Books received over the past few weeks (because I have an odd fascination with these kinds of posts on others’ blogs) — Inventing the Future by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, A Geology of Media by Jussi Parikka (which is totally blowing me away), and A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh, author of the excellent http://www.bldgblog.com/.
After writing that post, I started to think about other examples of this phenomenon, and about variations on this kind of fantasy-driven argumentation. The concept of being “reality-based” became a meme among liberals after a political appointee in the George W. Bush administration brazenly brushed off people who care about evidence by saying: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” This accompanied his claim that “the reality-based community” is made up of people who foolishly “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” Where are we now, more than a decade into post-reality politics?
Does the aerial view afford new insights into how distant neighborhoods are connected, for example, or how criminals might attempt to hide—or flee—from police oversight? Where are these other, illicit routes and refuges?
Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Harry Halpin and Elijah Sparrow titled “The origins and future of informational capitalism,” which I found out about, ironically, via Facebook. I had a couple thoughts, which I’ll try to put together in an organized fashion below.
Halpin and Sparrow share concerns over the endpoint of what Marx calls the “real subsumption of labor”: the seemingly inevitable moment when we, the workers of the world, are all made redundant by technocapitalist machines capable of doing our work more efficiently than us, and for free. The two mock think pieces for asking questions like, “What will we do with our free time when machines make employment unnecessary?,” doubting the political viability of something like a minimum income to fill in for when we all lose our jobs to machines. This allegedly unviable solution is, of course, exactly the goal of the interesting but a bit passe movement of accelerationism: re-engage modernity and technology to steer it to utopian ends, while seizing power of political institutions to guarantee basic social reforms that cushion the fall for the formerly-working class.
I wrote this essay for a “Contemporary Democratic Theory” class several years ago. It covered a lot of topics that I don’t think about too much anymore, but I enjoyed writing it and am posting it here largely for my own reference.
Contemporary debates over democratic theory often center on questions of political subjectivity, of who should be included in democracy and how that inclusion should function. The deliberative democracy of Iris Young, for example, attempts to expand modes of democratic participation to turn back the tides of political apathy and exclusion. Chantal Mouffe, on the other hand, calls for a radical ‘agonistic’ democracy which seeks to maximize disagreement against the risk of stale ‘consensus.’ Against both of these positions, I consider a democratic politics concerned not with particular models of subjectivity or participation, but with the relation through which democratic citizens rule and are ruled. For Jacques Rancière, democratic politics begins with a presupposition of equality, from which political relations emerge that do not rely on any qualifications for rule or participation.
Nietzsche seems to mean by history something like memory or remembrance. In section 1 of his essay, he refers to animals as “unhistorical” things on account of the fact that they are continually forgetting what they have to say, so they ultimately say nothing at all (60-61). History is, like animal “rumination,” a re-digestion of past events (62). However, historical sense is present not only in individuals, but in peoples, cultures, and governments as well, meaning it can occur above individual memories to bolster or weaken cultural and national identities as well (62). History is a means of broadening one’s horizons; the ignorant person who knows little of history has a very narrow (albeit pleasant) perspective on the world, but an over-historical person may grow ill from the continual flux of his historical horizons (63). This, however, is really a definition of history in terms of how we study or relate to it. As for history itself, Nietzsche suggests that it is a series of negations (contra Hegelian dialectical resolution) or struggles “against history” (106). In other words, history develops according to those who momentarily step outside of history, who act “counter to [their] time” (60).
Jonathan Cohen interprets Nietzsche’s critique of metaphysics in Human, All-Too-Human as operating within the tenets of a “positivist” scientific methodology (Cohen 103), in which truths are universal, objective, and foundational, and are preferable to non-truths or tautologies. For Cohen, Nietzsche’s argument can be divided into ‘possible alternative explanations’ and ‘origins,’ which work in tandem to both decenter metaphysical claims to truth and provide positive justifications to be averse to metaphysics. Cohen concludes that this cannot effectively challenge metaphysics because it concedes the possibility of positive truth (as ascertained by science, either by the free spirit or the metaphysician) and does not adequately develop a perspectivist epistemology that could confront metaphysics’ claims to logical wholeness. My contention is that Cohen’s reading of Nietzsche’s science too quickly discards a few important nuances that distinguish it from pure positivism, such that Cohen fails to see how this Nietzschean science is designed precisely to handle the concerns Cohen puts forward.
I am interested in the ways in which TSZ’s fictional form, in which most narration is spoken through the voice of the titular character, Zarathustra, is perhaps designed to escape the trappings of the heady moralism which Nietzsche railed so vigorously against. I contend that TSZ is an experiment undertaken by Nietzsche in which important parts of his philosophy are demonstrated actively, and not merely described or suggested normally. In particular, the character of Zarathustra is produced as a ‘friend’ or an ‘other’ which displaces the notions of personal identity and Platonic spirit that Nietzsche wishes to criticize.
For Zarathustra, the self and the ego are distinct entities, the latter being an invention of the former (and the former being a representation of ‘the body’).[i] The body is a container for drives (referred to at one point by Zarathustra as a “ball of snakes”) for whom ‘reason’ is merely one of many instruments, rather than an overarching, guiding power or principle. The Platonic notion of the ‘soul’ is an error, assuming some concept of selfhood separate from (and usually above, metaphysically speaking) the immanence of the body. This soul is constructed alongside and for the same reason as an ‘afterworld’ is: to escape bodily “suffering and incapacity.”[ii] Consequently, the body is separated from the soul, the former being rendered contemptible and inferior. This separation engenders a kind of arrogance, demonstrated in German idealism’s adoption of a transcendent capacity for reason above and beyond the material world. It also begets a resentful moralism which judges “doers,” not “deeds,” which Zarathustra calls “madness.”[iii]
I once read someone express the opinion that Baudrillard is just “evil Derrida.” I think they’re right – and I think Conor Cunningham is “holy Baudrillard.”
I think the critique of nihilism expressed in Cunningham’s “holocaust/ice cream cone” section  is a pretty basic expression of the impetus that I first detected in Derrida and in the differentiation Baudrillard marks between difference and radical alterity.
All of them appear concerned with the possibility of radical alterity – the value (if we can call it value – Baudrillard) or significance (again, Baudrillard shakes his head) or importance (?) of mystery or enigma. This was how I originally understood Derrida – “difference” was sort of a pathway to this element of otherness, because it suggested the trace or slippage that inhered in every structural claim – i.e. that the other exceeded the structural calculations of the self. The term “condition of possibility” resonates here – as if nothing would matter if there wasn’t something more. I think that basic claim appears in Derrida (“the trace” or “the supplement” as only possible foundation to meaning), in Baudrillard (radical alterity/”reversibility”/”seduction”?? – as the sort of radical position), and in Cunningham (God/transcendence as ‘the meaning of it all’). This ethical concept provides the ultimate impact to their arguments.