” – can perhaps best be illustrated by the extent Scott took to conceal this identity, when my own identity was called into question some months back. As “Scott”, Scott wrote:

One student insists N. Pepperell’s fictional, and I’m inclined to agree. No actual person could write that much that quickly and remain sane.

As “Nate”, however:

I’m under the impression we have an implied contract for mutual belief, which obligates me to affirm the proposition “N. Pepperell is a real person” and to not have truck with any speculation to the contrary.

So which is it… “Scott”? Which is it?


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