Notes on “The Grundrisse” (1939/1993) by Karl Marx (5)

Notebook 5

One of the main topics discussed in the Notebook 5 of the Grundrisse is the passage of transformation from the commune to the city. While the commune is, in a too simplified sense, a free gathering together, the city is a mandated and ruled gathering. While the commune “appears as a coming together, not as a being together, as a unification made up of independent subjects, landed proprietors, and not as a unity” (483), the city is the place of the sovereign, the walled community that hosts at its center the one who rules. While the distinction between state and stateless societies is important, Marx does not develop this in depth. For Marx land independence, or land appropriation and its usage, presupposes sovereignty and the figure of the sovereign. Something presupposes the nomos of the earth, so to speak. The commune escapes division, since “the land which cannot be divided if it is to serve as means of production in this specific form” (483).

To relate to the land without the necessity of a nomos, or a sovereign, Marx proposes that the individual proprietors refuse union. The fact that since the appropriation of the earth means the appropriation of the “natural conditions of labour […] as well as its workshop and repository of raw materials” (485), signals that the way we immediately relate to the earth presupposes a “relation of the earth […] always mediated through the occupation of the land and soil peacefully or violently, by the tribe, the commune in some more or less naturally arisen or already historically developed form” (485). This means that the first struggle of humankind is the strive for affirming live with and within a territory, a form of living that does not consider private property or private forms of working, but positive and affirmative gestures of existence and coexistence. While all this picture is idyllic, or utopian, the form of relationship that Marx is proposing to understand the organization of the commune signals a threshold where utopianism reaches its limit. Since no individual has any existence or life outside of the commune, because those who live in commune do not exist “for [themselves] except in the assembly of the commune members, their coming-together for common purposes” (486), then, the commune eludes the nomos, the state and its oppression, but it erases, in a way, individuality, difference. At the same time, the assembly of the commons, their coming-together, or movement towards each-other, announces the possibility of a commonality, of a commune, with individuals and groups, a pack a formation like the one of the nomads, for whom “what is in fact-appropriated and reproduced here is not the earth but the herd; but the earth is always used communally at each halting place” (491). The commune, then, is the project without plan that seeks social reproduction in an apotropaic way: eating what kills and haunts, while persisting and affirming existence. 

The task in the times of Marx and today is to work and create the commons. The commons are the necessary presupposition of labour, of the land, for humankind to exist. At the same time, the commons are what humankind is yet to become, a plastic moment that is habitual. There is something magical about “appropriation,” of encountering oneself with an instrument, a tool, a body, something, that is so different and yet so keen with one strives for affirming oneself. While in the bourgeois world the worker sees the realization of their social existence by the way their skill is expressed by the production line, in the commune, skill has no name, but has still a presence. The skill is “what posits [the worker] as the owner of the instrument” (499), if we are all posited in front of our “instruments” as owners, then, “appropriation” has found a way to let something from its magic to flee capitalist territorialization. To be in front of big projects in a capitalist society reaffirms our oppression but also our chance for building the commons. Marx mentions that, when dealing with the construction of highways, for instance, capitalism faces a point of exhaustion, because building a highway escape what capitalism can do, it even exceeds what the state is able to do. Building for the multitude is always “a necessary use value for the commune, because the commune requires it at any price” (526). In a capitalist society surplus time and value to build a road exist, there are the materials, and costs, but without the “concentration” of the masses, the project dies. Concentration is defined by Marx as “always the addition of the part of labour capacity which each individual can employ on road building, apart from his particular work; but it is not only addition” (528 emphasis added). Concentration is an addition that is not only addition of labour. This addition is something that is heaping up in the way the workers present themselves in front of the project. Addition is a concentration of bodies, an assemblage, the surplus of the commons. While, of course, a road, or perhaps any project that requires the presence of the masses, is always what capitalism demands, and not what the commons need, the desire of the masses stays still always subaltern to whatever domination expects from them. Capitalism will always speculate with its constructions as a way of realizing value, while “living labour creates value” (543) in unexpected ways.

Notes on “The Grundrisse” (1939/1993) by Karl Marx (4)

Notebook 4

“Notebook 4” of the Grundrisse is, perhaps, the one that focus the most on the way capitalist production relies in “transforming labour,” or the ways into which labour is transformed. At the same time, this notebook is also about what some critics have identified as the backbone of capitalism, the general equivalent. Continuing with the way surplus value is produced, Marx states that one of the main ways to approach this is via “developing the nature of surplus value as the equivalent of the absolute or relative labour time mobilized by capital above and beyond necessary labour time” (385). With this, then, surplus value must always be placed in one side of an axis of equivalence. The other side of this axis is meant to be occupied by absolute or relative labour time. With this, then, surplus value appears to be as a mere addition of labour (absolute or relative). The problem with this, is that by force of equivalence, surplus value can only be equal to surplus labour. Since capitalist production presupposes a specific use of machinery by the bourgeoisie, and this use implies “the saving of necessary labour and the creating of surplus labour” (389), then, new capital will always be equal to the old capital plus a fraction of it [the old capital]. Capitalism only works when surplus meets surplus, and consequently, the division of labour is never a necessary attribute that labour comes naturally with: labour suffers an imposition for its division and its eventual conversion into surplus labour. 

With not much surprise, as in the same Grundrisse it is already mentioned, wealth “is disposable time and nothing more” (397), since the time that can be completely thrown away is already producing surplus in all its forms, value, capital, and labour. At times, it seems that all the exercise and display of mathematical formulas is but trying to depict several forms of disguises, or mystifications, that capitalism requires. We see then that when it is written that “capital, as the positing surplus labour, is equally and in the same moment the positing and the not-positing of necessary labour; it exists only in so far as necessary labour both exists and does not exist” (401), this ambivalent existence of capital, that of being positing and not-positing, or existent and non-existent, is precisely what could be called a disguise, or a mystification. The very fact that capital exists only in the act of being placed in a position of ambivalence tells more about the fact that capital is always acting, performing a role in disguise as it is in the process of becoming something else. Capitalism, then, is a territorialization of becoming.

In “Notebook 4” there is also a topic later developed by Rosa Luxemburg, that of the limits of capitalism. Marx notes that there is a point after the different processes of circulation, production, and consumption have held sway in which capitalism becomes a barrier for itself, and “hence will drive towards its own suspension” (410). This suspension means that capitalism takes a step back only to eventually push forward its drive, to go “beyond [habitual] production” (413). The logic for Marx, then, is not that capital will wait for processes of crisis to expand, as Luxemburg will expand, but that capital in its highest points of development is when it “more appears as barrier to [its own] production —hence also to consumption— besides the other contradictions which make it appear as border some barrier to production and intercourse” (416). The logic is that capitalism, as with its axis of equivalences that only accepts in both sides different, but equalized, forms of surpluses, follows a drive for self-realization that demands “excess [that] it posits surplus labour, then, as the condition of the necessary, and surplus value as the limit of objectified labour, of value as such” (421). The only rule in town is to always demand an equivalence of excess. While it is emphatically mentioned that surplus value presupposes surplus labour, it happens otherwise when Marx explores the notion of “living labour.”

The realization of living labour is stated to be a process that “at the same time [realizes and then adds] the de-realization process of labour. It posits itself objectively, but it posits this, its objectivity, as its own not-being or as the being, of its not-being-of capital” (454). Consequently, it is not surplus value what presupposes surplus labour, and neither the other way around. What presupposes the exchanges and equivalences, the disguises, is living labour. When placed in front of capitalist production, living labour is territorialized (realized) and at the same time deterritorialized (de-realized). The process of deterritorialization of living labour is, by the same token, the process of becoming and of flight off capitalist production. Capitalism relies in something that is alien to it, something that is outside of it, something that carries the possibility of ending the never-ending spiral of accumulation or of repeating it. Living labour is a force of repetition, what haunts the production of surplus value, “the condition and presupposition of the becoming, of the arising, of capital presupposes precisely that it is not yet in being but merely in becoming” (459). Once capitalism has territorialized that becoming then the worker is negated from its products. But perhaps before it was different. 

As “Notebook 4” closes, Marx elaborates on different modes of production that did not require the disposition of the worker’s labour and its product to guarantee social existence. Perhaps this part is the one that most strongly influenced further explorations on what communism could be. At the same time, one might wonder if the exploration of these past commons (common land, labour, time, etc.) should not necessarily be the core of the search for the commons. That is, perhaps, the commons are already outside of the past, outside of history, repeating in many different ways, all the time always becoming. 

Notes on “The Grundrisse” (1939/1993) by Karl Marx (3)

Notebook 3

There is something in capitalism that not only relies on the way it affects and habituates the masses. While Marx famously stated that religion was the opium of the masses, capitalism, could also be said, relies on a psychotropic force. When describing how capitalists are directly affected by the time a worker consecrates to production, Marx notices that “the struggle for the ten hours bill […] proves that the capitalist likes nothing better than for him to squander his dosages of vital force as much as possible, without interruption” (294). The squander of dosages speaks volumes of the addictive relationship that capitalists have with the labour of workers. With not a lot of imagination one can picture capitalists as characters from The Wolf of Wall Street: bodies addicted to everything that excites them. In the Notebook 3, It is not the only time that Marx uses images that allude to addiction, or sickness. Marx compares labour “as the living source of virus” (296). Dosages and viruses are not necessarily contradictory in themselves. They are, in fact, tied by the idea of toxicity and addiction that both terms evoke. 

The body of the addict lives and breathes that which addiction dictates it. If the capitalists are like addicts and “labour is the yeast thrown into it, which starts fermenting” (298), the capitalists need the liveliness in order to satisfy their thirst, their craves. With this, then, the whole process of production is a process that relies on live above all. What does, then, capital do? That is, if normally we associate capitalism with death, dispossession and destruction, why is it that the mogul addicts that feed the machine need so much of live? And more importantly, how is it that even consumption “which terminates neither in a void, nor in the mere subjectification of the objective, but which is, rather, again posited as an object” (300-301) still has some of the live that capitalism transformed? Perhaps a point of departure for understanding this is the fact that “production for unproductive consumption is quite as productive as that for productive consumption; always assuming that it produces or reproduces capital” (306). If capital, as in Notebook 2, is considered as something intrinsic to the way the body extends its power and its plan on something, then, capital is something unavoidable, something that is produced and reproduced at any times. The question, not new at all, is why does capital imply capitalism as a system to be easier to observe? 

For capitalism, capital is something that must be preserved. Outside capitalism, if today we can possibly picture that, capital is something that sooner or later will stop working. That is, if capitalism acts as an addiction, capital is always a reactivation of withdrawal symptoms. As “the value of capital has preserved itself in the act of production, and [after it] now appears as a sum” (315), the addict too, after withdrawal sees the sum of further doses as the only target. Preservation at all costs is the slogan of capital in capitalism, like euphoria or dysphoria for the addict. Form this it is visible that for the sake of preserving oneself, the worker gives life to a system that extracts affect from it. Labour is moved, then, by a process of addition, while capitalism is moved by a process of addiction. Addition is that which labour do as living labour, as something that “adds a new amount of labour; however, it is not this quantitative addition which preserves the amount of already objectified labour, but rather its quality as living labour, the fact that it relates as labour to the use values in which the previous labour exists” (363). While labour adds, capitalism dosages that addition turning it into addiction. The distinction between these two, addition and addiction, is blurry, and perhaps today impossible to tell. 

Notes on “The Grundrisse” (1939/1993) by Karl Marx (2)

“Notebook 2”

There is something special about money. The problem of money is that in itself it is something very abstract but also an object whose activity happens almost everywhere and in many different forms. Money is another commodity, but it is for certain that it is “the god among commodities” (221). The “Notebook 2” of the Grundrisse tries to explain money in capitalists societies. This explanation not only focuses in the many different ways that money is used, but also in the “particular” and specific way that makes money so special for capitalism. If money, as we read in the first pages of the notebook is so special, it is firstly because its possession “places [us] in exactly the same relationship towards wealth as the philosopher’s stone would towards science” (222). That is, money is responsible for placing the subject in the direction of what the subject thinks they want. Without surprise, then, money triggers greed “a particular form of drive” (222), that accelerates the speed travelled by the subject who approaches the object of their desires. To be against money, in capitalism, is to be against oneself, because only money can approach what we want and desire to us. 

At the same time that money is the oil that secures the function of the capitalist machine of exchanges and exploitation, money is also a scurrilous thing. While money is key to the production and accumulation of wealth, money cannot fulfill these duties on its own. “One is the richer the more of it [money] one possesses, and the only important process, for the individual as well as the nation is, to pile it up” (230). Money could easily be accumulated, because to accumulate is to “step back or outside of circulation” (230). But this has its risks. To display abundance and extraordinary wealth hoarding, or expense, reduces the way money circulates, and therefore, it reduces the way money is valued. To accumulate money is not based on a random greed-guided increase, but in a regulated competition because accumulation is completely dependent on circulation. If money has a close relationship to capital, then, as capital itself, money must be in constant movement, the moments it is accumulated it happens as a “wholly secret relation with the individual” (230). Of course, only sanctioned by society is the wealth (secret or not) of the individual valorized. 

Money is strictly tied to capital production because money, as a system, is the one that guarantees equality and freedom at the moment of exchange. The problem of the ideas of freedom and equality, that money promises, is that these two features soon turn out to be “inequality and unfreedom” (249). In other words, to be part of the system of capitalist exchange one must always be aware that as simple as an exchange might be, that simplicity is not a simplified relationship. In an exchange relationship an individual is not merely exchanging with another, but their exchange actually “expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand” (265). This is why the money inside of ones pocket is never the same money as the one that is in the banks, or speculated in the stock market. What the relationship of money and capital problematizes is the fact that certain activities are the same and exchangeable at the same time that they are different and alien to each-other. In this landscape, the world market appears as an always under construction edifice of an inside that faces its own reflection repetitively. The world market is “not only the internal market [of a country] in relation to all foreign markets existing outside it, but at the same time the internal market of all foreign markets as, in turn, components of the home market” (280). As it is difficult to determine the difference between money and capital in capitalism, so it is to determine the inside-outside relationship that the idea of world market suggests. 

As monstruous as this could look, the shaping and reshaping of capitalist society requires not only money and commodities in exchange between free individuals. What is missing the picture depicted so far by Marx is the presence of those who produce, the workers, bodies without value but with an almost infinite capacity to dispose their own labour: free as birds subjects. 

Notes on “The Grundrisse” (1939/1993) by Karl Marx

What follows are a series of posts on Karl Marx’s Grundrisse. 

“Introduction” and “Notebook I”

Perhaps the main topic of the notebooks that today we can call Grundrisse, by Karl Marx, is production. In fact the “Introduction” to the rest of the notebooks focuses on production overall. The question that starts these notebooks is: is production possible without a social structure that presupposes the exchange within individuals? That is to say, if exchange, production, circulation and the other faces of economy relay on capital’s sway. Marx states that “whenever we speak of production, then, what is meant is always production at a definite stage of social development —production by social individuals” (85). This means that whatever we perceive as individual production, the latter relies on a social production that presupposes it. More importantly, production is not something a part, or a step, in the way political economy works. It is then, that Marx states that everything that is related to production “requires an instrument [but not necessarily a machine] […] the instrument could be the body itself” (85). Thus, all human activity, in a way, is but a form of production. Production is everywhere and it can hardly be stopped, at best production is reshaped, dominated, controlled and triggered towards something that is not necessarily production’s target. 

In the “Introduction” to the Grundrisse there is an invitation to rethink production. Marx, after this invitation, proposes to start thinking production through money. If all possession presupposes an act of power, then, the question is to determine how that power was stablished. In a very simple term, from today’s perspective, one can think, why is it that money is so powerful? Why is it that we do things without acknowledging the dangers that might come afterwards? The problem of money, in fact, puts at stake what is really what value tells us when we buy, exchange, or produce things. What is at stake, then, in the first notebook of the Grundrisse is to determine how is it that value is produce and how is it that we all embrace it. 

For Marx all value is to be examined through labour time. A coin, or money, is but accumulated labour. That is, that “what determines value is not the amount of labour time incorporated in products, but rather the amount of labour time necessary at a given moment” (135). It could be argued, then, that value is but an abstraction, something that happened in the past but still, somehow, haunt us until today. The problem is now to examine why is money so special, why is it that money can serve as a third party that exchanges what was produced in another time?, why can money perpetuate the dead, or past, labour? 

When we buy things, we don’t really buy them. Perhaps this is obvious for anyone who reads this post, but what Marx proposed at the end of XIX century is that commodities (merchandises) are but values when they faced a process of exchange. “All commodifies are perishable money; money is the imperishable commodity” (149). What Marx means when he stated the latter is that perhaps what is at stake when buying and selling commodities in the bourgeois system is the reaffirmation of a third party. Everything that cannot be turned into money cannot be a commodity. A commodity, then, carries within a potential to become money and the other way around. Of course, this does not mean that money resolves all the processes that are part of production. That is to say, that money itself does not resolve the problems of circulation or distribution of merchandises. 

What is really at stake with money is another thing, not only the way exchanges are made. If for Marx are value is but an abstraction, and that abstraction comes directly from a head (144), whose head is that? That is, who is abstracting value for everyone else? Marx stablishes that the comparison between merchandises consist in a process of comparison, and this process creates money. Then, this “comparison, which the head accomplishes in one stroke, can be achieved in reality only in a delimited sphere by needs, and only in successive steps” (144). Thus, there seems to be a “head” that presupposes all general exchange. That head, a head of an unknown person, gets whatever it wants in a single stroke, a dull, or hard, blow. The head that presupposes value hits hard. This characteristic, then, is pure affect. Consequently, whoever experiences this hard blow has but no other choice but to replicate the first blow of the aforementioned thinking head. Soon, all idea of the general equivalent seems to be but the habituation of that single stroke, or a process that happens “little by little” (144) in the formation of capitalist society. 

Notes on The Power at the End of the Economy (2015) Brian Massumi

Freedom of choice is not new for neoliberalism but, as Brian Massumi argues in The Power at the End of the Economy (2015), it is its main feature. It is its “magic touch guided by the principle of competition” (1). The idea of the Market, at least for modernity, is tied to the way freedom of choice has been developed as a mechanism connected to the way we rationalize our everyday lives. We choose our future, as much as we choose our present and past. What matters is that our decision stands as a solid bridge that brings together what we desire and what we want. The problem with all this, as Massumi argues, is that every rationalized decision is haunted by affect. The market, or markets, these days is (are) rational only in appearance. Today, markets “react more like mood rings than self-steering wheels, the affective factor becomes increasingly impossible to factor out” (2). This means that as late Michel Foucault argued the invisible hand of the market seems to be connecting the world in a “spontaneous synthesis,” therefore “the positive synthesis of market conditions occurs immanently to the economic field” (3). The end of the Economy, for Massumi, is when “what is most intensely individual is at the same time most wide-rangingly social” (4) and at the same time, when the invisible hand seems to be suffering from a “degenerative motor disease” (5). Power, at least in its state form, is less than a invisible hand these days, but also more than a phantasmatic prothesis. Power is working in the “infra-individual” and every infra-level of action strikes strongly at a macro level. 

The panorama that Massumi describes for power after the end of economy, that is, once there is not outside of capitalism, is closer to the way the weather behaves. The individual, then, as part of the landscape is like a mountain, or any other geographical accident that both increases or reduces the strength of the weather. The power of the individual, however, is not dictated by its rational ability of choosing, it is determined by its “nonconsciousness” since this “becomes the key economic actor” (17). From that we have not only a disempowered individual but a radical change in the individual. Autonomy stops being a feature of the individual and “what is now autonomous is its decision” (19). We like doing things that are done by something through and with us. The personal vanishes and we are in an infra-desert of experience. This brave new world focus on “self-interest” which consist in making and keeping tight a “strict equation between life satisfaction and rational calculus of choice” (23). By no means this should comfort us. Our current state is merely a state that persist in self-satisfaction or its extended deferral at all levels: pleasure, pain, gain, success, sadness, depression, death, rush and so on. We have, as neoliberalist homo oeconomicus “a system in which [we] owe the positive nature of [our] calculation precisely to what eludes [our] calculation” (36). We can calculate all that par excellence eludes calculus; we can measure all that is unmeasurable. And, of course, the problem is that these operations would never end well. 

Rationality created its traps and captured affect. One is free to choose its deferral of death. While all of this seems extremely pessimistic, for Massumi, it also means that different ways of struggle are liberated. Perhaps, in a same formula as the one evoked by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Empire (2000), The Power at the End of the Economy suggests that what is at stake is abandon decision and supplant its rational features by an affective sympathy. That is, before placing reason at the top of our priorities, affect should dismantle hierarchies and recreating old paradigms. If capitalism has persisted for so long it is, for Massumi, because it has focused, wrongly, the importance of things in their quantity and quantification and not in its qualities and its qualifications. Life always will create, via events, a surplus. “Capitalism is the process of converting qualitative surplus value of life into quantifiable surplus value” (77), what is at stake with this is that there must be a way to stop converting the surplus value of life, manifested in experience, into quantifiable things, into a calculus that blindly gives answers. While Massumi offers a possible solution in a tone closer to Empire (as mentioned before), it is not clear enough how affect, or ontopower, would simply infect all common heroes —the anonymous masses that for Massumi have all the potential and imagination to make a change in the world— it is for sure important keep in mind that there is a difference between the qualitative surplus value of life and the quantitative capitalist surplus value. The first one is always a remainder, an excess, an uncountable, the second one is merely a false calculation, a persuasive trap. At the same time, if there is no economy, once affect became immanent, how would we learn of to differentiate again between surplus values without choosing? 

Notas sobre Línea de sombra. El no sujeto de lo político (2021) de Alberto Moreiras

La reedición de Línea de sombra. El no sujeto de lo político (2021) de Alberto Moreiras comparte con Tercer espacio la importante tarea de revisar libros relevantes y que en su momento no fueron estudiados a detalle. Como en Tercer espacio, en Línea de sombra también se habla de cómo sistemáticamente la academia tradicional norteamericana ignoró los logros y análisis de este libro. En el prólogo de Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott se dice que Línea de sombra es uno de los primeros lugares desde donde se emprendió la ruta por la que ahora conceptos claves como infrapolítica y posthegenomía circulan. Estos conceptos son, ante todo, “un sostenido intento de pensamiento […] una práctica casi corporal de escritura y desacuerdo, que implica sostener el arrojo con una perseverancia orientada siempre hacia la liberad” (15). Aunque el prólogo no desarrolla esa idea sobre lo que implica sostener el arrojo, uno puede pensar que ya el título evoca sutilmente ese trabajo. Es decir, línea de sombra no es sólo una metáfora que evoca aquello que Moreiras ve como la línea que va figurando (y figura) nuestro horizonte de pensamiento, es decir, la línea de la dominación, cuya sombra somete a todo lo que caiga bajo ella, sino que también la línea de sombra vendría a ser eso que Villalobos sugiere, un intento de pensar que sostiene el arrojo pero no lo para. Es decir, si la sombra es la traza sin trazo de todo aquello que se expone a la luz, el pensar de la línea de sombra, en contra de la sombra de la dominación, es un pensar que no detiene el arrojo de lo que existe sino que guarda la sombra de su existencia, su residuo enigmático. 

En cierto sentido, el residuo enigmático es el tema principal del libro. Este término es otra forma de referir se al no sujeto de lo político. Si el sujeto es el que pide que su sombra sostenga y domine, el no sujeto de lo político eso que quiere exponer y exponerse eso que Moreiras dice que “hay en nosotros y más allá de nosotros”, una suerte de exceso y precedencia, “algo que excede abrumadoramente a la subjetividad, incluyendo la subjetividad del inconsciente” (21). Ahí, entonces, se ve que el no sujeto de lo político sería la sombra del inconsciente, algo ineludible y que a la vez elude sobre todas las cosas. Los siete capítulos del libro, y la coda, ofrecen a su manera aproximaciones a ese resto enigmático, a su lugar y a su existencia. A su vez, los primeros capítulos son, ante todo, una lectura de y con otros pensadores sobre el estado de la política a inicios de siglo XXI. Si luego del 9/11 las formas de la guerra, el estado y la política entraron en crisis, ¿cómo es que habría que leer un mundo que rehúsa toda idea de exterioridad y al mismo tiempo reclama la sistemática y comunitaria subjetivación de cualquier cosa que se mueva fuera de sus murallas? 

¿Cómo pensar política si la distinción de amigo y enemigo, donde según Carl Schmitt inicia la política, está completamente desbaratada en nuestro momento histórico? El punto clave de este “fin de la política” radica en la total crisis de la subjetividad. Por las formas de subjetivación es que amigos y enemigos dejan de importar, o más bien, por el sujeto es que se descubre que no hay amigos sino sólo enemigos. Si “el enemigo absoluto, no es el terrorista global, sino que es aquel de quien esperamos eventual sometimiento y colaboración, que en caso concreto significa colaboración con el régimen de acumulación global que mantiene a tantos habitantes de la tierra, en el nomos pero no del nomos, en miseria o precariedad profunda e injusta” (45), se debe a que vivimos en tiempos de política del partisano. Esto es que ahora (a inicios de siglo XXI) “la incorporación del enemigo absoluto dentro del orden moderno de lo político, por tanto ya [es] el síntoma de la descomposición de tal orden desde el siglo XIX” (60). No es gratuito, así, que, por ejemplo, los problemas del narcotráfico en México emulen, en buena medida, los problemas del terrorismo post 9/11. La guerra es indistinguible de su momento detonante, siempre se está en guerra, o en la amenaza, el espacio se hace cada vez el mismo. 

Al mismo tiempo que el nuevo nomos previene y destroza al enemigo, hay un registro salvaje, algo que queda en el doble registro que se queda en el umbral del nomos, fuera de lo que exterior mismo a este orden. Eso que queda es el no sujeto de lo político, “más allá de la sujeción, más allá de la conceptualización, más allá de la captura […] simplemente ahí” (80). Si la subjetividad de la modernidad es igual a la del sujeto del capital, “una totalidad vacía” (59), entonces el “no sujeto es lo que el sujeto debe constantemente abstraer, una especie de auto-fundación continuada en la virtud” (116). Hegemonía, subalternidad, decolonizalidad, multitud y demás avatares de la metafísica, diría Moreiras, se quedan siempre cortos y no son sino máquinas de restas, pues no sólo restan y abtraen al resto enigmático, sin que precisan falsamente restituir algo que de entrada está perdido e irrestituible, aquello que se le sustrae al no sujeto. Ahora bien, el problema del resto enigmático, del no sujeto, es que no se trata de pensar en la inclusión ni en la exclusión. Pensar el resto “no es pensar que traduce, sino cabalmente un pensar de exceso intraducible; no es un pensar ni hegemónico, ni contra-hegemónico, sino más bien parahegemónico o poshegemónico, en la medida en que apunta a las modadlidades de presencia/ausencia de todo aquello que la articulación hegemónica debe borrar para construirse en cuanto tal […] pensamiento de guerra neutra y oscura, capaz, quizá de resituir eventualmente lo político como nueva administración de soberanía” (134). Así, la aparente suma que pretende el capital, o cualquier forma subjetivizante, no es sino una resta, una resta que, parecería, captura la propia resta a la que el no sujeto tiende. Esto es, el no sujeto, para Moreiras, guarda necesariamente un carácter negativo, una forma de resta que abre en su doble escritura contra la suma camuflada de la subjetividad una posibilidad de extenuación de los mecanismos de resta forzada y controlada. 

El problema, por otra parte, es que si el no sujeto de lo político guarda una relación directa con la violencia divina, entonces, es probable que una de las operaciones fundamentales de no sujeto no sea la resta. Si la violencia divina es “la excepción, la substracción radical del regreso infinito, la afirmación de una suspensión no sangrienta pero de todas maneras letal de la cadena signifcante (218), entonces, la violencia divina es una suerte de cero exponencial. Como sólo el agotamiento de lo político puede ser liberado por la violencia, al liberar lo político de lo político mismo (subjetivación), de la misma forma, la totalidad vacía expuesta del sujeto, elevada por su exponente vacío (cero/ el no sujeto) regresa a un uno heterogéneo. Un uno de repetición divergente desde donde el conteo se abre siempre hacia otras partes, lejos tal vez del resto, incluso.

Notes on Crack Capitalism (2010) by John Holloway

Crack Capitalism (2010), in a way, completes most of the reflections John Holloway started in Change the World Without Taking Power. While the first volume worries the most about the description of doing, a constituent force captured by labour that generates our common sense and our normal way of being into the world of capitalism. The second volume offers 32 thesis about the ways we, ourselves, build but also crack the system that oppresses us, how we are screaming and creating cracks in the system, how doing cannot be fully appropriate by labour. In another, perhaps, less obvios reading, the 32 thesis are, somehow, 32 steps into sobriety, into a life free of capitalism, but, would that addiction be easy to resolve?

As much as Crack Capitalism offers an inspiring and optimistic way of understanding doing, as something inherent to the way human beings do things for the sake of doing them, because we like doing things, perhaps today one should hesitate to accept Holloway’s optimism. The hesitation is understandable, as Holloway hesitates himself, about considering that with our cracks we are but realigning our struggle back to the terms that provoke the struggle in the first place. That is, Holloway asks, “how do we avoid our cracks becoming simply a means for resolving the tensions or contradictions of capitalism, just an element of crisis resolution for the system?” (53). Today we probably saw the worst of this predicament. We have seen how contemporary struggles, contemporary cracks, have been turned into solutions for capitalism’s crisis. We have witnessed a pretended liberation of “labour” through a massification of part-time online platform jobs (I.e. uber, ubereats, etc); a liberation of sexuality and imagination through streaming services that reterritorialize sexual and imaginary expression, among many. If a crack is “the perfectly ordinary creation of a space or moment in which we assert a different type of doing” (21), why is it that most of these different types of doing are still feeding and serving the tyrant, why is it that we are still weaving our self-oppression and self-destruction? Why is it, that perhaps, more than ever, we are unable to resolve Etienne de la Boétie’s riddle, why are we fighting for our oppression and voluntary servitude? This is the starting point for Holloway, and, to a certain extent, the place where his argument finishes too. Why is it that we are running in circles when trying to solve La Boétie’s riddle? 

There might be hesitation when reading Holloway, but for sure, even in the worst scenario, one should acknowledge that more than resolving things a crack is the proposition of question. A crack asks. To that extend, the territorialization and domination of spare time by social media, for example, is a two-edged sword, a delicate terrain where an always unprepared “wake up to other possibilities” (32) haunt the way doing is constantly fighting against the domination, the abstraction of labour. Wasn’t this what happened with Donald Trump and the tiktokers? But also, wasn’t this what gave the place for the affect of the masses that entered the US Capitol early this year? A crack is an ambivalent movement, a touch yet not a touch. From cracks we just know that they break a surface and that they desperately seek for the lines of other cracks. In that sense, while the right seeks to cover the rifts of the struggle of doing, the left should should find where one crack begins and where another ends, where the “lines of continuity that are often so submerged” (35) that are about to touch themselves, but they don’t. To understand the crack is to understand that certain struggles need only to keep pushing until their cracks touch other’s crack’s rifts. To explain how these lines work, how the rifts and cracks communicate, Holloway elaborates a strict distinction between labour and doing, alienated labour and conscious life-activity, and abstract time and concrete time of life. 

All these dichotomies coincide in the understanding of the concrete doing as a “flow of life” (111). This flow is something that is always moving beyond and going through the rigid and oppressive shape of power, of labour. While capitalism wants labourers, “mutilated personification[s] of abstract labour” (122), the other world possible struggles for the dignity, the fragility and sacredness of everything that beats, of everything that lives. Doing, the flow of life, is the struggle of existence against its own conditions and possibilities of existence. That is, doing wants to desperately stop serving the tyrant, capitalism, without being able to completely abandon and refusing most of the tyrant’s structures, means, things. Doing is the praxis of knowing that we build our own tragedy, and our only way out is to “attack [and crack] time itself” (166). Only when time is broken, cracked, it will come to surface how the masks that capitalism via abstraction has given us, are but an empty container that oppresses the “shadowy figure (or figures) behind the character mask” (217). Once it all cracks there will not be, perhaps, distinctions, differences or the necessity to differentiate the multiplicity of ways of being that there is. Once it all cracks it will become obvious that radicalness starts by refusing, by a refusal of keep creating the weave that oppresses us and sustain us. Once it all cracks to what would we hang our anxiety to? How would we recover from that overdose of capitalism? 

Machine’s monotony. A note on Anthropocene: The Human Epoch by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky

The praised 2018 Canadian documentary Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is without a doubt one of those films that both attracts via its mesmerizing images and scares by the horrific factual reality that it portrays. Directed by Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky and Nicholas Pencier, the documentary depicts the so-called epoch of Anthropocene, which is, among many, a name that our current geological epoch receives (cfr. Capitaloscene). The Anthropocene, then, gathers a series of images that illustrate the ways humanity has been directly modifying the Earth’s surface natural development. From animal extinction, floods, massive pollution of the glaciers, uncontrolled mining and deforestation, giant dumps to, also, successful projects of modern engineering —the Brenner Base tunnel in Austria—, the documentary attempts to critically call for an “awakening” as the voice of the narrator, Alicia Vikander, states at the end of the film: “We are all implicated, some more profoundly than others.” As much as this statement invites for positive social change, it also signals something that the documentary forgets to explicitly acknowledge: the role of the machines in the so-called Anthropocene. 

From the beginning until the end of the documentary machines occupy a key role. As much as the Anthropocene identifies humans as the “evil doers” in this geologic era, our means of changing the surface of the Earth have always relied on the assemblage human-machine or machine-human (the order is not very important), never on human agency alone. A machine is not necessarily an object that obeys human desires. As depicted many times in the documentary, it is quite the opposite. When asked about their jobs at an iron factory that massively pollutes the Siberian steppes, Russian workers happily admit that at the beginning they did not like the job, but by force of habit they ended up liking it, even finding beauty in it. A Chilean worker at a Lithium mine in the Atacama Desert feels happy “to help humanity.” There is no single human agent in the documentary that does not happily expresses their pleasure of doing something meaningful. Even the ecologist at the beginning of the film expresses enthusiasm when thousands of ivory pieces are returned to Nigeria so that these objects will never hit the market or become a trinket, a mantelpiece or any other “luxurious object.” The confiscated ivory might have not become another object but unsuspectedly another machine put these objects in the market. Cinema after all is, if not, 20th century dream factory. 

Anthropocene barely relies on human agency. That is, most of the takes, cameos and travellings of the most heartbreaking and amazing images of the film are drone taken. Even the narrator’s voice, in a monotonous Alexian, or Sirean, register displays facts about human history and its implications. This contributes to the “lack” of human agency all over the film. The movie only has two registers, enthusiasm, and monotony. Human agency, then, is everything but easy to recognize since enthusiasm comes directly from the monotony that machines express. There is, then, one tone for machines, that of increasing different but concomitant happiness. In other words, the monotony of the machines accelerates the process of habituation of humankind. Happiness happens when you get used to things, so would say any of the workers addressed by the documentary. From this perspective, someone who is inside a machine’s mechanism can hardly see another way of living but the one the machine itself has built. Some of the last words of the narrator recognize that “the tenacity and ingenuity that helped us thrive, can also help us to pull these systems back to a safe place for all life on earth,” it is then, on “us” to change our habits. However, that us is already including the machines and, perhaps, our problem as humanity is directly tied to the too easily trust that we have given to machines. We have never learned how to differentiate the way machines should be used. In the meantime, we are told at the end of the film that “The scientists of the Anthropocene Working Group will continue to build the evidence towards a formal proposal for inclusion of the Anthropocene epoch in the Geological Time Scale.” Building and reforming our time, but not actually destroying it, would bring new and amazing evidence to the screens, but hardly move the ground we inhabit, hardly change a thing.  

The Voluntary (Happy) Submission of Collecting. Notes on The Collector [Koleksiyoncu] (2002) by Pelin Esmer

Pelin Esmer’s documentary The Collector [Koleksiyoncu] (2002) follows an individual with a very particular pastime through the busy streets of Istanbul. The main character and narrator, an old man whose name is never revealed, is a collector of all kinds of objects. Shake powered flashlights, newspapers, rosaries, stickers from fruits, lists of the names of dead friends, glasses, fish bones, magazines, books, miniature kitchen utensils, among many, are some of the objects that the collector hosts in his apartment. While the house of the Collector could be easily associated with a hoarding disorder, the documentary does not focus entirely in the malaise of collecting objects, but rather in the unexpected happiness of gathering and piling objects.

“My interest in the collectable objects goes back to my childhood. Whenever I saw something small or interesting, I would keep it. For example, when my father bought lots of tomatoes for my mom to make tomato paste, I would choose the nice and small ones and hide them in a drawer. Soon they would rot and my mom would get very angry at me. As I grew older, this interest got wider and wider…” says the main character and narrator of the documentary, and so does the poster that promotions the documentary. While tomatoes go bad after being kept, the objects that the mature collector keeps in his apartment are all things whose damage, or malaise, comes from the space they use. As the Collector acknowledges, he only keeps things that won’t damage other things. The piling of objects day by day grows and it is harder to live or move in the apartment. With the hope of finding a place for all his precious newspapers, the main character finds a university who might receive them all without having to recycle them or dispose them. The Collector does not recycle, does not throw away, does not forget any object, does not lend any piece, he sometimes gives away what he has, but besides he keeps his collection as if he were nurturing a son, so says the Collector himself. 

The noise and vividness of the streets of Istanbul don’t stop. As the Collector wanders the camera follows him to all kind of markets, bazars, corner stores, restaurants, coffeehouses. Everyone buys, everyone consumes. In a way, the Collector is like any other consumer, he buys what he thinks he wants and tries to outsmart the market by buying always in pairs: one for the collection and one to use. Collecting becomes more than piling objects but less than archiving. “To be honest, I cannot claim that this is the aim behind my collections, being a bridge between yesterday and tomorrow is not the overriding idea for me. I see collections as a hobby not as a mission” (41:30). It is not a work, and yet occupies the Collector’s day completely. It is a hobby that looks like a job. 

Collecting, in a way, is an addiction, as put it by the old man himself, “Making collection is a sickness without a cure.” Like an addict, the one who collects is also like a slave. “We can call this a ‘voluntary submission’, or even a ‘mandatory submission’” says again the old man. His duty consists in keeping things in a safe place, things that, like the newspapers, will paradoxically sabotage the very basis of his daily life in his apartment. At the same time, says the old man “the worst thing is, I don’t really feel like fighting against it. I know it is necessary, I need to find a solution but, I just let it take its course” (42:35). 

What would happen with the collections after the Collector’s death? If the objects kept would find a way, ideally, they’ll be the trace of a particular existence. However, it seems the opposite. All that could happen to the collections after their keeper’s death is beyond the keeper’s power. “Collections are a way of clinging to life” says the old man in the final sequence of the documentary. If collecting was the mean that allowed existence to cling itself to life, then without collections life would be like the empty house of the Collector, as he imagines it, “a very dull place.” Without objects, life loses its liveliness. Without collections, where would liveliness find its colours? Without addiction how would existence cling to life and the other way around?