Self, transformation

Pinocchio Theory has an excellent post on Manuel DeLanda’s new book, A New Philosophy of Society, that deals with something I’ve been trying to get my brain around recently: how to think about the relationship between the subject and society–how do they interact, under which conditions is one determining of the other, how is the self constitutive of and constituted by the social, etc. This is important I think because one needs the “correct” take on this in order to conceive of change in any meaningful way; in other words, thought can’t think about how society and the subject undergo and enact transformation, which they constantly do, without a scheme, however provisional, amendable, and nontotalizing, for how they fit together.

Apparently, though, this is a pretty difficult problem to reckon with, as no one I’ve read who’s written in, I don’t know, say, the last 500 years has come up with a satisfying response to it. In modern times, liberalism (or what Shaviro calls methodical individualism) stresses the individual autonomous subject as determinative, while the Hegelian legacy (what DeLanda calls the organismic metaphor) makes sense of individuals only as their subjectivity is mediated by the social whole. Obviously, for me both of these approaches are wrong–not only do they not allow for the possibility of political transformation that could exist outside of either the deeds of individual capitalist actors or a totalizing (totalitarian) state, but in fact these “opposites” are eminently reconcilable and could be seen as vacillations, strategies, or poles rather than as antagonisms (in capitalist formations, the poles are liberalism and fascism; in state-socialist formations, social democracy and Stalinism).

But thinking an alternative to these two is not easy either, as even people like Deleuze and Guattari have advanced withering critiques of the false choice they represent but have been unable to offer very convincing alternatives of their own (though the chapters in A Thousand Plateaus on the unconscious and the crowd [the wolf and the pack] and, more problematically, on becoming are very suggestive starts). Rosi Braidotti continues and expands on Deleuze and Guattari, but the best she can offer as a substitute is a slightly rehabilitated Lacanism; that is, a positive, nomadicized symbolic order. Braidotti certainly acknowledges that her reliance on a separation between the symbolic and the real is a strategic maneuver, but it’s not any more satisfying for that admission.

Marx, it seems, is generally considered to be in the Hegelian camp. Though there’s some reason to buy that, there’s plenty of room to read him in other ways. For instance, in my first set of notes on the Grundrisse Introduction, I talked briefly about the immanent, mutually determining moments of the circulation process. These moments should very much not be read just as stages of the commodity’s life but also as negotiations between the subject and the social, the subject in all its varied existences and the social in all its permutations. Among other ways, Marx further complicates the Hegelian schema by his most famous maneuver: The very idea of antagonistic classes destroys any possibility of evincing a social whole.

This is all very disjointed, vague, and unsupported of course, but the point for me is that thinking about the relation between the subject and society would have to include the above considerations. I would add, maybe unnecessarily, that both should be considered as processes, not as stable entities or identities, and as such are antagonistic. Pinocchio Steven criticizes DeLanda for not pay enough attention to becomings and events, which is probably just a different idiom from my concern with processes, power, and transformations. He also promises to work this out in the coming months. I look forward to reading along as he does so.


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