1. excerpts of episode 1:
( ... ) The first article of this week will attempt to examine how Spinoza can supply a terminology, or rather, a conceptology to extend the sharp analysis of capitalism made by Karl Marx in the 19th century to its neo-liberal version we have been experiencing for the last 30 years. In order to do so, I would use a particular chapter from the book( ... ).
Through this book, F. Lordon depicts, among other things, the two importqnt shifts of paradigms in capitalism that occurred since the publication of Das Kapital, in order for it to survice against the potentiality of a revolution prophetized by Marx when he observing the continuous production of a discontented working class.
- The first shift of paradigm, often known as Fordism, occurred in the first part of the 20th century and consisted in a neat amplification of the production rhythm associated with the integration of the working class itself in the mass consumption of their own product.
- The second shift of paradigm, closer to us, examined how the working class (which also shifted for a big part of it, from the industry to the realm of services) could gain in productivity by integrating it to an ideology of "self-accomplishment" that could apparently relate to the Spinozist idea of joyful affect (for a very basic introduction to his concepts, you can read my text Architectures of Joy from 2010) ....
For Spinoza, the servitude is anyway universal as all our acts are determined by the sum of circumstances that caused it (much more about that in a upcoming article), but we can nevertheless increase our power (potentia in latin, more on that soon too) by acquiring the knowledge of the causes of our behavior. As we know too well, strategies of inducing do not allow the subject to understand the context of his decisions better than an assembly line worker in the beginning of the 20th century and therefore force it to remain within the sad affects.
So far, I was envoking the book in its entirety in order to be precise, I would like to examine more particularly a specific chapter entitled Alors le (ré)communisme! The neologism of (ré)communisme is a French play on word insisting on the idea of revisiting communism, but more importantly to oppose to the republica(the public thing) the recommuna(the common thing) as two different model of society. It is interesting to observe how F. Lordon is slowly introducing this new model: (the original French version is at the end of the article, the translation is mine but since the text is difficult to translate for the multiple meanings each important word carries, I left the word used by him in parenthesis)
The starting point was the following: someone wants to do something that needs several people to achieve. This community of action is in its very essence a political community if we attribute the political status to any situation that composes powers (puissance) of action [...]. The question is then about the constitution of this entrepreneurial political community. This implies the genetic dimension of the mechanisms for which the community emerges, as well as the constitutionality of the formal as the formal layouts (agencements) that rule its function once it is assembled. What are the desirable relationships for which a company (enterprise) can be constituted when it is conceived as an association of powers (puissance) of action?While condemning the relationships of servitude created by capitalism, F. Lordon also introduces a form of doubt in the sacred equality enforced by communism in its orthodox version (presented as the only alternative to capitalism for many years). His discourse is, of course, mostly focused on the realms of companies; however, in order to make his point clearer, he uses the example of the creative process of a theater play (from here, I translated the ambivalent term entreprise (both company and project at the same time) with the English word of entreprise that needs to be understood with those two simultaneous meanings as well):
A playwright comes with an amazing text: who would deny that his contribution is not of the same nature than the one of the electricians and the costume designer? who would contest his status of power (puissance) authentically creative? Yet, he needs electricians and costume designers so that the show occur and that his genius text could be transmitted to the public. The problem is never tackled this way as the immediate solution brought by the wage relationship (rapport) in the form of a supplied hired manpower made it forgotten as a problem. To find back its meaning, we need to achieve the thought experiment that consists in imagining which kind of political arrangements would emerge so that the collective enterprise would be withdrawn from the structure of wage relationship (rapport).This latter point is important as it bring back Marx's contempt for the strict division of work as it was invented by the mass production of goods. F. Lordon later insists that, even in relatively 'democratic' working environments, it is rare to see a person sometimes in charge of the lights and some other times in charge of the play-writing. There is no real redistribution of the roles depending on the desire and inspiration of each person involved in the enterprise.
If the communist idea is essentially related to the notion of equality, the question is then to wonder what can be the nature of equality in the context of a substantial, recognized inequality of contributions, and how not to deny the asymmetry of these situations in which the strength of an initial proposition makes the other contributions appear as auxiliary. Here is the communist equation: which form of equality can we realize in the context of the division of work and its heaviest inheritance, the fundamental separation between 'conception' and 'execution'?
If the complete solution of the communist equation consists in a restructuration of the division of desire that shares the chances of conceptionㅡand symmetrically the execution tasks tooㅡnobody indicated better than Etienne Balibar its horizon (Spinozist as well as Marxian): "To be as many as possible to think the most as possible."Finally, F. Lordon introduces his model of (ré)communism as an alternative based on the principle above. He then describes an enterprise that would adopt this model as a working paradigm. Such a description can make us recall the Argentinean fábricas recuperadas, factories took over by their workers when their owner wanted to liquidate them after the 2001 economic crisis. The new system set-up by the workers involves (in addition of a unique salary) a democratic process of decision making.
Since they put a part of their life in an enterprise, its members can only exit the enrolment relationship (rapport), born from a monarchical constitution (the imperium of the master-desire), by sharing, beyond the object itself, the entire control of the conditions of the collective pursuit of the object, an finally by affirming the indisputable right to be fully associated to what they are affected by. What the productive enterprise has to fabricate, in which quantity, with which rhythm, which volume, which wage structure, which reattribution for the surplus, how it will accommodate variatins to its environment: none of these things can escape to the common deliberation since they all have common consequences. The very simple recommunist (récommuniste) principle is thus that what affects everyone should be the object of everyone, i.e. constitutionally and equally debated by everyone....
excerpts of French text:
[...] le point de départ était ceci : quelqu’un a envie de faire quelque chose qui nécessite d’être plusieurs. Cette communauté d’action est ipso facto une communauté politique si on donne le nom de politique à toute situation de composition de puissance d’agir. [...] La questin est alors celle de la constitution de cette communauté politique d’entreprise, aussi bien au sens génétique des méchanismes par lesquels la communauté vient à se former qu’au sens « constitutionnel » des agencements formels qui en régissent les fonctionnements une fois assemblée. Quels sont les rapports désirables sous lesquels peut se constituer une entreprise conçue très généralement comme un concours de puissances d’agir ? p. 164.
Un dramaturge survient porteur d’un texte inouï : qui niera que cette contribution-là n’est pas de même nature que celle des éclairagistes et des costumiers ? Qui lui contestera son caractère de puissance authentiquement créatrice ? Et pourtant il faut des éclairagistes et des costumiers pour que le spectacle ait lieu et que le texte génial soit porté à la connaissance du public. Le problème n’est jamais posé en ces termes car la solution « immédiate » que lui apporte le rapport salarial sous la forme d’une fourniture de main-oeuvre employée a fini par le faire oublier comme problème. En retrouver le sens suppose l’expérience de pensée consistant à imaginer quels arrangements politiques devraient se former pour que l’entreprise collective voie le jour retirées des structures du rapport salarial. p. 166.
Si l’idée communiste a essentiellement à voir avec l’égalité, la question se pose alors de savoir quelle peut être la nature de l’égalité accompagnant une inégalité substantielle, reconnue, des contributions, et qui ne nie pas l’asymmétrie de ces situations où la force d’une proposition initiale donne objectivement aux autres contributions un caractère auxiliaire. Voilà donc l’équation communiste : quelle forme d’égalité réalisér sous le legs de la division du travail ?—et notamment du plus pesant de ses hértages, à savoir la séparation princeps de la « conception » et de la « exécution ». p. 167.
Si la solution complète de l’équation communiste consiste en une restructuration de la division du désir qui repartage les chances de conception—et symmétriquement redistribute les taches d’exécution […] --nul n’en a indiqué comme Etienne Balibar l’horizon (spinoziste autant que marxien) : « Etre le plus nombreux à penser le plus possible. » p. 168.
Puisque c’est une part de leur vie qu’ils mettent en commun dans une entreprise, ses membres ne sortent du rapport d’enrôlement, dual par construction d’une constitution de type monarchique (l’imperium du désir-maître), qu’en partageant au-delà de l’objet, l’entière maitrise des conditions de la poursuite collective de l’objet, et finalement en affirmant le drot irréfragable d’être pleinement associés à ce qui les concerne. Ce que l’entreprise (productive) doit fabriquer, en quelle quantité, à quelle cadence, avec quel volume d’emploi et quelle structure de rémunérations, sous quelle clé de réaffectation des surplus, comment elle accommodera les variations de son environnement : aucune de ces choses ne peut par principe échapper à la délibération commune puisqu’elles ont toutes des conséquences communes. Le simplissime principe récommuniste est donc que ce qui affecte tous doit être l’objet de tous—c’est le mot même de récommune qui le dit !, --c’est-à-dire constitutionnellement et égalitairement débattu par tous. p. 170.
2: excertps of Episode 2: Spinozist Determination ...
( ... ... ) As written in the last article, there is therefore no freedom possible in the philosophy of Spinoza: we are condemned to be the object of the necessity of the world events just like his famous example in the Ethics, a stone for which no human would doubt of the inability to act upon its will:
Further conceive, I beg, that a stone, while continuing in motion, should be capable of thinking and knowing, that it is endeavouring, as far as it can, to continue to move. Such a stone, being conscious merely of its own endeavour and not at all indifferent, would believe itself to be completely free, and would think that it continued in motion solely because of its own wish. This is that human freedom, which all boast that they possess, and which consists solely in the fact, that men are conscious of their own desire, but are ignorant of the causes whereby that desire has been determined.
[...] an infant believes that it desires milk freely; an angry child thinks he wishes freely for vengeance, a timid child thinks he wishes freely to run away. Again, a drunken man thinks, that from the free decision of his mind he speaks words, which afterwards, when sober, he would like to have left unsaid. So the delirious, the garrulous, and others of the same sort think that they act from the free decision of their mind, not that they are carried away by impulse.At that point, one might interprets the philosophy of Spinoza as an essentially pessimistic one as we are just carried by the stream of causes that determines us. Spinoza is however known as the philospher of joy, which might lead us to wonder if there would not be a more positive way to interpret his work. What determinism allows us is to get rid once and for all of every form of regrets or remorse as worlds which would include different versions of history (one might think of Leibniz's pyramid) are irrelevant to imagine as such a different version would imply a change in the totality of the sum of events since the beginning of the world (beginning that might even be an illusion as well). To go back to the example of Leibniz who, to some extent, seems to precede Spinoza even though he does not, if Julius Caesar is crossing the Rubicon, it is not because God always chooses the most perfect world, but more simply because the ensemble of causes that preceded this historic event led to it with no other possible outcome.
It would be easy to think that, in addition of forbidding regrets, Spinoza's philosophy also withdraw the sense of responsibility that anybody has to own towards his or her actions. While regret consists in a passive interpretation of the past manifested by the impossible wish that things should have happened differently, responsibility corresponds to the fact that we, as individual, cannot escape from acting upon our lives (in other words, not doing anything would not extract us from determinism) and therefore should assume our responsibilities based on those actions and the illusion of free will.
Philosophically, what that means is that, even though we can never be free in the Cartesian sense, we can adopt an active attitude towards the determinist stream by understanding (always in a limited way) the causes that lead us to act the way we do. Politically and judicially (i.e. in a more pragmatic imperfect model), this philosophy consists in the acknowledgement of the social context that conditions any event. Once again, the responsibility is the same but it helps us to address those same conditions as catalysts of behaviors and therefore react to them.
3. excerpts of Episode 3: Power(Potentia) vs. Power(Potestas): The Story of a Joyful Typhoon
( ... ) Let's continue to explore the Spinozist 'conceptology' with, today, a contrast that is difficult to be made in English as the word power includes two meanings whose difference is fundamental in the philosophy of Spinoza. For the purpose of this article I will therefore differentiate the two latin terms of potentia and potestas both contained in the English word of power (in French we would use the notion of puissance for the former and pouvoir for the latter). The referent and complex book examining this question is the Savage Anomaly writtern by Antonio Negri in 1981 when he was in prison. The original subtitle of this book is saggio su potere e potenza in Baruch Spinoza (essays on the potestas and potential in Baruch Spinoza's work). Unfortunately, Michael Hardt, Negri's friend and translator of the English version did not find a way to reconcile this problem and added a different subtitle, The Power of Spinoza's Metaphysics and Politics.
I might first try to explain the difference between potestas and potentia in a simple way by defining the former as a relationship to another body while the latter as a capacity or an intensity to use a Deleuzian terminology. The potestas needs indeed a referent to dominate or to be dominated by to effectuate itself. On the contrary, the potentia is a relationship to the whole world (Spinoza might say God but since his god is immanent, this is the same thing) in the composition of a form of "harmony" In his Abécédaire (J for Joy), Gilles Deleuze helps us to understand this difference while explaining the concept of joy and sadness (my translation, the original French transcript is at the end of the article):
There is no bad power (puissance), what is bad, we should say[,] is the lowest degree of the power (puissance). And the lowest degree of the pwer (puissance), it is the power (pouvoir). I mean, what is malice? Malice consists in preventing someone to do what he can, malice consists in preventing someone to do, to effectuate his power (puissance). Therefore, there is no bad power (puissance), there are malicious powers (pouvoirs). Perhaps that all power (pouvoir) is malicious by nature. Maybe not, maybe it is too easy to say so... [...] Power (pouvoir) is always an obstacle to the effectuation of powers (puissances). I would say, any power (pouvoir) is sad. Yes, even if those who "have the power" (pouvoir) are very jyful to "have it", it is a sad joy; there are sad joys. On the contrary, joy is the effectuation of a power (puissance). Once again, I don't know any power (puissance) thqt is malicious. The typhoon is a power (puissance), it enjoys itself in its very soul but...it does not enjoy because it destroys houses, it enjoys because it exists. To enjoy is to enjoy being what we are, I mean, to be "where we are". Of course, it does not mean to be happy with ourselves, not at all. Joy is the conquest(conqête) as Nietzsche would say. But conquest in that sense, does not mean to enslave people of course. Conquest is for example, for painter to conquest the color. Yest, that yes, that is a conquest, yeah here this is joy.In other words, and to go back the notion of joy as we know it familiarly, the moment of true joy that we probably all experienced one day (like Deleuze's typhoon) occurs when everything around us and in us seems to connect in a harmonious manner: what we see, what we hear, what we smell, how we feel etc. Whoever experienced this feeling would have trouble imagining that such pure happiness could occur when expressing a domination towards another individual. Using the play on word that Deleuze almost give us, the ^sad joy^ he evokes might be observed more particularly in the literature of Sade in which pleasure is achieved through the absolute domination of a body over another (see previous article). However, such a pleasure through its "orgasmic" and violent characteristics does not seem to register within Spinoza's concept of joy. The French word of jouissance, in its neutrality would probably be more appropriate to receive this meaning, but here again, the English language misses a word to express it.
( ... ... )
4. excerpts of Episode 4: The World Affects or why Adam Got poisoned by the Apple
( ... ... ) the concept of substance... the world as a gigantic assemblage of infinitely small pieces of matter ... that are all involved in more or less fast movement. These small elements of matter composes bodies that are perpetually striving to persevere in its being (Ethics, part 3, prop. 6). This property is called conatus and we will explore it in the final episode of this week. Those bodies are continuously interacting with each other and thus systematically affect each other. What it means in a very simple way, is that when you cut a piece of butter with a knife, of course, the knife affects the butter since you can see that the latter is being cut; however, the knife as well is affected by the butter and has to 'resist' the butter's characteristics that attempt to make it persevering in its being.
Spinoza distinguishes several degrees of knowledge (modes of perception) depending on how we, as bodies, get affected by other bodies (see my essay ^Architectures of Joy^ for more on that). Deleuze uses the example of the wave to make himself understood in his description of these degrees (see previous article with the translation of Deleuze class).
- Somebody who is said not to be able to swim is someone who does not experience the wave in anther way than a very passive one. The water encounters her/his body as an obstacle to its flow and it results a violence between the two bodies (wave/human).
- The second degree of knowledge is express by someone who is said to be able to swim. (S)he positions her/his as a body in 'accordance' with the flow of the wave and therefore composes harmonious relations with the water. While this second degree is strictly empirical (one has to experience the wave, adjust, experience again, adjust again etc.), the third one is rational in its most powerful meaning.
- It consists in an understanding tending (but probably never reaching) towards perfection of the ensemble of relations that are operating in the matter. In other words (again, simplifying involves a certain degree of inaccuracy but it allows a first level of understanding), this degree of knowledge can be seen as a sort of visual (or tactile) layer superimposed on one's vision which would bring such a 'resolution' than one would be able to perceive the infinitely small parts of matter and the various vectors of forces applied on it. This mode of perception is therefore only an horizon and cannot really be fully acquired but, if we keep using the example of the wave, we can probably say that the best surfers are probably close from this degree of knowledge of the sea.
( ... ... )
For more about the Spinozist interpretation of the myth of Adam and the apple as explained by Deleuze in the Universite de Vincennes, read his class from January 13th 1981 on his student, Richard Pinhas, website, webdeleuze (also available in English)