Sunday, April 6, 2014


There are so many consistent threads that run through Marx Beyond Marx that I am reluctant to pick up on one of them out of concern that the some further point elaborates or contradicts or answers some question that I may bring up. Of the Marxists texts that we have read, Negri’s seems to be the most biblical—the most easily misinterpreted by close reading. Then again, if he is following the dialectical mode, then the particular and the general should be reflective of one another. But enough introductory fluff, I am interested specifically in Negri’s discussion of crisis in pages 26 and 27.

One of the most memorable Humanities on the Edge lectures was Joshua Clover, at least for my money. I don’t really have a problem with the concept of tearing shit up to prove a point. I, myself, have just recently been curious about how cathartic it might be to turn over some cars and set things on fire in Mississippi. After all, the most entertaining parts of many movies are the bar fights. But just like real life, I am mindful that the bar is typically innocent, a distraction from the real action, the real villain, and the real problem.

Specifically, Negri explains that “crisis … does no come from the imperfection of circulation in a regime of equivalence, and it cannot be corrected by a reform of circulation in a regime of equivalence” (26). The selling of one’s labor for the production or surplus value is an exchange of equivalencies. (I got this wrong with my first encounter with Capital.) Since Clover’s visit, I have been thinking about the role of crisis. As you all know (and may be getting tired of), I come from a community that was for a long time perpetually pissed off. It is worth noting that many seem to be less pissed off now that we are allowed to be more equally productive in the traditionally married sense; our hostility proved to be easily co-opted. This result is due to the fact that hostility, anger, and rage are not rational states—rationality being the key to real transformation. By the end of Marx Beyond Marx, Negri addresses, among other things, the impetus for and paradigms of transformation. Moments of crisis (burning cars, etc.) frequently demand the most expedient solution, which the dominant mode (capitalism) is more than happy to supply: “Capital seeks the development of reformism, which provides it with protections against critiques from the worker’s side” (Negri 26).

There is a time and place to risk violence to oneself, the logical risk associated with initiating violence. But if it is service to the cause against which one is opposed, then it is a critical failure of action.

BONUS CONTENT: I was listening to conservative Christian radio this weekend (don’t ask) when I came across the Phyllis Schlafly radio show. I was so inspired by what I heard that I tracked down a copy online. If you can spare five minutes (or if your blood pressure is at risk of falling dangerously low) then I recommend that you listen from minute 12:00 to minute 17:00. These five minutes touch on many, many things we have covered this semester. It’s amazing:


  1. Robert,
    I am also interested in Negri's concept of crisis, and I am going to go ahead and do that dialectically dangerous game of close reading. What I noticed, or thought I noticed, seems to be at odds with what you are getting from our text. If I've read you correctly, you're saying that crisis mentalities (hostility right on up through rage) are easily co-opted; whether by the music industry or the highly lucrative 24hour news-outrage cycles. Therefore we have to be careful with our rage, so we can have the most effect against the system.

    I think Negri is going ever further than warning us about how to approach crisis. I think he is arguing that crisis is the case, and crisis is unacceptable. This antagonism should push us toward something new--"transition".

    My textual evidence comes early: "To want to consider the crisis as a sickness to treat and to cure is not only to betray the revolutionary movement, it is also to fall into a banter which has nothing in common with Marxian categories" (11). This seems to indicate that you're right about reform being the will of Capital, but I don't know about rationally redirecting our rage--rather, that rage might actually allow for the a new "communist subjectivity" to arise.

    Then, in his discussion on pages 96-98, Negri reads Marx's understanding of crisis: "Development always has the form of crisis" he says, but the working class forms a limit--therefore the whole game is political AND revolution can be "homologous and simultaneous" with catastrophe.

    I've also been reading "Stuffed and Starved" by Raj Patel this week. It outlines the actual, lived antagonisms experienced by the worlds poor due to our highly capitalized corporate food system. It outlines the ongoing crisis that McCloskey so blithely dismissed as a growing pain, but this book points to the actual decline in absolute wealth and political freedom for peasants (and petit bourgeois american poor who are so anethesized by our culture industry that they/we don't notice). But the crisis is making people notice. Via Campesino ( is an international peasant movement that's fomenting revolutionary consciousness.

    I think this book is more about "the phase where the revolutionary movement is seeking new foundations, and in a way that will not be in the minority" than anything. And so it's full of rage, and subjective jumps like those made by Marx. And that's okay--because like Adorno argued, dialectics might contain not just the seeds of enlightenment rational bourgeois capitalism, but also the revolutionary consciousness that could find a better way to value the world.

    But I don't usually feel that hopeful, and I don't right now. Idealist though I may be, I'm a frustrated one.

  2. While wading through Negri’s reading of Capital, I joined Robert in also having visions of gay liberation dancing through my head. While I missed Clover’s lecture in the Fall, clearly crisis is the hot word with Negri’s Marx Beyond Marx.

    I feel, in my understanding, I can possibly synthesize between your reading & Daniel’s. I was going to make my own blog post this week, but in the hopes for dialog, I’ll deposit & shape my words here!

    Yes, movements can certainly be opted (or rather quelled to acquiescence?). This is a problem for Negri (& pretty much everyone, ever), due to the very structure of the relationship between oppressor-oppressed, slave-master, fill in-the blank.

    Negri probably wouldn’t be too interested in identity politics, but in applying this to gay lib, Negri writes that recognizing difference (tolerance?) “is not enough. It remains insufficient as long as this structure, this totality is not internally split, as long as we do not succeed in grasping not the structural (capitalist) subjectivity but the subjectivities which dialectically constitute the structure (the two classes in struggle) (p. 44). Essentially, I’m reading that if we adopt the logics of dominant, we will remain static, failing to recognizing that this “relation between the simple and complex is a relation in the full sense of the term, and therefore a dynamism” (p. 48).

    This dynamism or antagonism is proof that the system is moving. That it is open. This movement and tension allows for wiggle room, organization, and hope to create change and push the dialectic until it ruptures in synthesis. Crisis is the very liminal space for change, the place where the dialectic can shift on the side of the proletariat (or queers). Attempts to shut down these crises, to think of it “as a sickness to treat and to cure is… to betray the revolutionary movement” (p. 11). We’ve certainly got to be careful and not shy away from this constant state of conflict and contestation; we can’t take these small concessions as the ultimate victory.

    Negri definitely has me appreciating crisis as moments of revolutionary potential, the eruption of latent potenza. It makes sense McCloskey would advocate that nothing is wrong and to squish the thought that we may be experiencing a crisis or problem. Indeed, in hiding a moment to leap forward, nothing changes & the status quo remains on the side of the oppressor. What scares me is the complete joy so many people in our community have for gay marriage victories, as if I’m looking to get hitched any time soon. For Negri, the everyday is a time to ACT Up, not just the late 80s, & I’m certainly ready to join him.

  3. I am probably breaking the rules by commenting on the comments to my post (a very Facebook thing to do), but I think that Daniel and Chase make great points. Daniel, I think that you are entirely correct in determining Negri's operation in terms of giving tools to the masses--tools of revolution. What I was attempting to work through in my post, perhaps in-artfully, is the fact that Negri is making a correction to the concept and definition of crisis between one that is truly liberational (obliterate the bourgeoisie) and one that reenforces the bourgeoisie (by the reenforcing the value of the dollar and its circulation). The Proudhonians incorrectly "develop a polemic which aims at a revalorization of a pure, deployed, and abundant circulation" (26). When a riot is over, the first information we will get is the amount of money it will cost to rebuilt. Turning over cars and setting things on fire is a function of capitalism and not of the revolution against it. It seems like Negri's operation is to jerk people forcibly away from various misreadings (or abuses of Marx). I would also be interested in reading the Patel book. I have read articles about the destruction of local foodways by organizations like the World Bank, truly disgusting stuff.

    Chase, I also was reminded of something McCloskey stated that seemed to come out of the blue. She confirmed the concept of the anthropocene when she confirmed that we are in a period of widespread megafauna extinction and that we should just say, "Screw it."

    Anyway, this is an exasperating, frustrating, and exciting book. I hope we can carry these debates into the classroom.

    1. I guess my thoughts can partly address those of Robert, Daniel and Chase in their discussion of crisis. What I would like to add, however, pertains to a different view of crisis, and that is one Negri offers as the concept of exploitation. In Marx Beyond Marx, Negri’s discussion on surplus value and exploitation mentions that “only exploitation as a political process of domination and construction, as a generalized command over society, determines at once value and surplus value” (74). The concept of exploitation emerges in Negri’s “Twenty Theses on Marx” within said context as a concept which “cannot be made transparent if exploitation is defined solely in relation to the quantity of labor extorted: in fact, lacking a theory of measure, it is no longer possible to define these quantities” (153). Instead, the concept of exploitation “can be made transparent when it is considered that in mature capitalist society a political extortion of the product and the form of social cooperation is determined.”
      As I continuously try to examine how this concept of exploitation resembles the one I’ve been accustomed to—that is, the all too familiar system that habitually instills (and then reinforces) my desire to literally work my way up in life—I can’t help but to take a pessimistic view on the subject. This is especially the case if, as Negri further maintains, “exploitation is politically produced as a function of capitalist Power from which descends a social hierarchy; that is, a system of matrices and limits adequate to the reproduction of the system.” Negri further points out that “exploitation is therefore the production of an armory of instruments for the control of the time of social cooperation.” In an effort to resist a sense of inescapability from the capitalist Power, quick sand comes to mind. What concerns me here is not that crisis can emerge in the wake of exploitation, but rather that it may be part of a long cyclical process—one that is currently bellying at worse end of the cicle.

  4. I enjoyed reading this insightful discussion, and I think it begs the question: How do we define crisis? In America, at least, I think the left and liberal factions, including the media, have been too quick to label any challenging political or economic problem a "crisis," which has, ironically, bolstered capitalism's reputation as a great crisis manager. I think Negri and others are suggesting that if we're better able to identify the major crises, and better able to expose the flaws in capitalism's response and "clean up" efforts, then the global rhetoric, the universal message, against capitalism becomes more persuasive.


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