Spivak’s “Scattered Speculations”

I’ve been reading, with a combination of exasperation and illumination — but alas, more of the former — the discussion of Gayatri Spivak’s “Scattered Speculations on the Question of Value” that has been going on at Long Sunday and other places. The discussion led me to reread Spivak’s article itself, which I hadn’t looked at for many years, but which touches on, in various ways, the project on commodity fetishism and aesthetics in which I am currently engaged. I don’t have the energy or focus to write a full-fledged discussion of the essay the way that the folks at Long Sunday have done, but I’d like to make a few comments provoked by reading all that commentary in the light of rereading the essay itself.

The thing that exasperates me the most about much of the discussion is the emphasis on Spivak’s alleged difficulty or incomprehensibility (I am not singling out any of the postings in particular here, just recording a general impression). The level of objection seems to me to be excessive, out of proportion with the actual challengingness of Spivak’s essay, and hence is probably symptomatic. Spivak writes in a theoretical shorthand; that is to say, she assumes a lot of background knowledge on the part of the reader — something which is unavoidable, given the fact that you cannot make a sophisticated argument at all if you have to spell out your points of reference in beginners’ terms every time you try to write anything. Now admittedly, Spivak’s particular presupposed knowledge is stuff I have a reasonable grasp upon — certain strains in Marxist economic theorizing, as well as Derridean deconstruction and its general philosophical-historical background. But I don’t see that Spivak is somehow intrinsically impenetrable. If you lack the requisite backgrounds, you will have the same difficulties that I have in reading Badiou’s Being and Event (because I lack any familiarity with or understanding of set theory), or most recent American analytic philosophy (because I lack the proper comprehension of propositional logic), of for that matter articles discussing the Federal Reserve Bank’s monetary policy or the intricacies of narrative theory. Spivak’s writing is in fact much more engaging and interesting than most of these other sorts of writing — because of the way it makes connections across disciplinary boundaries and contextualizes together things that are usually left apart (like, literary canonization on the one hand and the international division of labor on the other) in ways that few of the other examples I have cited ever dare to do. And I don’t think that Spivak is obscurantist or unnecessarily diffficult in any of the ways these other sorts of writing aren’t.

Putting the bogeyman of “difficulty” aside, it seems to me that “Scattered Speculations” is useful precisely for the way that it reaffirms the importance of Marx’s insights (or theoretical formulations, if you prefer) about exploitation and surplus value for any understanding of culture and society — including but not limited to the discourses of literary studies and interdisciplinary “theory” — today. Among the crucial points Spivak makes (without trying to give a complete account, or putting into more rigid order what we are told right at the start are “scattered” — and provisional — “speculations”) are the following. Cultural studies gets too comfortable and complacent when it considers questions of domination, and power, without also considering the specific importance of exploitation. Marx’s sense of “the labor theory of value,” and thereby of the functioning of exploitation in a specifically economic sense, needs to be defended against both the old-fashioned marxist fundamentalists who would read the theory in an essentialist or “continuist” manner, and the up-to-date theorists (including many so-called deconstructionists) who reject the theory outright on the grounds that it is (supposedly) essentialist or continuist.

Against this, Spivak emphasizes the “textual” indeterminacy of the relations of (the socially necessary) labor embodied in a commodity to the exchange-value of that commodity, to the money form in a capitalist economy, to capital as an object of quantitative accumulation. Labor-power, the commodity that workers must sell to capitalists in order to survive, is defined by Spivak as a materialist predication of the subject (i.e. a definition of what constitutes the human subject — one that is made in “materialist” terms in contrast to the “idealist” definition of subjectivity in terms of consciousness or intentionality) that relies on a fundamental non-identity, “the irreducible possibility that the subject be more than adequate — super-adequate — to itself.” This non-identity is precisely the basis on which exploitation (the extraction of surplus value) is possible; and it indicates how surplus value has to do with a basic incommensurability between the identity (defined via exchange value) of a subject, and the productive labor-power that such a subject is able to deploy. The latter is the use value of the worker’s labor power for the capitalist employer. To see this incommensurability is also to see that use value itself cannot be defined in essentialist terms as some sort of fixable need. (Cf. my previous post on the non-essentialist definition of use value).

So Spivak uses the concept of use-value as a “deconstructive lever” to unsettle any normalization of the hierarchies of value. This means continuing to insist upon the inequities of (worldwide) exploitation, as a process that gets left out of “radical” critiques that only consider systems of domination. Spivak cites as examples both the self-mystifying language of business schools and corporations, and the uncritical celebration of(supposed) empowerment via new computing and telecommunications technologies that has been so prevalent in some “postmodern” quarters. While criticisms like Spivak’s are often read as “politically correct” handwringing, or as what Spivak herself calls a stance “that the ‘disinterested’ academy dismisses as ‘pathos’,” Spivak is careful to spell out the links between the ideology of empowerment that pomo and business academics (unbeknownst to each other) share, and the ‘objective’ way these groups benefit from exploitation via the international division of labor.

I could go on with this, which would seem to me to be just a fairly banal and obvious reading of Spivak’s essay, were it not that so many readers/commentators find it impenetrable. Other aspects of Spivak’s argument are also worth citing, including the way Marxist/economic notions of value are necessarily entwined with other sorts of declarations of Value (such as aesthetic and moral specifications of value). Many of the commentators on the article have in fact moved their focus from economic value to these other sorts of value, without noticing that Spivak is explicitly objecting to such a (economics-effacing) refocusing. But I lack the patience to continue with this close reading, so I will close with a few questions.

If there is one area where I would (mildly) dissent from Spivak’s formulations, it is on the question of whether the “textualist” (or deconstructionist) reading/metaphor/angle of approach is really the best one for raising the issues Spivak wants to raise. I tend to doubt that it is, for reasons that are not unrelated to the ones that Jodi raises. Jodi asks: “what makes the subject materialist or, to use Spivak’s language, why are we working with a materialist predication of the subject or why is a materialist predication of the subject necessarily a predication linked to labor power?” And, following Zizek, she proposes “a different account of the subject, perhaps in terms of the lack, gap, or irreducibility between the idealist and materialist predications.” Now, I am not willing to follow Jodi in making such a move; it seems to me that positing a subject in terms of Lack or negativity is precisely moving in the wrong direction, back to the “idealist” predication that Spivak both wants to get away from, and (as a good deconstructionist) admits we can never eliminate altogether. I think that Spivak’s deconstructionist posing of the idealist/materialist alternative is more destabilizing, and more nuanced, than the Zizekian parallax Jodi proposes. So I’d want to return to Jodi’s cogent question, but give it a different suggestion for the answer. The materialist predication in terms of labor power is important precisely because of the “super-adequation” it entails — and this sort of formulation is preferable to one in terms of lack. But I’d like to say that this predication, although a necessary one for defining the subject, is not a sufficient one. (I take this distinction from Isabelle Stengers’ discussion of Whitehead, in a forthcoming, but as yet unpublished, article. Stengers shows how Whitehead transfers this initially mathematical distinction into metaphysics and ontology). “Super-adequation” itself embodies such a distinction (as a term, it implies a necessary-but-not-sufficient condition, which is precisely why it resists “continuist” or properly representational coding). But the weakness of deconstructive, textualist approaches, to my mind, is precisely that it relocates the gap between necessary and sufficient (a gap which is not a “negativity” or a “lack”, but a space open to other movements, other predications) back into language, into the super-adequate term itself, rather than allowing for the proliferation of other (continuingly disjunctive or non-adequate) terms and entities. So I agree with Jodi that (as she puts it) “materialism, properly conceived, can emphasize both economic determination and openness,” but not quite with the way she proposes doing this; and I agree with Spivak on insisting on the insurpassibility of the economic, and on recognizing “the complicity between cultural and economic value-systems,” but without necessarily following her textualist drift.

Doubtless all this is as abstract-theoretical and jargon-clotted as Spivak’s critics have found her work to be, but without her stylistic elegance and philosophical penetration. Nonetheless I will post it now, since too many other (pragmatic and economic) matters are pressing on me to devote more time to it.

I’ve been reading, with a combination of exasperation and illumination — but alas, more of the former — the discussion of Gayatri Spivak’s “Scattered Speculations on the Question of Value” that has been going on at Long Sunday and other places. The discussion led me to reread Spivak’s article itself, which I hadn’t looked at for many years, but which touches on, in various ways, the project on commodity fetishism and aesthetics in which I am currently engaged. I don’t have the energy or focus to write a full-fledged discussion of the essay the way that the folks at Long Sunday have done, but I’d like to make a few comments provoked by reading all that commentary in the light of rereading the essay itself.

The thing that exasperates me the most about much of the discussion is the emphasis on Spivak’s alleged difficulty or incomprehensibility (I am not singling out any of the postings in particular here, just recording a general impression). The level of objection seems to me to be excessive, out of proportion with the actual challengingness of Spivak’s essay, and hence is probably symptomatic. Spivak writes in a theoretical shorthand; that is to say, she assumes a lot of background knowledge on the part of the reader — something which is unavoidable, given the fact that you cannot make a sophisticated argument at all if you have to spell out your points of reference in beginners’ terms every time you try to write anything. Now admittedly, Spivak’s particular presupposed knowledge is stuff I have a reasonable grasp upon — certain strains in Marxist economic theorizing, as well as Derridean deconstruction and its general philosophical-historical background. But I don’t see that Spivak is somehow intrinsically impenetrable. If you lack the requisite backgrounds, you will have the same difficulties that I have in reading Badiou’s Being and Event (because I lack any familiarity with or understanding of set theory), or most recent American analytic philosophy (because I lack the proper comprehension of propositional logic), of for that matter articles discussing the Federal Reserve Bank’s monetary policy or the intricacies of narrative theory. Spivak’s writing is in fact much more engaging and interesting than most of these other sorts of writing — because of the way it makes connections across disciplinary boundaries and contextualizes together things that are usually left apart (like, literary canonization on the one hand and the international division of labor on the other) in ways that few of the other examples I have cited ever dare to do. And I don’t think that Spivak is obscurantist or unnecessarily diffficult in any of the ways these other sorts of writing aren’t.

Putting the bogeyman of “difficulty” aside, it seems to me that “Scattered Speculations” is useful precisely for the way that it reaffirms the importance of Marx’s insights (or theoretical formulations, if you prefer) about exploitation and surplus value for any understanding of culture and society — including but not limited to the discourses of literary studies and interdisciplinary “theory” — today. Among the crucial points Spivak makes (without trying to give a complete account, or putting into more rigid order what we are told right at the start are “scattered” — and provisional — “speculations”) are the following. Cultural studies gets too comfortable and complacent when it considers questions of domination, and power, without also considering the specific importance of exploitation. Marx’s sense of “the labor theory of value,” and thereby of the functioning of exploitation in a specifically economic sense, needs to be defended against both the old-fashioned marxist fundamentalists who would read the theory in an essentialist or “continuist” manner, and the up-to-date theorists (including many so-called deconstructionists) who reject the theory outright on the grounds that it is (supposedly) essentialist or continuist.

Against this, Spivak emphasizes the “textual” indeterminacy of the relations of (the socially necessary) labor embodied in a commodity to the exchange-value of that commodity, to the money form in a capitalist economy, to capital as an object of quantitative accumulation. Labor-power, the commodity that workers must sell to capitalists in order to survive, is defined by Spivak as a materialist predication of the subject (i.e. a definition of what constitutes the human subject — one that is made in “materialist” terms in contrast to the “idealist” definition of subjectivity in terms of consciousness or intentionality) that relies on a fundamental non-identity, “the irreducible possibility that the subject be more than adequate — super-adequate — to itself.” This non-identity is precisely the basis on which exploitation (the extraction of surplus value) is possible; and it indicates how surplus value has to do with a basic incommensurability between the identity (defined via exchange value) of a subject, and the productive labor-power that such a subject is able to deploy. The latter is the use value of the worker’s labor power for the capitalist employer. To see this incommensurability is also to see that use value itself cannot be defined in essentialist terms as some sort of fixable need. (Cf. my previous post on the non-essentialist definition of use value).

So Spivak uses the concept of use-value as a “deconstructive lever” to unsettle any normalization of the hierarchies of value. This means continuing to insist upon the inequities of (worldwide) exploitation, as a process that gets left out of “radical” critiques that only consider systems of domination. Spivak cites as examples both the self-mystifying language of business schools and corporations, and the uncritical celebration of(supposed) empowerment via new computing and telecommunications technologies that has been so prevalent in some “postmodern” quarters. While criticisms like Spivak’s are often read as “politically correct” handwringing, or as what Spivak herself calls a stance “that the ‘disinterested’ academy dismisses as ‘pathos’,” Spivak is careful to spell out the links between the ideology of empowerment that pomo and business academics (unbeknownst to each other) share, and the ‘objective’ way these groups benefit from exploitation via the international division of labor.

I could go on with this, which would seem to me to be just a fairly banal and obvious reading of Spivak’s essay, were it not that so many readers/commentators find it impenetrable. Other aspects of Spivak’s argument are also worth citing, including the way Marxist/economic notions of value are necessarily entwined with other sorts of declarations of Value (such as aesthetic and moral specifications of value). Many of the commentators on the article have in fact moved their focus from economic value to these other sorts of value, without noticing that Spivak is explicitly objecting to such a (economics-effacing) refocusing. But I lack the patience to continue with this close reading, so I will close with a few questions.

If there is one area where I would (mildly) dissent from Spivak’s formulations, it is on the question of whether the “textualist” (or deconstructionist) reading/metaphor/angle of approach is really the best one for raising the issues Spivak wants to raise. I tend to doubt that it is, for reasons that are not unrelated to the ones that Jodi raises. Jodi asks: “what makes the subject materialist or, to use Spivak’s language, why are we working with a materialist predication of the subject or why is a materialist predication of the subject necessarily a predication linked to labor power?” And, following Zizek, she proposes “a different account of the subject, perhaps in terms of the lack, gap, or irreducibility between the idealist and materialist predications.” Now, I am not willing to follow Jodi in making such a move; it seems to me that positing a subject in terms of Lack or negativity is precisely moving in the wrong direction, back to the “idealist” predication that Spivak both wants to get away from, and (as a good deconstructionist) admits we can never eliminate altogether. I think that Spivak’s deconstructionist posing of the idealist/materialist alternative is more destabilizing, and more nuanced, than the Zizekian parallax Jodi proposes. So I’d want to return to Jodi’s cogent question, but give it a different suggestion for the answer. The materialist predication in terms of labor power is important precisely because of the “super-adequation” it entails — and this sort of formulation is preferable to one in terms of lack. But I’d like to say that this predication, although a necessary one for defining the subject, is not a sufficient one. (I take this distinction from Isabelle Stengers’ discussion of Whitehead, in a forthcoming, but as yet unpublished, article. Stengers shows how Whitehead transfers this initially mathematical distinction into metaphysics and ontology). “Super-adequation” itself embodies such a distinction (as a term, it implies a necessary-but-not-sufficient condition, which is precisely why it resists “continuist” or properly representational coding). But the weakness of deconstructive, textualist approaches, to my mind, is precisely that it relocates the gap between necessary and sufficient (a gap which is not a “negativity” or a “lack”, but a space open to other movements, other predications) back into language, into the super-adequate term itself, rather than allowing for the proliferation of other (continuingly disjunctive or non-adequate) terms and entities. So I agree with Jodi that (as she puts it) “materialism, properly conceived, can emphasize both economic determination and openness,” but not quite with the way she proposes doing this; and I agree with Spivak on insisting on the insurpassibility of the economic, and on recognizing “the complicity between cultural and economic value-systems,” but without necessarily following her textualist drift.

Doubtless all this is as abstract-theoretical and jargon-clotted as Spivak’s critics have found her work to be, but without her stylistic elegance and philosophical penetration. Nonetheless I will post it now, since too many other (pragmatic and economic) matters are pressing on me to devote more time to it.

11 thoughts on “Spivak’s “Scattered Speculations””

  1. Thanks for this Steve. I’m hesitant to ask after your exasperation with claims not to understand, but, if you have a chance, can you explain what superadequation means, please? Since I don’t get what that term means, I have hard time with this:

    Labor-power “relies on a fundamental non-identity”, (the possibility of superadequation) which “is precisely the basis on which exploitation is possible.”
    Is this the nonidentity of labor-power (qua capacity to act) with labor power as commodity? Or have I missed the boat? And is there any significance to it being a possible superadequation as opposed to an actual superadequation?

    Spivak calls superadequation an irreducible possibility, which I take to mean an ineliminable possibility, which I in turn take to mean a necessary actuality. For instance, for Schmitt the friend/enemy distinction is an ineliminable possibility, which, to my mind means that while any specific friend/enemy distinctions may be eliminated, there will always be some friend/enemy distinction. Is it fair to say then in parallel that there will always be some superadequation of the subject, though any particular superadequations may go away? (This would be easier if I got ‘superadequation’, sorry if this is thick of me.)

    When you write:

    “surplus value has to do with a basic incommensurability between the identity (defined via exchange value) of a subject, and the productive labor-power that such a subject is able to deploy. The latter is the use value of the worker’s labor power for the capitalist employer.”

    why is the identity of the subject defined via exchange value? For whom is this definition the case? The buyer or the seller of labor power as a commodity? Or both (such that asking ‘whose perspective’ is a misguided question)? Jodi makes similar points about identity politics sometimes at hers and I don’t understand either claim.

    Lastly, just to clarify, “productive power” of the subject is the power to produce value, to produce for capital, or, to produce (itself as) capital, right?

  2. Nate,

    Let me try to reply. As I was trying to say, the difficulty is one of knowing Spivak’s references: I haven’t read all the philosophy she has, evidently, but hopefully enough that I can give some sort of answer to your questions.

    I am not sure what the provenance of the term “super-adequation” is; but I think it means an excess that arises from an incommensurability. If “adequate” means “enough,” then “super-adequate” would mean more than enough. But also “adequation” philosophically (or, more narrowly, deconstructively) means a representational correspondence, i.e. that something (some sign) is suitably equivalent to, or matches up with, what it is a sign for. So super-adequation would imply an exceeding and rupturing of such representational equivalence or matching up; and the super-adequation of labor power would combine (or condense) the way that labor power produces more than it is worth (its use value for the capitalist exceeds the exchange value which the capitalist pays the worker for this use) with the way in which, according to Spivak’s argument, every stage along the chain labor —> value —> money —-> capital, where these seem to be representational equivalents of one another (adequate to one another) but in fact are not, because indeterminacy or incommensurability intervenes.

    As for possible and actual, I think that what you say is basically right. There will always be a superadequation, a lack of fit, and hence incommensurability. But this need not take the actual form of exploitation, or the appropriation of surplus value (i.e., Marx’s criticism of Proudhon et al is precisely that they think they can end exploitation simply by creating a proper adequation between labor power and wages, whereas Marx finds this illusory — there is no adequation — & says that, rather, the wage system needs to be eliminated altogether).

    As for the later question: I think that by “identity” I just meant (fairly banally, or at least orthodoxly in Marxist terms) what the labor-power of the worker is “worth” under capitalism, as opposed to what this labor power is able to produce. Using the word “identity” was a (perhaps unsuccessful) attempt on my part to link this up with what Spivak calls the materialist “predication” of the subject. As I understand it, Spivak’s “idealist” and “materialist” predications are both claims for how subjectivity is in excess (or, again, super-adequate) in relation to things or objects in the world — this sense of something extra, something beyond objectification, is where we get our sense of being unique selves/subjects from. The “idealist” way to characterize this excess is to define it as “consciousness” (or “interiority”); the “materialist” or Marxist way to characterize it is in terms of world-activity (hence, what becomes labor-power under capitalist conditions).

    I hope this makes sense to you. I know these things are tricky, and (though I think I understand them) difficult to pin down.

  3. Steve–thanks for this. I appreciate your taking up some of the points I raised–it’s been weird to me that the LS symposium has really shied away from considering the argument. Anyway, if the point of super-adequation is one of ‘excess’ then aren’t we still in the same terrain as lack? I don’t want this to sound like a silly Z-ish trick, especially because the conditions and terms of how these things are argued are crucial. So, my question is trying to get at what the difference is. I suspect that it has to do with more predication–so, that your version is less crude than the one I suggested insofar as it retains a connection with labor power. Yet, the very indeterminacy linked with excess already undercuts this doesn’t it? At any rate, I think your formulation is compelling and want to think about it more. What I can’t tell yet is whether there is a specificity in your solution that is an improvement or whether the difference has more to do with working outside the constraints of a Zizekian parallax (or something like it).

  4. Jodi,

    Of course, excess and lack mutually imply one another at least in some way. Spivak mentions this at one point in her discussion of Goux — she notes that Goux correctly states that “excess” and “deficit” go together. But Spivak also criticizes Goux for “an inflation of the concept of excess.” I think Spivak is trying to keep excess/incommensurability related in some way to labor-power as a predication of the subject, and this is the reason, as you suggest, for her use of “super-adequation” rather than Goux’s more general excess.

    I am extending, and perhaps perverting, Spivak’s argument when I apply this same line of thought to express my distrust of the invocation of “lack.” This also goes back to what I fear is too much of an obsessive theme on my blog, which is my distrust of the deployment of Hegelian “negativity.” In Zizek, as in many self-professed Hegelians, there is a too rapid slippage, I think, from negativity in the sense of rupture to a Hegelian idea of the “labor of the negative”; Zizek rejects interpretations of Hegel that center on an achieved self-referential wholeness as the End of the process, but he doesn’t shy away from the labor of the negative. The distinction I am making can be found in Bataille, and in Derrida as a reader of Bataile (the essay on “general economy” in Writing and Difference). It’s also crucial, I think (though unspoken) in Althusser’s attempt to detach Marx from Hegel, to reject a labor-of-the-negative (what Spivak would call a “continuist”) reading of the dialectic of labor power and its appropriation in Marx.

    As usually seems to be the case when I blog, I am substituting a string of citations (to which I could add the usual ones I’ve mentioned before, e.g. Foucault on Bataille, for instance, or the 2nd half of Kant’s First Critique) for an actual argument. I’m aware that I need to pursue the argument itself more rigorously at some point, but now isn’t the time, so excuse my shorthand.

    Anyway, I am trying to get at the right amount of predication or specification.

    Actually, I am not sure I entirely understand why the issue of “predication” is so crucial for Spivak, but I do think something along those lines is useful, if only in order to avoid the tendency of “lack” to become sort of like a black box (or black hole? I wish I could find a better, non-colorist, metaphor) that swallows everything and (seemingly) makes everything possible. I want to say that what comes after the rupture is contingent, non-determined, hence unknowable in advance; but I also want to say that this unknowable, open future/difference is still nonetheless specified in some way in relation to what came before — which is another reason why I am dissatisfied with the catchall of “negativity” or “lack,” and I prefer such alternate formulations as Deleuze/Guattari’s “line of flight” or Whitehead’s sense of process.

  5. Steve–I should probably post the following on my screen: “beware the black box of lack” and “beware continuous readings of negativity”–I mean this seriously because I take your point about the easy slippage involved in each, a slippage which, for those enjoying the sliding, can substitute for more rigorous argumentation. I don’t know enough about D/G, as you know, yet from reading folks who employ ‘lines of flight’ it’s difficult for me to see how this formulation avoids “continuism.” Differently put, the lack in the structure that ‘is’ the subject, isn’t quite as non-specific, I think, as you suggest–‘vanishing mediators’ as well as ‘bones in the throat’ are material supplements/conditions that push or direct the ‘labor of the negative’ in ways that cannot be predicted in advance, that remain unknowbale, but are surely not unspecified with regard to what came before.

    (In some ways, my reliance on this Z jargon is unfair: I know that you know it, so I can use it. Yet, my ignorance of your references makes it harder for for you to make a point that I will understand. I appreciate your gestures to the literature you’re relying on and don’t find them substitutions for your argument at all. I’ll try to read the Derrida essay you cite so that I can follow better; is there a specific (not too long) place for Foucault on Bataille?)

  6. Steve, thanks for clarifying. That’s really helpful, and I think I get the Spivak better now. Is it fair to say that a theoretical focus of superadequation is something like Adorno’s ‘the consistent sense of non-identity’ or an attempt to always not be reductive? In any case, I think I’d want to say that regardless of whether it’s cashed out as lack or excess, superadequation suggests inquiry into superadequations or modes of superadequation – labor power’s use in labor produces more than the wages constituting the purchase payment for labor power, the working class is more than its being as people who sell their labor power and labor, and so on. And it’s important to look into practices of (producing) actual superadequation as much as philosophical accounts of potential superadequation.

  7. Jodi,

    I take your point re “vanishing mediators,” etc., but I still find these alternative (non-Hegelian) ways of specifying relationality across negation/rupture to be more compelling. At the very least I’d urge keeping this question more open than Zizek’s formulations allow.

    Foucault on Bataille is the (early) essay “A Preface to Transgression,” translated in various places, but most easily available in the “Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology” volume of the Essential Foucault. This is also one of the places where I go for an (implicit) Kantian answer to the Hegelian critique of Kant that Zizek often invokes.

  8. Nate,

    agreed. I’ve often been ambivalent about Adorno, but (as per my discussion here with Jodi) the nuances of his account of negativity do indeed work better for me than Zizek’s do.

    Agreed also re actual as well as potential. This reworking in practice of (actual) superadequation is where we might best approach the whole question of what Marx meant by a contradiction between the means of production that capitalism unleashes and the capitalist relations of production that shackle this unleashing. Zizek criticizes what might well be called a “continuist” reading of this relationship (which he attributes to Hardt/Negri). And I’m inclined to prefer Deleuze/Guattari’s accounts in terms of territorialization and lines of flight to either Hardt/Negri or Zizek; but I think you are right that this is an area that cannot be theorized in advance, but needs to be worked through in practice (and indeed, this arena of superadequation is precisely one of the locations where such a practice, and consequent formation of subjectivity, might indeed be possible).

  9. “But the weakness of deconstructive, textualist approaches, to my mind, is precisely that it relocates the gap between necessary and sufficient (a gap which is not a “negativity” or a “lack”, but a space open to other movements, other predications) back into language, into the super-adequate term itself, rather than allowing for the proliferation of other (continuingly disjunctive or non-adequate) terms and entities.”

    Well, that’s one of the more interesting things I’ve heard all year.

    To play DA for the tradition in question, (a tradition already!) isn’t the argument that this relocation is an effect of the business of language, (and that language is inseperable from its business, its function, to be fair) that language functions to colonize the distance between nessecary and sufficent?

    Thus your assertion would remap this weakness on to the approach and rescue, or restore language in some sense. Would this be nessecary if this gap were not so consistently thought of as some sort of negativity or lack, and instead considered as something like a concealment? Or as potentiality? That which language covers-over?

    Is it possible to read the textualist approach as pushing this gap back into language in order to preseve it’s (forgive me) gap-ness, and thus maintain a certain level of openess or possibility built out of language’s determinate insufficency?

    And furthermore, I can think of dozens of non-adequate and/or disjunctive terms that deconstruction has furnished us with, no? Unless I misunderstand your meaning?

    Also, you mention somewhere that your work is largely on commoditty fetishism and aesthetics, an interest I share, if you would point me in the right direction, I would love to see what you have to say.

    fabulous ideas here.

  10. Squibb,

    thanks for your comments.

    In response to your “devil’s advocate” query, I am not denying the importance of language, just the exclusivity attributed to it within deconstruction. Deconstruction sees language as displacement, which is right; but it also thereby codes all displacement as linguistic, as the very nature of Language, which is wrong. It is the same hypostatization that Hegelians and Lacanians make when they code indeterminacy or non-adequation as Negativity.

    I am being too crude and reductive here, in order to answer quickly. So I agree one can “read the textualist approach” as maintaining “a certain level of openness or possibility” just as you suggest. But I don’t think that this should be restricted to “textuality,” or that it is very useful to characterized everywhere that this possibility exists as “textuality.”

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