Negri?

I’m reading Negri’s The Porcelain Workshop with continual exasperation. What is he talking about?

For instance, almost at random: “When we speak of difference, we are therefore speaking of resistance. Difference cannot be recognized within the homologation [sic; this is not a careful translation] that biopower imposes on society” (page 98).

One doesn’t need to be a Zizekian to make a Critique of the Gotha Program-like dissection of every phrase in a passage like this. In fact, difference need not, and usually does not, imply resistance. Capitalism today, with its niche marketing and just-in-time, “flexible” production schedules, likes nothing better than to recognize difference, to proclaim its love of differences, to provide commodities tailored to each and every, no matter how minute, difference. Negri claims to be drawing on a Deleuzian inspiration; but it was Deleuze who denounced the danger of “lapsing into the representations of a beautiful soul: there are only reconcilable and federative differences, far removed from bloody struggle. The beautiful soul says: we are different, but not opposed” (Difference and Repetition, page xx).

Isn’t there a bit too much of the beautiful soul in Negri’s vision of the multitude, even if he insists on the “antagonism” between the multitude and Capital? The most important thing that Negri says is that, in “postmodernism”, or post-Fordist capitalism — what I like to call “aesthetic capitalism” — we have moved from what Marx called the formal subsumption to the real subsumption of society, and all social life, under Capital. This means that Capital is no longer satisfied to profit from “archaic” modes of production and technologies, of things that are outside its orbit in their social actuality, even if profit can be expropriated from them — the situation under merely “formal subsumtion.” Under real subsumption everything without exception is reorganized according to the capitalistic form: leisure time as well as work time, the “domestic” sphere of unpaid female labor as well as the “productive” sphere of male factory labor, the “private” no less than the “public”…

But Negri is so eager, and so quick, to move on to the resistance and creativity of the multitude that he acts as if this resistance and creativity is the main thing that “real subsumption” means. He glides all too quickly over the horrors of real subsumption, not to mention the fact that this real subsumption involves, precisely, the capitalization, or commodification, or “branding”, of precisely that vision of personal “liberation” that was so exalted in the 1960s. (This is something that Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello are especially clear about, in their important if overly lengthy and repetitious book The New Spirit of Capitalism).

So, when I read statements like the following, I can only wonder what planet Negri is living on:

We have already insisted upon the importance of “real subsumption” understood as the essential phenomenon in the shift from the modern to the postmodern. However, the fundamental element of this transition also seems to be the generalization of resistance in each intersection of the great grid of real subsumption of society under capital. The discovery of resistance as a general phenomenon, a paradoxical opening in each link of power and a multiform apparatus of subjective production, is precisely where the postmodern affirmation lies.

Say what? I would think that the predominant feature of “postmodern” existence, with the fading of “grand narratives,” is precisely the fact that resistance — even if it is present everywhere — becomes ever more scattered, more atomized, more ineffectual, more invisible. As Jodi remarked the other day, resistance is simply ignored by the government and the corporations, including by the media, because it is simply irrelevant to a “faith-based” (as Ron Suskind would put it) power system that doesn’t even bother to take it into account: “the [anti-war] movement doesn’t matter because public opinion doesn’t matter.”

This fits in with other aspects of the situation that I have groused about before. Most notably, the wondrous “creativity” of the multitude that Negri celebrates so strenuously is not a form of empowerment, much less of resistance, but precisely a new way of extracting surplus value — this is precisely what “real subsumption” means. Creativity today takes the form of things like crowdsourcing and ludocapitalism — “customers” now pay corporations for the privilege of doing their research and development work for them (which is the way, for instance, that a virtual world like Second Life is built), or volunteer to engage in “word-of-mouth marketing”; and even play turns into a form of work, that is to say of the unremunerated expenditure of labor-power.

This is also where I think that Nate is right in complaining that Negri makes “a variety of claims made about the present which are not actually attributes of the present as distinct from earlier eras,” including “implied claims about the past due to claims marking the present off from the past, such as the notion that now because of immaterialization of labor adequate representation of the proletariat is impossible – the proletariat is _now_ a multiplicity, as if it could previously be adequately represented.” I see this again and again when Negri argues, for instance, that the potential (potentia) of the multitude is incommensurate with the structures of power (potestas), such as when Negri speaks of

a new analysis of labor organization, wherein value becomes the cognitive and immaterial product of creative action, and at the same time escapes the law of value (the latter understood in a strictly objective and economic manner). We encounter the same idea, on a different level, when we localize the ontological dissymmetry between how biopower functions and the potential (puissance) of biopolitical resistance. If power is measurable (measure and disparity (écart) are precious instruments of discipline and control), potential (puissance) is, on the contrary, the non-measurable, the pure expression of irreducible differences. (page 39)

I find this passage astonishing, because the disjunction or “ontological dissymmetry”, that Negri discusses here, as if it were a special new development of “postmodernity”, is precisely the central point of Marx’s theory of surplus value — and arguably of Marx’s entire body of thought. There is a radical incommensurability between humanity’s productive and reproductive “species activity” and enforced work; and therefore between qualtiatively distinct forms of human activity and their homogenization in the form of abstract, socially necessary labor; and therefore also between the “value” of labor-power in a capitalist economy (this value ultimately correlating to what workers are paid) and the “value” of what that labor-power produces; and therefore, at a still further remove, between use-values and exchange-values as dimensions of the commodity form. This radical incommensurability (or what Gayatri Spivak calls “the irreducible possibility that the subject be more than adequate — super-adequate — to itself”) is the necessary condition of possibility in order for exploitation — the expropriation of surplus value — to take place at all. How can Negri imagine that what he is describing here is a radically new conditon, that marks a rupture or “caesura” from the previous history of capitalism? How can he write as if Marx’s radical critique of “the law of value (understood in a strictly objective and economic manner)” were actually Marx’s erroneous buying into such a law, or his buying into such a law that was valid in the 19th and 20th centuries, but suddenly is no longer so today?

I could go on — but then I would never finish this post. The basic problem is, I think, that the new “production of subjectivities” that Negri celebrates cannot be separated from the ecstasies and excesses of consumerism; because consumption itself increasingly cannot be separated from productive labor, the two blending into one another almost seamlessly in the regime of aesthetic capitalism. Karatani has some interesting ideas about how we might resist and oppose capitalism on the basis of our dual identity of “workers qua consumers and consumers qua workers” (Transcritique, page 294) — but this is a way of thinking to which Negri seems entirely oblivious.

54 thoughts on “Negri?”

  1. The point in your last paragraph is basically what I’m trying to get at with the proposal here. Capital’s capacity for capture is endless.

    That said, I can sympathize with Negri’s impulse: it’s not all that comforting to know that many/most/all of the things that have been seen as potential points of resistance of capital are ultimately productive for it. And I do appreciate his attempt to locate resistance immanently, as opposed to the Zizekian faith in the state as the agent of liberation and in the inherent rightness of “forcibly removing” government officials. But why does he have to be so damned uncritical?

  2. I haven’t read “The Porcelain Workshop” yet, so I can only speak to the passages you have framed. I agree with your position, but in a more simplified manner. The point of capitalism, and I am sure/would hope we agree on this, is to extract profit out of labour that can be directed to benefit those people pulling the profits at the expense of those who perform the labour by which the profit is generated. It’s not rocket science.

    Hence: diversity/monoculturalism/hybridity/whatever is of no consequence to the capitalist machine. If the culture is completely centralised with zero diversity, fine. If it’s a culture that demands that everyone be something utterly and completely different, fine. If it has a dominant monoculture and a resistant subculture. Fine. It doesn’t matter. As long as people play the game, it’s a happy camper.

    I would humbly submit that contemporary capitalism is so completely entrenched in society, that it no longer even needs a distinct class of people to extract profit from others, as the capitalist machine is, at core, a machine. A social machine that is married to a physical machine (industrial infrastructure), which requires a method of labour distinct from non-industrial methods of labour. This would lead to a notion of: “Kill the industrial machine and you kill the capitalist machine” – kind of like a neoLuddism, but in fact, I would submit that that would not work, either, as we are completely dependent on the industrial machine for our very survival.

    The soviets found that the firehose of profit from industrial productivity was remarkable, and so it was just a matter of who stands in front of the fire hose, and how big is their bucket. A little bucket could provide enormous wealth. The calcification of those standing in the firehose resulted in massive distortions – viz the classic critiques of “The Deformed Worker’s State” or “State Capitalism”. So, from whence will we see the rupture?

    When the silent player speaks. In these kinds of discussions, whether pro- or anti- Marx, there is a silent player that both capitalists and marxists abuse: the unrenewable resource base. Oil, metals, gas, materials. When they give out, when they “go on strike”, it’s game over. Period.

    In the classic triad of bourgeoisie / proletariat / infrastructure, three is this assumption that the materials for the infrastructure are always available and cheap. In a climate of scarcity, this isn’t necessarily true, and in my view, that is the window of opportunity – when the silent third party of the ecology and resource base clears its throat with “OK – enough is enough…I’m done…” regardless of the diversity of the society, the society will have to respond. And it can respond by carrying the class baggage through the transition, or it can dump the baggage as inefficient, and rebuild the nature of society along more egalitarian lines.

    We went from slave-state agriculturalism to wage slave capitalist industrialism. As craptastic as much of our world is, Marx would agree that capitalism was a vast improvement over the late agricultural feudalist nightmare it replaced. Now, as our society prepares to shift gears out of industrialism, we need to again rebuild our socio-economic institutions. The difference is time: agriculturalism lasted for 10k years. Industrialism will last perhaps 200. What follows on may have to last for another 10k years… So we need to do it right… The last thing we want to do is fall into a reversalist program and collapse back into feudalism.

  3. hi Steve,
    Yeah that book is super exasperating. I finished it and was like “why did I bother?!” I’ve read a good chunk of Goodbye Mr Socialism so far, and that’s better (that’s not saying much). That said, I disagree a bit. You write:

    “the new “production of subjectivities” that Negri celebrates cannot be separated from the ecstasies and excesses of consumerism; because consumption itself increasingly cannot be separated from productive labor”

    I disagree with the second half, though I think you _are_ onto something. To my mind the issue is when and where and how consumption and production are distinct and indistinct (on the latter, the indistinction of these, Marx is good in the very beginning of the Grundrisse). On the first, production of subjectivities, I’d say the same – it’s a matter of more contextual sensitivity and recognizing there’s a range of modes of production of subjectivities, some pro- and some anti-capitalist (and these too are often contextual – some anti-capitalism got harnessed into becoming a motor for capitalist development etc). I feel like Negri’s work is like theoretical mittens – it’s clumsy, fails to recognize important distinctions. “Production of subjectivity in capitalism” not only spans current and past capitalism but also resistance and subjection. Know what I mean?

    take care,
    Nate

  4. If it is plausibe that medieval society creates conditions which pave the way for capitalism which creates conditions which pave the way for socialism why is it implausible for conditions within late capitalism to pave the way for late socialism? Why couldn’t real subsumption, lamentable and negative as it certainly is considered on its own, be one of those conditions? If you remove real subsumption as a critical factor in determining what’s to come, do you replace it with some other factor? And if not, do you not adopt the stance of an “end of history” theorization?

  5. Thanks for this post. I just liked seeing Negri taken down off his kneecapping pedestal for a moment.

    Suggestion for a future post from you: what do you want exactly?

    That is, could you explain in terms that even I could understand just what kind of society you want?

    You are for the Obama Nation, I think. Can you explain what he means by change, and why you want it?

    Do you believe that if the whole world were like North Korea then everything would be better?

    I never see anything very specific. What do you want changed, exactly?

    Do you want to have everything for free, for example?

    Do you want to get rid of the US military, and make its borders permeable by anyone and everyone?

    Do you want to kill everyone who has a million dollars or more and make bums sleeping on mattresses in alleyways into the new heads of state?

    Just a couple of tiny questions.

  6. How it is possible to see any homology between consumerism and and “production of subjectivities” or subjectivations? Actually, consumer critique is one that is oblivious, it is still baudrillardian frame of the social critique that progressively looses its referential point. It mixes general equivalence of the commodity and molecular equivalence of the difference. Without this difference it is impossible ti envisage ANY kind of political subjectivisation!

  7. [How it is possible to see any homology between consumerism and and “production of subjectivities” or subjectivations?]

    I don’t see a great difficulty in positing such a homology. The market responds to the desires of consumers. If there is production which is not consumed, such production is discontinued in a market economy. The market is actually extremely adept in reading and catering to all kinds of emerging demands, and these often come in the broad form of “lifestyle.” Business power to create demand and desire may be quite limited, much more limited than many leftists seem to believe. If it can create demand and desire, it isn’t out of whole cloth… I don’t believe capitalism has or can eliminate difference, and I don’t think that’s the way capitalism works. Capitalism requires differences and it creates and manipulates them. I think the question becomes whether from anywhere outside of capitalism differences can be created faster than they are created from within capitalism, outstripping capitalism at its own game. I don’t really see why Negri’s ideas are so wrong–he’s trying to reconceptualize the game and that’s all to the good because the game has changed. I don’t understand the request that he conform to orthodoxy. I think it means his point has been missed.

  8. Capitalism requires differences and it creates and manipulates them.

    I disagree. Differences are simply part of the warp and weft of society, and have been since people have been people. However, if people all ate exactly the same food, wore the same clothing, lived in identical houses with identical commutes, and had identical appearances, etc. Capitalism would still thrive, as people are animals and have non-negotiable needs. Even if people have identical needs and have no differences, even in class, you can still have a rapacious capitalist system. Instead of the profits accruing to a rich capitalist class, it accrues to the machine itself, and the “ruling class” of “managers” are simply employees like the rest of them. The net result: a world spanning machine plundering the planet for irreplaceable resources.

    he’s trying to reconceptualize the game and that’s all to the good because the game has changed.

    No. The game is still fundamentally the same. It’s gotten a lot bigger, and a lot faster, but it is fundamentally the same old rotten bunch of gangsters. With media it’s easier to get people to pay to pull the wool over their own eyes – co-option and hegemony are easier to hide when everyone’s glued to the TV / internet / xBox / Wii / iPod / object of fascination du jour.

  9. I completly agree with Henrys argumentation. Yusef, you’re totalizing market. Market is not so omnipotetent and homogenous machine for coopting any kind of desires. Finally, subjectivation means nothing but inovation and creation of temporary discontinuity with markets demands. It means possibility of making this temporary cesure. Negri’s fault is, on the other side, confidence on the analysis of market’s self-development, i.e on supposed knowing what is going to happen in economical-political order. In a word, in following marxist argument on market selfdestrucion after wich will suddenly blossom communism. Ranciere calls this argumentation tehno-ontological trick. I completly agree with him

  10. To be honest about it, I was proceeding as if we had already assumed a totalized global market system,with real subsumption of labor in the most advanced parts of this global market system, but I was taking the position that within this totalized global market system, the market is not entirely omnipotent and homogenous (but close!) I don’t think totalized and omnipotent mean the same thing.

    I think Negri does downplay the revolutionary potential of the strategy of opposing “the same old rotten bunch of gangsters.” I don’t agree this makes him “a beautiful soul”–it just makes him someone who doesn’t want to repeat mistakes, keep banging his head against the same old wall. However, if Negri denied the continued existence of these same old rotten bunch of gangsters, he would be naive and foolish. I don’t think he does, and I don’t think he is.

  11. just want to comment steves reference to new spirit of capitalism. luc boltanski was bourdieus student and it’s totally visible in the book. actually, this book summarizes the bigg part of famous social(-ogical) dogmas. They wanted to demonstrate how student demonstrations in ’68th advanced capitalism and thus denounced every idea of student riots and portests. But what they advanced actually is idea of impossibility of any kindof social change by creating idea of totalizing machine that coopts every will and desire for change. But at least we are having more and more evidences that what capitalism coopts is first leftist intellectuals and socalled scientific methods.

  12. Please give me one last chance here to defend Negri. I don’t think I’ve been hitting the nail on the head, and maybe I can’t without giving this a great deal more time and effort than I will actually give.

    But for example on creativity, upon Negri’s version upon which you come across sarcastically,

    “Most notably, the wondrous “creativity” of the multitude that Negri celebrates so strenuously is not a form of empowerment, much less of resistance, but precisely a new way of extracting surplus value — this is precisely what “real subsumption” means. Creativity today takes the form of things like crowdsourcing and ludocapitalism — “customers” now pay corporations for the privilege of doing their research and development work for them (which is the way, for instance, that a virtual world like Second Life is built), or volunteer to engage in “word-of-mouth marketing”; and even play turns into a form of work, that is to say of the unremunerated expenditure of labor-power.”

    Negri’s a fool if he celebrates as creativity such examples as you give above. However, you don’t give Negri the credit of perhaps being a bit more sophisticated and meaning a little bit more in the creativity he celebrates, even though you did quote this,

    An IT specialist or a scientist is a worker, a proletariat. These kinds of workers are become more and more common….They are on their way to becoming the most common kind. They aren’t compensated for standing on an assembly line making widgets. The business organizations employing them aren’t making most of their profits making widgets, either. The value the worker adds isn’t coming from the same source as it came during the 19th century—mainly muscle or manual power. It comes from exactly where Negri says it comes—from cognitive, creative action. The value comes from the innovation. The biggest profit margins come from the innovation, too. It is very plausible to me that labor, supplying this creativity, has an increased ability to escape the domination of capital. What do the businesses do other than maybe facilitating the creativity (I think this is at most exaggerated in importance, anyway.) What does capital do here for the worker—why does the worker need the capitalist? That cognitive and immaterial product is the source of value should be empowering to the worker—this should be celebrated. Celebrating it could turn on the worker to this source of empowerment. This source of empowerment should not be confused with crowdsourcing, ludocapitalism, etc.

    I also think there is a somewhat similar confusion here,

    “I would think that the predominant feature of “postmodern” existence, with the fading of “grand narratives,” is precisely the fact that resistance — even if it is present everywhere — becomes ever more scattered, more atomized, more ineffectual, more invisible. As Jodi remarked the other day, resistance is simply ignored by the government and the corporations, including by the media, because it is simply irrelevant to a “faith-based” (as Ron Suskind would put it) power system that doesn’t even bother to take it into account: “the [anti-war] movement doesn’t matter because public opinion doesn’t matter.”

    I think I share Jodi’s sense of discouragement and cynicism, but I can’t be persuaded to let this feeling overtake all other observations . It might be that there is a strategy to make people believe public opinion doesn’t matter anymore because making people believe public opinion doesn’t matter anymore makes people act as if public opinion doesn’t matter anymore. We’re discouraged and things aren’t going well at the moment–that doesn’t mean we can come to the conclusion that invisible and scattered resistance is ineffective– and will be from now on.

  13. This got left out,

    However, you don’t give Negri the credit of perhaps being a bit more sophisticated and meaning a little bit more in the creativity he celebrates, even though you did quote this,

    “a new analysis of labor organization, wherein value becomes the cognitive and immaterial product of creative action, and at the same time escapes the law of value (the latter understood in a strictly objective and economic manner).”

  14. I’ve been trying to relate “ludo-capitalism” to lacrosse, or to soccer games, in which “difference” is manufactured by the two teams (and their consequent hooliganism, esp. in relationship to nationalism).

    Homo ludens (Huizinga) doesn’t really deal with the anxious capitalism of trying to outscore your opponent, which in turn determines whether you get the scholarship at Duke, or get to keep playing for Ajax (esp. hard to keep playing if you’ve been kneecapped).

    I’m just wondering if anyone could help me relate Negri’s notions to the soccer pitch, or the lacrosse field, since it’s hard for me to “picture” the difference he’s describing except in such vivid terms, where capital might be paid to the team with the labor-value added of having a terrific foot, or the ability to dazzle an opponent with complex footwork, in the ludo-capitalist network, and whether there is some answer for this in the anarcho-communism of Negri aside from kneecapping both teams as well as their managers and then going to work on their fans with a ballpeen hammer or what have you.

  15. Kirby,
    You’ve made this kneecapping reference several times. What are you talking about? I don’t get it. Are you suggesting Negri was involved a kneecapping or a similar act? If so, can you provide some evidence?
    Nate

  16. Sorry to post twice (but not sorry enough not to do so).

    Yusef, I don’t agree with what I think this means: “medieval society creates conditions which pave the way for capitalism which creates conditions which pave the way for socialism” – I mean, I think these points are in a sense true but it’s not a productive set of ideas.

    I also think there’s two mistakes in the stuff on IT workers. First, while attending to IT workers’ roles and experience in the economy really does matter, it’s not at all clear why this matters more than attending similarly to any (every!) other kind of workers. Negri gestures toward a sort of equality in the concept of multitude along the lines of this all sorts of work(er) matters, but the emphasis on immaterial labor cuts the other direction, amounting to what feels to me like a serious overemphasis on one type of work(er). And a flattening of serious differences in the sectors which he calls immaterial and/or affective labor (even just with IT, IT workers who write code are different from IT workers who run help lines, who are quite different from IT workers who sell computers at Best Buy, etc). Second, you write that “[t]he biggest profit margins come from the innovation” in IT, which may be true (I’ll take your word for it), but it’s not clear to me that this makes that type of labor important: this could be more along the lines of a primitive accumulation where a certain type of labor is crucial for using that which is appropriated – just as lumber mill workers are crucial for the processing of appropriated forest – that would mean the productivity of the labor is not a property of the labor itself but of the larger context of production. And in both examples, I don’t think it matters much that the labor is manual vs mental (I also think you here and Negri overstate the mental vs manual distinction in a problematic way), what matters is the value productivity of the work. The capitalist doesn’t care if the worker thinks or uses her hands, unless those issues impact value production, and those issues don’t have a direct relation to value production in the way I think Negri says they do.

    Also, while I agree with your remark about the superfluity of businesses – what do they do anyway? – I fail to see how that’s a new condition. “The boss needs us, we don’t need the boss” is a pretty old slogan, especially if we translate it liberally.

    take care,
    Nate

  17. Nate, there is a lot of speculation regarding Negri’s association and involvement within the Red Brigades. He was officially exonerated. And yet he was found guilty for providing a moral background for violence toward the Italian police, and presumably, there was still lingering suspicion as to whether he wasn’t the political wing of the Red Brigades (who were acting as a kind of underground army) and who kneecapped Aldo Moro (spelling?). Here is a bit from Wikipedia. Basically, I’m just recalling this aspect of Negri in a rather childishly humorous manner (since everyone is talking about ludo-capitalism, I got into the mood):

    “On April 7, 1979, at the age of forty-six, Antonio Negri was arrested along with the other persons associated with the Autonomy movement (Emilio Vesce, Luciano Ferrari Bravo, Mario Dalmaviva, Lauso Zagato, Oreste Scalzone, Pino Nicotri, Alisa del Re, Carmela di Rocco, Massimo Tramonte, Sandro Serafini, Guido Bianchini, and others). Padova’s Public Prosecutor Pietro Calogero accused those involved in the Autonomia movement of being the political wing of the Red Brigades and thus behind left-wing terrorism in Italy. Negri was charged with a number of offences including leadership of the Red Brigades, masterminding the 1978 kidnapping and murder of the President of the Christian Democratic Party Aldo Moro and plotting to overthrow the government. At the time, Negri was a political science professor at the University of Padua, visiting lecturer at Paris’ École Normale Supérieure.

    A year later, Negri was exonerated from Aldo Moro’s kidnapping. No link was ever established between Negri and the Red Brigades and almost all of the charges against him (including 17 murders) were dropped within months of his arrest due to lack of evidence. Those who support the hypothesis of the Gladio organization being behind Aldo Moro’s death see his arrest as an attempt to cover its hidden responsibilities. Negri was convicted of crimes of association and insurrection against the state (a charge that was later dropped) and, in 1984, sentenced to 30 years in jail. Two years later he was sentenced to an additional four and a half years on the basis that he was morally responsible for acts of violence between activists and the police during the 1960s and 1970s largely due to his writing and association with revolutionary causes and groups.”

  18. Negri’s actual involvement in Moro’s murder has never been established, and probably won’t be. But if you Wikipedia Moro and follow the case, these two sentences emerge from Negri’s opus that quite clearly state that he sides with violence as over and against peaceful resolution through the law:

    “Every action of destruction and sabotage seems to me a manifestation of class solidarity…. Nor does the pain of my adversary affect me: proletarian justice has the productive force of self-affirmation and the faculty of logical conviction.”

    NB: The pain of the adversary doesn’t affect him: i.e., torture, kneecapping, etc., are okay-dokay, by me.

    and

    The antagonistic process tends toward hegemony, toward the destruction and the annihilation of the adversary…. The adversary must be destroyed.[6]

    NB: This means, again, that unlike in America which has traditionally allowed for “competing factions” as in Federalist Letter #10, Negri is a totalitarian who doesn’t brook opposition of any kind whatsoever, and will use the harshest means possible to terminate those who oppose him.

  19. I used to feel hatred and to some extent embarrassment against such comments as Negri made and you’ve quoted here, Kirby. But my feeling now is it was with such feelings that the Left knuckled under and gave way. And when it gave way, there was no victory for humanity or humanitarian values or anything like that. There was a propaganda victory for the right, which simply succeeded in disguising its own vicious brutality, knee-capping on a mass scale, etc., as if not speaking openly about it meant it wasn’t happening, as if there was no responsibility for it happening on the part of the prevailing “leadership.”

    What’s extraordinary is the way Negri comes up for harsh criticism from both directions. From Shaviro because he is perhaps too much the beautiful soul, and from Olson because he’s an uncompromising, intolerant ugly brute. Negri is between, and whether this between can be received seems to me the most important question. Shaviro seems to have such different opinions, tastes, interests, and views than I do–but I have often admired his great insight into the writing of Deleuze. If he can’t give a more charitable reading to Negri than this, I despair anyone will. The between won’t be received. At some point, we’re going to have a repetition of history as farce…

  20. Perhaps he’s a little like the way Aldo Moro was received by the Red Brigades. Moro was apparently a tolerant and patient negotiator, and for this he was shot ten times and left in a car between the Christian Democrats and the Communist Party…

    I think Shaviro is usually more patient with Negri.

    I’ve become a little intolerant of the entire left, I think — basically because of their lack of interest in allowing various other factions to operate. Even inside of academia, there has been an incredibly narrowing, followed by the usual scapegoating (the lacrosse players at Duke, which Negri’s co-writer Michael Hardt signed on to is just the tip of an outrageously inept attempt to turn academia into a zone of intolerance).

    I’m much more disgusted by the far right, but the far left has become AS BAD. I do think a middle position is still … possible in THEORY, but it’s largely vanished in praxis. The take no prisoners policy of Negri in the quotes demonstrated above — the inability to recognize even the PAIN of other factions…

    I can’t understand it, and think it is the height (or the depth) of intolerance and lack of a sense of humor.

    Humor implies perspective.

    Cyclops was totalitarian, and I feel his crazy solipsistic perspective has now so thoroughly tainted the left and the right, that I fear that all possibility of discussion has gone out the window with the window that the framers provided.

    Who reads James Madison any more?

    I don’t see why we should resurrect the fratricidal and homicidal fury of the French and Italian avant-gardes within America. Our strength has always been accommodation of the other — even when General Grant refused to allow his men to celebrate the end of the Civil War by throwing their hats.

    The idea was to bring the other back into the polity through respect.

    I don’t see that happening in the European avant-gardes, and I find it frightening, and largely fruitless…

    The liberals lost out in Jacobin France (they did exist).

    Here, they won. It’s something that has made our country much stronger.

    The Europeans don’t even allow freedom of speech. And they celebrate maniacs like Sade and outright criminals…

    At any rate, show me where he is NOT so uncompromising, not so vicious, and I’d like to see it…

  21. Mister Olsen wrote:

    I’ve become a little intolerant of the entire left, I think — basically because of their lack of interest in allowing various other factions to operate. Even inside of academia, there has been an incredibly narrowing, followed by the usual scapegoating

    and also:

    I’m much more disgusted by the far right, but the far left has become AS BAD. I do think a middle position is still … possible in THEORY, but it’s largely vanished in praxis. The take no prisoners policy of Negri in the quotes demonstrated above — the inability to recognize even the PAIN of other factions… I can’t understand it, and think it is the height (or the depth) of intolerance and lack of a sense of humor.

    Well, I’m certainly no bomb thrower (major pacifist, for the most part…) That said, the intolerance on the left has historical precedence – it didn’t just come out of thin air. From the second internationale onward, with the exclusion of the anarchists, etc. there was a great narrowing going on. But it makes sense: the proletariat was in a VERY bad way – working 12 hour days, six days a week tends to make your life really suck. And when you protest or strike, the company sends in the army and starts perforating people. The companies were willing to kill people. Cheerfully. With gusto. And use the state to do it. After thousands of deaths in the cause of liberation and labour, one tends to get pretty sharp.

    Globalisation hasn’t changed this – it has simply exported the labour and pollution to other countries where the workforce is cheaper and less troublesome. It was only 100 years ago when the Colorado guard fired into the tents of strikers, killing women and children. And 70+ years ago when strikes in Detroit were broken with incredible violence.

    So when you’re trying to improve the lot of the working class around the world, the ruling elites of capitalism have a consistent tendency to use deadly force in defending their wealth, privilege, and convenience. As a consequence, narrowness and constriction follows, as a defence mechanism, to match the humourlessness and remorselessness of the war machine. I’m not saying it’s optimal, I’m just explaining it.

    My problem with the left is the same that I have with the right: they both externalise the “costs” of materials and ecology. Attempted Socialist states have proven to be every bit as destructive and shortsighted as the capitalist war machine. In this way, the left is as blind as the right. I don’t see a “middle path”, as the exigencies of the global demographic explosion indicate a “multi-path” or what I prefer: a multi-axis approach. That’s the only approach that has any hope of working, and even THAT I am afraid may be too little too late, due to the impending collapses forced by peak oil combined with the export land model and unmodulated demand structuring in the economy.

    The right wing is heinous and ignorant, and must be stopped, but the left, through post modernism, decided that the map was actually a shopping list or an allegory of power, or some other bit of self-indulgent nonsense, and now they are both driving the car of civilisation right off the cliff, a la Thelma and Louise.

    I can provide facts and figures at your convenience.

  22. I’m not going to argue with Kirby Olsen because I don’t think he will argue honestly with me and I don’t think we have enough of a common framework to make productive discussion possible (I mean, we could probably establish one with a lot of work, but frankly I’m not interested in expending that effort). So, I say the following only for others who may read this.

    Olsen is repeating, either directly or by insinuation, unsubstantiated and in some cases dismissed claims about Negri’s involvement in terrorism. This sort of thing is discredited among credible sources (at least one of the clandestine and terrorist groups tied to some of the Italian left had plans to murder Negri). Furthermore, this sort of thing apologize for, and in Kirby Olson’s case makes a joke out of, a tremendous injustice on the part of the Italian state (including collusion among Italian intelligence agencies and quasi-fascist groups) and the destruction of or damage to many lives. Negri, for one (and like many others) was tortured by prison guards. All of that, to my mind, makes this not a suitable subject for humor or for lighthearted perhaps only partly sincere accusations of wrongdoing.

    What _is_ true in what Olson’s remarks is that Negri has made statement in support of violence. Negri was very clear, however, that he was against terrorist violence and for what he called “mass violence” along the lines of rioting and group conflicts with the police at demonstrations and so forth. Disagreement over that is certainly reasonable, but this is very different from what Olson is saying/insinuating.

    If people have serious questions about this stuff I’d be happy to dig up references for the above, though I won’t be able to do so quickly as it’s been some time since I’ve really spent a lot of my energy on this Italian stuff.

  23. Henry, while it’s true that the American government has committed atrocities against workers, it would be difficult to find any government that hasn’t. This is why for the longest time I was an anarchist. Max Stirner argues that government is itself an ego and acts in its own selfish interest (The Ego and Its Own).

    However, governments can also protect workers, and ours does a better job than that of Red China, or that of Pol Pot’s Cambodia, or that of Ceausescu’s Romania, to name a few from the honor roll of communist governments. When you look at Mugabe in Zimbabwe you have to wonder how he justifies 200,000 percent inflation just in terms of keeping power, even it’s ostensibly socialist power. The rampant murders that the socialist states have committed you are probably familiar with. That they are on-going but rarely covered by NPR or PBS is something of an anomaly to me. Mugabe’s destruction of the electoral process and the murder of thousands of members of his opposition has barely been reported, and rarely makes the front page. If it was South Africa under apartheid, however, it would always be front page.

    My argument is that the tension between the workers and the owners (or between races and genders, as well as classes) doesn’t have to become a zero-sum game. John Nash argued already in the fifties in his game-theory proposals that genocide wasn’t good for business between Russia and the U.S. It would be better for both groups if we bartered with one another. I have something of the same thinking in my essay on P.G. Wodehouse that is in my book Comedy after Postmodernism. Bertie and Jeeves are much better off with each other, even though they have class antagonisms. They work well together, because they don’t off the other.

    In the same way, it’s bad news to destroy your opponent, as NEgri proposes in the comments above. This may be a more Italian thing: the notion that you have to take out your opponent. I don’t know very much about Italian culture and history, but the idea of a winner take all spoils system does very much operate in certain societies. I recommend against it. I have only the anecdotal evidence of Mafia societies (as they are depicted throughout Puzo’s Godfather series, or throughout the Sopranos). I’ve never been terribly interested in Italian culture along these lines. I am much more interested in the Scandinavian (Lutheran-based) societies of northern Europe such as Finland and Sweden. There has been some civil wars and uncivil wars in those countries, but they haven’t been quite as brutal, and have been shorter in duration, probably because of the different ethos (Lutheran v. Catholic), and the notion that we are fallen (Reinhold Niebuhr — who Obama occasionally quotes — is a very important N. American Lutheran who isn’t read much in the left but should be.)

    Just because the government shot down some workers in Colorado 100 years ago, or shot anarchists off the bridges of Everett, Washington, doesn’t mean that it’s right to return fire. Using the law, we can dicker to arrange RELATIVELY fair and just norms such that the owners can make a profit, and workers can make a living wage. That is the ideal.

    Of course, there have been times in the past that the owners have been incredibly brutal.

    But by and large most Americans have agreed upon the Bill of Rights, and it remains a nation of law and mutual respect.

    But through academia we have imported a destructive winner-take-all philosophy from France and now Italy over the last thirty years in which the left refuses to see any humanity whatsoever in its playing partners. The demonization of the lacrosse players at Duke is just a symptom of that malaise. This kind of thing isn’t good for America. We ought to keep our respect for one another, and see all Americans as humans that we can deal with, and trade with, and work for and with. At the very least we ought to have a fair trial before we determine guilt. This didn’t happen at Duke, and since Hardt signed that Document, and is part of the Negri work, I see it as co-extensive. Fairness across lines and extension of humanity to all is what has made America prosperous and has relegated France and Italy to the status of museum states.

    I more or less argue the same things in my book on Andrei Codrescu (anyone who wants to argue with me could read my books, and see where I am coming from, or visit my blog, and look at my face, and my writing).

    It’s much harder for me: I don’t have a face in Nate’s case, or even a full name, much less a single article to read, much less a book.

    I’m pretty familiar with the history of the avant-garde (I was Shaviro’s Ph.D. student at the University of Washington 15 years ago), and am fairly familiar as a result with D & G, Lacan, Derrida, Klossowski, and others. My real interest is aesthetics (poetry, in particular, and stand-up comedy), but the intrusion of politics into many areas of aesthetics has forced me to study it, in order to stymie it in its totalitarian variety wherever I can.

    It may be that Negri was about to be assassinated by some splinter group or another, but it seems he in turn was more than willing to kill people, at least hypothetically if not in actual fact. I think the totalitarian decision to off the enemy (Rwanda, Stalin, Mao’s great purges, or the Italian brownshirts, or Hitler’s decision to off the Jewish population of Europe) is invariably a fatal mistake for those who make it.

    Much better: Madison’s Federalist Letter #10, which argues that we are always factional, and that factions will always compete, and that no faction is morally above any other: they all just want what they want for selfish reasons. If you go back to Madison you’re on much fairer ground than you are with Negri and heartless Hardt.

  24. I still don’t understand why the enormous changes in the composition of the labor force since the 19th century doesn’t demand “a new analysis of labor organization,” or why the changes aren’t well characterized by, “value becomes the cognitive and immaterial product of creative action.” I think automation does change the mental/manual equation–most work in the US is no longer manual and yet it is still compensated as if it was, on an hourly or other time-scale basis, as time worked. That doesn’t really make sense if the work is mental– years (or a lifetime)can go by with no product at all, or on the other hand, something great can be created in what seems like no time at all. (And with seemingly “no labor” at all.) The relationship of time and effort (labor) to value must be changed by this.

    The relationship of a mental worker (I was wrong to narrow that down to “IT” workers,) to capital has got to be different to that of a farm or factory worker of one hundred years ago. You can’t be a farm worker without a farm to work on, or a factory worker without a factory to work in. You can be a mental worker with just a small amount of space (a cubicle) and some generally relatively inexpensive technology which can be located in your home. I can see how a factory owner rigidly controls the factory worker– I don’t see this nearly as clearly in the case of a mental worker. The nature of the control has changed. The ownership of the product, which would appear straightforward in the case of the farm or factory (I don’t think a farm worker could get away with “That’s my vegetable, I grew it!”) has to be secured with some long-winded legalistic verbiage–it’s not so clearcut. Securing the “intellectual property” is difficult.

  25. Nate, why don’t you just quote Negri saying he’s against terrorism?

    I haven’t read Negri with any depth. I thumbed through Empire and was aghast at every place I stopped.

    The appropriation of St. Francis toward the very end left me floored.

    But I would like to see a quote where he deliberately revokes violence as a strategy.

    You see he’s done it, so just quote it, with a book and page number that I can find.

    I admitted in my post that I don’t have a very nuanced picture of the fellow, and the stuff I quote already stated that he had been freed of most charges of ACTUAL violence. He was quoted as CONTRIBUTING to an intellectual climate where violence appeared to be the answer.

    I think I made that clear, so your arguments just seem to reveal that you can’t read what I wrote.

    I’d be very interested in actual quotes from books or articles in which Negri denounces violence and terrorism as a strategy.

  26. The Red Brigade problem was, of course, that they weren’t violent enough. Hamstrung by Marxism and the capture of leftist politics by the Cold War order – and order in which, say, the Soviet Union would harshly disapprove of a real revolution in Italy – they couldn’t see that the Christian Democratic alliance of kleptocrats, mafioso and not so crypto fascists was ripe for taking down. While the Red Brigades daintily took down a policeman or two, and kidnapped the wrong Christian Democrat – typical of their cluelessness that they didn’t aim for Andreotti – the allies of the CD, the Mafia, made short work of any opposition in Sicily by killing them right away, no questions asked. Andreotti himself, with his close friend Lima, was well aware of what was going on. Meanwhile, the left factionalized itself, sprayed high Marxist theory talk over a situation that could be analyzed pretty clearly with common sense, eighteenth century, Tom Paine like words, and wasted their chance to confront a true horror. The ten thousand or so deaths in Sicily due to the CD-Mafia axis are calmly ignored by beautiful souls who speak of kneecapping. What a joke! Why not speak of the Razing of Palermo, as it was called (the utterly corrupt knocking down of neighborhoods for the soul purpose of using concrete, in an industry monopolized by the Mafia), or the current Burlesque-oni renewal of the elite-mafia detente?

    Alas, instead we got “terrorism” – an absolute joke.

  27. Negri says this,”We encounter the same idea, on a different level, when we localize the ontological dissymmetry between how biopower functions and the potential (puissance) of biopolitical resistance. If power is measurable (measure and disparity (écart) are precious instruments of discipline and control), potential (puissance) is, on the contrary, the non-measurable, the pure expression of irreducible differences.”

    Shaviro responds by saying, “I find this passage astonishing, because the disjunction or “ontological dissymmetry”, that Negri discusses here, as if it were a special new development of “postmodernity”, is precisely the central point of Marx’s theory of surplus value — and arguably of Marx’s entire body of thought. There is a radical incommensurability between humanity’s productive and reproductive “species activity” and enforced work; and therefore between qualtiatively distinct forms of human activity and their homogenization in the form of abstract, socially necessary labor; and therefore also between the “value” of labor-power in a capitalist economy (this value ultimately correlating to what workers are paid) and the “value” of what that labor-power produces; and therefore, at a still further remove, between use-values and exchange-values as dimensions of the commodity form.”

    What I want to know is: doesn’t Shaviro’s interpretation (and denunciation) of Negri depend on “biopower” being the same, roughly synonymous, to either “labor” or “species activity”? I have the same sort of question about “biopolitical resistance.” Is this the same—synonymous—with “value of labor-power in a capitalist economy?”

  28. Roger, I hope you’re not arguing that the mafia should set the ethical standards for the left.

    I’m not saying either that we should turn the other cheek, but … in America at least, we largely have the Mafia under control.

    Interestingly, the left and the mafia have been intertwined for at least a century. In the Teamsters union and other unions the mafia even got to call the shots for some time.

    I don’t quite understand the story of how they got intertwined and haven’t studied it, but the mafia could supply the unions with muscle against the crooked police who were in league with the big bosses and employers.

    They eventually came to agreements (you can see some of this corrupt operation in a show like the Sopranos where the bosses and the mob bosses are hard to separate and are again difficult to separate from the union bosses, especially in areas of New Jersey that were traditionally under mob control).

    I don’t think we need to take our ethical standards from the low lifes of southern Europe who had the corruption of the Catholic church as their inspiration.

    Might doesn’t make right. In Protestant countries at least the reversal of that phrase is more like it, which makes Protestant countries less apt to fall prey to corruption, and which in turn guarantees a quality of life not available in Catholic-communist countries where the operating principle is might is right.

    I’d hate to see that become the standard in America, where the feuds of Sicily and Palermo, and the ways in which they were settled, were how they were settled in North America. I’d rather see the Scandinavian (Lutheran) models prevail. People — even criminals! — should be ashamed to resort to extra-legal methods.

  29. Kirby, I’d like to know where you found the time machine. So delightful! The victorian talk about the Southern Europeans sparkles with the blind prejudice of the Victorian empire at its dubious peak! Please, I want to hear from you about the unfortunate papistical Irish, and how God rained blessings on that land by taking off the unfit during the late, blessed potato famine.

    Hmm, how to answer such wackiness? Well, the left I could give a rat’s ass about. You might have noticed in your club library – before the barber shaved your muttonchops, deuced Italian chap, a specimen of effeminity if there ever was one! – that those American rascals actually killed many of her majesties soldiers over a slight tax matter. That one’s government is involved with the Mafia, and that one’s president was latter tried for conspiracy to murder a journalist – talking about that Andreotti chap – and acquitted due to the overt pressure of the lite, rather nasty, dont you agree? Of course, those southern Europeans do get all womanishly hysterical. Really, not so different from the fuzzy wuzzy’s we’ve been taming with shot to bring them up to the white protestant standard. Need a good firm hand, and I’m sure you are happy to see it applied by Berlusconi. None of this mucking about with unions. I mean really! How is a man to lower the pay of one’s employees and raise the dividends of one’s shares if one has unions. Quite the criminal element. Like that teamsters union, which endorsed that leftwinger named Richard Nixon back in the day.

  30. Can’t you tell you’re being baited, Roger? This new tidbit of information about the baiter being a former Shaviro PhD student at UW–extraordinary. Maybe this explains why the baiter’s passive-aggressive behavior is tolerated here.

  31. Actually, there’s just a massive differend.

    I’m not baiting anyone at all.

    People keep assuming that I’m kidding, or else that I’m an idiot. I think the reason is that leftists aren’t aware that there’s a huge difference of opinion to their discourse, because most people are silenced by the Saul Alinsky-approved sarcasm that is meant to squelch any kind of real dissonance/difference.

    It probably creates a lot of cognitive dissonance to have me here, but dealing with that just requires a tiny sense of humor. Develop it.

    I think Steve always had an enormous sense of humor, which is why he tolerated me then, and now.

    But the problem is that I’m serious!

    My books are in every library in the land. Open them, and if you read enough, you’d start to see I’m not kidding, because I actually don’t have a sense of humor. At least not on important topics like the need to encourage laughter, and the need to look away from the southern European avant-garde, and to try instead to understand the Lutheran democracies of Scandinavia as a better model for social amelioration.

    I’m actually learning a little bit, too, but only in pieces.

    That’s my only reason for being here.

    I would leave if Steve asked me to leave.

    I just wonder why you guys are so violent, and so serious, and why Negri is even looked to as a possible tutor for the American left when he seems so grim, is an aberrant criminal, and comes out of a tradition that appears to get uglier and uglier the more you crazy guys describe it.

    The macho attitude of killing people as a way of settling differences?

    Are you guys just kidding?

    Give me Mary Midgley, and I will trade you ten Negris and toss in any other terrorist or terrorist-lover that you like!

    Ha.

  32. on to someone much more interesting – Yusef.

    Greetings!

    You wrote:

    I still don’t understand why the enormous changes in the composition of the labor force since the 19th century doesn’t demand “a new analysis of labor organization,”

    And I’ll start right there, because, given the rest of what you say, that is exactly where our differences lie, and thanks for being so accurate.

    Hopefully, I can return the favour.

    Elsewhere you discuss the automation of labour and the transition of labour from manual to mental as being sufficiently different in character as to warrant “a new analysis of labor organization”, and you make some good points in that regard.

    I would argue that while the character of labour has changed in states that are more highly developed in industrial work practices, such that they have exported a large portion of their manual labour (and the pollution and ecocide that goes with it) to other less industrially developed countries, the fundamental structures remain: an entrenched ruling elite of gangsters whose greed and lust for power knows no bounds.

    My present research is very much in this nexus: where resources, industrialism, and culture meet. the conditions you describe are extremely present and of the moment. I would recommend the following books, if you haven’t read them already (I think they’re pretty fabulous) Organized Networks by Ned Rossiter and Zero Comments by Geert Lovink. Many of these ideas have been discussed widely on fibreculture, rhizome, and other online groups. (Full disclosure: I edited Zero Comments. I recommend it to you because it deals with a variety of ideas you touched on in your comments.)

    On top of Rossiter and Lovink, I would add that the entire contemporary technology sector is completely and utterly dependent on cheap and available fossil fuels, none of which are going to be around in any significant quantity in the 22nd century. However, the need and demand for materials will not diminish, and, given the expectation of another 3 billion people added onto our already massive numbers, the demand for said resources is likely to increase dramatically.

    With the disappearance of fossil fuels, it is increasingly unlikely that jobs that require said technologies will survive, resulting in a decimation of the “mental workers” you describe. There will, of course, be an even GREATER need for such work – we’re not going to transition to a post-petroleum society without a lot of clever efforts and technologies.

    At the same time, there will be an increased reliance on localised production of the things that are low on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and the acquisition of those resources will necessarily require greater human effort and attention, which will tend to subtract from the time needed to be spent innovating around turbulence (from a variety of causes) and developing new materials from sustainable resources.

    As noted by a variety of authors in this field [Walter Youngquist (prof. em. Oregon), Albert Bartlett, (prof em Colorado) Denis Frith [ret. Engineer, aeronautics) et. al.] civilisation itself has only functioned in history as a tool for resource extraction in order to advantage the human species in an often hostile biosphere. If the Bayesian mathematics described by John Leslie (The End of the World, the science and ethics of human extinction, Routledge 1996) are correct, then the odds are that the species will go extinct within the next few hundred years.

    These kinds of problems make issues surrounding “mental labour” seem trivial, but in fact, it serves to amplify the importance of said labour, as none of these perspectives were possible without it. Again, given that we are directly faced with extinction, the need for “mental labour” is greater than ever before, and will continue to be mission critical, and I emphasise: even as the practice of automated and mechanically/electronically assisted mental labour becomes completely unsustainable.

    It’s a contradiction, but it cuts directly to the analysis of labour organisation and the contradictions of capitalist industrial production we (you, me, nate, hardt, negri) discussed earlier. In a world of decreasing resources and increasing demand, efficiency will have to be as close to entropic limits as possible. The logic leads to truly stunning near term (30 year) scenarios filled with contradictions: computer workers who grow their own vegetables, computer motherboards made out of wood sap, etc. on the one end and farmworkers who spend their days toiling in the sun and go home to automated entertainment systems, geothermal wildcatters who fall in love with interactive software “personalities”, at the other end.

    The shifts and changes in the character of the workforce are and will be significant, but that is not the core point of a Marxian analysis, which always devolves on issues of power. Foucault’s title “Power and Knowledge” linked these two terms in an obvious way, but mental workers don’t necessarily have “knowledge” and are more often left to sift though the detritus of knowledge: data, thusly the economics of scarcity come back into play, even in a field known for amplifying ubiquity: mental labour and “knowledge” workers.

    Yusef also wrote:

    You can’t be a farm worker without a farm to work on, or a factory worker without a factory to work in. You can be a mental worker with just a small amount of space (a cubicle) and some generally relatively inexpensive technology which can be located in your home.

    Well, actually, that depends. Subsistence farmers work for themselves, not on “farm”, (“Farm” being an alienated plantation style system) and in the past several thousand years, their surplus or some large portion of their surplus, was confiscated by the ruling elite (i.e. “the king” / emperor / supreme lord and master, etc) to their own ends. There is nothing that prevents the replacement of The King with Dole Fruit Company or with a ruthless Queen like Beatrice.

    You can be a factory worker without a factory, and do so as a “mental worker”. I did that myself in the early 1990s, when I worked for a type design company. I would be provided a Syquest drive full of fonts. They were in craptastic condition, and my job was to smooth them out, establish sidebearings, and develop kerning tables. This took an extremely good “eye” and a lot of judgment – “design” work of a very tweaky nature. That said, it was essentially factory work that I did in my own home.

    Many software companies “farm out” their labour to telecommuting programmers, and much of India’s recent success is based on the clumsiest implementations of this process. At the same time, much web based programming is done in small offices or homes. A “good manager” knows how long it will take for some set of programming tasks to occur, and is able to track the labour in that way. (I know this because that’s what my wife does for a living…)

    In a nutshell, while the qualities of labour have changed, and in some cases dramatically, the structure of the macro, the political economy, is largely identical to what it was 80 years ago. Examining the character of mental labour is a useful thing, much as examining the child labour in the Global South that creates or evacuates the space for mental labour in the Global North is worth examining.

    You might find this interesting and valuable – in Lovink’s book, chapter 5, “Indifference of the Networked Presence – on internet time”. and in Rossiter’s book, chapter 3 “Creative Industries – comparative media theory and the limits of critique from within” and chapter 4 “Creative Labour – and the role of intellectual property”.

    You also wrote:

    most work in the US is no longer manual and yet it is still compensated as if it was, on an hourly or other time-scale basis, as time worked.

    that may be true in a literal sense, but it is not true in a class sense – just because someone is not digging ditches doesn’t mean that they’re in a cafe cranking code in Ruby On Rails. The kids behind the counter getting your coffee is not doing “manual labour” they’re in the “Service Economy”, just like the programmer cranking code in Ruby On Rails.

    In the USA, this difference is reaching a crisis point – where the working poor are spiralling down into a squalid and deeply unfortunate miasma of superstition, ignorance, and delusion. For a highly anecdotal but stirring examination of this, read “Deer Hunting With Jesus” by Joe Bageant.

    The nature of the control has changed. The ownership of the product, which would appear straightforward in the case of the farm or factory (I don’t think a farm worker could get away with “That’s my vegetable, I grew it!”) has to be secured with some long-winded legalistic verbiage–it’s not so clearcut. Securing the “intellectual property” is difficult.

    Presently, it is, but that is a technical issue combined with a social preference. The KINDS of IP differ, and different societies have different preferences. The USA (and much of the Anlgophonic world) has very starchy notions about IP. Other countries don’t. If/when the rest of the planet gets completely bored and pissed off with the American Empire and decides that it’s cheaper in the long run to let it sink like so much ocean foam into the sands of history than to try and keep this crazy ponzy scheme run by gangsters afloat, the way IP is dealt with would also change to reflect that.

    Yusef – thanks for your reflections. I look forward to your response! And thanks to Shaviro for this space and the intial conversation. I need to read Negri now…

  33. I grant that moderation and the notion of law and order that I stand for is probably boring. Much more fascinating to be part of a terror cell in which Italian political leaders are ranked for assassination and nobody bats an eye. I grant that Negri is exciting. He argues that Islamic terrorist groups are ok by him in Empire, and that killing their opponents is something that the left ought to consider more carelessly.

    That’s exciting, especially for a bunch of obvious sociopaths with a lot of testosterone and not much impulse control.

    It’s just not for me. Alas, I’m just such a bore!

  34. Kirby Olson:

    Here’s a piece by Negri rejecting terrorism, which took less than 3 minutes of googling to locate:
    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/16090

    I also glanced at my copy of the book Negri On Negri, with Anne Dufourmantelle. On page 9 Negri denounces the Red Brigages, and on pages 10-11 discusses briefly what he and others did to oppose the Red Brigades, including a statement “The Document of the 90” which Negri and others then imprisoned wrote about armed struggle, in response to which the Red Brigages said they would kill the 90 people, starting with Negri. (Negri later shred a cell with someone who had been ordered to kill him.)

    Let me be very clear. Negri went to prison and was tortured in part due to accusations like those you are making and which are held to discredited by people who informed about this. They are not accusations to be repeated lightly. That you don’t like Negri or find him appalling is your business and no real failing. That you make these sorts of accusations, and so apparently flippantly, is a tremendous moral failing on your part. These are matters to be treated seriously. Likewise with your reference to the Teamsters and the mafia, a comment made in such a way that demonstrates (as – by your own admission – with the stuff on Negri) that you neither really know much about what you’re talking about here nor care to do any looking around before commenting about matters with both serious moral weight and a history that mattered a lot to many people’s lives (one component of the serious moral weight), people who your behavior is quite disrespectful of. (And for what it’s worth, I loathe the influence of organized crime within _some sectors_ of the US labor movement, as does everyone who is serious about building a real movement of workers, as well as the history of racism within _some sectors_ of the US labor movement – on that, see for instance the works of David Roediger and Noel Ignatiev.)

    Perhaps this is just clumsyness, perhaps you’re more conscientious in the rest of your life rather than in your internet hobby (I know I’m sloppier in my internet hobby than I am in real life), but I have to say I find your behavior quite offensive on these issues. You are not treating this stuff with the seriousness it deserves.

    What you’re doing doesn’t advance discussion, doesn’t respectfully engage, and makes big – as in morally weighty – claims without really knowing the material or (apparently) giving the big claims their due seriousness (as in, you apparently can’t be bothered to do any research about whether Negri has actually denounced terrorism). Let me make a parallel to try and lay out another way that what you’re doing bothers me. You write a blog called Lutheran Surrealism. Let’s say I read this piece by Luther – http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/Luther_on_Jews.html – or this wikipedia entry – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_and_the_Jews – in the way that you used the wikipedia entry on Moro, or used Salvador Dali’s remarks in favor of Spanish fascists as some sort of argument about Lutheran Surrealism? That would be stupid and would miss the point of what you’re doing. I think that would be about the equivalent of what you’re doing here.

    Nate

  35. I have to say I appreciate Dr. Olson’s willingness to play devil’s advocate in this discussion. I’m afraid I still tend to blame the Lutheran wing of the English Department for metaphysically knee-capping me when I was a grad student. I think I would much prefer to have done something useful and productive with my life as I had thought that’s what I was doing when I wrote my thesis. Fortunately for me my wife was raised Catholic. We got married when it became apparent that my education was a serious handicap and not a foundation on which I could hope to someday repay my student loans. My wife wasn’t a millionaire when I married her. She and her brother were the first generation in their family to attend college. I am the third generation to attend college in my family. My parents and all four of my grandparents attended a church school run by the denomination in which their fathers or grandfathers were ministers. I have two younger brothers. One of them has done just fine without a college education, building houses for Microsoft millionaires. It’s tough breaking into the working class when you are born into a Brahmin caste. My youngest brother did go to school at a community college, but only because he had a golf scholarship. His English instructor refused to accept a late paper during a week in which he was representing his school in Las Vegas competing against Division I schools. He was given the option of retaking the course during the summer so he could get his associate’s degree. He decided he’d rather not have one and has done just fine working for my high school graduate brother. My advanced degree qualified me for a career as the family ne’er do well. Churches have footholds in corporate governance. Commies don’t. Apparently I was supposed to undergo some kind of conversion experience while the Committee decided that admission to graduate study didn’t include work toward a doctorate. I think the graduate curriculum should have included a course on faking conversion, but that probably isn’t allowed at a big state school. It might undermine their academic credibility.

  36. I’m generally quite patient with outsiders to Lutheranism. We only make up about 3% of the American electorate (how much Marxism have?), and so I can’t afford to be belligerent. If someone expresses an interest, even if it’s of the Luther to Hitler thesis variety, I try to educate them.

    In terms of Negri and Hardt, however, there are enormous obstacles to my interest right at the starting gate. The Duke 88 signature is the beginning. No one has addressed this. There is an area of silence around it about three thousand miles in diameter. If Hardt’s so smart, how could he have made such a simple mistake, and not even apologized?

    It’s like when the Red Queen screams, Off With Their Heads!

    A little evidence goes a long way in terms of settling guilt or innocence, but it seems to me that the imaginary has taken over the evidential in many domains of the left.

    At any rate, there is a necessary and interesting cross-fertilization between Lutheranism and Marxism. Marx frequently quotes Luther. Marx was raised as a Lutheran (his family appears to have seen that when opportunism knocks, the knocked turned opportunistic). One could say that Kant was a similar opportunist, or even Hamann, since you couldn’t get anywhere in those parts unless you were enrolled, just as you can’t get anywhere in a communist state unless you are a party member.

    So there are many funny overlays between the two camps (not that I’m trying to make common cause by any stretch). It’s just that I consider Lutheranism to be superior to Marxism — [partially the two kingdoms idea, which I’m trying to introduce in general to the communist faction to explain to them why their messiahs aren’t working out].

    Meanwhile, Lutheran states really are working out. Might want to think about that.

    I’ve admitted over and over that I don’t know anything much about Negri and am just throwing a few baby missiles over to solicit interest from the baby Red Brigades, some few of whom may form a human bridge not into my camp in particular (I don’t accept acolytes, only arguments), but at least opening the notion that perhaps there is something in the Christian west that worked, and that maybe the baby Red Brigades should take off the red diapers and try on red, white and blue.

    I liked reading the Great Expectorator’s column but I would suggest that one place where the communists here are right is that we ought to think beyond the singular interest of where we stand vis a vis the GNP. We ought to think as well about America, and about the social structures that will help to create a better world.

    It’s just that if you look at the blood pudding of Cambodia, Romania under Ceauesescu, etc., and compare it to Finland under Ahtisaari, I just don’t see why you would want to stick with a crazed commie like Negri. I have yet to see anything positive that he’s accomplished. If I saw it, I might be more willing to pay the entrance fee.

  37. Henry, it seems to me as if you believe I think that the shift in the composition of the labor force from predominantly manual to much more mental means workers have it better now, get paid more, work under better conditions, have more power in the workplace and society, or will somehow be more sheltered from economic or environmental disasters resulting from resource depletion, environmental degradation, etc. This is not necessarily what I think the change is about. For one thing, I can easily imagine mental work of all types becoming low pay–it’s just a matter of supply and demand–as workers in India and China and elsewhere enter the pool of global mental labor supply through advances in their training, investments in their countries’ technological infrastructure, etc., I think it is assured we’ll see lower pay for mental laborers in all countries, (if other countervailing factors remain the same.) I am also very aware of the sense of powerlessness among mental laborers in the political and social realm, and it seems to be growing rather than shrinking as the shift from manual to mental takes place– which is something we wouldn’t see if knowledge=power, as I was once so inspired to believe. I believed knowledge=power before I had any thought of the class structure of society or of class conflict… I don’t want what I am saying about mental laborers to be taken as a reversion to a simple, naive form of that equation.

    I think you are right to think the basic power configuration of society (of global society, now) — of the macro structure of the political economy– is identical with what it was 80 years ago. I think where we differ might be on whether this mighty edifice of power is perched upon a mighty bedrock of stability, or whether it is possible to conceive of it as sitting on a thin, fragile tissue which it would be absurd to call a foundation. In other words, whether the power structure has some basis as necessity in material production and organization, or whether it is purely secured through deception.

    I thought Nate made a point when he said I am wrong to think what’s changed is if I think there is more deception now than in the past– if I think the political economy rests on deception now, I must remember it has throughout the history of capitalism. I agree with him about that, but I think the character of the deception must be different now, and more fragile, given the more mental quality of labor. Even if the deception seems more crushing now, and in many ways it is, and it seems counter-intuitive and contradictory that this be the case…Why wouldn’t the knowledge that knowledge isn’t equal to power and isn’t even counter to large scale deception be a revolutionary knowledge? This question can be asked now.

    I have been looking and thinking about this,

    “It was not always so[that Bill Gates is a rock star in China, that Microsoft is successful in China]. Microsoft bumbled for years after entering China in 1992, and its business was a disaster there for a decade. It finally figured out that almost none of the basic precepts that led to its success in the U.S. and Europe made sense in China. There Microsoft had to become the un-Microsoft – pricing at rock bottom instead of charging hundreds of dollars for its Windows operating system and Office applications; abandoning the centerpiece of its public-policy approach elsewhere, the protection of its intellectual property at all costs; and closely partnering with the government instead of fighting it as in the U.S., a stance that has opened the company to criticism from human rights groups.”

    and,

    “The story begins 15 years ago, when Microsoft sent a couple of sales managers into China from Taiwan. Their mission? Sell software at the same prices the company charged elsewhere. Says Craig Mundie, the top Microsoft executive who now guides its China strategy: “It was the classic model – hang out a shingle and say, ‘Microsoft: Open for business.'” But the model didn’t work.

    The problem wasn’t brand acceptance; everyone was using Windows. It’s just that no one was paying. Counterfeit copies could be bought on the street for a few dollars. As Ya-Qin Zhang, who heads Microsoft’s Chinese R&D, puts it: “In China we didn’t have problems with market share. The issue is how do we translate that into revenue.”

    Microsoft fought bitterly to protect its intellectual property. It sued companies for using its software illegally but lost regularly in court. Its executives, who often disagreed with the strategy, failed in its implementation. Country managers came and went – five in one five-year period. Two of them later wrote books criticizing the company. One, Juliet Wu, whose “Up Against the Wind” became a local bestseller, wrote that Microsoft heartlessly sought sales by any means, that its antipiracy policy was needlessly heavy-handed, and that her own efforts to help bosses in Redmond understand China had been rebuffed. ”

    Both of above from http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2007/07/23/100134488/

    I can’t do justice to the full implications of this sort of thing. There are revolutionary strategic advantages which could be exploited, and they show up in this article.

    Microsoft is selling the same product to the Chinese for a few dollars they are selling to Americans for hundreds of dollars. Their capacity to do this couldn’t be as enormous as it is if the value of their product were fixed as it once was in classical terms. (I do understand the concept of “lead loss”–Microsoft or any other company could sell below cost for awhile in order to gain a foothold in a market. I think what Microsoft is doing goes beyond this, or at least their capacity to do this on this scale reveals a change in product valuation,) Microsoft’s pricing power in the US is supported by certain political and social practices which must be resulting in rip-offs of Americans–there aren’t actual economic reasons–necessary reasons– for us to pay as much as we do for Microsoft products. If we started to dismantle the political and social practices which support this, where would the dismantling come to its resting spot? I think in a changed situation where the change would be so vast it would be revolutionary.

  38. Kirby Olson:

    This is ironic: “A little evidence goes a long way in terms of settling guilt or innocence, but it seems to me that the imaginary has taken over the evidential in many domains of the left” given your repetition of serious accusations against Negri
    with little more evidence than a wikipedia article.

    Your reference to “baby red brigades” – by which I take you to be referring to the people here who read and take Negri seriously, or perhaps people who belong to the ill-defined ‘the left’ that you keep invoking (if I’ve misinterpreted you, then correct me) – is offensive, as is your reference to Negri as a “crazed commie”, which in the context of your remarks about Cambodia etc and your prior remarks about violence can only be understood as an attribution of totalitarian sentiments. But then I’d expect no less from a former anti-semite – Lutheranism being a discourse of ex-antisemitism and Bakunin among other anarchists being noted anti-semite. (Do you see how easy and cheap this kind of thing is? That’s what you’re doing for whatever reason. And then you reference your books…! Do you _really_ think you’re acting in such a way that makes people want to read your writing?)

    For what its worth, many of the people killed under so-called Communist regimes (which to my mind are no more communist than the Democrats are pro-democracy) were marxists and communists. There’s a long tradition of anti-bolshevik marxism and communism, that’s what I identify with. Negri is not sufficiently of this tradition in my view, but that’s a serious conversation to have with serious interlocutors. You insist (sadly, as you’re clearly smart and well read) on not being one of those, so I’m done. I won’t be commenting to you here again (you win the last word competition, congrats).

    Nate

  39. The last word isn’t exactly what I wanted, but beggars can’t be choosers. I did try to read Negri and HArdt’s Empire but thought it was about as batty as reading Ann Coulter. They jump all over the place and rarely finish a thought, equating Christian and Islamic fundamentalism and while stopping for a nap decide that the Christian variety is invariably racist (the many black southern churches are simply cut out of the equation for some reason having to do with it perhaps slowing up their jackrabbit progress through world history, jumping from one checker square to another, willy nilly, inventing how you do history, and what the rules are as they go — looks like fun!). They end by arguing that St. Francis was great, but they themselves aren’t going to go as far as to renounce their own private property or reenact the Passion.

    At any rate, I should just go and reread the Possessed by Dostoevsky. History repeats itself, the second time as farce, as someone said, and I might as well go back to the original, and trouble my mind over Nechaev and his ilk, rather than bore this pack of devils.

    La la la.

    The thing is: how can anyone have a serious conversation with people who for possibly Nechaevian reasons go about with only one name, and the history, geography, and all the rest is elided so that the authorities won’t crack their cell?

    Best wishes, comrades!

    You’re right: I can’t take Negri any more seriously than I can take Ann Coulter seriously. The mode is just too unfocused.

    I CAN TAKE Lewis Carroll seriously, or Edward Lear because the aesthetics of nonsense do require certain condensations.

    I did try to read Empire, and browsed the literature here and there elsewhere, but I guess I just don’t have time for this, and you’re right, I would have to be a believer to be believed, and I don’t believe in this stuff.

    I suppose I would ask the same thing from anyone who seriously wanted to converse with me about Lutheranism. You have to be inside the church and accept the creeds to know what it’s about.

    La la la.

    Oodles of toodles, with noodles, for now!

    Kirby

  40. Nate, the link you posted by Negri was good, but did you read the rejoinder by Alexander Stille?

    It was still better, and much more documented, and telling.

    My sense of Negri’s operation is confirmed and richened, thanks to your link to this article. Did you read the rejoinder? It was quite amazingly power and clear-minded.

    I’m waiting now to see what links you radicals can make between Joe “Robinette” Biden and the Du Pont family dynasty in Delaware.

    Awaiting your illumination, Illuminati!

    La la la.

    Kirby

  41. In 100 words or less, why do you remain an advocate of Marxism, and of Negri’s Marxism in particular?

    (I realize that Nate has already said that he would never respond again to me, but I’m just so interested: maybe he will relent.)

    Reason I’m so mean: it’s because.

    It’s because the left is so mean when they detect difference, so to fit in, I try to be mean. Or to find the mean of the mean.

    Ha ha.

    Deleuze was at least funny at times, and Klossowski: perversely hilarious.

    One of the things I find awful about Negri is that there is seeming no sense of humor. Not that I have one: but I appreciate this in political theorists, which is why I think P.G. Wodehouse is so good in this area. Hee hee.

  42. I’ve got a short essay question for you. What’s the difference between a Lutheran and an Evangelical? The Evangelical church my ancestors built when they first got off the boat now belongs to the Missouri Synod Lutherans and the one they built upstate a few decades later got taken over by the United Methodists. They weren’t in it for the money. It was a communitarian sort of thing that was necessary for people who lived in frontier America and spoke German. I was raised on Jean Paul Sartre and told that existence precedes essence. I haven’t met many Lutherans or Methodists who are particularly congenial to that idea. How central is Sartre to the heritage of European leftists?

  43. G.E., I can answer the first part, I think, but not the second.

    There are four or five synods in American Lutheranism.

    A synod just means a national organization of Lutheran congregations. A congregation is a single church, and that church links to a synod (national organization). A church can change its affiliation to another synod.

    The two biggest synods in the American Lutheran church are the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (about 4 million, and shrinking) and the Missouri Synod (about 2.5 million, and growing).

    There are some other synods but they are smaller. There is the Wisconsin Synod and a few other Lutheran synods.

    My congregation is Evangelical Luther (ELCA). This is the more liberal of the two major synods. They ordain women, and have thought about ordaining homosexuals (it’s been put several times before the national assembly, but it requires a two-third’s majority approval, and it doesn’t quite get a plurality of votes — however, that may change as the population changes).

    Missouri Synod is largely German in background, while the ELCA is largely Scandinavian in background.

    Missouri Synod had a few brilliant theologians like Reinhold Niebuhr (B. Obama has cited him as his greatest influence).

    All Lutherans would be anti-communist. Lutherans believe in the individual standing before God, alone with their conscience. Kierkegaard is exemplary of this.

    Communists — like Sartre — would therefore be anathema to Lutherans.

    We consider crowds to be Satanic in their nature.

    Only the individual can be good — and even that is unlikely. Crowds can only be bad.

    This might explain the antipathy of Lutherans to Sartre.

    Your last question — how central is Sartre to the heritage of European leftists — is beyond my ken. My sense is that he was central 30 years ago, but was pushed out by postmodernism in general. It’s not because they junked his ideas. It’s just that new personalities emerged, and Sartre died.

    But Sartre’s partner, Simone de Beauvoir, is the cornerstone of the contemporary feminist movement in America, and so in a sense Sartre lives on, in the way that after the fall of the Roman empire — Constantinople kept Rome alive for another thousand years.

    A lot of older scholars — sixty and older — still think that Sartre is important. I don’t know what the left thinks, though, any longer, in Europe or in America.

    They are a mystery to me. I don’t even know what kinds of things would make one into a leftist. Or a rightist.

    I’m a centrist, like most Lutherans, muddling along.

  44. There is a huge problem having to do with congregations versus individuals, and communism as a kind of congregation in the above post. The answer to this exists, but is immensely complex, and would take an entire day or two for me to make sense of it for anyone but myself.

    However, probably no one cares.

    It has to do with the fallen nature of the individual in Protestant Christianity. The congregation begins every Sundy by saying, “I confess that I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself…”

    It seems to me that communists are quite certain on the other hand that they are saints, and instead of confessing that they are sinful, their community gatherings are based on blaming the other guy — on saying — if it weren’t for those darned Republicans, then the world would be perfect.

    And thus assassinations are more or less sanctioned in the left.

    Any kind of extra-legal violence is completely censored in Lutheranism because it is always done for selfish reasons.

    Bonhoeffer DID make an assassination attempt on Hitler but only after several years of prayer and even then he wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do…

    I’m pretty sure that Sartre always thought that whatever he did was just fine — even his affair with the sixteen year old girl who later wrote about in A Disgraceful Affair.

    I think her name was Jacqueline Lambda.

    She was SdB’s philosophy student, and began the affair with SdB, when she was still a teenager in SdB’s class…

    It’s things like that which turn off most Lutherans in terms of thinking about Sartre. He strikes me as painfully ugly in both exterior and interior, as ugly as sin itself.

  45. But I can’t speak for all Lutherans in saying that…

    A good bridge between Lutheranism and existentialism exists in the work of Paul Tillich…

    Who was both…

    Tillich is no longer held in very esteem in Lutheran circles, but I still like to read his work.

  46. Okay Kirby. I’m bad at being firm. I don’t need 100 words. Marx’s analysis of capitalism makes aspects of my experiences in low wages jobs as a worker and trying unionize, as well as my former experiences as a paid union organizer make sense. Might other work have that effect? Maybe. Does that work have that effect for everyone? Clearly not. I’m not interested in debating either. I’ve got no interest in convincing others of their need for Marx (nor do I think everything Marx wrote is correct nor do I think everything every other marxist thinks, I actually think Marx changed his mind a lot and I know there’s a ton of disagreement among people who have called and do call themselves marxists and communists, so that what feels to me like your rather monolithic sense of marxism and of communism just is not what I mean by those terms, and no, I don’t have any interest in a debate with you on these).

    As for why I just go by my first name only, why you feel the need to speculate on my motives is beyond me – you could just ask me. The answer is simple – I’m an early career academic who is not tenured or in a tenure track position (yet, I say hopefully). I’ve lost two jobs for union activity prior to becoming an academic, that resulted in major strain on my relationship with my partner and a several year economic tailspin. I very much do not want anything like a third, for the economic and relationship consequences it would involve. I already feel overly public with my blog and if I could do it over with total anonymity I would – I didn’t think about any of this when I started blogging, foolishly on my part.

    As for ‘the left’ and ‘you radicals’, I don’t know what you mean and I rarely find those terms useful (and you might consider that utterances like “you [group noun]” rarely occur in friendly conversations) without a clear statement of what the speaker takes it to mean. Rather than ‘the left’ you might try ‘some leftists’ or better yet name names and specify the behaviors your on abot. The broad brush strokes thing makes these conversations (if they can be called that) worse, not better. Particularly because I spend a lot of time on things that might count as leftist or radical (for instance, I spent a several years doing work in Chicago opposing the war, not sure that was worth my time and energy looking back), and your tone comes across as disrespectful to that time and effort and the values motivating it. Particularly with your accusations, perhaps tongue in cheek but not funny, like “baby red brigades” and so on. Like if I said “the problem with christians is…” and called you a future crusader or something. It’s just not productive and is needlessly antagonistic.

    By the way, your “I’m mean because the left is mean” thing is a cop out. You should talk to your pastor about this, say “this guy is telling me I’m being a jerk and needlessly antagonistic, he says I repeated serious criminal charges against someone who was cleared of those charges and that that’s a disrespectful act; I admit I’m being mean but I think it’s justified because I don’t respect his outlook on the world and I think his outlook justifies my behavior. I want to keep communicating how I have been. What do you think I should do?” and see what your pastor advises. Seriously. If your behavior is up to par, I’m sure he’ll agree with you. If it’s not, well, then think about that. (And if you’re not willing to have that sort of conversation with your pastor, well why is that?)

    Honestly, you’re clearly smart and well-read. Why not stick to things where you can have an actual honest intellectual conversation? You don’t come off in this discussion as wanting real engagement. Maybe this stuff would be funny in person accompanied by facial gestures and in the context of some relationship. It’s not here. I for one would much rather have a productive and enjoyable conversation about Lewis Carroll (one of my lifelong favorite writers and whose work shaped my intellectual development and academic career) than a snarky conversation where you act like a frumious bandersnatches.

    Nate

  47. He strikes me as painfully ugly in both exterior and interior, as ugly as sin itself.

    I don’t think anyone’s ever compared my wife to Miss America. In fact, she’s had a rather ungainly gait ever since an incompetent nurse damaged the sciatic nerve in her left leg resulting in a difference of two sizes between her feet. It was a Catholic hospital and her good Catholic parents never sued for malpractice. My wife has a wonderful heart and along the line she acquired a remarkable education in health care, although she has still not forgiven the church in which she was raised.

    My dad worked for the federal government when he first got his doctorate. His interest in existentialism played a key role in his ability to make the transition from a small private church run liberal arts college to a big state land grant university. Both of his older sisters went to college and married ministers. I think his family was dismayed to learn that he had no interest in becoming a minister.

    During the week that Kennedy was inaugurated my father became a pioneer in the field of mental health. In fact, we spent that week following the Oregon trail. He was hired by a Democrat for whom he worked on a month to month contract. Four years later a Republican replaced the Democrat and he finally got an extended contract to create a prototype for what has come to be familiar to most people as a community mental health center. I don’t think any of the congressmen, senators, governors, admirals, federal administrators, industrialists, newspaper editors or church leaders who took an interest in his project ever asked him if he belonged to a church. When that contract ended he took a job as a college professor, a full professor with guaranteed tenure based upon published research from those projects.

    I grew up as a minister’s kid in the church of mental health. I was always a good student but never a great student. The chairman of the department my dad joined when he returned to academia had attended graduate school with my dad. His oldest son was a great student. He went off to Harvard the same year that I enrolled at the school where my dad was teaching. He came home a year later with acute psychosis, following a summer pilgrimage to visit Ken Kesey. His entire adult life has been spent as a career schizophrenic. His father recently retired from academia after a quite successful career organizing the families of adult schizophrenics.

    After three years at the university where my father taught I found myself gravitating toward the English Department. But I didn’t see much point in pursuing that interest. Even though it was technically a state school, I found that the Baptist Church had inordinate influence there. They were generous and open-minded. They wouldn’t have been offended if I had chosen to become a Quaker.

    By that time my dad’s department had decided that both the chairmanship of the department and the directorship of my dad’s program would be much more effective if those positions were rotated every five years so that more of the faculty could acquire administrative experience. Apparently a consultant from another big state university had dropped in to explain how well this maneuver had worked when he was an administrator at a university in California.

    My dad resigned when it became apparent that he would not be allowed to direct the program he had been hired to direct. I dropped out of school after three years and our family moved back to the state where my dad had established his abilities. I eventually went back to school to finish my degree and again found myself gravitating to the English department in a big state land grant university, a school where the Lutherans had almost as much influence as the Baptists had had in my prior attempt. In fact, one of those Lutherans made a point of telling me that he had consulted with the College of Arts and Sciences at the school I had previously attended and was well acquainted with the chair of their English department.

    Psychoanlysis was still fairly popular in that era. Schizoanalysis hadn’t been invented yet. I’ve found it can be useful, when contending with the tribes of academia, to learn to eroticize deformity.

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