Friday, May 20, 2022

The Human Use of Human Beings, Chapter 9


Summary of Chapter 9: The First and the Second Industrial Revolution [sic]

In this chapter Wiener gives an overview of the history of technological development, with an eye to distinguishing between the First Industrial Revolution, which was primarily about machines replacing human and animal labor, and the Second Industrial Revolution, which he saw as commencing about his time and projected to continue over the next several decades, and in which “automatic control machines” will be increasingly used to automate more and more of the production process. He attempts to feel out the relationships between various determinants – technological determinism in the form of the material qualities and [affordances] of technology at a certain time (and path-dependency), as against social and historical context. One of the main points he insists on is the value of seeing communication as not simply something that happens between humans, but also between humans and machines, and between machines and machines (not to mention, within a machine).

He discusses the problem of longitude in the history of navigation, and the influence of this on clockmaking and optics, which later influenced the Industrial Revolution; in part because these required delicate instruments.

It is an interesting reflection that every tool has a genealogy, and that it is descended from the tools by which it has itself been constructed.  (138-9)

He connects this to the necessary role of machines in constructing many modern machines; the available skill and ability to invent exists in an [assemblage] of humans and tools, existing at any given point in time. This drives the form which the industrial revolution takes:

It is thus entirely natural that those who were to develop new inventions were either clockmakers or scientific-instrument makers themselves, or called on people of these crafts to help them. (139)

One of the first steps forward is the use of the Watt steam engine to pump water out of mines, replacing brutal and exhausting human and animal labor:

The use of the steam engine to replace this servitude must certainly be re­garded as a great humanitarian step forward. (140)

[as if was simply the older technology, not the concept or function of a silver mine per se, that had been inhumane]

In the textile industry, in contrast, Wiener admits, “here, the machine worsened the condition of workers” (141). This leads into a discussion of the cause of the brutalities of the early industrial revolution:

A great deal of this was due to the fact that new tech­niques had produced new responsibilities, at a time at which no code had yet arisen to take care of these responsibilities. There was, however, a phase which was of greater technical than moral significance.

[By that second sentence he means the brutality was due to how the machinery necessarily operated, rather than to "any moral obtuse­ness or iniquity on the part of those concerned." Such “moral obtuseness” and “iniquity” do play a role, and continue to today; his point is that it takes time for a “code” to “arise” and be embraced by industrialists, regulators, and so on, limiting such moral obtuseness. It is to be noticed that, while he is interested in materialist explanations for technological change, on the social side he is purely idealist.]

He sees great importance in the difference between early factories, with one power source powering all machines (connected by shafts, etc. to communicate/transform rotary motion) and the 20th century kind, in which machines have their own engines powered by electricity; an effect of the change from mechanical to electric/wired transmission of power. Power is no longer one of the reasons for machines to be grouped together, allowing for a potential "return to cottage industry" (143).

I do not wish to insist that the difficulties of mechan­ical transmission were the only cause of the shed factories and of the demoralization they produced. In­deed, the factory system started before the machine system, as a means of introducing discipline into the highly undisciplined home industry of the individual workers, and of keeping up standards of production. 

[Basically he is trying to argue the point of something like the material potential of a technological system, as against the effects of [social organization, though he just says "moral"]; if the "fractional horse-power motor" had been available at the start of the Industrial Revolution, centralized factories might not have had to have replaced the cottage industry.]

He has an interesting discussion of the effects of this technological development on the distribution of knowledge among different categories of workers and creators attempting to solve such issues as the loss of power through entropy, and the amplification problem. In the older, mechanical system, there was a need for all kinds of “dodges and devices” based on the cunning of craftsmen; these are no longer needed with the newer electrical transmission, based on scientific knowledge and theory:

The design of machines involving such parts has been transferred from the domain of the skilled shopworker to that of the research-laboratory man; and in this he has all the available tools of circuit theory to replace a mechanical ingenuity of the old sort. Invention in the old sense has been supplanted by the intelligent employment of cer­tain laws of nature. The step from the laws of nature to their employment has been reduced by a hundred times. (146)

[A good paragraph to consider in relation to Braverman, or to Detienne and Vernant.]

Wiener’s distinction between the promise he sees in technological development, and the failure of human societies to use those technologies to their full potential, can be seen in his discussion of the invention of radio:

Let not the fact that this great triumph of invention has largely been given over to the soap-opera and the hillbilly singer, blind one to the excellent work that was done in developing it, and to the great civilizing possibilities which have been per­verted into a national medicine-show. (147)

Another theme he returns to several times is the importance of war in driving technological change, for example in the use of vacuum tubes. Another is the knock-on effect of automation: improvements in computing machines since the war means they are faster than humans, and thus more aspects of their operation (and related operations) have also to be automated, to keep up with them:

Their speed has long since reached such a level that any intermediate human intervention in their work is out of the question. Thus they offer the same need to replace human capacities by machine capacities as those which we found in the anti-aircraft computer. (151)

The possibility of automation thus becomes a need for automation; this is achieved by [delegating] more aspects of communication and control to machine-machine relations, rather than to the older, slower, human-human relations:

The parts of the machine must speak to one another through an appropriate language, without speaking to any person or listening to any person, except in the terminal and initial stages of the process. Here again we have an element which has contributed to the general acceptance of the extension to machines of the idea of communication.

He outlines the differences he sees between the first industrial revolution, and the incipient/upcoming second industrial revolution:

except for a considerable number of isolated examples, the industrial revolution up to the present has displaced man and the beast as a source of power, without making any great impression on other human functions. (153-4)

This has led to the devaluation of human labor:

In all important respects, the man who has nothing but his physical power to sell has nothing to sell which it is worth anyone's money to buy.

[This is kind of nonsensical, because of course manual labor still exists, and someone is obviously paying for it; and he will even mention the continuing need for "low-grade labor" later on. It seems more of an unthinking ideological restatement of the cheapness of labor being some inherent factor due to the present technological context, rather than to its exploitation; Wiener is capable of saying smarter things, when he stops to think first.]

“Let us now go on to a picture of a more completely automatic age.” He discusses how computers will become cheap enough to be used to run factories, through the development of sensors and effectors. Unlike the computers of his day, these will not be disembodied brains, but “will correspond to the complete an­imal with sense organs, effectors, and proprioceptors” (157).

Again, part of the process of change is not merely within the capacities of computing machines, but in the way of organizing production; the concept of “programming,” he notes, comes from Taylorization of factories, and is then incorporated into computing, rather than the other way around. The simplification/rationalization of work processes and flows pre-adapts them to automation by computers:

That which can be done then by a technique so stand­ardized that it can be put in the hands of a statistical computer who does not understand the logic behind it, may also be executed by a computing machine. (158)

[“Statistical computer” in that sentence refers to a human (what we now call computers are “computing machines” to Wiener); an interesting application of the Chinese Room scenario]. The upshot is that clerical and accounting work in factories can also be done by computing machines. There still may be a use of "low-grade labor":

But even a large part of the outside correspondence may be received from the correspondents on punched cards, or transferred to punched cards by extremely low-grade labor. From this stage on, everything may go by machine. (159)

The managerial viewpoint of all this is quite evident (per Braverman, the more expensive skilled workers are the first to be replaced, leaving only “low-grade labor” if this is cheaper than machines. However, Wiener also notes that “the machine plays no favorites be­tween manual labor and white-collar labor” although, in contrast, it will be the less-skilled white collar workers, “performing judgments of a low level” who will be replaced by “machinery of judgment”[not MIT professors! Whew!]

Some jobs will be safe from automation, due to the costs or variability of work:

I cannot see automatic ma­chinery of the judgment-replacing type coming into use in the corner grocery, or in the corner garage, al­though I can very well see it employed by the whole­sale grocer and the automobile manufacturer. The farm laborer too, although he is beginning to be pressed by automatic machinery, is protected from the full pres­sure of it because of the ground he has to cover, the variability of the crops he must till, and the special conditions of weather and the like that he must meet.

These changes might take another ten to twenty years, or sooner if there is a war, because of the demands on labor supply of infantry in a major war, and thus the need to replace human production in industry:

Thus a new war will almost inevitably see the auto­matic age in full swing within less than five years. (161)

He turns to the economic and social consequences of the second industrial revolution:

In the first place, we can expect an abrupt and final cessation of the demand for the type of factory labor performing purely repeti­tive tasks. In the long run, the deadly uninteresting nature of the repetitive task may make this a good thing and the source of leisure necessary for man's full cultural development.

[This is the typical talk of automation as savior of workers from those “deadly uninteresting” jobs; Braverman again is the key corrective to this, having shown how deskilling was the result of the first part of this [control revolution], and how it continues to be skilled workers who are more likely to be replaced than “low-grade labor.”]

It may also produce cultural re­sults as trivial and wasteful as the greater part of those so far obtained from the radio and the movies.

[This is Wiener’s suspicion of the capitalist system speaking, concerned more with its triviality and noise than with social inequality.]

There is also likely to be "an immediate transitional period of disastrous confusion." He provides a criticism of industrialists/entrepreneurs and their selfishness, which is legitimated by “the traditional American philosophy of progress.” A few prescient passages could have been written about the social media and "sharing economy" appsplosion of the 2010s:

We also know that they have very few inhibitions when it comes to taking all the profit out of an industry that there is to be taken, and then letting the public pick up the pieces.

Under these circumstances, industry will be flooded with the new tools to the extent that they appear to yield immediate profits, irrespective of what long-time damage they can do.

He interestingly compares automation to slave labor, and predicts this will have a disastrous effect on employment, in this case due not only to the capacity of the technology itself, but to the ways in which it is likely to be exploited by selfish capitalists:

Let us remember that the automatic machine, whatever we think of any feelings it may have or may not have, is the precise economic equivalent of slave labor.  Any labor which competes with slave labor must ac­cept the economic conditions of slave labor. (162)

He predicts unemployment and a depression far outweighing that of the 1930s; in which context selfish capitalists may still be motivated to profit, leading to disaster:

Thus the new industrial revolution is a two-edged sword. It may be used for the benefit of humanity, but only if humanity survives long enough to enter a period in which such a benefit is possible. It may also be used to destroy humanity, and if it is not used intelligently it can go very far in that direction.

But Wiener is hopeful because he has been to two meetings at which managerial types were aware of the dangers. And so we are left again with the hope that some kind of “code” will be developed, among the powerful of course (John Mackey’s “conscious capitalism” comes to mind), to constrain the abuses by the coming computing revolution. [Wiener apparently fails to consider how the previous code of laws, regulations, etc. limiting the abuses of the first industrial revolution, was the product of long and hard-fought struggle from below.]

There are many dangers still ahead, but the roots of good will are there, and I do not feel as thoroughly pessimistic as I did at the time of the publication of the first edition of this book.



Monday, May 16, 2022

Limits of Critique, Chapter 4


Summary of Chapter 4: Crrritique

I came to this chapter with great expectations that Felski would finally address the political side of critique, particularly the non-academic “vernacular” critique, which had been given short shrift throughout the book. She does address these to some extent, with many great asides and insights. However, the overall framing of the book – the emphasis on “critique” as a deeply suspicious and arrogant activity, and the definition of “critique” into a corner of what it is more typically taken to mean – is simply getting tiresome. In this chapter, as in others, Felski addresses a range of important and interesting issues relative to the practice and imaginary of “critique,” in particular authors who emphasize the ambiguous or complex character or situation of critique as a practice; but having adopted her framing of critique as a limiting practice that has to be gotten beyond, she is then forced to dampen down all these other perspectives, flattening them into the opposition between “critique” and “post-critique,” and just watching this happen again and again becomes a bit dull and disappointing. Felski, Sedgwick, Latour, and others have argued that critique has lost its revolutionary “steam” and become predictable and obligatory in recent decades; it seems “post-critique” achieves the same effect in record time. [“First as tragedy, then as farce?”]. Opportunities to get beyond the traditional idea of critique are repeatedly dismissed, in the interest of keeping “critique” in a box, in which it can be assailed in the name of an as-yet-nebulously defined “post-critique.”

Felski begins the chapter by imagining her readers growing impatient or having even thrown down the book in exasperation; Professor Challenger’s puzzled, dwindling audience comes to mind, but unlike Challenger, Felski is not going through some process of dissolution: she is holding firm to her argument and its rhetorical framing, come what may. She reiterates the point that much of the effect and prestige of critique is achieved through rhetorical stances and ploys, “invoked rather than examined” (117), but then, without any apparent sense of irony, uses her own rhetorical framing to fight and “puncture” the rhetoric of critique. She raises what is one of the most important points in her book, what might be called the paradox of academic critique: critique is framed as inherently oppositional if not revolutionary, but in some parts of academia it has become the establishment. Unfortunately the “postcritique” stance seems to evade this paradox rather than resolve or transcend it: the answer seems to be to give up on the idea of being oppositional or revolutionary as academics. [The fact that “critique” is a much more marginalized practice in the most influential and well-funded parts of academia is ignored.]

Felski iterates the important [critique] of critique, also made by Latour, as idealist/utopian, relying on some ideal society that remains “elsewhere” in time and space; this emphasis on an ideal means that practitioners of critique can always be suspicious of, or even dismissive of, any partial or moderate coming-to-terms within the present system – advances such as the legalization of gay marriage are shown to be partial and ultimately superficial gains which maintain the current system rather than allowing for true progress. This also leads to the paradox that critique, as a dominant academic practice, cannot be conscious of or accept its own dominance as part of the system that it is inherently suspicious of.

Nietzsche’s maxim comes to mind: “All ideals are dangerous: because they debase and brand the actual; all are poisons, but indispensable as temporary cures” (Will to Power, #223). By invoking the ambiguity of the pharmakon Nietzsche has actually out-Latoured Latour on this point – ideals such as the “elsewhere” supporting critique are not inherently or always poisons, they may be cures depending on how and where they are deployed [within what assemblage, how, etc.]. With critique-as-pharmakon we are back to the “how much?” question that seems to be much more fundamental (and continuously re-raised by successive generations of critics) – like all those before, the “post-critique” critics are playing this game with their own re-articulation, but have not developed a critique that captures this aspect of the game they are playing. Citing Vattimo, she notes the ties of critique to “a progressive philosophy of history” (119), and indeed the values and rhetoric she is identifying as at the heart of “critique” seems largely to be traits shared by modernity itself (including “post-modern” variants). With such a large, backgrounded formation as the ultimate source of what you are criticizing, the point of singling out “critique” to target by itself becomes unclear – perhaps a sort of argument-by-synecdoche [could “critique” be seen as that one vent which, if destroyed, takes out the entire Death Star of the modern?] or could “critique” simply be a scapegoat, taking on all the sins of the academic complex, so we can get on with business as usual?

Felski notes, but does not pursue very far, the “mystique of critique” (120), along with the question of just why the nicely exotic word “critique” was incorporated wholesale into the English language when “criticism” had already been around for some time [William’s Keywords entry on “Criticism” unfortunately fails to mention “critique” at all]. It seems that a good way to puncture this mystique would be to tear down the distinctions between “critique” and “criticism;” however, Felski’s response is the opposite: she seeks to strengthen and reinforce the distinction, in order to trap “critique” in a small corner of the (previously) overlapping semantic space. Setting up the rest of the chapter, she proposes to discuss five qualities of “the current rhetoric of critique” (121): it is secondary, negative, intellectual, “from below,” and “does not tolerate rivals.”

By “secondary” she means that critique never stands on its own: “a critique is always a critique of something” (121). Her argument here involves demarcating a clear boundary between “critique” and the broader, less suspicious practices of “criticism” which critique targets [though ironically, criticism in any use of the word is also a secondary discourse]. One of the better parts of this insight involves critique becoming a moving target a la the avant garde: each generation of critics critiques the previous generation, using critique better and more rigorously and showing all the hidden assumptions and layers of meaning which the earlier critics missed. She notes the spatiotemporal framing: critique looks backward at a past which it understands better than those in the past ever could have; not unlike the native subjects of early anthropology, the critics of the past are trapped, “contained within a historical moment” (123); the current wave of practitioners of critique, in contrast, stand outside of time, and are thus able to see more clearly [but cf the later discussion of “transcendent” vs. “imminent” critique]. My passing objections here are that critique is not only backward-looking but Janus-faced (toward that future “elsewhere” which she had previously criticized, but here forgets about), and that the critical stance of critique toward established truths, tastes, etc. is not simply about some will to denial or negativity, but about a contest between differing values and standards of valuation.

The “secondary” aspect of critique means that critique is always “ventriloquating” past texts and past critics, taking their words into its own mouth and delivering out of them new, previously hidden or unsuspected meanings. This important, Bakhtinian insight, unfortunately, seems to Felski to be a failing of critique rather than a key to its importance: “Critique, in short, cannot entirely protect itself from the possibility of being undone by its own object” (125). To insist that this is a fatal blow, Felski has to dismiss the arguments made by many thinkers who would see this as a central aspect of what critique is all about in the first place.

She raises and then somewhat weakly dismisses Adorno’s distinction between “transcendent” and “imminent” critique [though her brevity here can be perhaps excused, seeing as a similar distinction, and Felski’s collapsing of said distinction into one, was the subject of Chapter 2]. She notes that critique “opens up a gap” between itself and its object, in a way that is not merely suspicious or denigrating, but productive, allowing for “thinking otherwise;” but then follows this with what feels like an intentionally reductionist misreading of Foucault’s “injunction that we should challenge what exists rather than provide alternatives” (126). Felski argues that critique following this immanentist programme, somehow [stunted or perverted] due to its lack of a clear goal or outcome, finds its “impulse toward transcendence” manifested in other ways, primarily in the ethical/moral stance of the critic as outsider, rebel, etc.: “an attitude of restless skepticism, irony, or estrangement – rather than a systematically grounded framework” (127). What Felski seems to have intentionally missed is that Foucault’s injunction was a practical and political one, intended to use that very opening-up and open-ended power of critique as part of its praxis to create change.

Turning to her second aspect, Felski argues that critique is inherently negative, even if it sometimes has a “affirmative residue” (127). She notes Marx’s definition of critique as an “inversion of an inversion,” an act of setting aright that which mainstream ideology has obscured [of course, from Marx’s perspective, this would make critique a positive/corrective response to a negative situation]. Her primary target once again, however, is the rhetorical and affective stance of the critic, as having a privileged perspective “as if the negativity of critique were somehow beyond rhetoric or misinterpretation or prejudice or narrative, a nose-to-nose encounter with the gritty textures of truth” (129). Nevertheless, it is Felski herself who insists most strongly on seeing critique in this way. She notes the critique of such negativity offered by “post-modernists,” “Foucauldians” and so on, who prefer a language of “troubling” or “problematizing” to outright condemnation; but quickly dismisses these, flattening all variants into a “common ethos” of “sharply honed suspicion” (131). Here is one of the points where Felski’s argument simply becomes boring and predictable. The best arguments of post-critique, imho, are the opening up kind, not trying to shut down critique but arguing for a diverse range of approaches, in which suspicion is but one of several hermeneutics. But here, Felski is faced with a diversity, an opening up of multiple approaches, and her response is to shut them down, by arguing that they are all, in essence, the same. It’s like the promise of “post-critique” is hampered by its need to fight off and put down “critique.”

The third aspect is “critique is intellectual,” which is mostly about the use of language. Should practitioners of “critique” use common-sense, broadly understandable language, or obscure, difficult terminology? Arguments on both sides are marshalled: Minh-Ha weighs in on the perils of clarity, and Butler on the value of difficulty; Bové and Dutton, on the other side, weight in against “intellectual kitsch.” However, as Felski points out, “the quality of being either pedestrian or perplexing is embedded not in the words themselves but in how readers perceive and respond to these words” (137); in other words, what matters is the audience and the pragmatic aspect of communicating with them; “difficulty” and “clarity” are mere surface effects here, relative to context. Instead of fully embracing the implications of this insight, however (which imho lead to an opening-up critique of critique), she shifts gears and starts emphasizing the semantic distinction between “critique” and “criticism” in which (per her usage) “critique” is something academics and intellectuals engage in, and “criticism” is a more general activity of evaluation and discussion which anyone can engage in. She cites Latour’s complaint about overbearing academics who assume they have special insight which everyday people lack; Latour of course uses straw men for this but we can quite fairly insert Bourdieu’s concept of “misrecognition” through which everyone except Bourdieuian sociologists are persistently duped. Responding to this phenomenon she brings in the very promising argument by Boltanski and Thévenot about the “ordinariness of critique” out in the everyday world. But of course – to maintain the overall polemic framing – Felski cannot accept this as an insight or as a precursor to her own argument, but instead folds this kind of thinking about “critique” back into the elitist form. She insists that it is wrong for academics to refer to any such extra-intellectual criticism as “critique” because “‘critique’ is not a term of everyday language” (139) to which the first two responses that spring to mind are 1) sorry about that, Gramsci and 2) but “criticism” is? I feel this need to shut down the use of the word “critique” [uncritically, I would add: not as in “not negatively” (because negativity is not the productive core of critique anyway) but “without sufficient self-evaluation or questioning”] misses an opportunity to undermine the assumptions and privilege of academic critique [but then again, it is only critique that is being targetted here; academia and its privileges are not, and criticisms thereof are only invoked strategically]. For a more promising, open-ended critique of academic critique, we have only to look back at Sedgwick’s embrace of the term “theory” in a similar vein to Boltanski and Thévenot’s “ordinary critique.”

Of course, Felski – to maintain consistency – needs to deny the primacy or even the existence of critique as an extra-academic phenomenon for the sake of her next argument, which will be against the claim that critique is “from below.” Here, she finally references Foucault’s “What is Critique,” but only for the idea of critique as “the desire not to be governed” (140), which allows her to conflate this sort of “second-order” critique (per her use of this term in earlier chapters) represented by Foucault, Butler, etc., with critique that opposes itself to ideology, a la Horkheimer, Debord, etc. (141). She mocks critique’s self-image as “a blow against authority rather than the exercise of authority” that fancies itself as “allied, in some way, with the interests of traditionally subordinate groups” (140) on the premise that “those at odds with the status quo see better and farther than others” (141). “Critique is authorized by being rooted in the experiences of those who have been traditionally deprived of authority: the traditions of vernacular suspicion” (142).

The ability of academia to justly claim such a heritage or alliance is of course wide open to challenging; however, Felski perhaps considers this too easy and well-trodden a path (she would see it as a “critique of critique” in any case). For all that, imho it would have been the more productive and interesting path to take. Missing from any of this discussion is any concept of an experience of contradictions or a break, or the very possibility of Gramsci’s organic intellectuals. Felski has already insisted, and here continues to do so, that “critique” does not exist outside the ivory tower, so she cannot now take it away from the academics and award it to the plebs. In any event her agenda is solely to attack the concept, or rather the word “critique,” and the particular rhetorical-affective formation she associates with it; like Latour, she seems to have no interest in deflating the power or prestige of academia per se. She does give some ink to those critics who complain of the “domestication of critique” by the university, which she dismisses with reference to the problematic “domestication-domus” metaphor (145), instead of treating the larger issue of critique as a phenomenon recuperated (we might say) by the university, and the class positions and power relations that shape it. But again, this would be a “critique of critique” and is thus off the table; and after all it is not the university that is the target, but “critique” alone. For all the many great arguments and insights that Felski has made in this book, it seems we reach here one of the significant limits of post-critique.

There are several of these good insights in this chapter, but they are either posed as minor caveats to her over-arching argument, or kept safely on the “post-critique” side of the critique/post-critique distinction. She notes that “critique not only ‘detaches from,’ but ‘connects to’” (144), that is, is involved in the formation of networks, alliances, even that romantic sense a practitioner can have of taking part in a grand historical tradition of intellectual opposition, a conversation with “Kant, Marx, and Foucault” (135); she lists the spatial metaphors involved in the positioning of critique, “inside and outside, center and margin” (146). Echoing Latour, she makes a profoundly sensible call for a “politics of relation, not of negation” (147), without any admission of irony whatsoever, or of the idea that critique could also be more about relation than negation (despite having talked about critique-as-relation three pages earlier). It seems that there is much potential for opening-up and rearticulating or contestation of “critique” here, but that would of course be “critique of critique” – preserving something that needs to be destroyed while possibly imperiling some things which need to be preserved – [and an admission, furthermore, that critique is actually also productive rather than merely negative.] Critique is to be defined merely as negation, and that negation is to be negated. All the old attachments and chronotopes of “critique” must be smashed and replaced: I want to congratulate Felski and Latour for how well they philosophize with a hammer, but I fear they would insist, “no, no, this is not a hammer, it’s a post-hammer.

The chapter concludes with a discussion of the final aspect of critique, that it “does not tolerate rivals” (147). There is a very valid point at the heart of this, regarding the use of the suspicious attitude to shut down and/or silence alternative approaches. However, Felski herself here is intent on shutting down those critiques of critique which she refers to as “critique of critique,” (in contrast to her own, “post-critique” critique of critique). This is all dependent on her purification of the word “critique” into the corner of incessant suspicion and negativity; the “critique of critique” must always result in an intensification of suspicion: “the problem with critique, it turns out, is that it is not yet critical enough” (148: emphases original). My growing sense, from reading this and other discussions, is that that is only a part of what critiques of critique typically involve – instead, there is a contestation over the character of the gap that practices of critique establish in relation to their object; and there is also a “how much” or a “how far” question, of taking critique/suspicion further, or pulling it back. Felski, for instance, is in fact saying that “critique” is not yet critical enough, because it fails to consider the downsides of its own excessive suspicion, and should retreat back to a more productive point. This sort of recalibration or rebalancing of critique seems to be a big part of what is in fact contested over time in debates over critique, and the reason why I would include Felski, Latour, etc. as participating in such a critique of critique, pace their objections. And there is a lot more room for nuance and productive ambiguity in this space than Felski seems to admit. And it is really this shutting down or closing off of that productive space which is disappointing about this book, and runs counter to its stated promise. In the last paragraph, Felski cites Rorty to the effect that “the best way of redirecting an established line of thought is not to take up arms against it … but to come up with inspiring alternatives and new vocabularies” (150). Why wasn’t this the starting point of this book (as it was in Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter) instead of the end point? Why are we reading this on page 150? In any event, Felski is not yet ready to lay down her arms, but will continue battling on for two more chapters.

Monday, May 2, 2022

A Thousand Plateaus, Chapter 3


Summary of Chapter 3: 10,000 B.C.: The Geology of Morals (Who Does the Earth Think It Is?)

This chapter is famously intimidating both for the number of concepts that it throws out, and for the incredibly nuanced and complicated relationships established between these concepts – a reader might justifiably worry not only how to learn and keep track of all the relationships between kinds of strata, machines, and so on, but how much of this detailed understanding will remain important in future chapters – how much of Challenger’s lecture will “be on the test,” you might say. But this close interrelation between building and tearing down is in fact a key aspect of what D&G mean by double articulation, in the first place.

[In any event I have relied heavily on Bonta and Protevi’s Deleuzoguattionary.]

My approach to grasping double articulation is to do the opposite of what D&G are trying to do in this chapter – namely, to root it in linguistics, where the concept originated (with Martinet). In this chapter D&G are tilting strenuously against several of their favorite windmills – hylomorphism, structuralism, and most importantly for this point, the “tyranny of the signifier” and the “linguistic turn” whereby, under the influence of structuralism, linguistics becomes the model for understanding everything else. So when D&G borrow the concept of double articulation from linguistics, they want to resist this pattern of the linguistic turn, and show instead that double articulation is a broader phenomenon, of which the linguistic version is merely an example, rather than the model; thus they start with geology, go through biology, etc. before they even come to double articulation in language.

However, the concept of double articulation in language is much simpler, so it forms an easier starting point than D&G’s approach (imho). The two articulations in this case are phonemes (sounds recognizably distinguished from each other, like the sounds for D, O, G) and morphemes (meaningful units of language, like “dog”). The sounds are combined to make words, and the words are combined to make sentences in an open-ended process. Phonemic articulation selects and differentiates a set of sounds out of all those possible, serving as the basis for morphemic articulation; only the second, morphemic articulation expresses meaning. Leaving the proper Deleuzian terminology aside for a moment, we could say that the first articulation draws on the vast outer world of sounds, to create something like a kit of building blocks for language; the second articulation turns those building blocks into meaningful expressions. D&G will massively complicate this scenario, but I think it serves as a useful (and might I say, anexact?) starting point.

With D&G the two articulations become coding (per B&P, “the process of ordering matter as it is drawn into a body”), and territorialization (“the ordering of those bodies in assemblages”).

Professor Challenger starts his lecture with an opposition between the Earth as a Body without Organs, or originary Chaos, and the processes of coding and territorialization that draw matter from the BwO to form strata. He infamously and cryptically announces that strata are “judgments of God,” which is reminiscent of the opposition/interrelationship of Sky (God) and Earth (Mother) in ancient mythology (40).

This opposition is immediately complicated by noting that strata in fact decode and de/reterritorialize each other – each stratum gets its matter from a substratum that it feeds off of or draws from. To stray again from the proper terminology, the Earth does not exist as a BwO in reality so much as in potential, because it is already completely stratified, but these strata continue to feed off and re-stratify each other, thus recreating the BwO as a “plane of consistency” that forms the permeable borders of the strata. D&G distinguish between, and give provisional [and anti-Aristotelian] definitions for matter, substance, form, and content and expression (40-1, 43). Challenger attributes these to the “Spinozist geologist” Hjelmslev, who was in fact a linguist (whose ideas were the foundation of the linguistic concept of double articulation). The point being that this way of speaking about substance/form and content/expression has “the advantage of breaking with the form-content duality” (43). Matter (plane of consistency, BwO) is unformed, unorganized, unstratified; content is matter that has been formed through the first articulation, having both substance and form particular to content; expression (the second articulation) means “functional structures” which also have both substance and form. In other words the old Aristotelian distinction between substance and form has been turned into a movement from matter → content → expression (though this movement in turn will be further complicated and even reversed; the main point is to make the old substance/form dichotomy unworkable).

As a first indication of what the “function” of expressions are, they discuss the “relative invariance” of a stratum which these “expressions” create. In note 5 on page 43, they reference the “linguistic model of biology” of François Jacob, who aligns the reproduction of genetic material with the first step of articulation, and its expression as it shapes the actual form and function of the organism, with the second. “To express is always to sing the glory of God. Every stratum is a judgment of God” (43-4). The concept “God” is annoyingly absent from the deleuzoguattionary but seems to mean some overarching unity, in this case of the stratum, which the expressions function to maintain. Of course, this is the ancient Sky God of myth, separated from and opposed to the Earth, and involved with the Earth in an eternal and unending solve et coagula.

In a discussion of the simultaneous unity and diversity of any given stratum, Challenger introduces another round of terminology [which proliferation of terms appears to be part of his role: note how he had given his new invented discipline “various names: rhizomatics, stratoanalysis, schizoanalysis, nomadology, micropolitics, pragmatics, the science of multiplicities” (43). At several points D&G indicate the anexact character of Challenger’s lecture: the point is to avoid positing some single signifier which can claim to be the exact or precise truth or name.] The simultaneous unity and diversity of composition starts with the fact that matter is drawn in from elsewhere (from a substratum); as material it retains aspects of this previous territorialization/organization (which affect/channel the ways in which it can be coded, or rather the form its coding takes), and is thus an exterior milieu, external not to the stratum which it has been drawn into, but to the form of organization (second articulation) of that stratum [what we might simplistically think of as the “outside” will be called the associated milieu]. The interior milieu, in turn, refers to the substance that matter/material has become when organized by the abstract machine at the core of the strata and its unity/organization, which Challenger now terms the Ecumenon, distinguished from the Planomenon of the plane of consistency/BwO (49-50).

More concepts are introduced in order to further complicate and problematize such concepts as center and periphery, interior and exterior, etc., and to show that these can be used only in a relative [and anexact] sense. Epistrata are intermediary layers or forms between the center and periphery, that take different forms in the different kinds of strata; the annexed or associated milieu is basically the Umwelt, with which the stratum is involved in a give and take or mutual reshaping/affecting; the parastrata are the means by which the stratum interacts with the associated milieu (and acc B&P, forms assemblages with other strata). “A stratum exists only in its epistrata and parastrata, so that in the final instance these must be considered strata in their own right” (52), setting up an infinite regress which means that we can only take the concept of stratum itself as anexact or relative.

They embark on their description of three distinct groups of strata: molecular-molar (of which crystalline formations are used as the key exemplar) (57-8), organic (i.e., living organisms) (58-60) and a third, which they are at some pains not to call “language,” “symbolization,” “technology,” or even [culture], though it pertains closely to all of these. [The resistance to allowing this strata group a name of course counters the “tyranny” by which language seeks to name everything]. There is a growing degree of deterrioralization along the course of this list, which allows for an increasing freedom in the shaping of strata: the crystalline strata can only grow outward from their surfaces, while the independent linearity of dna allows organisms to be reshaped in their interiors, as well as to reproduce themselves.

The “third major grouping of strata” they insist is not really about humans so much as about a “new distribution of content and expression” impacting or shaping the outside world/Umwelt (hence “alloplastic”). “What some call the properties of human beings—technology and language, tool and symbol, free hand and supple larynx, “gesture and speech”—are in fact properties of this new distribution” (60). [“gesture and speech” being a reference to Leroi-Gourhan, one of their primary sources here.] They discuss the hand’s manipulation of content, and expression via the face, and by language; the “temporal linearity” of vocal signs; the difference between language (third strata group) and genetic code (second strata group). The “superlinearity” of language, or overcoding, opens up “certain imperialist pretentions on behalf of language” via the power of translation: translation is more than just the power of language to represent [aka symbolization] but “the ability of language, with its own givens in its own stratum, to represent all the other strata and thus achieve a scientific conception of the world” (62) aka the scientific Welt, a translation of the Umwelt into a ”sufficiently deterritorialized system of signs.” This subordination of everything to representation by one imperial stratum is “the illusion constitutive of man,” (63) but the new forms of content and expression produced by the abstract machine of this stratum are not illusory. There is a link to the Foucault book with discussion of technology as a “technical social machine,” language as a “semiotic collective machine” and “regime of signs,” and “formations of power.”

Challenger then states that there are three problems he wants to discuss in the remaining time: through these D&G will dispose of linguistic imperialism, Marxist assumptions about economic determinism (and psychoanalytic variants, as an aside), and evolutionary ideas about mind and matter.

The first is the question, “Under what circumstances may we speak of signs?” (64) Are signs something that is found in all strata, or are they specific to the third group of strata? Making an interesting link between symbol, icon, index and deterritorialization, reterritorialization, and territory, D&G then resist an expansionist usage of “sign” and relegate the term only to the third group of strata. The question shifts to “are all signs signifiers?” by which they mean, are all sign-relations locked into a “globalized” signifier-signified couplet, in which the signified is dependent on the existence of the signifier. Put crudely, such a relationship poses an assumed essential quality of the sign/ifier, which would give it the sort of eternal or universal character that could be applied to all strata. D&G instead draw in terminology from Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge to argue (again in my crude simplification) that sign relationships are always-already caught up in specific relationships of power and regimes of signs, and so never really have this universally applicable essence. They advance their transformed and malleable concepts of content and expression as more apt for describing the different strata and their differential actions of de/re/te.

The second “problem” is the idea of reducing content-expression to the base-superstructure relationship of classical Marxism, according to which the economic activity of the base determines the whole, with the superstructure playing a secondary role; D&G have been at pains to demonstrate that their content-expression relationship does not have this simplistic one-way determinism, so they dismiss such thinking quite quickly, with a few pointed remarks on the concept of ideology, e.g., “ideology is a most execrable concept obscuring all of the effectively operating social machines” (68), a criticism that both Foucault and Latour would each agree with strongly in their own ways.

The final problem is that of the presumption of evolution or increasing order or complexity: the impression they want to avoid, that these three kinds of strata are an evolutionary model, from matter, to life, to mind. To the contrary, no group of strata is more complex or advanced than any other, and after all the influence and interaction works in all directions, not in a unidirectional flow. They spend the last several pages summarizing and recapitulating several of the key concepts, including the plane of consistency, abstract machines, and the three different forms that the distinction between content and expression takes in the different strata.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Cunning Intelligence, Chapter 7

Review of Chapter 7: The Live Bit

The character of Athena, and her relation to metis, are explored further in this chapter, this time in relation to Poseidon and their shared control over horses, as represented in numerous myths and rituals, and in the mythology of the horse-bit. What makes this chapter most interesting is that it describes an agonistic relationship between humans and the animal power of horses which they are harnessing by means of technology: this involves a fear of that very power, and of the potential for loss of control.

An interesting part of the argument has to do with the ancient Greek fear of horses, on account of the monstrous strength and ultimate uncontrollability – not quite emphasized here, the fact that the charioteer or rider has put themselves under the control of an animal, who they in turn are seeking to control. The part that is not emphasized is the idea that this control is two-way; instead, D and V (following their ancient sources) depict this as a contest between the wild strength represented by the animal (and the power of Poseidon), and the cunning intelligence and technology used by the human rider (represented by Athena primarily, though Poseidon also has some relation to this technological aspect of horse mastery).

The adjective gorgos, meaning terrible or alarming, and the root of “Gorgon,” is often used of horses,, e.g. the gorgos flashing of their eyes (190). The Gorgon thus summarizes a frightening aspect of horses, their power; in turn, being possessed is like being ridden by a power that bridles you; the same goes for epileptics. Poseidon Taraxippos is the frightener of horses, in legends someone dies in a horse accident and becomes a frightener of horses, like a ghost at the bend in the track where they died, or their tomb frightens passing horses; there is an important fear of losing control of a team of horses, which can be deadly (191-2). There are also stories in which someone feeds wild horses with human flesh, and the horses then eat him (192-3).

The horse bit seen as a magical thing, because it is forged of metal (requiring metis) and because it controls the power of the horse. A new, improved horse bit (chalinos) was invented in Corinth, and this is linked to their worship of Athena Hippia; it is referred to as "pharmakon prau"; [so interestingly, this is also a kind of pharmakon]; examples of these bits being given as gifts by Jason to kings he visits, or as an offering to Athena before a battle; in Corinth the horse is important for the ruling class of knights (197). The bit is "a technical object which makes it possible to control a beast of unpredictable reactions" (197).

Horses are associated with Poseidon because they are [fluid], unpredictable, powerful; Athena represents controlling this force with human cleverness and technology. However (the authors argue), it would be simplistic to think that in this example Poseidon represents nature and Athena technology in control of nature (because Poseidon is also associated with aspects of chariot tech, and Athena is not just about tech); or that they represent successive stages in historical development of horse tech [they are probably insisting on this because their argument is that it comes down to kinds or subkinds of metis]. "There can be no doubt of the fact that religious thought does not simply reflect a history of technology in which the respective roles of Poseidon and Athena were to represent successive developments." (199)

They discuss three cases that help distinguish between the roles of Athena and Poseidon re the horse; "the ritual of Onchestus, the legend of Arion, and the story of the race between Erechtheus and Skelmis" (199). The first is a ritual in which newly trained horses are made to pull a chariot through Poseidon's sacred grove without a charioteer; if they crash the chariot, it is left in the grove. This is a test of their trainedness. The next example is the perfectly fast horse Arion, representing the Poseidonian horse; Adrastus has chariot pulled by Arion and Kairos, reprsenting the Poseidonian and Athenian aspects of horses (202-3). In an example from Mnaseas, Poseidon represents the chariot itself, and the art of harnessing it, while Athena taught the art of driving the team (204).

These different situations involving horses in which Athena and Poseidon appear as powers in competition provide us with examples of the various ways in which religious thought seeks to express the opposition and complementarity of two powers intervening within the same domain but each with a distinctive mode of operation. (204)

In the example of the chariot race between Erechtheus (favored by Athena and representing cunning) and Skelmis (favored by Poseidon and representing strength); Erechtheus cheats and wins, thereby demonstrating the superiority of cunning over strength.

In sum, Athena and Poseidon have separate roles re the horse: the Horse is ultimately Poseidon's domain, but Athena represents control of the horse, either directly or through tech (but primarily the latter: through wit and cleverness, over the strength of the horse (206).  Poseidon and Athena also are joint powers helping with navigation on the sea (213n95).

Friday, March 25, 2022


I would like to discuss the example of two competing versions of some lyrics by one of the great 20th-Century poets, Jeffrey Hyman (aka Joey Ramone). The printed, “official” (boo, hiss) version uses direct quotation of speech, whereas the lyrics as (apparently) sung use indirect quotation; this has pronounced effects on the way the subjectivities of the speaker and his interlocutor are developed in the song itself

The lyrics, as found online, are as follows:

Questioningly, her eyes looked at me,
and then she spoke, “Aren’t you someone
I used to know, and weren’t we lovers
a long time ago?”

Looked at her close, forced her into view,
Yes,” I said, “You’re a girl
that I once may have knew.”

In this version the reported speech (including that of the I who is reporting) is carefully bracketed and kept separate from the narrative itself. Self and other are kept carefully apart and communicate solely through speech, in fact through implausibly blunt, stagey speech. Compared to the sung lyrics (below), much of the development and nuance has been sacrificed so that “clear-cut, external contours” can be maintained, in accordance with the style of “authoritarian dogmatism” as per Volosinov/Bakhtin. Note (as you probably have) that in this direct-quotation version ends with a particularly egregious example of poetic license overriding syntax (“I once may have knew”) ( as well as the clumsy use of spoke instead of said in the second line).

Whether as an effect of the gap between script and performance, dialectal pronunciation, melismatic rock crooning, or some combination of these, the sung version, as I hear it, differs through the use solely of indirect quotation (if even that), which leads to a process of progressive contamination of (and struggle over) the subjectivity of the first-person narrator, who is also a character.

Questioningly, her eyes looked at me,

In the first line, the agent is not “her” but “her eyes”, a clue to the fact that visual rather than aural communication will remain central to the account.

And then she spoke unto someone I used to know,

The first-person narrator apparently agrees with Goffman that the “I” by which we refer to ourselves is “a figurea figure in a statementthat serves as the agent, a protagonist in a described scene, a ‘character’ in an anecdote, someone, after all, who belongs to the world that is spoken about, not the world in which the speaking occurs” (Goffman 1981: 147). He uses the flexibility this creates to avoid being addressed by making a perhaps Sartrean distinction between the I of Es and the I of Et (which becomes split into I and someone). Becoming unstuck in time, he does not recognize her as addressing him, but as addressing “someone I used to know,” even though this someone is his past self with which he refuses to identify.

and weren’t we lovers a long time ago?

This apparent quotation could be considered a mid-sentence split suddenly developing between the “narrator” (as a function of the narrative) and the first-person character, but I think its more productive to think of it as the dissolution of the first-person narrator’s ego.

The change of voice in mid-sentence (especially with that “and”) obviates the narrator’s attempts at avoiding identification: instead he is subsumed into the “we” who are both subject and object of this question. It is not clear if these words are in fact spoken, or by whom; they may be communicated by her eyes, or be posited necessarily by the very fact of these two people meeting each other’s glances. In a way this line is not quotation at all, but a metalinguistic commentary on the interaction itself.

Looked at her close, forced her into view,

Nietzsche may have felt that to speak of an “I” who “acts” is a needless doubling, a mistaken positing of cause and effect, akin to saying that “lightning flashes” (which is to divide the event into subject and action). Joey’s narrator, however, is here trying to regain his I-ness through first-person action, even if he not able at this point to regain “I” per se. Specifically he seeks a position as Cartesian subject, looking out at the world, and distinct from the world by means of this looking. So to “force her into view” is to regain his own identity from the encompassing we-ness of the previous line (and to describe the action in this way, as the narrator does, is metapragmatic commentary on the interactional effect of such a move of “close looking”).

just to say, you’re a girl

“You’re a girl” is not necessarily spoken out loud, its “saying” being more an effect of his looking, which repositions her as “you.” He is now ready to restore himself to being an “I”, but things will then rapidly fall apart again. This dissolution over the next line is accentuated by the music which consists of descending heavy, lingering chords, which each play predictable roles within the self-referentially “classic” rock model in which the song is written:


[Fourth]            I

[Minor Sixth]    once

                          may have

[Fifth]                knew

The confident fourth chord with its I is swiftly undermined by the troubled sixth, during which the narrator again tries distancing tactics (“once,” “may have”). But by the final fifth, which marks this part of the song as unresolved (it needs to end on a first), the narrative ego is again dissolved into a “he” or more probably the returning “we”, subject of “knew;” his belonging to this we is in fact the central message of the song, a message which the author resists, but which, in the interaction within which he finds himself, he cannot avoid voicing.

This interpretation of the lyrics (whether or not it is correct) leads to a much more nuanced understanding of the shifts of subjectivity involved. However, looking back at the direct-quotation version of the lyrics, the stilted, cartoonishly archetypal confrontation can now be seen as itself a metalinguistic reference to the more subtle, interactionally metapragmatic possibilities exploited in the indirect-quotation version. It therefore becomes clear, in the over-directness of their statements, that the interlocutors may not be “speaking” these words after all, but “saying” them nevertheless.

Goffman, Erving (1981) Forms of Talk. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Labor and Monopoly Capital, Chapter 8


Summary of Chapter 8: The Scientific-Technical Revolution and the Worker

In another short chapter Braverman further explores the scientific-technical revolution and its treatment of the worker, in particular its reduction of the worker to a machine. There had been two stages in capitalist/industrial development during the original Industrial Revolution: first, a change in the organization of labor, and second, a change in the instruments of labor. Those two stages, as described by Marx, refer to the initial industrial revolution; the ensuing scientific-technical revolution cannot be so simply described, because it involves revolutionizing all aspects of production, and manufacture in this time is also continually changing at every level:

It is in the age of the scientific-technical revolution that management sets itself the problem of grasping the process as a whole and controlling every element of it, without exception. (118). 

This involves an attack on the unity of thought and action leads to a “crisis:” labor as a subjective process is removed from the process of production and treated as an object which can then be added (or re-added) to the process conceived as steps controlled or designed by management. This ideal is not achieved in all industries, often for technical reasons; it also creates "new crafts and skills and technical specialties which are at first the province of labor rather than management" [though what these are is not specified]. Workers leave the places where tech has taken over, but move into different fields, some of which have been created by mechanization, others move into fields resistant to mechanization. Braverman promises to return to this subject in future chapters.

In addition to actual mechanization, there is the move to treat workers as machines. Gilbreth, the follower of Taylor, adds motion to Taylor's time studies, and new, more scientifically elaborated ways of studying and representing motions, the units of which are called "therbligs" (120). Gilbreth and his followers developed detailed lists of motions with initials that stand for them, like G for “Grasp,” TE for “Transport Empty.” There are also finer distinctions, such as subcategories of "grasp" [all this is clear machinification of human labor, preparation for automation, or at least dreamed-of automation].

To pick up a pencil, therefore, would involve the proper categories of Transport Empty, Pinch Grasp, and Transport Loaded, each with a standard time value, and the sum of the time categories for these three therbligs, given in ten-thousandths of a minute. constitutes the time for the complete motion. (121)

He gives further examples of "the charting approach to human sensory activity, visual, auditory, and tactile, which have been developed since the early 1950s and which aim at comprehending a larger range of work activities outside the purely manual, in order to apply them not only to clerical work but also to professional and semi-professional specialties." (122) The Universal Operator Performance Analyzer and Recorder (UNOPAR) records human movements using sound waves; other devices measure force exerted by worker, or "kinematic characteristics" of limb movement, etc. These allow the "human factor" of labor to be engineered ahead of time; instead of conducting on the job studies like Taylor had, engineers now use accumulated data to plan out work movements, breaks, etc. before even hiring people; from this point of view labor can appear to be something that is plugged in to an existing process. The numbers and statistics give the whole process an aura of authority; even greater authority is achieved as the calculations come to be carried out by computers.

Braverman provides a great summary of the view of humans as machines:

The animating principle of all such work investigations is the view of human beings in machine tenns. Since management is not interested in the person of the worker, but in the worker as he or she is used in office, factory, warehouse, store, or transport processes, this view is from the management point of view not only eminently rational but the basis of all calculation. The human being is here regarded as a mechanism articulated by hinges, ball-and­-socket joints, etc. (124)

He quotes a psychologist (Kraik) who in fact states this quite explicitly:

" ... as an element in a control system, a man may be regarded as a chain consisting of the following items: (1) sensory devices ... (2) a computing system which responds ... on the basis of previous experience ... (3) an amplifying system-the motor-nerve endings and muscles ... (4) mechanical linkages ... whereby the muscular work produces externally observable effects."

[This is immediately reminiscent of Wiener, who would no doubt wonder just what the objection is to this way of thinking. Per Braverman’s discussion, it is in part the critique of the "partial identity" in contrast to the whole or species being; or more generally, a freedom to create oneself (whether this is or is not seen as part of a "whole," it is about not being objectified or "humiliated" in Vaneigem's terms); and, of course, the struggle over control of the production process and knowledge, identity, etc.].

This attempt to conceive of the worker as a general-purpose machine operated by management is one of many paths taken toward the same goal: the displacement of labor as the subjective element of the labor process and its transformation into an object.

This means that a predetermined rate can be decided or engineered (based upon the authority of the data) and then imposed on actual workers:

In this, the manager counts not only upon the physiological charac­teristics of the human body as codified in his data, but also upon the tendency of the cooperative working mass, of which each worker is, along with the machines, one of the limbs, to enforce upon the individual the average pace upon which his calculations are based.

But, as Braverman notes in a lengthy footnote, workers are rebellious and the actual production process "assumes the form of a struggle, whether organized or not." Humans, like other machines, have "internal friction" which prevent them from working exactly as imagined or engineered.

In conclusion, Braverman observes that the process of abstracting and dividing labor into classified and generalized types of motions, is a process of making it abstract; this corresponds to Marx's concept of abstract labor, completely interchangeable, and shows that actual capitalist thinking confirms Marx’s analysis.


Monday, March 21, 2022

Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Chapter 2


Summary of Chapter 2: Ecology and Revolutionary Thought


The three planks of Bookchin’s argument in this book are laid out in the first three chapters, in turn: 1) the specific revolutionary potential of the post-scarcity condition; 2) the link between ecology and anarchism; and 3) the possibilities for the development of technology in an anarchist, rather than a capitalist, social context. In this chapter Bookchin lays out the second plank, making the argument which can be summarized as “red and green make black,” (i.e., a socially egalitarian and ecologically sustainable society will necessarily be an anti-authoritarian one).

He begins by discussing the links between the development of science and of revolutionary thought: “In almost every period since the Renaissance the development of revolutionary thought has been heavily influenced by a branch of science, often in conjunction with a school of philosophy” (79). He discusses the historical influence of disciplines like astronomy, mechanics, mathematics, biology, and anthropology in delivering shocks to the consciousnesses of society, undermining the complacent ideologies of earlier times, and spurring idealistic and progressive movements. However:

In our own time, we have seen the assimilation of these once-liberatory sciences by the established social order. Indeed, we have begun to regard science itself as an instrument of control over the thought processes and physical being of man. This distrust of science and of the scientific method is not without justification. (79)

[There is here a direct link with Foucault’s discussion of the history of the critique of the Enlightenment, in “What is Critique?”]

What is perhaps equally important, modern science has lost its critical edge. Largely functional or instrumental in intent, the branches of science that once tore at the chains of man are now used to perpetuate and gild them.

[and here, also interesting in relation to Wiener's mid-century complaints about intellectuals of his time, in the context of the growing subordination of academia to capitalist interests and models.]

Even philosophy has yielded to instrumentalism and tends to be little more than a body of logical contrivances; it is the handmaiden of the computer rather than of the revolutionary. (79-80)

[I imagine a lot of people today would object to the characterization of “the computer” and “the revolutionary” as categorical opposites; however, the point Bookchin is making needs to be recognized. The importance of the rise of computing in the expansion of late 20th and early 21st century governmentality cannot be overstated. Hence, it is reasonable to suspect philosophy in the service of “the computer.”]

Despite the subservience of science to capitalism and the state during this "period of general scientific docility," one modern scientific discipline holds out hope, and that is ecology. Its implications are in fact "explosive" and revolutionary; it is on the one hand critical and on the other “integrative and reconstructive.” [Bookchin does not state this here, but this two-sidedness is an important aspect of critique as part of a unified praxis.] Ecology shows the limits of human mastery, over both nature and humanity. Bookchin explores the analogy of humans as parasites: humans have become insanely destructive, and this makes them similar to parasites; yet, according to Bookchin, parasites aren’t inherently destructive in this sense but only become so, due to some disruption in their environment. The question then is, what is the change that has happened in the human social environment, which has caused humans to become parasites? The answer is of course the growth of the state and of capitalism over the last few centuries.

The imbalances man has produced in the natural world are caused by the imbalances he has produced in the social world. (84)

He places part of the blame on "urbanized and centralized society":

If we put all moral considerations aside for the moment and examine the physical structure of this society, what must necessarily impress us is the incredible logistical problems it is obliged to solve—problems of transportation, of density, of supply (of raw materials, manufactured commodities and foodstuffs), of economic and political organization, of industrial location, and so forth. The burden this type of urbanized and centralized society places on any continental area is enormous. (84)

[cf here Merrifield's accusations of anti-urbanism; yet Bookchin’s complaints are technical and logistic. Couldn't the same kind of developments that produce "post-scarcity" also correct some of these problems of distribution? In other words, if the problem is no longer production but distribution, couldn't a large-scale society (economically, not necessarily politically centralized) find technological solutions?]

Bookchin returns to the question of the emergence of hierarchy, as the cause for human parasitism:

The notion that man must dominate nature emerges directly from the domination of man by man. (85)

It starts with the patriarchal family, and leads to the split between "mind and labor" and "spirit and reality," and the “anti-naturalist bias of Christianity;” this comes to a head during and after the Industrial Revolution when market relations replace "organic community relations" and nature becomes a "resource for exploitation." [This is what Marxists call the "metabolic rift."]

In  addition to the industrial order or production, Bookchin identifies another order or aspect of society, the "consumer society," in which a parallel process (though this time plundering the “human spirit” of desire, needs for identity and creativity, connection, etc.) takes place that exacerbates and drives the former plundering of nature:

Needs are tailored by the mass media to create a public demand for utterly useless commodities, each carefully engineered to deteriorate after a predetermined period of time. The plundering of the human spirit by the marketplace is paralleled by the plundering of the earth by capital. (85)

He points out that the contemporary discourse on overpopulation blames countries like India, when the real culprits are the over-producers like the US, wasteful in production  and pollution (waste meaning both excess, and the inefficiency/toxicity of the production process); also the need for economic growth means this will continue to get worse. In addition to literal waste and destruction, there is an argument about objectification and simplification that drives this and/or makes it possible:

From the standpoint of ecology, man is dangerously oversimpliflying his environment. The modern city represents a regressive encroachment of the synthetic on the natural, of the inorganic (concrete, metals, and glass) on the organic, of crude, elemental stimuli on variegated, wide-ranging ones. (87)

In discussing this simplification, he returns to his massification/urbanization argument, that large populations are difficult to manage, creating bureacratization, centralization, standardization, etc. This "mass concept of human relations" is “totalitarian, centralistic and regimented in orientation" (87).

[This is one of the aspects of Bookchin’s thinking on cities that Merrifield was criticizing. In Bookchin’s defense he is making an argument about a certain approach in modernism, which he elsewhere defines as “urbanization” and defines in contrast to the “city,” which in his terms is a true community on an idealized Athenian model. A problem with Bookchin here is that, in this rant against standardization, etc., he seems to be oversimplifying (ironically enough) and not taking into account the individualistic side of capitalism, which of course has become more pronounced over the later decades, in part as a response arguably to this very sort of critique of mass media and consumerism (which was recuperated into neo-liberalism as a means of asserting a distinction between capitalism and the state).]

Authoritarian thinkers (which includes liberals, Marxists, and conservatives) used to deride anarchists as idealists, but this has changed, due to the threat of ecological disaster, and the possibilities of the post-scarcity condition: “historical development has rendered virtually all objections to anarchist thought meaningless today” (91). He claims that the “intuitive anarchism” of the youth of his time, is a reaction against everything that is wrong with society today; ecological thinking [with its reconstructive praxis] can "convert this often nihilistic rejection of the status quo into an emphatic affirmation of life" (92).

The opposite of standardization/simplification (which is what has created the human-as-pest conditions) is "organic differentiation,” and this is something that is a central feature of both anarchist and ecological thinking. He discusses going back to the small-scale farming of the past, which resulted in the development of [traditional ecological knowledge]; we also need more diverse fuel sources, such as were used before the Industrial Revolution reduced everything to coal, then to coal and petroleum [and the argument here is an example of Bookchin escapes the binary rhetoric of past vs. future, with such a call for an integration of past practices with new technologies:]

We could try to re-establish earlier regional energy patterns, using a combined system of energy provided by wind, water and solar power. We would be aided by devices more sophisticated than any known in the past. (95)

Bookchin’s call for a “mosaic” of fuel sources parallels the ecological call for “organic diversity” and the anarchist call for self-directing individuals and communities. Bookchin does believe that urban decentralization will be necessary to use renewables, based on, for example, the solar and battery tech of his time; but this fits as well with his argument that small-scale, largely self-sufficient communities could be more locally environmentally conscious and responsive, and this in itself would lead to a healthy diversity of local approaches to social organization and morphology, each fitting their own environment.

Bookchin criticizes the use of engineering "gimmicks" to marginally reduce pollution in cars, etc. The real problem is scale and growth, which will overrun these incremental advances:

there is a strong sentiment to "engineer" the more noxious features of the automobile into oblivion. Our age characteristically tries to solve all its irrationalities with a gimmick--afterburners for toxic gasoline fumes, antibiotics for ill health, tranquilizers for psychic disturbances. (97)

For the rest of the chapter he basically reiterates his main points again, that both ecology and anarchism call for spontaneous diversity rather than the destructive simplification and homogenization which has been the product of the current state capitalist system. He quotes the anarchist Herbert Read that “Progress is measured by the degree of differentiation within a society” as individuals are given freedom to be themselves and find their own paths; according to Bookchin, this is a common approach of both anarchism and ecology: you don't control or micromanage a system, but allow diversity to form spontaneously. “Their object is not to rule a domain, but to release it” (100).

He repeats the call for decentralization: cities should be reduced in size in order to “create real communities;” the model is the Athenian ecclesia, a face-to-face democracy in which everyone has an opportunity to be involved and contribute.

Electronic devices such as telephones, telegraphs, radios and television receivers should be used as little as possible to mediate the relations between people. (101)

In a true, face to face democracy, political relations can become personal ones (an interesting revision of the term “the personal is political”):

all members of the community should have an opportunity to acquire in full the measure of anyone who addresses the assembly. They should be in a position to absorb his attitudes, study his expressions, and weigh his motives as well as his ideas in a direct personal encounter and through face-to-face discussion.

Members of these communities should not merely be limited to specialized trades but should experience a wide variety of trades, etc; the epitome of Marx's “hunt in the morning, criticize after dinner” ideal:

To separate the engineer from the soil, the thinker from the spade, and the farmer from the industrial plant promotes a degree of vocational overspecialization that leads to a dangerous measure of social control by specialists. (102)

[The above is roughly Bookchin's version of Braverman's thesis.] The anarchist society would form an "ecosystem" of small-scale, self-sufficient communities, with "moderate population size" centered on the local ecosystem, basically an "ecotopia" idea. Local communities will take different forms, in adaptation to their environmental circumstances:

an exciting, often dramatic, variety of communal forms—here marked by architectural and industrial adaptations to semi-arid ecosystems, there to grasslands, elsewhere by adaptation to forested areas. (103)

In a non-hierarchical society, differences will be valued and encouraged instead of subsumed under a hierarchical model of superior and inferior; individuals will be able to achieve their full potential (104).



Sunday, March 13, 2022

The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire, Part 3


Summary of Part III: Modernity

In this section, there is a strong feeling of Benjamin’s mode of composition of the essay from his clippings gathered in the Arcades Project. You can see him gathering his clippings and quotations into groups, first under the higher headings (Bohemian, Flaneur, Modernity), then here, under "Modernity," into further subheadings (writing as work/fencing, the ragpicker, the apache, antiquity as modernity, etc.) which he strings along in turn. Since he rarely gives an overall summary of how these are related to each other, the reader is left to infer this for themself.

The first point has to do with Baudelaire’s writing and representation of the city as a kind of dangerous, even perilous labor. Baudelaire saw writing poetry as work, and Benjamin compares it to the labor of Guys in painting (as described by Baudelaire in the Painter of Modern Life). Though Baudelaire wrote favorably of the flaneur, he himself was not one. The [modern hero or representer of the city] is distinguished from several types of "observer:" first the flaneur, also the "amateur detective" and the badaud, or rubbernecker (98-9); observation is a "priggish habit," per Chesterton. In contrast, Baudelaire and Dickens are absent-minded dreamers who wander the city: "Dickens did not stamp these places on his mind; he stamped his mind on these places."" (99, quoted from GK Chesterton)

Benjamin uses the language of "shocks" and "parries," and fencing,  though not referencing urban environment but events of Baudelaire's life, and his writing in response:

The shocks that his worries caused him and the myriad ideas with which he parried them were reproduced by Baudelaire the poet in the feints of his prosody. Recognizing the labor that he devoted to his poems under the image of fencing means learning to comprehend them as a continual series of tiny improvisations. (99)

 For Baudelaire the street became a place of refuge from creditors, this he made a "virtue of necessity":

But in flanerie, there was from the outset an awareness of the fragility of this existence. It makes a virtue out of necessity, and in this it displays the structure which is in every way characteristic of Baudelaire's conception of the hero. (100)

Baudelaire was "overtaxed," and lacked control over his own means of production, or an apartment, good clothes, etc. Through an emphasis on Baudelaire’s hard work and penury, Benjamin establishes links between Baudelaire as poet and the lumpen, "dangerous classes" etc. – though he will later pull Baudelaire back from this linkage, in a sort of dialectical move. In any event Baudelaire portrayed proletarians in their everyday lives as being as brave as gladiators.

Benjamin discusses the idea of suicide as a noble gesture, practiced by the proletariat as a form of resistance to the brutality of modernity; according to Benjamin, this is different than how suicide was seen in ancient times, in which the suicides were somehow noble or exceptions of some kind. Suicide is a distinctly modern thing; [though this complicates the opposition Benjamin has already made between Baudelaire and Balzac etc. as [realist-era] moderns in an opposition against the preceding "romantics," of whom who could be more a clear example than Goethe's Young Werther?]

Benjamin gives a nuanced discussion of how somber blacks and greys came to dominate men’s clothing during the 19th Century. This is on the one hand part of the beautiful aspects of the specifically modern which Baudelaire wants the painter of modern life to illustrate: yet there is also a mocking aspect to his description of a nation of everyone dressed as undertakers, as if “We are all attendants at some kind of funeral” (106). Benjamin describes the later critique of men's fashion by Friedrich Theodor Vischer and its similarity to Baudelaire’s in emphasizing the ridiculousness of modern somber fashion as also at the same time somehow democratic, or at least moreso than the earlier eras when the wealthy emphasized their difference through the richness of their clothing [procession to circulation here]. [Nevertheless there is a contradiction here which Benjamin does not seem to fully emphasize, not to mention that while he situates the origin in the contest between democratic and monarchist regimes in 19th century France, there is an earlier history coming from the Protestant Reformation. I am thinking of Rembrandt's group portraits of Dutch bourgeois men, all nearly identical in their somber democratic Protestant black, which they nevertheless distinguish by the finery of their textiles, showing that they are in fact wealthy and not commoners. Or in the 19th and 20th Century American cities, in which most men dressed practically identically in suit, tie, and hat, but the wealthy are wearing tailored suits from prestigious makers, and the poor are wearing mass-produced suits off the rack. Or in 21st Century Silicon Valley, etc. culture, which adopts the democratic hoodie and jeans, but then these are super-expensive designer hoodies and jeans, and so on.]

Benjamin turns to how Baudelaire and writers like him celebrated the “apache” (an urban ne'er-do-well)  or the chiffonier or ragpicker as hero; [the key question is, how is this personage presented differently as "hero," than in the panoramic/flaneuristic literature? The difference appears to be that there is a parallel between the ragpicker and the poet who is describing them, in terms of their activity: Baudelaire sees himself in the ragpicker, or vice versa? There is apparently at least a respect for these urban characters as “heroes,” as opposed to the flaneuristic representation of them as images for bourgeois consumption, but frankly Benjamin may assert this but does not go far to demonstrate it.]

The poet and the ragpicker are linked in an “extended metaphor.” Even their gait or way of movement through the city is equated:

This is the gait of the poet who roams the city in search of rhyme-booty; it is also the gait of the ragpicker, who is obliged to come to a halt every few moments to gather up the refuse he encounters. (108-9)

According to the translators, Benjamin here borrows a term from Brecht, "Gestus," to describe this gait or characteristic [in the original German, but translated out as “gait?” It is unclear]. (252n221).

Baudelaire felt some need for modernity to become antiquity, meaning apparently to achieve greatness in art etc., sufficient to be admired by later epochs. This is linked to his valuation of modern life as subject matter for art, and the idea that antiquity should “serve as a model only where construction is concerned; the substance and the inspiration of a work are the concern of modernity." (110) In the Guys essay, Baudelaire defines modernity as "the transitory, fleeting beauty of our present life." [Benjamin’s interest in drawing out and emphasizing Baudelaire’s juxtaposition and mixing of modernity and antiquity is perhaps an example of his practice of the dialectical image, a way of destabilizing the categories of modern and ancient, more particularly the modern?]

Baudelaire's theory of beauty, from the Painter of Modern life, regards the interaction of two elements: one is "constant, immutable," and the other is "relative, limited," derived from the current milieu (i.e., the modern) (110, quoted from Baud). Benjamin adds, hysterically: "One cannot say that this is a profound analysis" (111). Benjamin criticizes Baudelaire's theory of art as not living up to his own work, and being inadequate for the time: the poem "Le Cygne" is presented as an example, with the city as brittle and changing, with the famous line about the city changing faster than a mortal's heart. Benjamin quotes Peguy about Hugo, to show what Baudelaire wanted: Hugo could see in the beggar on the street, the ancient beggar; in the modern fireplace the ancient hearth, etc.

Benjamin discusses the Victorian fascination with visions of Paris, London, etc. as future ruins, and also the city as doomed [Baudrillard's much later concept of “exposure” a la the WTC fits here] and as involving some impeding urge to suicide, which is the "passion moderne" (114). Maxime Du Camp has a vision of Paris as future ruins, and is moved to write a description of the city as the ancient authors had failed to write of their now ruined cities, in the past. Benjamin links this to the concurrent destruction and rebuilding of Paris by Haussmann. [Thus it is the changing nature of the modern city which compels the writers to try and capture it for the future; there is a need for a sense of fragility and vanishing, in order for this momentary capture to be understood as desirable or necessary/urgent]. This is in fact what Benjamin means by an "image":

"Les poetes sont plus inspires par les images que par la presence meme des objets;" said Joubert. The same is true of artists. When one knows that something will soon be removed from one's gaze, that thing becomes an image. Presumably this is what happened to the streets of Paris at that time. (115)

However, Baudelaire himself is not impressed with the future ruins image so much but the idea of [a living?] antiquity springing directly out of modernity, and thus he prefers the detailed engravings of Charles Meryon that gave a sense both of detailed lifelikeness of the modern, and the timelessness of antiquity. Benjamin makes a reference to "allegory" as the form or means of "interpenetration of antiquity and modernity": 

For in Meryon, too, there is an interpenetration of classical antiquity and modernity, and in him, too, the form of this superimposition – allegory – appears unmistakably. (116)

Modernity's constant renewal and consuming of itself means that the modernity of Baudelaire's time is indeed already antique:

To be sure, Paris is still standing and the great tendencies of social development are still the same. But the more constant they have remained, the more everything that stood under the sign of the "truly new" has been rendered obsolete by the experience of them. Modernity has changed most of all, and the antiquity it was supposed to contain really presents a picture of the obsolete. (118-9)

The next pile of clippings Benjamin assembles are on the subject of lesbians as modern heroes (119). He links this to Saint-Simonianism which celebrated the image of the androgyne or hermaphrodite, and discusses Claire Démar's early Saint-Simonian feminism, and her plan to abolish motherhood through a [Spartan] style system (119-20). Benjamin situates this historically, talking about the "masculinization" of the "feminine habitus" through factory work, and in "higher forms of production." Baudelaire had a fascination with this, his stance was ultimately contradictory, as revealed through his poems. Benjamin quotes Lemaitre on Baudelaire’s contradictory attitude toward women and to modernity; yet, according to Benjamin, this contradiction was what Baudelaire was aiming for:

To present this attitude as a great achievement of the will accorded with Baudelaire's spirit. But the other side of the coin is a lack of conviction, insight, and steadiness. In all his endeavors, Baudelaire was subject to abrupt, shock-like changes; his vision of another way of living life to extremes was thus all the more alluring.

[The overall fascination Benjamin has with Baudelaire and his time seems to be with its incompleteness or unachieved possibility. Baudelaire achieves partial insights but then draws back from them or rejects them. This was prefaced earlier in the essay in the context of Baudelaire’s class position and his linkage with the bourgeois “professional conspirators,” who, not truly linked with or representing the truly revolutionary class, were doomed to fail. This link will return at the end of this section when Baudelaire is compared again to Blanqui, whom Benjamin treats as the exemplar of this conspiratorial type, both admirable and pathetic at once.]

The subject of poetic rhythm comes up in a discussion of Baudelaire’s poem, “L'Invitation au voyage:”

This famous stanza has a rocking rhythm; its movement seizes the ships which lie moored in the canals. To be rocked between extremes: this is the privilege of ships, and this is what Baudelaire longed for. (124) 

[In this reference to rhythm Benjamin contradicts Bakhtin's claim, according to which rhythm is a form of stylization which removes the poem from reality, and monologizes it under the voice of the poet. Here, in contrast, rhythm is affective, an impress of the actual view or experience of the rocking boat, into the poem, and into the experience of the reader or listener [i.e., something analogue is carried through]. This in turn perhaps demonstrates Baudelaire's susceptability, his openness to shocks, etc., and even a place for the non-human in the “polyphonic” and “heteroglossic.”]

The image of the boats is significant to Benjamin’s argument, because they embody a contradiction, in that that they are tied up, yet beckoning to sail away; this is like the modern hero:

The hero is as strong, as ingenious, as harmonious, and as well-built as those boats. But the high seas beckon to him in vain, for his life is under the sway of an ill star. Modernity turns out to be his doom. There are no provisions for him in it; it has no use for his type. It moors him fast in the secure harbor forever and abandons him to everlasting idleness. Here, in his last incarnation, the hero appears as a dandy.

[With this description of the hero as dandy, we are of course reminded that we are in the Second Empire, in which there is considered no hope, no room for innovation or advancement, etc. [one of the “No Future” generations, at least in Benjamin’s telling]. This somewhat constrains the overall applicability of the "modern hero" as described here, to other stages or periods of the modern, does it not?]

Benjamin describes the modern hero with a quote from Baudelaire: "a Hercules with no labors to accomplish" (124). Benjamin links dandyism to bourgeois merchants, who desire to avoid or not show the shocks of trade, and changing fortunes [it is a pretense or artifice that covers one up]; Baudelaire himself was not a successful dandy because he was too strange, when it requires a balancing act. [The discussion here of the dandy is very short, and little of the complex class issues are gone into]. The point seems rather to raise and then dismiss the equivalence of the writer-as-modern-hero with the dandy (whom Baudelaire had described as the last of the heroes) because the "modern hero" is in fact not a "hero":

Because he did not have any convictions, he assumed, ever new forms himself. Flaneur, apache, dandy, and ragpicker were so many roles to him. For the modern hero is no hero; he is a portrayer of heroes.  (125)

So now we see the list of (proletarian and bourgeois) heroes, oppositional to modernity (apache, ragpicker, flaneur and dandy) are pulled back away from the modern hero, who either fails to become one or never could have been one of them. The “extended metaphor” ends here.

Turning to the subject of poetic language, Benjamin asserts that Baudelaire, like some other writers in his time, fought against the "segregation" of words into those worthy of lyric or tragic poetry ("elevated speech") and those words which were not, being too urban, modern, intimate, or crude. Baudelaire also pursues this line in his use of words and images for allegories and metaphors, which is part of what makes his writing surprising and effective. Benjamin ends this section by comparing the effect of Baudelaire’s writing to a protest march by Blanqui and his forces in 1870 during the funeral procession of Victor Noir (about a year and a half before the Commune): "Baudelaire's poetry has preserved in words the strength that made such a thing possible." (129)

With this comparison of these two figures that Benjamin had begun the essay by contrasting, the image of the modern hero becomes that of someone produced by, trapped in, and fighting against their own time:

But the differences between [Baudelaire and Blanqui] are superficial compared to their profound similarities: their obstinacy and their impatience, the power of their indignation and their hatred, as well as the impotence which was their common lot. (129)

[It seems there may also be something in this regarding Baudelaire and Blanqui being limited to their own class perspective and position, despite their empathy for the proletariat.]