Larvalsubjects has an interesting post on Marx in the academy over here which has generated a lively discussion in which, perhaps unsurprisingly, the question of agency has risen to the fore again. This is still something I find disturbing, something I’m not really able to get a grip on fully, since I tend to understand the problem of agency as responding to something like a desire to answer the question ‘what difference can I make?’. “Where’s the agency“, someone might ask, “in these economic analyses of desire (D&G) or capital (Marx)? Isn’t it all just a huge machine in which I am nothing? And if it is a big machine, how did this machine produce it’s own auto-critique? Isn’t it really the break, the rupture (of the subject), that we need to theorise? Isn’t consciousness really the most important fact in reality since it is inexplicable by reality? Me, I’m important, surely – doesn’t my analysis do anything, offer anything – don’t I have the answers, or at least the right to produce answers or the possibility of finding them?” I’m inclined to dismiss these questions out of hand as the whining desire of a resentiment-filled petit-bourgeois who thinks they’re ‘in charge of their life’ in the first place but have to recognise that at least some of the charge invested in this response is disproportionate and perhaps related to the other peculiar investments I find myself bound to (revolution, majik, sex).
One of the things that I thin I agree with larval about is that the emphasis of thinkers such as Badiou, Laclau, Ranciere and Zizek seems to be inverse to that of Marx – “Don’t these positions [Badiou, Laclau, Ranciere, Zizek] postulate that change proceeds via consciousness, rather than consciousness, thought, emerging from modes of production?” larval asks.
I would say that yes, this is indeed the most reasonable impression of their work and the question now is to see whether such an impression is accurate and examine it in detail. The idealist is defined by the emphasis on thought, on some analytical concept flowing from the pure power of the subject that enables the break, that actually produces rupture and in so doing can account for rupture ‘in itself’ and account for the account of rupture. This is, as it were, the easy option of performativity and words doing things and all that jazz, all that guff to be honest, in which a good, interesting and detailed analysis (such as that in J.L.Austin’s work) is over-extended and generalised beyond the case, becoming a theoretical universal imposed on reality rather than an analytical generalisation or conceptualisation derived from reality (and I will happily use the term ‘reality’ naively here but feel free to shoot away). The performativity answer, however, is to a question that is more slippery – is it something like an adequate idea we are looking for or a productive one?
Maybe we can postulate something like ‘the key desire of thought is to become adequate to itself’ whilst the productive desire flows past an satisfaction to be found in adequacy and destroys any adequate idea in its incessant production of production. Crudely speaking, i suppose, this means that it might be necessary to think the difference between practice and institution contained in the ‘two’ questions, “what is the point of philosophy?” (And we all know Marx’s answer.)