Sacrifice, Competition, Cooperation–One More Note on Anxieties and an Invitation to Absolute Economics

I just got off the phone with Rocco Gangle, and as usual Rocky managed to perceive the essential issue of my last post (Post-Holiday Anxieties), articulate it with more precision, and inspire me to leave one more note here before the deluge of the semester is upon us.  But first I wanted to express my appreciation to everyone who has responded and resonated with what I was trying to express, a difficulty or difficulties all of us thinking now share (and Beatrice, you’re right–my willingness to let go of the academy was too glib.  It can still be and we should still fight for it to be one of our grottoes).

What Rocky pointed out was that my anxieties are not really about sacrifice, but about competition.  At this point in the Neoliberal Biopolitical Lockdown (may its end quickly come) –about which Adam has been so clearly and persuasively posting following Agamben and Foucault–anything that even takes the form of appearance of competition is terrifying to me.  The very “success” (it’s the wrong word) of this blog, its consistency, its strong presence under the dedicated watch of Adam, Anthony, and the rest of you who appear here much more regularly than I do, simply by continuing to be here, simply by obviously surviving seems to count as some kind of “victory” or “win” in an economic game I don’t think any of us believe in or want to play.  By contrast, I’ve been feeling slightly like some kind of “loser,” i.e., nonentity to the extent that I not only do not yet have a permanent or tenure-track position but also to the extent that, despite my publications, maintain some similar pace, profile, visibility, or “position” that someone else appears to (I’m sure others have similar anxieties in relation to me).  And of course, because I am aware that it would take -me- certain kinds of “sacrifices” to be more like someone else or do something someone else is doing that “appears” to count as success, i.e., survival, I become anxious, paranoid, self-recriminating  (I’m not trying to be overly confessional, here–I don’t think I’m alone in this and that we all increasingly suffer from these sad affects).  

But I’m happy to report that the fact that I was able to express those anxieties here, even awkwardly, and to try to articulate what I think is at stake in them, and to be able to hear almost instantaneously from people I love and trust and respect, has been more than a mere consolation, it has been that active cooperation through thought that this blog actually is. Thanks Rocky for pointing this out.  Here lies the real victory over the apparent limitations of the medium, which appear to “establish identities” as winners over those who do not or cannot appear.  But as Deleuze knew, there is always something more than this going on, because despite these actual limitations there are intensive and vital individuations–collective, multiple, continuous–that occur simultaneously.  Less abstractly, it’s now blindingly obvious that if this is a site (sic) where one can express one’s anxieties about the site, and have that expression count as the site itself, then the appearance of competition is false, a semblance (even if that semblance alone counts as real under the ordo neoliberalis). 

Thanks be to Adam, and to all of you, for continuing to collaborate and cooperate here.  On the one hand, our connections here are “driven” by the evacuation of the academy, public space, and the disinvestment of education.  But to a very real degree this is one of the grottoes Beatrice mentioned necessary–where we can, even temporarily, invest, be people, school one another, and leave traces of it all for many to follow and link to.  I know, I know, no shit sherlock.  I’m a gen-xer, not a millennial, so I’m behind, here.  Bear with me.

But before I disappear again (hopefully not for as long, this time–I plan to show up to respond to my book event coming up), I wanted to invite everybody to think further with me, and with my comrade Indradeep Ghosh, about how to explode contemporary economic ideology in view of the complexity and creativity we all intuitively feel must be accounted for in the human and inhuman household (oikos).  Voila, we give you Absolute Economics.  Money you can drink.  Our postings there will be intermittent, but part of the point is going to be (as you might have guessed from my anxieties) not to be first, not to be immediate, not to win, but to curate perspectives that can be there when we need them, whenever that untimely time is right.

Post-Holiday Anxieities: Work, Family, Time, and Other Foreclosed Peregrinations

New Year’s Eve has to be my least favorite “holiday,” lacking holy-ness to an extreme degree.  That’s what my girlfriend says she likes about it–the fact that it has so little meaning, that it’s just a turn of the stupid historical screw, the rollover to another tax year, means that it’s effectively impossible to ruin it with family drama or overcharged religious meaning, or whatever.  Shows you how differently she sees things secular than I do, seeing them as an opportunity where I see things in a much more mournful way, with a sense of dread and nostalgia, melancholy and angst.  I’ve been thinking about a whole series of things lately related to Adam’s post a couple weeks ago about family time around the holidays, and about family and time in separate and related ways.  Spending time with my family is as fraught as I suppose it is for anyone.  And I was more than happy to get back to my “self” and my “work” when it was finally, mercifully over.  But in thinking about Adam’s protest against Hollywood’s/America’s dogma that “family values” must always triumph over the value of work/career/passion/vocation, I think that there is another turn of the critical screw beyond Adam’s justified anger over the fact that there seems to be no place in hollywoodamerica for adults to have adult priorities or make adult decisions that don’t necessarily pander to children’s schedules or children’s needs or children’s expectations.  I have seen how profoundly problematic this can be in my own extended family, and I agree with Adam that it’s part of a general infantilization of modern American life that is part and parcel of Neoliberal biopolitical strategies, that keep us passive, docile, and infantilized in the face of “expert” opinion, to which we are expected to entrust our destinies at every moment.  And I could not agree more that part of what it means to occupy and resist in the present is to insist on the real autonomy of meaningful work over and against the false piety of sacrificing oneself unconditionally for one’s children, where that obviously means giving up on one’s desire.  But to take this critique one step further, it is also necessary to look at what it means, even as a mature adult, to be autonomous (if not isolated) and fulfilled (if not narcissistic) and independent (if not autistic) within the abstract, empty time of putatively liberal putatively secular capitalist culture.  What if I want to live on the multiple durations of my son’s life, my partner’s life, a domestic life, a liturgically-based ritual life, a routine of reading and writing, a biophysical rhythm, a solar and lunar clock?   I, for example, would love to make more frequent appearances on this blog (part of the time of writing-work), and on other venues, but the desire to live on multiple time-scales, multiple durations, generally prevents that from happening.  What is the meaning of “work” as an ultimate identifying term for one’s life?   And isn’t there a slight of hand going on, given that almost all contemporary forms of work are monotonous and degrading in the extreme?   Those of us who spend our working hours intellectually are extremely privileged, even if Bernard Steigler is right that we, too, are becoming “proletarianized” as we become incessantly productive.  One has the impression, sometimes, that the only form of subjectivity that can “work” as an intellectual in contemporary neoliberal culture is a lonely, young, white, male, childless, alienated, somewhat reclusive, somewhat abject, somewhat undersexed, relatively unhealthy observer, a kind of near-ghost or near-wraithlike being, who can be expected to sit at desks or remain plugged into terminals at all hours of the day or night.  Sorry if that hurts, dudes, but observe our blogospheric demographic for a quick second.  As much as I think there is something really beneficial about the expansion of thought on the blogosphere (here I am!), there is also something deeply disturbing to me, as a Deleuzian philosopher who is convinced that forms of life encompass forms of thought, and that modes of thinking are restricted by and reflect the determining conditions of modes of living.  The mode of production of contemporary thinking, which is now increasingly cut off from the “leisure time” that “schools” [skola = leisure] –aka colleges and universities—used to represent is disturbingly a kind of ghost-in-the-machine affair.  I’m not nostalgic for colleges and universities.  They can fade into the night of the pseudo-democratic relics of a confused industrial-era set of ambitions that are increasingly irrelevant.  But I remain disturbed by the apparent triumph of the blogosphere as an attraction point for critical inquiry, because sometimes it seems to me that the medium betrays the message at every point, pinning thought to categories of relevance and up-to-dateness, and ruining thought’s inherent untimeliness.  But I may be, myself, simply irrelevant, as I continue to try to live out a life of multiple durations, multiple allegiances, multiple alliances, that does not simply or easily map onto the multiple “connections” of twitter, facebook, blogrolls, and the jouissance of being “first” to the journalistic punch.  I’m torn between the thought that the reduction of philosophy to what’s “next” is the heart of sophistry, but that Socrates was always trying to be where people were, whatever that meant, even if it was, basically, where they were trying to get picked up at the gymnasium.  Certainly the alternative to this medium is unclear, other than an ambiguous silence or strange refusal.  Sometimes I hear and feel the slower pace of my own voice being mowed down, but I also hear in others, who can speak faster, a muted note of the impossibility of trying to live, anymore.  Perhaps the accelerationists are right, and the contemporary philosophical voice is a voice already dead, or undead, that speaks from within an already-mechanized, already consciousness-uploaded world.  Perhaps there simply is no time or space left, here, in this intra-catastrophic milieu, for the disciplines of breath, of focused attention, of silence, of the large circuits of solar and lunar time, of the smaller circuits of metabolism, for the burgeoning fits and starts of childhood.  Perhaps I am bio-fixated.  But maybe it’s not so much that we are all in a mad rush somewhere, it’s that we have despaired of there being any other kind of time.  Modern thought indexes itself to this time out of joint, since Kant.  Critical thought in our age begins and ends with Kant’s withdrawl from every other kind of time than the kind of time that can be measured with thinking.  Kant did not need the dreams of a spirit seer, since he himself already occupied the position of pure spirit, controlling his body and stultifying its rhythms in order to produce pure thought.  Is this not the very image of the efficiencies that are the dream of biopower?   Is this passion for thought, which clearly has no place for the time of childhood, or of intimacy, or for organic patterns of growth, intermittent fruitfulness, and decay—is this adulthood, is this maturity?   Or is this biopower fully internalized?   Hollywoodamerica wants the passion of a vocation sublimated in the passion of the family, but it also wants to submerge family time within the routines and exercises of consumerism.  The truly subversive step may not so much be back from the family toward sterile, Bartleby-style refusal of the family, but to push the “family” –nuclear or extended, gay or straight or trans, large or small, childless or childrearing—into the truly anarchic modality of multiple work/life time scales.  Work that is not for the sake of fame or even career but truly for its own sake presupposes the impossible, presupposes that one does not have to work to live, but that work is a dimension of a living and dying that are inherently “one,” in Laruelle’s sense–one in their autonomy and resistance, one in their multiple times and at their own multiple scales of relevance, drama, dimension. 

Maybe all of this is just because I am lazy.  Maybe I just can’t work as hard as Adam or Levi Bryant or Anthony.  Maybe I’m just not as smart as they are, and therefore not as fast.  But maybe there just isn’t time to say everything that I want to say, at least not as I’m willing to say it.  Maybe there is not supposed to be that much time, or that much of that kind of time.  I don’t know.  I find myself envious of people like Adam or Levi, who seem to have endless energy to upload their insights onto the internet.  Given my various obligations and commitments, it’s usually a miracle if I can have three good hours of my own work every day (aside from teaching, endless job searching, raising my son, navigating a broken, complicated urban environment, trying to eat well, stay in some kind of shape, experience something resembling emotional intimacy or sexual fulfillment, remain informed about the horrors of contemporary life, stay in contact with people I love and trust, and not go completely batshit crazy in the process).  I don’t know.

Dialectically–and I think Adam would agree with me here–the hidden unity of the affirmation of independent adult work and blindly devoted parenting lies in the concept of sacrifice.  Why is it necessary to “choose” work over family?   And what is the meaning of such a choice?   Is it not the very refusal of sacrifice, itself, that is the most subversive position?   If I refuse to sacrifice my desire for intimacy, for health, for sexual fulfillment, for friendships, for community, for access to decent food, for the sake of my “work,” that is the quickest way to “failure” on the market of marketable identities.  The idea that in order to be anything at all we have to be one thing, one recognizable, coherent, well-ordered thing, one obsessive, obvious, compulsive thing that can be counted on to consistently show up as that thing and that thing only, day after day, month after month, year after year—what could be a more clear image of the product that capital wishes to invest in, the income stream upon which it hopes to depend for its future, the leader to which it hopes to ascribe integrity, virtue, and power? 

 

This is not a criticism, per se, of those of you whose thought is more congenial to the speed and rhythm of these networks.  After all, I follow you here, and occasionally, like today, manage to post something myself!  It’s a note from the anxieties of one who feels increasingly left behind, and doesn’t know anymore if he wants to try to keep up, too aware of the ambiguous political statement made by the appearance of that kind of success.