Sunday, April 6, 2014

I was told there'd be cake in communist utopia...

One thing I've learned this semester is not only how hard it is to study theory, but to "do theory."  I find myself getting frustrated with these neo-Marxist thinkers, in part because I'm waiting for one of them to tell me what this communist utopia looks like? (And where is the hot-tub time machine that will take us there?) I mean, are we talking a fun mayhem -- bacchic orgies, drugs, no consequences -- kind of utopia, or will it look like more like one of the classier and more charming Florida retirement community? (I'm not voting for either one.)

I thought Negri was finally going to solve the riddle, yet he also hedges his bets: "No one can tell us, outside of the way we proceed and fight, what the conclusion will be" (168).  Still, Negri does some serious thinking about this question, and he does give us some clues. He calls it a "leap beyond a leap" and work that is no longer work, or "non-work," or work that is liberated from work.  He calls it an "inversion" of capitalism. (Inversion may be similar, perhaps, to the "threshold" Deleuze referred to.)  Negri calls communism the "destruction of capital."  At times, he refers to the globalization and de-centralization of capitalism, and how it will absorb or supersede separate nation-states and therefore nullify the importance of culture and history, suggesting that it's a gradual process, and we're still not there yet. At the end of Marx Beyond Marx, by mentioning the "end of the dialectic," he seems to fall in line with other Marxists that emphasize a need for revolutionary change in thought, not just in political or economic systems.

I'm a little curious about this idea of non-work, or the liberation of work. I assume Negri is referring more to "Taco Bell" work than sitting down to read an intellectually challenging novel, which is work and yet is rewarding because it aids in the search for greater meaning. That leads back to what Marx said (somewhere), that the point is to create something durable and meaningful.

In my utopia, of course I hope I'm twice as smart and half as neurotic, and that everything is twice as fun and I work much less hard, but that doesn't mean no work at all. I mean, I'd still like to rake leaves once in a while (I did today), and discuss art and books and films with smart people. I just hope once we do arrive there, we'll be "evolved" enough to finally get it right.
(NB:  Since, I spent most of the weekend grading papers, doing taxes, then doing yard work, so I'm feeling rather anti-intellectual tonight. So if this post makes no sense, my apologies.)

1 comment:

  1. My brief interlude of “studying” and “doing” theory – sorry Tom for dropping this in your comments but you’ve reminded me of a particular aspect of this task and all of the materials that surround this immaterial labor.

    I find it increasingly interesting the role that history plays in the various texts we have read. Each author, from Marx onward, mobilizes history to fit his ends. Particularly, it seems, pre 1850, even pre 1800. This is interesting to me, in large part, because I study literature and history before 1800. But like Nicole, I constantly feel the urge to say something along the lines of “I do not think this means what you think it means” or rather, because the authors gloss over history yet still use it for their conclusions, I want to take them up on these seeming bits of evidence.

    Hardt and Negri undo this impulse, in some ways, when they talk about developing nations. They say early on in “Postmodernization” of Empire that “economic stages are thus all present at once, merged into a hybrid, composite economy that varies not in kind but in degree” (289). I wish, so very much, that they would extend this concept more fully to their use of history. They do, vaguely, when talking about how previous economic movements become folded into new ones, yet only because an element of the “new” already existed. This is true of all history as well.


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