Notes to The Interpretation of Dreams (1899/1913) Sigmund Freud. Trans. A.A. Brill. I

Chapters 1 to 4

The main purpose of The Interpretation of Dreams is to prove that dreams are part of the waking state, that they are “a senseful psychological structure which might be introduced into an assignable place in the psychic activity of the waking state” (13). Dreams are, thanks to the technique Freud is about to present, a part which has no “official” belonging into the structures that form the waking state, conscious. In a way, the task of interpreting dreams, then, is a task of giving place, a task of ordering, or to assign order a missing part of its very own structure. Throughout the first chapter, Freud revisits many of the different approaches that have studied dreams. In the summary presented in this chapter, we learn that nothing is set on stone when it comes to discussing and interpreting dreams. For some authors, Freud says, “the discovery of the origin of some of the dream elements depends on accident” (22), or that what appears in the dream is what has been “pushed aside from the elaboration of the working thought” (35). Dreams escapes us, their mechanisms are not clear. Indeed, Freud affirms that “the entire memory of the dream is open to an objection calculated to depreciate its value very markedly in critical eyes. One may doubt whether our memory, which omits so much from the drea, does not falsify what is retained” (52). And yet, once we remember a dream, it is not so much a story that we remember, but “pictures… which resemble more the perception than the memory presentations” (55). 

To interpret dreams, then, one should learn how to read pictures. These are the residual, but also excessive, symbolic activity of fantasy. Whereas in dreams the “clearness of language is rendered especially difficult by the fact that [they] show a dislike for expressing an object by its own picture,” in a dream what we have is a “strange picture,” one that “can only express that moment of the object which it wishes to describe” (86). The pictures we see in dreams are not like the acoustic images that years later Sausurre’s Cours de linguistique général, that is, the images of a dream are not attached to one single object but are only “that moment of the object which [the dream] wishes to describe” (86). The dream gives away, or reveals itself as a “somatic process… which makes itself known to the psychic apparatus by means of signs” (99). This serves as point of departure of Chapter 2, in which Freud presents a sample dream, the famous Irma’s injection dream. And subsequently, Chapter 3 and 4 introduce the notion of understanding the dream as a fulfillment both affirmative and negative (distorted).

In these four chapters we read some of the key contributions of what later would be psychoanalysis. Here for, instance, after Freud formulates that every dream is the manifestation of the desire to “fulfill a dream,” we read about the 2 forces, or systems, or streams (all these synonyms mentioned by Freud) that cause the dream formation. One of these “constitutes the wish expressed by the dream” (145), and the other one “acts as a censor upon this dream wish” (145). By the simile of the “censor,” we then realize that dream depends on a flow that wishes, desires, something, and that this affirmation is only available to consciousness by a process of censorship, a process of self-repression or even self-regulation. Freud puts the relationship between these two in the following terms: “Nothing can reach consciousness from the first system which has not first passed the second instance, and the second instance lets nothing pass nothing pass without exercising its rights and forcing such alterations upon the candidate for admission to consciousness as are pleasant to itself” (146). Conscience, for Freud, “appears to us as an organ of sense” (146). And the sense of consciousness is what is “pleasant to itself” (146). Hence, the act of censorship collaborates with the wish fulfilment. It is, then, not surprising that Freud closes the fourth chapter by describing the mechanisms of certain dreams that seem to distort, or withdraw from, the fulfillment of desire. Withdrawal, or repression, is by extension a form of affirmation, a machoistic one, a neurotic one, a hysteric one. Freud has summarized what later will inspire further works on the way jouissance is at the chore of the mechanisms of desire flow control.

While surely this book is mainly about the interpretation of t dreams. What would it take to read the text with its own proposed technique? Indeed, this book has an affective clear purpose. Freud seeks revenge: “if there were such a thing in science as right to revenge” (95), the interpretation of dreams will be part of that violent revenge. Freud, perhaps, is telling us that to think what escapes sense (dreams), one should be closer the Iliad’s first verses. One should open this thought, like Homer, with rage. And even more, what sort of rage will one find in Freud’s text if one were to consider that most of his examples involve leisure (the trips with his family in chapter 3), intoxication (cocaine in the injection that kills a friend of his in the dream example of chapter 2), the law (the judge at the end of chapter 4)? Would this be merely a rage directed to a reduced group? Or would this rage have the chance for thinking an heterogeneous but open field for thinking? 

Representation. A short comment on Multitude (2004), Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Multitude. War and Democracy in The Age of Empire (2004) is the volume that follows Empire (2000). While the first volume offered a description of the reactive regime that followed the years after the end of the Cold War, that is, the formation of Empire, the second volume offers the project of the multitude, the active agent of change, that which precedes and presupposes Empire. If empire works by a flexible regime that expands like a network, but also that eludes easy clear-cut definitions, the multitude is the active collective subject that can dismantle Empire. The biggest challenge is, then, face “the global state of war” (xi) that beats at the heart of Empire. In a way, the book was thought to reflect on events that reply shook the world during the first years of the millennium. While, perhaps, somethings depicted by the book did not aged well —like the prediction that algorithm knowledge production would enable new forms of collective identities or freedoms— some of the main ideas of Multitude are still relevant and important. 

The book’s main project is to describe the “multitude.” This concept was, in a way described in the previous book. But what makes different Multitude from Empire is that the first will focus exclusively on the challenges that the concept of multitude faces today, from both right and left, from war and democracy. This collective subject, early in the book, is defined as an “open and expansive network in which all differences can be expressed freely and equally, a network that provides the means of encounter so that we can work and live in common” (xiv). What this concept offers, then, is openness and expansiveness as means to counter the closure and exclusion present in a world divided in an undividable war of all against all. That is, the multitude is the virtual promise for a world that is in stasis, in a civil war, in perpetual terror. It is not that difference is erased under the multitude, but what is at stake is the possibility of imagining a collectivity that does not serve identitarian means (like the political subject of the “people”) or like the unified collective subject of the “masses,” widely used and abused by work unions and so on. 

In a way, the book offers a radical way out from the politics of the twentieth century. The multitude truly is the way out of the politics of the party, of hegemony (even if the book does not mention this). But, at the same time the book does not go far enough. By focusing exclusively on democracy, as the only mean through which the multitude can expand its project, the book seems limit its own powerful concept. In fact, democracy is also tied to its own diseases, like representation. If as we are told, repeatedly, after the second half of the book, that representation is a mechanism that connects and separates (242-244), then, to what extent does the multitude needs representation? Or to put it differently, why does the politics of desire and positive affects of the multitude still needs a mechanism that, itself, is a trap? To a certain extent, this would imply that politics is unescapable from representation, but to another extent, the book could also suggest that the multitude errs. That is, since the multitude is “a diffuse set of singularities that produce a common life; it is a kind of social flesh that organizes itself into a new social body” (349), and consequently, representation is just one of the toys of the playful and creative forms of politics that the multitude is capable of creating. Then, as any other toy, representation will be no longer fun, but only time and the multitude would tell. 

Notes on Bullshit Jobs. A Theory (2018), David Graeber

When reading Bullshit Jobs. A Theory (2018), by David Graeber, one can but wonder if one has a bullshit job. One is constantly invited to question if our daily routine does not circle around a work whose main purpose is to demoralize us by imposing us endless tasks with unreasonable purposes. In fact, at least in my case, as I’m getting closer to finish a PhD program in Canada, the threat that my best, and more foreseeable, career choice will be to apply for a job that mixes managerialism and education is demoralizing. I hate managering, I love teaching. With this counter-position between love and hate one can understand what bullshit jobs are not. That is, a bullshit job is not a job you do even if you hate some parts of it because the main feature of the job you do actually like. A bullshit job is “one so completely pointless that even the person who has to perform it every day cannot convince himself there’s a good reason for him to be doing it” (2-3). These are tasks that require us to secretly be aware that the task we are performing is “simply a waste of time or resources or that even made the world worse” (xv). Jobs in academia, to conclude with my example, are not bullshit jobs, but they are, as Greaber argues, being bullshitized. 

The phenomenon of bullshit jobs is related to the way we are facing a radical change in economics and politics. The recognizable image we once had of capitalism is slowly fading away. Since a bullshit job is a complete waste of time, money, resources, and all labor (all of the precious things that capitalism highly values), then, the spread of bullshit jobs goes completely against the logic of capitalism. With several testimonies, statistics, historical analysis, and discussion of labor theory, Bullshit jobs, explains what the consequences of these jobs are, why these jobs are spreading so fast, and, in a more reserved, but realistic way, proposes solutions to tame this problem. 

Work is the master word of our times. With fair reason, worker movements pushed in the past reforms and approaches to understand it. However, as Graeber argues, what was never fully tackled is if all work was really necessary. That is, work came to be, at least for today’s dominant understanding, a useful activity, when “saying that something is ‘useful’ is just saying it’s effective as a way of getting something else” (197). Work, or labor, both are categories normally only understood as means of achieving something out of them. We suffer with work, from a Christian perspective, because we were expelled from Eden. Work is the punishment, but also the medicine to aid or malaise, after hard work we will achieve a reward. Graeber argues that work is not presupposed by this wrenching duality between punishment and medicine, but that actually work is presupposed by play, and other forms of action. From this perspective doing things for the sake of doing them, for the sake of seeing how they are affected by us is a happiness closer to play than to work. Bullshit jobs, then, deprive us from the pleasure of seeing our actions affecting the world. We cannot enjoy what we do because we do not see where the affect transferred to the work we put on doing things go. True, some jobs, as my example with academia, have some bullshit aspects, but in most of these jobs everyone can create some sort of fiction to comfort the hours of disappear, or to convince themselves that what they do has some “utility” or purpose. What is so wrong about bullshit jobs is that “you’re not even living your own lie” (74). While in academia, or in other fields, we create our own make-believes that supplement our oppression, in a bullshit job situation we would not be able to create our own lie, we would be living completely on the lie and fantasy of someone else’s. 

There are many types of bullshit jobs, perhaps some escape the typology that Graeber crafts. Nonetheless the typology is important. From the “flunkies,” whose jobs consists of “to make someone else look or feel important” (28); the “goons,” that help increasing the putative domination that the employer portrays towards the world and its subordinates, via threats or violence of all kind (36); the “duck-tapers” that tirelessly solve problems that to begin with should not be problems and duck-tape everything as a palliative solution; the “boxticketers,” jobs “that allow an organization to be able to claim it is doing something that, in fact, it is not doing” (45)”; and to the taskmasters, that could be either unnecessary superiors or superiors who do harm by creating “entirely new bullshit jobs” (51), a bullshit job is there to satisfy the need of a company to increase a form of putative “values.” That is, today’s current mode of exploitation and domination mixes archaic ways of configuring power with traditional capitalist means of domination. Today’s mode of domination “in many ways, it resembles classic medieval feudalism, displaying the same tendency to create endless hierarchies of lords, vassals, and retainers. In other ways—notably in its managerialist ethos—it is profoundly different” (191). We are in a managerial-capitalist mode of domination, and bullshit jobs are here to remind us that “values,” what presupposes any form of “value,” cannot be measured, nor produced, but only reproduced. The spread of bullshit jobs is the territorialization of reproductive and care labor. 

What a bullshit job does is decrease the connection between the way we do things for the sake of doing them, but also this type of jobs guarantees the reproduction of putative “values” for the employers. Being a “goon” is not only a job that forces the employee to become “the bad guy,” it is also a job that transform the image of the employer. From a boss it turns to a “feudal lord,” an authority difficult to reach, close to the almighty. By the fact that today’s world is full of reminiscences to the Middle Ages, or its shift towards modernity (there are “narco-lords,” “gated communities” like feuds; social media as a theatre of cruelty; and jobs that create endless bureaucracies, and so on and so forth) it becomes clearer that the way we have understood work, from its transition of serfhood and slavery, have been all wrong. What we got all wrong is the fact that work is considered to be only a way of production, when in fact it is primarily a way of reproduction. That is, that reproduction presupposes production. In fact, “most working-class labor, whether carried out by men or women, actually more resembles what we are archetypically think of as women’s work, looking after people, seeing to their wants and needs” (235). Production, then, is a patriarchal and misogynist way of understanding the “result” of work because, at least for some, it reminds of the Christian god creating the world as he pronounced the right words. He created the world, and then rested, he went away: as a “macho” would do.  Work is actually related to “other people, and it always involves a certain labor of interpretation, empathy, and understanding” (236). Work is caring. Or better, a work that can guarantee no spiritual violence, no dispossession of the way we affect the world, and actual “impact” for us and the rest, is a work that cares. To care is to realize that things require “long term” projections (239), means of preserving them, and that they cannot be based on the instant, and yet care is a work of successive instants. What makes care possible is its forgetfulness about the future in the present while making the future present in every action. Precisely, having a bullshit job is the cancellation of care, we no longer forget about the future in the present, because we make someone else’s fantasy (not even their future) in our own present. 

While the landscape portrayed by Graeber is worrying, there is no pessimism in Bullshit jobs. In fact, if things have arrived to be the way they are now, there is a chance they can be otherwise. This is too what a traditional labor theory would say about work (238). Our challenge is that “we have invented a bizarre sadomasochistic dialectic whereby we feel that pain in the workplace is the only possible justification for our furtive consumer pleasures, and, at the same time, the fact that our jobs thus come to eat up more and more of our waking existence means that we do not have the luxury of—as Kathi Weeks has so concisely put it—“a life,” and that, in turn, means that furtive consumer pleasures are the only ones we have time to afford” (246). We not only have bullshit jobs, but we have furtive consumer pleasures, almost bullshit pleasures (if that could be possible), since we enjoy so that we can suffer more. A way out of this, Graeber points out, lies in the possibility of establishing basic income and a “safe word” to stop our sadomasochistic relationship with work, as in real sadomasochistic relationships happens. These solutions are realistic, but perhaps, as Bullshit Jobs itself suggests when discussing science fiction and the failure of traditional labor theory, one needs more imagination. This is the open invitation of Bullshit Jobs. A Theory, an offering to rethink redo work. 

Notes on Afropessimism (2020) by Frank B. Wilderson III

Frank Wilderson III’s Afropessimism offers a study of the meta-aporias that Black exposes to that thing we call Human. If an aporia is an impossibility, a meta-aporia is an impossibility about impossibility. For Wilderson, Black people “are both barred from the denouement of social and historical redemption and needed if redemption is to attain any form of coherence” (12). A wrench, a tool, that is also a sentient being, Black is that which presupposes and exceeds all claim to Humanity and social justice, all project of insurgence and revolution, and even all gender revindication. This precisely why “Black people embody (which is different from saying are always willing or allowed to express) a meta-aporia for political thought and action” (13). Hence, afropessimism “argues, Blacks are not Human subjects, but are instead structurally inert props, implements for the excecution of White and non-Black fantasies and sadomasochistic pleasures” (15). There is then, no possibility of understanding what Black is in terms of the Human. There is no analogy which can compare what the Black and the Human feel, want, do, or live. There is then, no other attitude than a radical pessimism when it comes to discussing race and by extension all that Human vainly proclaims as universal. 

Divided in 2 parts and an epilogue the book retells some passages that Wilderson himself lived. In between non-fiction but also theory, the book exposes to what extent every-day life of any Black person is positioned as the ultimate point of exhaustion but also redemption of all that is White and non-Black. That is, from daily habits as kids playing in an abandoned house, or university conferences, the Black sentient being is the one who both guarantees the ground zero of suffering and by the same token the possibility for reassembling all form of order and organization. Slavery, then, is not something dead and gone, but a paradigm impossible to split from Blackness. Black experience social death, “the knowledge and experience of day-to-day events in which the world tells you you are needed, needed as the destination for its aggressivity and renewal” (41). To put it in other words, the Latinx worker who suffers exploitation and discrimination in the United States, let’s say, comforts themselves at the end of a long day of work because after all, they are not Black. This comfort is precisely what allows the worker to return to work the day after and also what places Black as the infinite act played in a theatre of cruelty that uses and abuses of Black but does not include it as part of the characters of the play. 

The radical lesson of afropessimism is that “there was never a prior meta-moment of plenitude, never equilibrium: never a moment of social life” for Blackness, and by addition for the Human. To that extent, afropessimism shows that there is no hegemony nor civil society, or if they exist, they only do as sadomasochistic fictions rituals that guarantee White and non-Black existence as Humas. Since Blackness cannot be separated from Slavery, then, there is no possibility of understanding a Black time nor space. Even violence refuses to give explanations of what Blackness entails. Since the Black is the one that who embodies “a regime of violence that bore no resemblance to the regimes of violence that subjugated /subjugates the others [the Humans]” (216), violence is always connected to Slave violence, an open-ended relationship. Then, the Slave suffered, the Black suffers, the Black suffered, the Slave suffers. White violence can be causal, provoked, but the violence that the Black suffers is “gratuitous, without reason or constraint; triggered by prelogical catalysts that are unmoored from her transgressions and unaccountable to historical shifts” (216-217). There is, then, only the chance to refuse politics, to refuse to affirm the Human, and rather to embrace disorder and all the possibilities that civil war could open, as this precisely “becomes the unthought, but never forgotten, understudy of hegemony” (251). In the struggle of all against all Humanity crumbles, something else breaths and feels. 

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 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? 

Notes on Parables for the Virtual. Movement, Affect, Sensation (2002) by Brian Massumi

There is no way that the virtual will reveal itself to us. There is no property of the virtual, hence no “of” can come out of it. Our direction to the virtual, then, is only “for.” These statements could be a way of approaching to Parables for the Virtual. Movement, Affect, Sensation (2002) by Brian Massumi. The book has not a progression in its argument. It is a work of experience and about experience, a radical empiricism based on affect. The 9 chapters that integrate the book are parables. It is not that every chapter tells a story with an expected lesson to be learn, but rather every chapter depicts a narrative arc like a parabola. That is, every chapter is an open narrative curve, a depiction that wish to explore the conceptual displacement “body –(movement/sensation)- change” (1) without attempting any closure, without canceling the movement of the parabola. The objective of Massumi is not an easy task. If the concept of body is as open as the ones of movement, sensation, and change, then what is at stake in every parable is to accompany the movement of a body. Put it differently, if in “motion, a body is in an immediate, unfolding relation to its own nonpresent potential to vary” (4), what is at stake is to turn theory as “abstract enough to grasp the real incorporeality of the concrete” (5). Theory has to travel at the same phase as the “bodies” it attemps to describe. In a world where “the problem is no longer to explain how there can be change given positionings”, now “the problem is to explain the wonder that there can be stasis given the primary of process” (7-8). Our reality, as simple, or complex as one could put it, has to much potential, that is an immanence of things, the total “indeterminate variation” (9). 

A narration matters but also is not what really matters. This aporia could summarize what happens in the 9 parables of Massumi. There are stories about Reagan, the performance art of STELARC, football, the internet, color, and science. But these stories have no real characters. They all build a net where movement, affect and sensation are at the center of the stage. Evasive characters are these. If movement is part of the whole mechanism of self-regulation of a body (its habit), affect and sensation are the inner mechanisms of movement. As a body in movement only is capable of finding itself, sensation is also self-referential (13). Movement and rest are the two relations that tie what a body can do and affect is what hinges the displacement between rest and movement, “a bifurcation point, or singular point in chaos theory” (32), where “the multiple is dispersed, when only one is ‘selected’” (33). Affect is the two-open sidedness of the virtual and the actual, it is also the “virtual synesthetic perspectives anchored in (functionally limited by) the actually existing, particular things that embody them” (35). That two-open sidedness is a remainder, something that escapes emotions (captures of affects), but also that is only perceived as emotion when it becomes memory. At the same time, there is no clear point where affect emerges, it is a “sudden interruption of functioning of actual connection” (36). Once that sudden moment abates the body only perceives its own vitality, its own source of aliveness, of changeability (36). Here is the beginning of movement, the heart of sensation. 

Movement and sensation depend on affect. But at the same time seem to be everything but affect. A movement cannot be sensed if it does not starts and stops, or at least that is what sensation does, it breaks what seems immovable or what is always in movement. “Sensation is the registering of the multiplicity of potential connection in the singularity of a connection actually under way” (93) and this register is best exemplified with the analysis of the body suspension of STELARC that Massumi analyses. Here in this particular suspension, we also witness the “that inventive limit-state is a pre-past suspended present. The suspension of the present without a past fills each actual conjunction along the way with unpossibilized futurity: pure potential. Each present is along the way with sensation: felt tending, pending” (103). Hence “movement is in between the intensive vacuum activation and extended, object action perception” (129). A body waits, stands, move, feels, but only when sensation is triggered by affect. It all goes back to the parabola that the title of the book suggests. If affect is the limit point of movement and sensation, that is, what both exceeds and presupposes both, this limit point “does not-exist on the curve [of the parabola]. It is abstract. It exists not on the but rather for the curve. Or rather almost exists so that the curve may exist” (147). Massumi’s task then is turning empiricism into an infraempiricism, the study of what happens to bodies in a level where things are felt in a queer way. This radical empiricism sees only potentials, sees, cares, and keeps the remainder and excess of both movement and sensation: affect. 

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? 

Una nota a Infrapolítica. Instrucciones de uso (2020) de Alberto Moreiras

Las instrucciones de uso son, casi por antonomasia, el texto que siempre se difiere para luego deferirse. Es decir, uno revisa las instrucciones de uso de la máquina que siempre ha funcionado bien cuando ésta misteriosamente deja de hacerlo. Como último recurso, se espera a que alguien mejor capacitado repase las instrucciones y componga el desarreglo de la máquina. Infrapolítica. Instrucciones de uso (2020) de Alberto Moreiras está, de alguna manera, en el mismo espacio que ocupa cualquier manual de usuario, siempre como texto de uso último. Sin embargo, por su cercanía con la noción de escritura, según Jacques Derrida, uno puede decir que la máquina que “arregla” la infrapolítica es siempre una que desplaza lo significante y en su movimiento abre la posibilidad a un retorno sin retorno. Las instrucciones de uso de la infrapolítica no son maneras de reparar a la diezmada política convencional, sino la posibilidad de abrir un retorno sin retorno a la política. Esto es, proseguir la búsqueda derrideana de “un extraño deseo sin sentido, un deseo y un goce al margen de cualquier posible captura ontológica” (Derrida en Moreiras 17). ¿Por dónde habría que empezar? 

Vida sin textura, aporía de lo político, distancia de la distancia, segunda militancia, des-narrativización, comparecencia en substracción, pensamiento reaccionario, apotropeia, poshegemonía, y otros conceptos más sacuden las páginas del instructivo que deja pasmado al lector común que poca o muy contadas veces decide reparar la máquina descompuesta en vez de comprar otra. Y es que, en cierto sentido, la infrapolítica, como se dice varias veces, no espera ser un avatar más en el mercado académico. La infrapolítica abandona toda idea de salvación, pues “si llega a haber salvación es porque habrá más desastre” (27). Tampoco por eso habría que deshacerse de la máquina del pensar, sino comenzar por uno de los mecanismos base de la infrapolítica: separar y diferenciar el ser de el pensar. Una vez que estos dos se separan los demás conceptos poco a poco dan a ver que la infrapolítica no es un concepto “sino un proyecto de un pensar sobre  un cierto afuera de la política” (80). Como el famoso ça se déconstruit de Derrida, la infrapolítica guarda ese “se” como residuo único de una fuerza de algo afuera que ejerce en el adentro de la frase su reflexión, reflexividad, énfasis, impersonalidad y su pasividad. Sólo en el se es que la infrapolítica reúne a todas esas cosas de no agotamiento, todo eso que la política no agota de la existencia, todo lo que la hegemonía no agota de la política (87). Todo eso que la infrapolítica deja resonar en montones es un rechazo radical al uno. 

Una de las definiciones posibles que se da a infrapolítica es la “diferencia absoluta entre vida y política, también por lo tanto, entre ser y pensar. De la que ningún experto puede hablar. De la que sólo se puede hablar sin hablar” (105). Con esto, queda claro que la tarea de toda labor de pensamiento está en pensar fuera del equivalente general del capitalismo. Así, para desmantelar el equivalente general habría que buscar “siempre en cada caso pensar qué es excepciona al equivalente general” (107), pues no hay totalidad que aguante montones de excepciones. De cierto modo, si la máquina se ha descompuesto es por la fuerza del equivalente general que no admite la diferencia. La infrapolítica, entonces, apostaría por un amontonamiento de “singularidades radicales”, singularidades inconmensurables, en las que “nadie es más que nadie” y también “nada es más que nada” (111). La instrucción general del manual sería la práctica de un cierto modo de ejercicio existencial, pues la existencia es el referente absoluto de la infrapolítica. Al final, de cierto modo, el manual sugiere un completo arrojamiento del ser, un dejar de ser, un dejamiento existencial “en favor de un prendimiento radical a la singularidad libre de la existencia, que es por lo tanto también no-prendimiento o desprendimiento con respecto a todo lo demás” (205). La infrapolítica restituye lo insistente de la existencia y la existencia insistente. Sólo así, tal vez, pueda ser posible una nueva apotropaia (“tomar un mal, una pieza de mal para protegerse del mal y transformarlo en acción fecunda” [236]), que permita suspender la extracción y la producción de informantes del mundo contemporáneo. Llegados a las últimas páginas del manual, uno llega a un comienzo “para otros comienzos” (226) para pensar, tal vez, fuera de la máquina que se pretendía reparar en un inicio, o hacer máquinas sin mecanismos y hacer mecanismos sin máquina desde donde late la incospicua y honrada infrapolítica.