Thursday, November 28, 2013

adding to an old debate on personal mythologies

So maybe another way to think about this problem, (whose previous terms aren't quite of the same interest to me now), is that its not a problem of identity at all but one of the meaning of praxis. 

Without having read much about praxis as a concept ( see Arendt, Friere, even the Greeks), it now seems to me that praxis is the dialectical third term between theory and action, but more specifically mind and matter. 

I'm not sure the problem comes out of historical materialism and hence the avante-garde, but it seems that the key of praxis is that it focusses on the creation of social relations (and hence self) via the creation of material life, or rather, the creation of material life is done with social relations as its ends:

The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of changed circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that the educator must himself be educated. Hence this doctrine is bound to divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change [Selbstver√§nderung] can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice. —Karl Marx, "Theses on Feuerbach, III"

This is to say it is not a question of the creation of "mythology" but a creation of self. That is by changing one's material circumstances in the knowledge that those material circumstances will in turn change oneself. There is always a "leap of faith" because of this moment of non-agency, because one can't predict fully how in creating new material circumstances one will make changes to one's self. So this is the connection between any praxis and revolutionary act, that it operates within co-ordinates that are of the future. Or as you put it, "putting one's self in situations where something has to happen".

In this way a personal mythology might be a way of how a praxis self-relates, how it appears to itself, and can thus be a productive motor for change. 

I then wonder how to contrast this with self mythology that is constructed for the gaze of the Other, a sort of ego-ideal, which would imply that currently existing material and social circumstances hold the more determinative role over the personal character. This might present ones mythology as a type of false consciousness. It is a dress up or make believe or a reflection of the desire of the Other. It is a type of end rather than a process, it doesn't commit to a process of becoming through constitutive leaps.

I remember previously I was wary of those who self-mythologise as a type of self-aggrandisement, a type of escapism, a type of dandyish showing off. I also felt that it can alienate people who care about that person and wish to share in them in some way, and also have contributed to them in some way. And so maybe here an ethical concern additional to the one above arises, and comes out as a concern of social practice. That is, that these leaps into new material-symbolic relations (however small) not just be a solipsistic exercise that escapes, but one in which these leaps are made through collective negotiation so that these new symbolic spaces can be shared as meaningful.  This movement acknowledges the subject as collectively constituted, and doesn't seek to posit the creation of self outside of sociality. The latter of which in denying the relationality of the individual creates a disjunctive "fantasy world" of self that can only be enjoyed by themselves and denies the collective social space etc etc

So in the continual feedback loop of creation of self, one has to take two leaps (which can't be separated): the creation of new material circumstances and also the creation of new forms of social relations. This transformation must be done together so that a meaningful way of relating to one's (potentially new) material and social totality can be shared.

Finally I wonder if nowadays, the hope for transformation through material change has been deprioritised as being all but too hard.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Is historicism a problematic position?

...because the more and more that I look at works that in some way are about global capitalism, the more and more I cant stop thinking about Borges version of pascals sphere, and his conjecture that all work is but a contribution to the "universal history" consisting only of the history of a few metaphors.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital

Again with spectres and the postcolony

Probably need to read this, I wonder how he manages to take down postcolonial theory and reassert the importance of the enlightenment without being a Western apologist.

'Postcolonial theory has become enormously influential as a framework for understanding the Global South. It is also a school of thought popular because of its rejection of the supposedly universalizing categories of the Enlightenment. In this devastating critique, mounted on behalf of the radical Enlightenment tradition, Vivek Chibber offers the most comprehensive response yet to postcolonial theory. Focusing on the hugely popular Subaltern Studies project, Chibber shows that its foundational arguments are based on a series of analytical and historical misapprehensions. He demonstrates that it is possible to affirm a universalizing theory without succumbing to Eurocentrism or reductionism.'


Good interview here

So basically his argument is that post colonial studies over estimates the homogenaity and monumentality of capitalism in the West and ascribes to it a totalizing role that doesnt accord with reality, thus, in their arguments that since capital failed to become totalizing in the East and non-Western world, the entire project of the Englightenment which capitalism is seen to represent is bankrupt. Chibber argues that the penetration of capitalism within the West, like in the East and else where was piecemeal and met by various worker and minority revolts and resistances and therefore, Marxism as an Enlightenment instrument for critiquing it is as valid a tool for looking at peasants revolts in India and in England. I don't buy it totally.

So, I guess the reason the left is ineffectual is because of things like below. I particularly like the threat at the end, very macho

Dear Professor Chibber,

I have established that you were the person who interrupted me during the discussion period during the workshop on Neil Davidson's new book on the bourgeois revolution this morning at the Historical Materialism conference at NYU. I didn't quite hear what you were saying, but it sounded something like "What is your question…get to the point."

Of the three workshops I attended today, not a single chairperson said something along those uncharitable lines. By and large, people made much longer comments than me and far more in the name of some sect–the sort of thing that wastes time.

It was all the more unexpected to hear this from you since you were not a chairperson, number one, and number two you were going to be speaking at a closing plenary session on Sunday night to an audience of hundreds. Frankly, I thought it was very petty for you to interrupt me in that manner considering the power you exercise both at NYU in your capacity as associate professor and as someone who has written dozens of articles in places like the HM journal or NLR on the questions under debate. You couldn't wait for me to complete my 3 minute intervention while you have had the opportunity to defend your ideas on the Brenner thesis to a broad swath of the left community owing to your hard earned intellectual capital as a recipient of many highly coveted and prestigious awards.

I honestly don't know why you walked out immediately after making your remarks because I would have liked to take them up with you face to face. Don't worry, I have no interest in taking them up with you any further since I have said all I have to say at this point on the Marxism mailing list. My only advice is not to pull this bullshit on me ever again or you will truly regret it.

Yours truly,

Louis Proyect

Royce Ng
Lantau Island
Hong Kong