Friday, 3 April 2009

A brief comment on Fisher's "A Return to Communism?"

Derridata, I've just read the piece on A Return to Communism which you passed on, and I look forward to an elaboration of your critiques of it. I was bemused by the reference to "Anglo Saxon empiricism" that was used to set up a simplistic opposition between the Continentals and [implicitly] sociology/social theory. I believe such oppositions are much too crude to do justice to the more interesting work that is willing to mediate its more avowedly theoretical modes with empirical observations. I'm sure you would concur by thinking of Jane Dark's critique of Badiou's theory of the state, Pheng Cheah's response to Derrida's work on the nation state, and Aihwa Ong's reservations about Hardt and Agamben, with reference to the plight of guest workers (also referred to by Cheah). Fisher even concedes that Balso correctly [i.e. empirically] notes the authoritarian measures immigrants are increasingly subjected to by the state, but I get no sense from his work of how consistently this could sit with his valorisation of the authors in question on account of their implicit downplaying of empirical considerations (i.e. Badiou et al).What would a treatise on method written by Fisher look like then?

Should this perhaps be a question of what kind of "empiricism" is really at stake? I feel Fisher uses Terry Eagleton to whitewash this important methodological problem. For starters, it's hardly any great revelation that there is a deliberate kind of "hamfistedness" in Eagleton's work. This point is convincingly driven home in The Continuum Encyclopedia of Modern Criticism and Theory. The irony is that Eagleton has taken it upon himself to be the spokesperson for Raymond Williams, one of the last British historical materialists capable of straddling the theory/empirical divide in a sophisticated manner. I wasn't at the conference Fisher refers to, but I'm guessing that this legacy was not [sufficiently, if at all] acknowledged by Eagleton, letalone Fisher's Continental brethren. So it seems this responsibility has to be taken up elsewhere by the likes of Gary Hall, who as we both know, is even willing to draw Williams into a discussion with the "wild realism" of Gilles Deleuze!

As for myself, I've never critiqued the "abstraction" of Continental philosophy from a simplistic empirical perspective. No, I wrote an entire thesis that attempted to justify a methodological prioritisation of a constructivist realism. This featured an extensive dialogue between Williams, Derrida, Luhmann, Wendy Wheeler et al.

I'm also unconvinced by Fisher's attempt to blame the commonsense of "Anglo Saxon empiricism" for the UK falling prey to the abstraction of finance capital. Afterall, how would his thesis explain the situation occurring in France itself, where commonsense dictates the opposite?: i.e. where the abstractions of French theory are the order of the day, the very ideal of what it means to be a public intellectual, and by extension, a member of the commentariat [sic]. Moreover, it takes a detailed empirical work such as The New Spirit of Capitalism to critically expose the elective affinities that manifested in a managerialist revolution that first took place in France. As demonstrated by Boltanski et al, this involved commodification of the [abstract] spirit of creativity itself; a spirit which Fisher appears to [solely] subsequently invest with emancipatory potential ("it will require nothing less than the construction of a new type of human being [sic]").

I am therefore suggesting that a critical reconstruction of the idea of creativity is required to prevent it from becoming a conceptual wildcard. This draws my attention towards work on "creative democracy". Suffice to say, I am having difficulties imagining how such work could ever prove conversant with Fisher's attentiveness to "capitalist realism" (the title of his forthcoming book).

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