Monday, December 12, 2011

A Stiegler Follow Up Post

Peter Gratton links to my review of Stiegler's For a New Critique of Political Economy and notes:
I would think Devin would question some of the Marxian categories he introduces–the task of some of his current work–but I think he brings them up not to say Stiegler is wrong because he’s fallen afoul of doctrinaire Marxism, but simply that if you’re going to critique Marx, you better get him right.
Discussing Marx--without becoming mired in the numerous debates over Marx and Marxist theory--in the forum of a book review can be challenging, especially in discussions of political economy, where it is quite easy to come off as dogmatic. Peter thankfully points out that this is not what I am doing. And yet, unfortunately, my recent work on Rancière and Marx has yet to see the light of day in published form, which means the reader sees the results of the work, and not the process of critique behind it. 

What I am trying to do, in the review of Stiegler, is discuss his work in relation to those aspects of Marx's thought that I think have (or should have) bearing on contemporary debates. If we're going to talk about political economy, then I think we have to talk about expropriation and class within capitalism, and if we're going to talk about neoliberalism, then--following David Harvey--I think it is necessary to discuss aspects of what he calls accumulation by dispossession. Especially if you're going to pay tribute the to the 150th anniversary of Marx's Contributions to a Critique of Political Economy (1859).

But I'm doing more in other parts of the review than using Marx as a heuristic device for criticizing Stiegler. So, when I bring up the distinction between objectification (Vergegenständlichung) and alienation or externalization (Entfremdung or Entäußerung) from the 1844 manuscripts, I'm taking the point very seriously. If you read Marx through French debates (post-Althusser or post-Foucault), the difference between objectification and alienation will not be on your map, as Althusser dismisses, as we all know, much of the early Marx as too humanist--not to mention that Marx's work was dismissed by Foucault as an anthropologizing discourse--think The Order of Things, the sand on the beach, etc. But I came to this problem through Lukacs, or I used to come at these problems after Althusser and Foucault, until Lukacs (and, since he doesn't get enough credit, Karl Korsch) convinced me otherwise.

That aside, I think one of the central problems of the Stiegler's and Agamben's of contemporary philosophy is to mistake the fact that humans produce things with alienation. That is, you make something, or, in Agamben's more extreme moments, use language, then you're already captured in an apparatus, and thus ultimately alienated. The distinction between objectification and alienation is to differentiate between humans mediating, through making things, their relations with each other and with nature, and a historically situated mode of production, capitalism, which expropriates so much of human activity. If you don't, you run the risk of bemoaning cellular phones as the worst and most ubiquitous of apparatuses.

But it's not just the Heideggerian approach that runs into trouble, there's a Sartrean version of the same problem, which causes trouble for Rancière: the question turns on what it means to activate and maintain egalitarian practices without them reifying into inegalitarian institutions. I'm still working this out, but I can say this question is the reason that the problem of objectification and alienation has become one of my concerns.

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