Suffer the Little Autodidacts…

With a certain kind of joy and misery I am beginning to understand the importance of teachers. If I ever supervise a student working with Deleuze, I can tell them to read certain things first so they don’t spend months trying to figure out what is wrong…

Although I intuited such a thing a while ago, I realise now how perfectly useless Deleuze is for the version of Cultural Studies I have learnt: you know, the British Cultural Studies version, heavily influenced by post-Marxists thought (think Stuart Hall, etc). My CSAA abstract points to a paper where I try to bring Deleuze back in to the ‘fold’ a little.


The fracture became apparent reading Nicholas Thoburn’s book on Deleuze and Marx (which I consumed in a matter of anxiety-filled hours, the book is online). And a PhD dissertation by Christina Gordon and supervised by my Honours supervisor, Ron Blaber. (“You’re describing a political economy.” That was one of the most cryptic things Ron said to me during a meeting with him one day. I rocked up once to a meeting just after being in a car crash. Hoons!)

From Thoburn:

Against post-Marxism

The possibility of an engagement between poststructuralist concerns with a politics of difference and Marxism has been for a long time dominated, at least in Anglo-American cultural studies, by neo-Gramscian post-Marxism, as most prominently laid out in Laclau and Mouffe’s (1985) Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Neo-Gramscian work on ‘hegemony’ marked the passage from apparently orthodox concerns with class, capital, and the economy, into a post-Marxist concern with the possibilities of difference, agency, popular practices, and new social movements in a struggle for inclusion in the ‘chain of equivalences’ of social democratic political space — and it enacted this move in rather certain terms, as a ‘post-Marxism without apologies’ (cf. Laclau and Mouffe 1987). The historical support for this development was not unrelated to the Italian Communist Party’s (PCI) ‘eurocommunism’ — a political framework where neo-Gramscian thought had a central place. As Abse (1985) has suggested, eurocommunism seemed for many on the British left (most notably around the influential Marxism Today) to mark the possibility of a popular radical social democracy which could overcome Marxian orthodoxy and the limits of labourism; the PCI was, after all, the biggest Communist Party in Europe, and was rapidly approaching a place in government.

Despite the sense of critical engagement that the ‘post’ connotes, neo-Gramscian post-Marxism was in many ways a flight from Marxian problematics. Certainly it marked a movement from the politics of production to the politics of democracy and civil society. Deleuze’s position on Marx is very different. Instead of moving away from the question of production, Deleuze’s engagement with Marx, as I signalled above, is completely traversed by it. Deleuze has no truck with a vulgar Marxist distinction between ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’, but rather he follows Marx into an immersion in the realm of the production of life — a production which is the plane of all of the processes, flows, and constraints of politics, economics, ideas, culture, desire, and so on (cf. Deleuze 1977: 105).25 This is so much so that Donzelot (1977) calls Deleuze’s work — at least in Anti-Oedipus — a kind of ‘hyper-Marxism’: less a post than an intensification of Marx. Given this, it is notable that Deleuze’s engagement with Marxian problematics has some relation to a current in Italian Marxism very different from the PCI; indeed one which the PCI was actively involved in suppressing. This current, known in the 1960s as operaismo and in the 1970s as autonomia, took an apparently orthodox and sometimes arcane focus on work, class, and capital, and engaged in an incessant reinterpretation of Marx. In this, and in its critical stance on neo-Gramscian politics, it is perhaps no surprise that the operaist current has remained largely outside of the cultural studies tradition. Times, however, change, and with the current prominence of questions of globalization, commodification, the intensification of work, and the knowledge economy, the post-Marxist trajectory looks a little less secure, and a possibility seems to have arisen for a re-engagement with the Marxian problematic of production. Certainly this would seem to have had something to do with the interest shown in Hardt and Negri’s (2000) Empire; a book co-written by one of the main theorists of operaismo and autonomia — Antonio Negri — and which draws on many of the insights of this current.

It is in this context of a reinvigoration of the politics of production (or, labour and capital) against neo-Gramscian post-Marxism that I would situate Deleuze’s virtual Marx.

There is nothing like learning the hard way.

4 replies on “Suffer the Little Autodidacts…”

  1. man, don’t beat yourself up too much, that thoburn book is wack. he is so simplistic and mechanical. here’s deleuze, here’s operaismo, look ma, no hands. ugh.

    meanwhile, there are other cultural studies traditions, you know. one of the earliest english language pieces on operaismo was meaghan morris’ in one of the working papers collections.

  2. haha… no hands… when are you back in town?

    yeah, he references that morris piece from 1977 except the bloody bibliography has not been reproduced properly so I don’t know what the proper reference is. and apparently cohen also wrote something on it in the early 1980s. Do you have a reference for either?

    What I found with the Thoburn book is that he asks very deleuzian questions of Marx, but does not ask very Marxist questions of Deleuze. Is that a big no-no or something? What about the critique of the commodity? what about political economy? cultural industry? so on and so forth. Because Deleuze offers a cosmology more than an ontology it is relatively easy to incorporate Marxist thought if it correlates with something Deleuze has already written. Anyone can play the game of spot-the-marxisms across deleuze’s oeurve.

    I am beating myself up, in part, because I should have realised I was going to hit this snag ages ago. And, secondly, realised exactly what the snage was. I remember I wrote about moral panics and Foucault’s governmentality! I even posted a message to the Foucault list. That is the same shit as this problem! Or when I posted about subcultures versus the ‘crowd’ (i had an image of a sporting crowd and I discussed molecularity)!?!? Same shit as this problem!

    I am so retarded sometimes…

  3. the morris essay i’m pretty sure is in the collection ‘language, sexuality and subversion’ she co-edited with, i think, paul foss. back in town… this weekend?

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