Monday, March 31, 2014

it was littoral

In her 1989 preface to the second edition of Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labor, Maria Mies wrote:
I do not expect that the new edition of this book will be able to convert these or other global players to an understanding of capitalism as an iceberg economy. But I do hope that it will help ordinary people in the South and North not to despair when this iceberg economy again, and rapidly, produces one crisis after another. Icebergs are very unstable. (xviii)
There is, of course, the echo of crisis to receive with skepticism, in Mies's formulation; this, after all, isn't it the motor of accumulation? But I think, without getting into it, that as Mies describes, the crisis is the thing that surfaces. In their discussion of the way that the term "cognitive capitalism" covers over other forms of labor, George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici register instead the way that capitalism "can restructure the accumulation process by taking advantage of the inequalities within the global workforce" ("Notes on the Edu-factory and Cognitive Capitalism" 128). I had forgotten that Mies's model literally invoked the iceberg, but as Caffentzis and Federici note, it does:
The huge "iceberg" of labor in capitalism (to use Maria Mies' metaphor) was made invisible by the tendency to look at the tip of the iceberg, industrial labor, while the labor involved in the reproduction of labor-power went unseen, with the result that the feminist movement was often fought against and seen as something outside of the class struggle. (128)
It seems worth noting how Caffentzis and Federici describe the way that this "undergrowth" becomes taken as something antagonistic to struggle. Mies is interested, of course, in mobilizing this base for struggle, which involves, according to her, tracing the "'underground connections' that link the processes by which nature was exploited and put under man's domination to the processes by which women in Europe were subordinated, and examine the processes by which these two were linked to the conquest and colonization of other lands and people" (77). This relationship has been illustrated:
Tracing these "underground connections" might be a way of thinking about the kind of knowledge work involved in establishing these terms in relation to one another, the work involved in thinking about how inequality based on race and sex are the terms around which reproductive work is organized. But the caveats are all there against the becoming "fluid" of these connections, against their being lost in the organization of some total system (a.k.a cognitive labor).

Mies's book was originally published in English in 1986, the same years as German artist Rosemarie Trockel's wool picture (Wollbild) Eisberg:

To wool enthusiasts, Eisberg might not merit special attention; its small size (30 cm2) permits it to be considered as a swatch, a sample that is knitted up to measure gauge. Two years after Eisberg, Trockel made a piece of identical size; however, in this piece, titled For Those Who Do Not Like Wool Pictures But Are Communists Nevertheless, primed canvas has been stretched over the hand-knit swatch. Trockel's pieces, as Caroline A. Jones notes, invoke a feminism that might be outdated now (and then?)—aren't we so over that, too?—but I'm with Jones in wanting to stick with her feminism, if only because it seems like whatever it permitted its dismissal is related to (the return of) the dismissal of reproductive labor in contemporary accounts of a total system. To venture, then: in writing on Trockel's work, one of the strains that is often emphasized is the way that she raises the question of automated, machine work (the knitting machine) in relation to the handicraft. Trockel's work, in this regard, is often seen to be critical of such automation; it is often he case that in works that involve hand-knitting (such as Eisberg, which depicts the "back side" of the most typical knitting stich, stockinette), Trockel is seen to be registering, as Jones writes, "process" instead of "pattern." Such a celebration, however, of the artwork as craftwork, only returns to the question of the passe quality of such work. There is no progression from "pattern" (automation) to "process," nothing about the materiality of work in these works; rather, it is about this kind of perpetual eclipsing of the one in the other because what each posits, but also forecloses, is the fact of the illusiveness of this "underground," as well.

pictures: "Iceberg Model" from Ecosocialist Horizons; Rosemarie Trockel, Eisberg, from the exhibit "Textiles: Open Letter" at the Museum Abteiberg

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Combatting Neutralization

This recent sequence of days has compelled me to recall that all my other, all my previous love stories, were unrequited. There is nothing quite like "love" or "desire" (distinctions withheld, momentarily) that better motivates paranoid reading, a kind of oscillation between what is palpable, and what felt, what is imagined and what fantasy, what is surface and what depth. In these days, I've finally been able to "get to" the way that "love" in relation to my academic work (such as I perceive it) has been in the position of perpetually repairing (and this term should resonate with all of its attendant psychoanalytic chords, whereby repairing is a way of recovering one's relations to objects that one has also destroyed), and all the while, I've thought that this reparation functioned as a way of working through the way that I've felt destroyed by my own lack of profession, my lack of a job, my lack of some kind of minimum environment that I can "love." But these are, of course, tentative thoughts.

In the past five or so years, there has been a good deal of writing about the "labor of love," the way that labor is effaced when we think of work, as low end theory writes in "A Love Letter to Radical Graduate Students: Present, Former, Future, part I," as producing a "social good," and the way, more generally, that this contributes to the ideology of the university; Marc Bousquet's essay, "We Work" (Minnesota Review, Winter/Spring 2009) is frequently cited, including in the recent essay, "In the Name of Love," by Miya Tokumitsu in The Jacobin (Issue #13, Alive in the Sunshine (Winter 2014)). Although each of these three essays points to the contradiction of being compelled, as Bousquet writes, "to find love, pleasure, and even success in making ourselves exploitable subjects," only the love letter makes a link between this insight and its centrality in Marxist feminist work: 
What makes this a love letter is the idea I want at once to express and in expressing, to make irresistible to you—the idea that knowledge work in the academy is most powerful because it is a domain of love, by which I mean a place in which intimacy, desire, attachment, and investment all hold considerable sway in keeping the machine running smoothly. Or otherwise.  So this is meant at once to serve as an expression of love and to carry a distinctly Marxist feminist lesson about it—particularly, that the idea of love has never been far from relations of domination and exploitation.
Invoking this tradition of Marxist feminist thought is really important, because although Tokumitsu and Bousquet both identify this realm (and the realm of care work traditionally associated with feminist work) as important to how we consider labor, this formulation points to its importance for how we think about love

And it's really to this topic that I want to turn, one that I think really does gain by being addressed by mobilizing, perhaps among other things, various aspects of psychoanalytic thought that usually get dismissed in the realm of politically-committed academic labor. In his essay "Against Heroism," (Minnesota Review, Winter/Spring 2009; subsequently republished in The Critical Pulse: Thirty-six Credos by Contemporary Critics, ed. Jeffrey J. Williams and Heather Steffen, Columbia UP (2012)), John Conley calls for a critique of what he calls "politically-committed academic labor," and before I get to the topic I really want to get to (love is always deferred), I want to say a few things about how this kind of critique is so useful for thinking about these relations of love that we (as radical graduate students past, present, and future) would like to reorganize. The distinction that low end theory makes between deprofessionalization and deprivatization, as attitudes that can be taken toward one's desire to do academic work, is on my mind from the outset, and I think that Conley's essay makes a similar recommendation, in wanting to think about a "critique" of politically-committed academic labor. Both of these raise the question of how we can "perform a negative function" (these are my words but I'm putting these words in quotes because I'm unsure about them) on work that we love. 

Having, as I indicated in my earlier post, just spent a few days thinking about how forms of divestment can replace the model of critical thinking that valorizes a model of consciousness raising, it seems to me that Conley's critique of politically-committed academic labor addresses some of the concrete aspects of critical divestment that were not the subject matter of the panel itself. Specifically, Conley proposes auto-reduction as a way of reducing workload: "We need to help each other work less." This, he claims, is the subjective side of the critique--this kind of "what can be done"--that actually correlates with our collective, de-privatized acting in the world; the objective side has to do with the way that we understand the construction of our own desire, of our "love." Conley writes, "By misrecognizing our labor as political work, our desires to participate in the construction of a better world are captured and effectively neutralized." Desire neutralized. Desire, as the desire for a better world, "to work within the 'belly of the beast,' to try to effect change in the world, etc." If auto-reduction helps us to think about deprivatizing or collectivizing (and maybe these are not equal processes) labor, in order to combat this neutralization (but how do you "combat"neutralization?), how can we, from the other side, the objective side of the critique, think about deprivatizing desire, about deprivatizing love? Or does the idea of deprivatization fall short here, in the face of an object of love (in short, to our "literary" objects) that so many of us experience in dimensions tropic, figurative, ephemeral, ethereal, oscillating, immaterial, or all too material, and so on?

So turning now to love. I remain stuck on D.W. Winnicott's idea about the counterintuitive nature of the reparative act (where love is or is an aspect of this act). In his 1964 essay, "Aggression and its Roots," he writes:
Naturally the fact that the patient was becoming conscious of the destructiveness made possible the constructive activity which appeared in the day. But it is the other way round that I want you to see just now. The constructive and creative experiences were making it possible for the child to get to the experience of her destructiveness. (121) 
As I described above, my own experience of unrequited academic love has led me through a pretty extensive sequence of reparative acts--it was me, it was you, it was not personal, it was the was already there from the beginning, the end began at that moment on the beach when you said--or ways of trying to manage and assign responsibility or blame for the conditions that contributed to the destruction of the object. Along the way, of course, there were Winnicottian therapists who made interpretations about my relation vis-a-vis structural conditions and all of that, and while I've been able to get it kind of abstractly, or to know that I should get it, I think I've only just hit upon what Winnicott describes as the other side of our relation to things that we love: the experience of destructiveness. Winnicott is clear that this destructiveness is the condition of loving relationships.

Such an acknowledgment aims at taking “full responsibility for the destructiveness that is personal, and that inherently belongs to a relationship to an object that is felt to be good; in other words that is related to loving” (117). For Winnicott, love is not just close to "relations of domination and exploitation," it is the outcome of domination and exploitation. And yet, Winnicott is not advocating making use of this relation as a way of justifying the socialization of such dynamics. 

Even more, however, Winnicott is suggesting that because this is so much the case, because it is unavoidable, there is no necessary correspondence between psychic domination and exploitation and social domination and exploitation. This correspondence is a contingency that, however, justifies or seems to justify the retrospective transformation of destructiveness (Winnicott's other term is aggression) into cruelty; in other words, that transforms a kind of unintegrated or objective destructiveness into a subjective or intentional "envy" (to use Klein's term, which Winnicott disputes). The distinction amounts to a critique of primary narcissism, to Winnicott's critique of Klein that "envy" just "puts the baby there" without an environment. An elaboration of this, Michael Balint's The Basic Fault develops the problem of primary narcissism in detail: "According to the theory of primary narcissism, the individual is born having hardly any or no relationship with his environment" (67). Counterintuitively, perhaps, "getting to" one's destructiveness implies an acknowledgment of the falseness of primarily narcissism, even though our experiences of "envy" as humans often seem to tell us otherwise. 

Winnicott does not quite say what it would mean to "experience one's destructiveness," and as a way of trying to come to the end of this train of thought, I'd like to make a few speculations that don't really get quite around to addressing, yet, the problem of how to love academic objects. Alas. However, in his discussion of the "baby," (he imagines that) destructiveness is experienced in the baby's biting and attacking of its first love object. In attacking it in this way, the baby externalizes it, brings it into being as an object. What is destroyed is not the object, but the "union," the idea that the baby and mother are one and exist in a state of nonintegration. Still, the baby is always asked--as we also always are?--to perform this psychic operation of imagining this "union," this identity of self and environment, when it is not there. That this is a paradox that is retained in love relations is little more than an observation, but one that might help us to think both about how easily it can come to pass that the "intimacy, desire, attachment, investment" are sapped or "neutralized" and about how, psychically, such feelings register not only an attitude about an object but also attest to a readiness to encounter this object destructively, that is, to see it as both external and persisting in its being as an object. To destroy an academic object--twentieth century German literature, for example--means something for disciplinarity, or field, although I'm not sure yet what.

This post is still a kind of hold over or extended conversation from "Critical Divestment"... 

Monday, March 24, 2014


Means basically
Without ends.

If it is to be found here,
it's in the question of the value
of this norm--the value
of the question of how
this mode of intellectual labor
makes possible a
new relation to the object--
that is, the object of one's
toil, passion, love,
then, we're looking
at this overlap--this double
set--of labor and love,
from which we turn to psychoanalysis
and marxism, as indicated,
a daunting task, to look for that
precarious doubling of psychoanalysis
and marxism that elsewhere goes by
the name of Marxism for Infants
(Denise Riley, from George Orwell)
and has much to do with, again,
the overlap of cathexis and storehouse
in Besetzung. Beieinanderliegen, to
lie together (Barthes,
A Lover's Discourse). But the only
correlation is inadequate; this is the call
for divestment. A term that does
not have an easy theoretical equivalent
in the German histories of these
beieinanderliegende discourses and yet
it would be quite laborious itself
not to note the proximity to Enteignung
and the turn that marx
accumulation. a moment, the double set
flips the terms into one another again, producing not
surplus but reproducing the work of critical endeavor:
it's this object, this relation, in which the object
is always reproduced again for a field for a discipline
and so trades the dullness of sustenance up
for a better model. in changing modes of production
it's often easy to miss the fact (well, so, yes)
that the exchange extracts, expropriates, exacts
a loss on the subject, the individual critic
who undergoes this process.
since it's also
negative anyways
it's preferable to
ignore it if you
can and so many
do. it's negative not because
it's the loss of a good thing
but because it's the loss of a bad thing
and so doubly negative the double
negative of a double set
it's the loss, through attrition
of one's destructiveness
of one's potential to destroy
rather than to submit to
the coercive structures of society
of which we perform daily divestments
to get by
but to
get to
is something else.

Response, of the poetic sort, to the ACLA panels on Critical Divestment (NYU, March 20-23) organized by Anne-Lise Francois and Anahid Nersessian. There were also conversations with fellow panelists that converge here, in particular with Michelle Ty, Adam Ahmed, Seulghee Lee, and Anne-Lise Francois.
Pictures: the only 2 shots of NYC taken while I was there. Well, I actually took two of each of these scenes, but these were, in my opinion, the better of each.