File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0108, message 6

Date: Wed, 01 Aug 2001 19:00:29 +0100
Subject: Re: An Idea whose time will never come


Comments below;

> First, I think it needs to be acknowledged there are many Marxisms and
> certainly within the last half century there has been a schism between
> mainstream Marxism represented by Lenin, Mao, and Trotsky and the
> various heretical tendencies. These include the Johnson-Forest tendency
> in the United States, the Socialisme ou barbarie movement in France,
> Autonomia and Operismo in Italy and various other groups worldwide.

I belive that the issue here is surely the extent to which marxism can be
considered as an effective method of understanding elements of the global
economy - my own take on this is that the considerable work that has been
done by intellectuals as diverse as Foucault, Negri, Hardt, Habermas,
Deleuze, Lyotard, Moufe and Kristeva required marxist thought as a starting
point.... "Resistences are no longer marginal but active in the center of a
society that opens up in networks..."

> Each criticized Russia and China as forms of state capitalism,
> mistrusted Lenin and Trotsky on organization and leadership, extended
> the movement towards youth, women and minorities and, in a word,
> practiced subjectivity.

In addition following on from Foucault and Agemben its interesting to think
in terms of biopower and the 'bare life' to understand where the society of
control is taking us. The end of the nightmare of the failed revolution of
1917 will I hope be followed by the end of the failed American revolution...
it has taken longer but the disaster needs correcting.

> Against the economism and determinism of dialectical materialism, these
> groups emphasized both the need for struggle and the recognition of
> worker's inherent power.  I think the case could be made that these
> movements also anticipated Lyotard's concepts of dissensus and the
> differend.

The Lyotard reference is critical - theories of difference are one of the
great intellectual steps forward in the past 30 years.

> In "Just Gaming" Lyotard criticizes Marx for the same reason he
> criticizes Plato.  Each creates an ontology, a model of what is true
> which is then used to validate prescriptions.  Justice is obtained to
> extent mimesis occurs.  Against this, Lyotard offers his pagan notion of
> justice whereby one judges without criteria and no rational politics is
> possible because it is always based on opinions and never upon truth.
> No description can yield the prescription.  As Levinas states, in the
> obligation you are addressed by a stranger, but, unlike Levinas, there
> is no need to become pious about this and privilege the ethical as
> something transcendental.  Pagans like Aristotle and the Sophists shared
> a similar insight as well.

Where this Lyotardian model is problematic is in the failure to recognise
that 'judgement without criteria' is precisely condemming one to the liberal
politics which he and we rejects. What Lyotard is attempting to achieve is
to establish a mode of thinking which creates a role model for subversive,
non and anti-universalising  ways of thinking that argues for difference
rather than the contruction of essentialised thinking. In understanding of
theories of difference there is a common misassumption that each point on
the plane of difference is morally and socially equivilant. This is not
however the case for theories of difference return to essentialising
positions from behind, in that no theorist of difference can accept that a
supremicist position has equivilant value to one arguing for equality and
equivilance. Lyotard's clearest discussion of this is related in his piece
'one of the things at stake in women's struggles' where he discusses the
essentialising problem that exists in feminist movements. Lyotard's liking
for the pagan, for refusing political theories that are related to
philosophies (or grand narratives) runs aground on the rocks of sexual
difference because it is by nature philosophical, essentialist and deeply
political - it is one of the points from which any and all societies can be
fairly judged - 'sexual difference would constitute the horizon of worlds
more fecund than any known to date...' This is not to refuse or deny the
attractiveness of the anti-humanist refusal of Lyotard's criticism of forms
of thought that over-inflate their abilities, theoretical abilities to
subourn difference to the over-specifics of a theoretical perspective. (The
anti-humanist focusing on the locality of thought and action that is the
hallmark of the generation of intellectuals that Lyotard and Foucault were a
part of is one of their most interesting features - they all lived the
situationist phrase 'act local think global...') But it does raise the
difficulty, near-impossibility of an ethics founded on difference that is
indeterminate... because the examples used to justify the argument fail to
convince. (we have previously rehearsed the problems I have with Lyotard's
version of the holocaust so i won't repeat it hear unless its required...)

A politics of difference and identity...

> Lyotard rolls this into a variation of the Kantian Idea. This Idea, as
> Lyotard points out, is strictly regulative. It can not be proved or
> disproved empirically.  It is not a concept that can be realized. It
> will never have historical fulfillment.  One engages it "as if" it were
> a kind of social imaginary that generates its own criteria.
> Lyotard breaks with Kant, however, on the topic of universality, that
> totality of all rational beings who morally constitute the kingdom of
> ends in the supersensible realm.  Instead, Lyotard appropriates the
> Kantian Idea toward "a patchwork of language pragmatics that vibrate at
> all times."
> Applying this to Marxism, I would say this.  Once an Open Marxism
> emerges that jettisons those nineteenth century ghosts such as
> determinism, economism, historical dialectics, etc coming from a Hegel
> buried with his head in the sand, doesn't Marx morph into someone like
> Kant: perhaps merely one who has read more history and economics in the
> British Museum instead of attending church.

The introduction of Kantian perspectives into western marxism are one of the
elements that emerge with late 20th C varieties - probably, actually,
earlier with Adorno and Brecht...

> One of the most remarkable social movements in the nineteenth century
> was the Abolitionist movement that began with the simple Idea "slavery
> is wrong".  This Idea was never realized.  Jim Crow and Reconstruction
> saw to that, but it did impact significantly on history and brought
> about a number of positive changes.

Nobody told the Arabs anyway... (see Thesinger and the recent Minority




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