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Review of Hermeneutic Communism by Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala (Columbia University Press, 2011)

In Vattimo on February 29, 2012 at 11:17 am

Review by Sophie Fuggle – click the title to go to the page and see the book cover and Mdm Mim cartoon.

Review of Hermeneutic Communism by Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala (Columbia University Press, 2011)

At the end of In Defence of Lost Causes, Žižek calls for a return to the egalitarian terror of the Stalinist regime as the only option for circumventing the imminent expiration of the planet. His deliberate misreading of Jean-Pierre Dupuy’s ‘enlightened catastrophism’ along with his avowal that this will most likely fail (in accordance with the Beckettian maxim) does little to convince despite his compelling argument for being done with the weak thought that has paralysed the intellectual left for so long.

This seems to be just a substitution of one set of atrocities for another. And at the same time I am also left wondering whether much of the apparently incendiary remarks made by the intellectual left – calls to revolution, insurrection and terror à la Robespierre as a response to the cuts, crises and general fucked-up state of the world under the shadow of neo-liberalism – don’t actually continue to embody the ‘weak’ thought of the 80s and 90s.

First off – it seems highly unlikely that today’s tenured academic has the wherewithal to organise anything other than a seminar series and sometimes even that proves too much. Or the guts to carry out the systematic violence demanded by the type of revolution they appear to be advocating. Standing up to a colleague in a departmental meeting or writing a nasty book review is not tantamount to operating the guillotine. Academic discourse takes place within certain conditions of possibility and strives to maintain these conditions which is really a safe playground where a lot of overgrown children can kick sand in each others faces, fight over whose turn it is to go on the swing and still be friends when the bell rings.

Second, and this is really the point being made by Vattimo and Zabala, is revolution or insurrection a genuine possibility and, moreover, genuinely desireable? The police brutality during the protests over tuition fees in the UK at the end of 2010 and more recently at UC Davis during a rally against, erm, police brutality should make it clear that there are more than enough mercenaries for hire prepared to do the dirty work of those with power and wealth.

Coupled with the continued growth of the war industry, that marriage of convenience between global, deterritorialised flows of capital and nation-state building, anyone planning a serious affront to capitalism needs to think carefully about the tools or weapons at their disposal. Security, torture and imprisonment are now all part of the service industry and as such can all be outsourced to the cheapest bidder. Someone, somewhere will always be willing to do the job. Even Macbeth managed to put together some sort of army against MacDuff.

Direct physical opposition which while it might begin peacefully enough must eventually lead to violent confrontation in the form of evictions, arrests, kettling, pepper spraying, water cannons and beyond. The bottom line of fighting back is that capitalism has the missiles and is happy to use them.

So where does dispensing with the ‘might is right’ principle leave us? Back at ‘weak’ thought, it appears.

Here I can’t help but think of the fight between Merlin and the witch, Madam Mim, in the Sword in the Stonecartoon. As Madam Mim transforms herself into increasingly larger, more threatening creatures, Merlin’s somewhat ad-hoc magic turns him into ever smaller, more useless animals. The weak thought in the face of the ever-growing, fire-breathing monster of capitalism.

Where we are repeatedly reminded by Vattimo and Zabala that ‘the weak are the discharge of capitalism’, weakness should not simply be taken as a state or position of passivity. Instead what is at stake is a process of weakening which needs to be carried out upon existing political, social and economic structures. And herein lies the role of hermeneutics. Interpret the world again and again in order to resist prescriptive forms of truth which have totalising function. This means engaging in conversations not staging dialogues (which always presuppose given positions and conditions of possibility).

Keep reading the review of Vattimo.


In Boothroyd on February 29, 2012 at 10:04 am

Reviewed by John Hutnyk

Dave Boothroyd’s book “Culture On Drugs” (2006) is a sound and entertaining read, and is just as much a carefully argued account of the influence of various substances on theory and theorists across a wide field – Freud and Cocaine, Benjamin and Hashish, Sartre and hallucinogens – as it is a commentary on, and plea for, a narco-analytic turn in culture theory. Good. All the way through the book there were important questions raised and important answers offered – and experimental writing is approved here and there (but perhaps not adopted in the text as much as might be anticipated).

All that said however, I think there was something held back…for example, I expected something on Marx and the opium wars: old beardo advocated that the Chinese not prohibit homegrown manufacture of the stuff so as to thereby undermine the East India Company’s efforts to force their trade advantage via Indian producers. So basically Marx comes out in favour of legalising Class As! And while I think I would have preferred – or is it that I fear – an extended treatment of Sartre’s experiences with amphetamine sulphate (those huge books on Flaubert, more on Flaubert than Flaubert wrote himself), I do appreciate Dave’s attempt to cover all the bases in an even handed way. Especially when he works through the Freudian cocaine versions. Freud as experimenter and advocate; Freud as liberated by use; Freud as promoter.

But it was weird to be reading this text just a day after writing out my own notes for a piece on Irma’s injection as mentioned by Slavoj Zizek in his little starter book on Lacan. (on Zizek, see here and here). Irma’s story – Freud’s first dream analysis – is cited in an admittedly perfunctory way by Zizek in order to explain Lacan’s contribution to Freud’s insight that the melancholic is ‘not aware that he has lost the lost object’ as a realization [by Lacan] that it is not an inability to mourn a loss, so much as a loss of desire for an object that he may still possess, but which has lost its efficiency, that governs melancholia.

This might have been a great opportunity to consider Freud’s own melancholia and mourning in relation to the Irma dream. And here there is much more to be said about the figure of Ernst von Fleischl-Marxow [somehow Dave leaves out the second part of his hyphenated surname]. It is this E-v-F-M to whom Freud had recommended the ‘superdrug’ cocaine in large quantities, as a substitute for morphine, which Ernst then took in large intravenous injections and became more dependent upon the marching powder than on the M he was into in the first place. So much into it that he died of related complications of the substitution (or what could be caled a ‘speedball’ syndrome, thanks uncle bill). All so far just a footnote… but what if the guilt Freud exhibits in relation to the faulty diagnosis of Irma’s injection in the dream that founds psychoanalysis (in The Interpretation of Dreams Irma has pride of place) were to be read in relation to the later guilt (some 80 or so pages later) that Freud reports in a footnote in relation to Fleischl-Marxow’s death? We are familiar with displacements in the dream work, so why not here find the symptomatic explanation of Irma in the text of the dream book itself, and Freud’s feelings of responsibility for having introduced his (ten years) older colleague to the drug that would allegedly kill him – though it was more likely to have been a dirty needle, as also noted in relation to the diagnosis of Irma herself. Perhaps I am not expressing this well, but I would be lying if I did not share a little in the melancholia of having read Dave’s book, seen mention of E-v-F-M, and yet not seen the connections laid out as clearly as they so seemed to me when we read (thanks Carrie, Nicola, Atticus, Miriam, Saul) theInterpretation in our reading group back in 2001 (on its 100th anniversary). It could be that Freud’s loss of his colleague is one he can only admit via a displacement in a dream that forces itself down Irma’s neck. Indication – that Irma should be prescribed some of that very same acetate.

So, narco-analysts to be deployed – the deflection of Irma into the text of Lacan deflects once again a forensic investigation that would explain both Freud’s interest in injections and Irma’s throat, and might lay some blame where blame might-maybe-ought to lie. Dirty needles, guilt and melancholia – time perhaps to lift the lid off this (La)Can of worms, and get back to work…

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