Sunday, April 20, 2014

Reply to Chandler that was too long for a comment

So cool, Chandler! Those shipping maps, wow. And I've been reading James Scott's Seeing Like a State this semester as well, for another class.

I think your question about the political side of political-economy is right on target in that you're calling out the practical political questions, but maybe there is another way to resolve the question of "state" vs. "economy".  I'll see if I can lay out how I am trying to think my way to a resolution.

As I was reading Jameson's "On Interpretation" I very much appreciated his point that we needed to rethink our conception of causality in reading and claiming priority of any sort for "literary texts" or "literary studies". Jameson, in doing this, draws on Althusser. Jameson's purpose is to create an "immanent or antitranscendent hermeneutic model" (23) that will help us "reassert the specificity of the political content of everday life and of individual fantasy-experience an to reclaim it from...reduction to the merely subjective (22). In his reading of Althusser, then, he claims that the three types of causality described are mechanistic, expressive, and structural. I'll try to apply these to the DH site you linked, and my reading of Scott.

The DH lecturer's insights into these maps as data (pretty new word and concept, I think) that can be "seen" by a state is certainly true. But it might not be the right question to ask. He describes how the 19th C. routes describe commercially driven boats, not state driven ones. And he also describes how the state prefers certain datum over others (the exotic whaling voyages over the routine coastal patrols). Then he goes on to show the data from a centralized state (USSR) that is imposed grids--ala Versailles gardens or Nebraska's township and range. Finally he has the drifting records--responsive and invisible--immanent and unescapable power. I think this represents the mechanistic view of interpretation. Data is caused by a system. At the same time, there are hints of the more "expressive" model: these maps can--as pieces of a whole--stand for and symbolize the essence of that whole: commercial, centralized, passive and permeating.

What I want to take from Marx (and apply to Jameson's invocation of a need to be careful about how we view causality) is the more structural reading: that the "state" is nothing more than an arm of capital's/the dominant class's power as is visible in its effects. State-ism is just capitalism turning knowledge and lived experience into something more abstract and therefore legible. The whole system of biopower that is late capitalism and immaterial labor is founded on living labor being abstracted, alienated, and reified into concepts like "state" vs. "economy" and "work" vs. "life" (as in work-life balance, a slick feel good way of upping production).

So, I guess what I want to say is that although I want to keep the political in the forefront, I want to do it without worrying too much about theories of "the state" or "state power". Politics is important, the state does scary things, but so are corporations and finance, and they do much more insidious and invisible things with the codes of the ultimate symbol: money. Splitting too many hairs on the source of the power might be less productive than other work. I think that politics (and interpretation) are and remain important on the level of the individual. It is there that the conditions of possibility for types of lives--the "dialogical" and "antagonistic" possibilities--are exposed.

Maybe I'm just trying to defend my own projects, and legitimate my own political choices, but it seems to me that the if new modes of production are to emerge, they won't be caused (directly, maybe antagonistically) by states but rather more organically. Maybe it will come from the living labor of humans interacting with ecologies and dynamically adapting to one another and using dynamic adaptive of meaning (like the Osage or other noncapitalist cultures)--not in the states that seek to control them and turn them into easily legible monocultures--data. Still, understanding the methods of control might be important in order to resist them and articulate the reasons for doing so. If I can go way out on a limb and prognosticate: the cause that is immanent with its effects and precipitates any revolution won't be datapoints--it will be lives and life-stories linked to the totalities of meaningful worlds; what Hubert Dreyfus calls, "What computers (still) can't do".

Man, those maps are cool! I'm on the fence about the Kool-Aid.

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