“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Sunday, October 26, 2014


So, Slavoj Žižek is having a go at the new materialists, and I'm being banned from cultural Marxist journals because I say words like “species” like Dipesh Chakrabarty, with whom I moan a bit about this state of affairs. Thanks for noticing at least!

“Many of these new materialists are my friends,” as Treebeard says. Poor Jane!

The replacement for the bad bad speculative stuff, as we learn from the official organ of cultural critique, is dialectical materialism. Who knew? What an incredible surprise.

Cultural Marxism, as the Critical Inquiry take shows, sees the danger. The threat. It takes us seriously enough to say like Bush “if you're not with us, you're against us.” If you're a speculative realist, you must be an anti-feminist, racist, worker-hating colonialist who wants to reject the last forty years of new left status quo, I mean scholarship.

Grow up chaps!

Dialectical materialism boils down to an ontology you can express in this sentence:

Reality is determined by human economic relations 

So, here's my thing about that, from my talk in Norway and my upcoming one at Northwestern.

We were expecting, perhaps, that once we could see on a much larger scale, things would become much easier to understand. Indeed, we might criticize those who tried to think at larger scales for being simplistic. We might even argue that they were deluded. Particularly if we had quite a bad case of the anthropocentric blues. We might accuse someone, if we were a certain kind of Marxist, of being a bit of a hippie for talking at scales bigger or otherwise beyond the human. The hippie is ideologically deluded into saying things exist outside of social ideological mediation based on the state of the forces of production. In short, all that we are the world stuff and save Earth stuff is bourgeois pabulum meant to keep us docile.
Why does our Marxist have this allergic reaction? Because he is rigidly adhering to a solution to the Kantian shock—the shock that there are things, but that when we look for them, we only find human flavored thing data. We never see the actual raindrop, we have raindrop feelings, raindrop thoughts, raindrop perceptions. Kant himself tries to contain the explosion by saying that there is a top-level way of understanding the raindrop, namely mathematizing it via a concept of extension as the bedrock of what a thing is. Post-Kantians contain the explosion two ways. Either they reduce everything to matter and ignore the implications of modern philosophy and the science derived from it. Or they wish away the gap between phenomenon and thing by claiming more strongly than Kant that some kind of Decider, goo goo ga joob, makes the thing real. So all these powerful substitutes for the Kantian subject arise. Geist (Hegel), will (Schopenhauer), will to power (Nietzsche), Dasein (Heidegger—and we all know German Dasein is the best best Decider of all).
And in the case of Marx, human economic relations. Human economic relations make things real. And in the hardcore Hegelian Lacanian Althusserian version, these relations are an in-the-last-instance that determine everything else like the sucker of a giant and sprawling undersea creature, attached to a rock in one place, but attached really strongly, incapable of being peeled off that rock. So that for the cultural Marxist, unconsciously retweeting a substance–accidents model of things, there is ideology (accidents) and human economic relations (substance).

Of course putting it this way I have already committed a horrible sin, because I've said the word human. By saying that word, I have implied that there might be a world or worlds beyond or different than the human, which is as good as saying that there are such worlds. I have touched the third rail. I have implied Marxism doesn't explain everything, because there are cats, coral and galaxies. The very concept ecology, coined by Ernst Haeckel, was a way to say the economy of nature in a compact way. The economy of nature. Economic relations that include nonhumans. Highly suspicious.

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