Capital Reasons

I’ve noted this before, a point Paul Ennis raises, but it’s a typical move in academic critiques is the following: X philosopher’s work has a form similar to capitalism. You see this in Zizek’s critique of deconstruction and in various Marxist and neo-Marxist readings of a variety of movements.

At this level, I wonder what the argument is supposed to prove. If one is to agree that there is a dominant ideology then, of course, on whatever model one is using (Marxist, Nietzschean, structuralist, post-structuralist, Zizekian, etc.) whatever is produced out of a given system (say, economic) is going to be tainted by that system, including, as Marx noted long ago, the critiques meant to counter it. And thus my question to those raising this: And so?

Zizek at least uses his variant of the critique—I cite him because I’ve just been teaching him—to show how deconstruction or what-have-you has the effect of blinding us further by positing a politics that is anything but political. But if you’re not doing this, then what is the point—even if one believes you—in saying that X group is replicating the form (not the content, not pushing the freeing up of ever-greater movements of capital, etc.) of capitalism. And really, what an easy argument: Deleuze talks about flows, like flows of capital! Object oriented philosophy talks about objects, and we all know what Marx said about commodity fetishism!

An ancillary and even more insipid type of this argument is to say that Zizek or Harman or someone is having success within this system—one that they critique—and thus must be capitalists through and through. In other words, by the very act of publishing one’s work, one is suspect. The corollary of this argument is that any pleasure is capitalist through and through. So, even if you are setting up a free on line journal of ideas, you must be capitalist. It’s a like a bad, leftist rendition of Jeff Foxworthy’s “you might be a redneck if…”

If you’re going to do this type of argument, show how it not only works at some superficial level, but also how it conforms to a larger ideology or other type system that truly is the focus of your diagnosis.


  1. PitToE: “An ancillary and even more insipid type of this argument is to say that Zizek or Harman or someone is having success within this system—one that they critique—and thus must be capitalists through and through.”

    Kvond: The point isn’t that Harman is trying to have success “within” the system, but rather that the kind of success, the very mode of it, speaks to the WORST part of the system (and in my opinion, the “system” is not all bad). This was brought out by Bryan over at Velvet Howler. In the evolution of a (non-existent) SR and then OOP and then OOO there has been a kind of passing on or deferral of the “debt” of explanation. Not speaking to the other, much less branding members of SR, Harman’s theory operates much more like a meme, than an actual theory. It gains legitimacy by simply being in association with a larger “movement” (SR) and then spawns legtimacy via a splinter group of its own orthodoxy (OOP leads to OOO). Nevermind that Levi Bryant doesn’t even understand the OOP theory that he has associates himself with, the debt of OOP explanation simply gets chopped up and passed on, to be invested in in a new name. It doesn’t matter if any of this makes sense, “Its a movement, get it?”

    Aside from this Harman philosophically embraces both the tools of deception and salesmanship in his descriptions of the world. The entire world causally operates via “allure” the way in which objects twinkle and shine only to catch the eye of other objects. The entire world is a world of an exotic bazaar.

    This is very different than Zizek getting ahead in the Ideological world by selling his critique of Ideology. That too needs critique, but they are not he same acts. Harman in fact does not critique the system at all, as far as I know.

  2. Exactly Pete. I find this line of critique even more perplexing within the framework of Marxist thought because the central thesis of historical materialism is that thought is immanent to the social field. That is, there is no transcendent point outside the conditions of production that would allow one to adopt a position independent of those conditions. Consequently, every form of thought for Marx is necessarily pervaded by the categories of those conditions of production.

    Kvond, your remark seems premised on the idea that Harman and I advocate the same ontology. I am not sure where you get this idea. “Object-oriented ontology” is a genus with a variety of different species. Harman’s object-oriented ontology is one species, mine is another. They overlap in places but are not the same. The situation here is analogous to that of categories like “rationalism” or “German Idealism”. Both of these categories are genuses, but certainly there are vast differences between Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza and between Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel.

  3. It’s strange that everyone seems to be hooked on a dreaded leftism which might have been inspiring and productive 40 years ago but finally became some sort of secularized variant of Christian reflection on Satan = Capital with ideology critique as a form of inquisitorial intelligence.

    Coming from a country with a basically social democratic political culture, having its own particular obsessions where the liberal/libertarian attitude towards life and society is mostly an US-American import good, I’m puzzled why all of you guys attempt to reduce this offering and hence the most interesting facet of your political culture in the name of … what? A post-Christian, leftist resentment towards entrepreneurship and the critical self as the superego. Why don’t you let it simply rest in Europe where it belongs? We don’t have Sarah Palin but otherwise life isn’t much better either.

    BTW I neither find branding objectionable per se nor the equation between Bernie Madoff and Graham Harman very convincing.

  4. Hmmm. This seems to be directed towards me, I don’t know what country you think I come from, nor what makes you think that I am ANTI-Capitalism. Perhaps you mean someone else.

    1. So what is your point?

      Butcher a colleague based on his disregard of Spinoza? Seems like a good example of an ethics based on the butterfly effect.

      1. First of all Harman is not my colleague (or you are defining colleague in a very odd way). Secondly, what is MY point? What is YOUR point. You bring up the country I am from and my hatred of Capitalism, when you seem to not have a grasp of either my country or my attitude towards Capitalism.

        My point I have made very clear, both in the only lasting critical response and sincere investigation into Harman’s ideas on the Planet (I’m sure I took at least 10,000 words on the guy), resulting in the realization that he is bullshitting us with a non-theory and a lot of sloganing, that he really isn’t interested in dialogue, and IS interested in producing “shock value” Great Idea, exaggerated philosophy all of which he acknowledges and all of which is in line with his theory of causation. This is not “butchering” him, this is investigating his thought and making pretty clear what I have found. It would be REALLY nice though if his supporters (of which you seem to be one), would have spent half the time I have, trying to figure out just what he is claiming, and if it makes ANY sense at all.

        Tell me, when a “real” object sends its “distant signal” to its sensuous vicar that is inside another real object, WHAT is this signal made of? How is it sent? What does it travel through? What establishes whether it is received or not? When it brushes its sensuous vicar with “allure” how does it do this? Etc, etc, etc. Are these questions “butchering”?

        It would be nice if you actually understood something about your butchered colleague’s thinking.

      2. Kvond…
        Ok, we’ll just stop the tread there, since this back and forth isn’t going to go anywhere.

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