Month: March 2010

Larval on Commodity Fetishism

Larval Subjects writes about the isonomy between the logic of commodity fetishism in Marx and structuralist and post-structuralist accounts of language:

The argument runs something like this: texts, signifiers, discursive structures, signs, and language are both what is given and are the agencies through which anything given is given, therefore to investigate anything it is necessary to interpret these signs and texts. It is in this way that Derrida’s perhaps misinterpreted thesis that there is nothing outside the text, or Lacan’s thesis that “the universe is the flower of rhetoric”, or that Peirce’s semiontology is generally understood. As a consequence, any change or phenomena is to be accounted for in linguistic, textual, or semiotic terms. As a consequence, the theorist comports himself in much the same way as the bourgeois political economist in the grips of commodity fetishism. The riddle of all phenomena are to be sought in texts, signs, signifiers, and language, such that all non-linguistic actants disappear altogether.

Larval begins the post by noting that this discussion may seem at first odd—namely the move from the structure of capitalism to recent discussions on linguistic access to reality—but of course, as he knows, this is a “classic” argument against the linguistic turn from the materialist left. But what Levi does here, which is an improvement, is not to say “these two moves are analogous” (the “Hitler was a vegetarian” move), as many are want to do, and thinks that’s enough of an argument. (It’s amazing how often various theories are said to mirror the structure of capitalism: this theories talks about things, and you know, that sounds like a fetish for a commodity… and so on…) One should show how this or that theory blocks the analysis of political economy, but if you use the word “replicate” in your analysis, it’s a fudge for the actual analysis that needs to be done.

What Larval does here is to write instead that this move is a subset of what he argues is a larger fallacy, and thus he’s not led to silly claims (as one often reads) that somehow seems to describe deconstructionists or Lacanians as responsible for our world as corporate raiders and sweathshop owners.

Ok, maybe the Lacanians are. But the point stands that this is a better way to discuss the linkage between Larval’s version of SR and Marxian strains of realism.

Great Danes

(H/T Yglesias). Gallup is out with a major study of relative “happiness” in 155 countries from data collected since 2005. Respondents were classified as “‘thriving,’ ’struggling,’ or ’suffering,’ according to how they rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale.” The surprise (for me, at least): the “thriving” Danes (take that Shakespeare!) and the Fins, whose numbers are around 80%. Meanwhile, the U.S. is at a “thriving” rate of 57%, which puts us ahead of the French (take that, cheese eaters…) but behind Brazil.

Meanwhile, the stats for Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, are horrifically low…

Kotsko on the Abuse Scandal

I think Adam Kotsko says this better than I did, which was all I did want to say last night:

I think everyone can subscribe to the sentence, “The abuse of children by priests was terrible, and the bishops were wrong to cover it up and transfer known abusers.” If you’re at all inclined to follow this up with a sentence beginning with “but,” however, or if you find yourself thinking that people who follow it up with “but” have a point, I think you might need to go to confession.

One last on Larval

Yesterday, I made a comment on one of Larval’s recent posts that referenced his work on language. I’ve now found a good post where he discusses this. I don’t have much to add right now, except that what is notable is that the pivot for his move from the mutual reference of things to language is … reference. This is, of course, also Heidegger’s move in Being and Time and it will be interesting in Levi’s new book to see how he works out a notion of translation that doesn’t fall in to the instrumentalist problems of Heidegger’s account there.

Larval Evolution

And I now caught this post by Levi about evolution, where he makes some good points against Fodor and his ilk in their claims about evolution. (I will assume that most of you know the dustup over this; otherwise, see the last LRB for this discussion.) I must admit that I prefer that Fodor did publish his book: after reading for years how he was standing up for the highest clarity and rationality against the forces of evil that people I read represented, he has showed far more hubris than anything you’ll find in Sokal’s book on the science wars.

Actually, Levi was missing…

At least in my RSS feed. Clicking around this morning, for some reason a bunch of his posts that I missed suddenly showed up. I thought he had taken a respite from blogging. In any case, a belated response to Levi’s post about “democracy” and French Marxism. He argues that “democracy” is used as a synonym for neoliberalism, but I would actually say this is less the case in French Marxism that other variants. Certainly, the 1940s-1960s era of French Marxism was anathema, largely, to the rhetoric of democracy, given the bi-polar world, but this changed quite a bit after the events of 1968: one can see this, for example, in the change from Althusser to his students in terms of their rhetoric. (On this matter, of course, Rancière is notable.)

One reason why I think the language of democracy finds a better home in the French tradition is the republicanism of the French constitution, and thus “democracy” doesn’t simply stand (though it sometimes does) for the ideology that lets the colonizing West do what it does, but also for “what is not assimilable to the old-guard French state” and so it does seem to me to be a word that is used strategically by the left, though more by supposed “anarchist” leftists. This is why Rancière could write Hatred of Democracy, which sets out to record the anti-democratic thinking of much of the elite opinion of the French new left. (Or I guess, the now rather old new left, or new new left of the 70s.)

But obviously, if Levi is going, as he does, to suggest that Marxism and democracy go together, well then I welcome him to the post-healthcare-law United States, which will tell him soon just how “democratic” our new Marxist overlords are…

American In Paris…

Tonight it’s off to see some Gershwin with my dad and my son. I should say that one of my joys of parenting is somehow getting my son to agree to go what he just calls “opera,” which he just wants to avoid. I’ve been taking him since he was relatively young, not least because babysitting costs made it a “get him or ticket or don’t go” approach. His favorite was when he was seven and my dad insisted on driving out to Ohio for the Wooster College Light Opera company’s summer doings: basically, a lot of Gilbert and Sullivan and early 20th century stuff like the Music Man, all smooshed in over three days. Brad was doing two shows a day with us–he really liked the Music Man—and I’m sure he’s going to present me with a therapist bill for this one day. But if I can’t bring him to cultural events (however “culture” is relative here) and have him say “but…Dad!” then really, what kind of parent am I?