Hope, negativity, and the temporality of revolutionary consciousnes

1. Deleuze’s innovation was to locate the empirical not in the given but between the psychological and the transcendental. From Bergson, Deleuze rejects the category of possibility, as being not the negation but the shadow of actuality, i.e., the “retrograde movement of the true” that constitutes the true itself, neither in the phenomena (given) nor in the in-itself, but in the actual as the determinate negation of the possible (thus according to classical ontology, the contrary to the real is the impossible). After Time and Free Will, the method of intuition becomes not only reflection on the time of our own lives but the opening of thought to other durations, above and below, across and perhaps even around.

But it is with another empiricism that Deleuze first arrives at the site of genesis:

having situated ourselves in a purely immanent point of view, which makes possible a description whose rule is found in determinable hypotheses and whose model is founded in physics, we ask: how is the subject constituted in the given? The construction of the given makes room for the constitution of the subject. The given is no longer given to a subject; rather, the subject constitutes itself in the given.

Against mathematical constructivism, Humean empiricism takes as the only possible beginning the hypo-thetical contingency of the sensible in the passions (as Deleuze says, “if it is true that association is necessary in order to make all relations in general possible, each particular relation is not in the least explained by association. Circumstance gives the relation its sufficient reason”). Humean empiricism is thus a skepticism, of course, but not one that motivates us to doubt the powers of the mind and to abandon reason to unreason. Hume’s famous dissolution of the substantial self opens thought to the affects that form our capacities and tendencies, whether toward truth or (eo ipso) to destruction.

2. Almost a century after the Great Depression, amidst the decimation of modernity, Geiselberger et al have proposed that we face the Great Regression from the twin threats of globalization and neoliberalism, which have awakened the repressed debt incurred by Enlightenment ideologies that are currently howling in open ressentiment, scapegoating, and sadism (both naked and ironic). Confusion, despair, and desperation drive us either to repeat the same gestures among ourselves or to seek compromise, common ground, and a return to normalcy by swallowing the blue pill. Yet neither should we be seduced by the solipsistic fantasy of the truth that demands nothing more, since there is always something more than the true, just as there is the good beyond being. The politics of resignation, however, remain in the shadows, comforted by the righteousness of common sense (“I’m just being a realist/pragmatist/…” or “in theory, yes, but in practice …”).

The politics of hope, on the other hand, goes beyond (what is given to thinking as) the true. In The Principle of Hope, Bloch distinguished between the expectant emotions, such as hope, and the filled emotions (such as envy and greed). The former open entirely onto a real future. The latter, on the other hand, refer only to an unreal future “in which objectively nothing new happens, [whereas] the expectant emotions essentially imply a real future; in fact that of the Not-Yet, of what has objectively not been there” (emphasis added). Hope is thus antithetical to restoration; hope is revolutionary when it recognizes that the given is not merely broken but also not worth repairing. Hope, Bloch says, is the “expectant counter-emotion against anxiety and fear, [and] is therefore the most human of all mental feelings … it also refers to the furthest and brightest horizon. It suits that appetite in the mind which the subject not only has, but of which, as unfulfilled subject, it essentially consists”. Yet unfulfillment, which intrinsic to each of us (and that constitutes our temporality, as Garrido argues), is also distributed unequally according to our situation. Thus, immediately after the above pronouncement, Bloch says that “out of economically enlightened hunger comes today the decision to abolish all conditions in which man is an oppressed and long-lost being”.

But as we know, those conditions are total, both within and across types: capital is inescapable yet we also cannot abolish class without also race and gender, for example. Thus the consciousness of those conditions must also be radically changed both in its content and its form, or at the level both of the true and its proof. What revolutionary consciousness requires is not only a theory of utopia but also of its temporality. The urgency of suffering makes its greatest demands on the immediate and the conceivable. It is this desperation that underlies Pieper’s criticism of Bloch’s notion of hope as one that, following Marcel, “is nothing if it does not deliver us from death”. If utopia cannot be expected in history, then we must seek its guarantee in another life (Kant, Nietzsche).

3. It is Negri who presented this problem with the greatest clarity:

The individual life of the social worker, his individual search for collectivity, is a tangle of contradictions, of negative conditions, of reified and reifying elements that should be submitted to criticism; and the liberation from which demands the recognition of the collective antagonism, the forming of the antagonism into constitutive instrument, knowing how to reach higher forms of collective corporeality (beyond individuality, beyond the family, towards ever more complex and ever more versatile communities). If individual revolt is the condition of liberation, if the continual crisis of individuality and of inter-individual relations, of sexual, racial, national relations, is the condition of anticipation and project – the negative labor that takes root in a manner that emancipates individuality … nonetheless it is true that that beyond that individualities want here, that new corporeality in which negative labour wants to realize itself, is not yet given.

The fundamental aporia is therefore not between the individual and the collective but, rather, in the distinction itself that presents the mereological contradictions and paradoxes of individuality as such, as one of the effects of the bourgeois construction of temporality in the current discourses of biology, medicine, and science. Thus, as Negri indicates, the site of thought’s struggle is between capitalist/statist and proletarian temporality (Negri explicitly identifies the body of the community as a “temporal territory”). The former defines the domain of the possible, whereas the latter lays bare the reality of suffering. Here thought rises not to the eternal but to the universal in the practical imperatives presented to it by its sympathy to the other – as Negri says, this freedom is one that “knows how to love” – in the rejection of all forms of life that reproduce antagonism, whether in life or in thinking. We shall perhaps not see a better world but only if one can be imagined can it be lived.


The many valences of thinking: Jameson (Notes on reading Valences of the Dialectic)

1. Philosophy has always been impressed by the strangeness of thought—that there should be such a thing in an otherwise thoughtless, irrational universe. Behind the usual invocation of the “strangeness of reality” in the usual self-characterizations of philosophy (especially in the banality “why is there something rather than nothing?” which is, more accurately, a theological and not a philosophical question), the real interest of philosophy in thought is in thought itself, whether idealist (what is thought thinking?) or materialist (how does thought think?), immanent or transcendent. In the case of the latter duality, the interest of philosophy has always been the abrogation of the unthinkable (for the transcendentalist, the unthinkable is thought “as” unthinkable). Insofar as the domain of thought is thought itself (despite the bifurcations of reflexivity), the only “strangeness of reality” to which thought is exposed occurs through the experience of alienation: that there is reality at all. For this reason, Jameson rightly charges that philosophy “is always haunted by … a set of interlocking concepts which are their own cause. This mirage is of course the afterimage of philosophy as an institution in the world, as a profession complicit with everything else in the status quo, in the fallen ontic realm of ‘what is’”.*

*It is for this reason, Jameson says, that the dialectic belongs to Theory rather than to philosophy. In an unusual slippage of terms, what Jameson really means is not Theory but, rather, praxis. As he says much earlier than the passage cited, “these unities of theory [small “t”] and practice are … distinct from the implied autonomy of the philosophical concept and cannot in any sense be completed by philosophy but only by praxis”. And in this he is surely correct.

2. What would be a thinking whose substance is the unthinkable? This question is not yet dialectical, for the unthought is in itself negative (the unthinkable is simply the unthought or the not-yet-thought) but does not, for all that, simply throw us back into thought (the thought that there is something unthought). But neither can we simply say that the unthought is the (transcendental) condition for thinking, for this returns us again to the absolutism of thought (i.e., the familiar lesson of negation as the figure of thought). The dialectic, therefore, is not another figure of thought; the dialectic is not a concept (it has no essence that can serve as the object of a definition); neither is it a method or a logic. The dialectic is in a sense a “pure signifier”.

Contradiction functions as the expression of the dialectic or, perhaps, we might say that the dialectic is expressed by the torsion of contradiction; whereas the task of conceptual purity is to deactivate contradiction and to protect the integrity of the subjective utterance against the shock of a real contradiction. Mediation, then, operates in both directions: although the result of mediations, in contradiction the subject finds itself in an essentially reactive position such that “self-knowledge is not really a knowledge of the self, but rather a consciousness of its situations, a way of gaining and keeping awareness of precisely that multiplicity of situations in which the self finds and invents itself”, i.e., amidst a complex of forms of appearance which are produced and re-produced as thought. The dialectic, then, accounts for the possibility that there is a form of thought that is not yet thought: “a speculative account of some thinking of the future which has not yet been realized … a way of grasping situations and events that does not yet exist as a collective habit because the concrete form of social life to which it corresponds has not yet come into being”.

Jameson’s name for such a thought is, as he had already said in Archaeologies, “Utopia”, for which he will give at least two equivalent formulations: temporally, Utopia designates the fact that the dialectic, if successful, will no longer exist but, for that reason, can never be successful (in a teleological sense); spatially, the name “Utopia” designates not a place or an ideal but “it expresses Utopian desire and invests it in a variety of unexpected and disguised, concealed, distorted ways” (hence in Archaeologies Jameson finds the figure of Utopia in science fiction, i.e., in allegories** of transformed worlds: “violent ruptures with what is breaks that destabilize our stereotypes of a future that is the same as our own present, interventions that interrupt the reproduction of the system in habit and in ideological consent and institute that fissure, however minimal and initially little more than a hairline fracture, through which another picture of the future and another system of temporality altogether might emerge”).

**This word should be understood as Benjamin would say it. Benjamin and Barthes are pervasive throughout Valences, but always by their traces.

3. Topoi: Insisting against a temporal thematization of subjectivity, Jameson argues for a spatial dialectic (the result of which must be some form of what he has called “cognitive mapping”) whose function is not to subsume the concept under the category (Aristotle, Kant), nor to preserve the consistency of relations in the absolute (Hegel), nor to reduce history to the battleground of an objective praxis (bad Marxism). The dialectic maintains the disjunction between the One and the Two through the excess of the One—not a becoming or abundance of the One but negatively as a void that maintains the gap between incommensurables: “this kind of dialectic is therefore not so much dualistic as it is revelatory of some ontological rift or gap in the world itself, or, in other words, of incommensurables in Being itself”. More than parallax (Zizek) or complementarity (Plotnitsky), what Jameson offers is the possibility of a new form of sensibility such that out of the many objective forms of appearance, new subjectivities become possible as appearances without ipso facto simply falling victim to false consciousness. For this reason, the question remains for Jameson what it had for Adorno: how is truth possible in a false world? Only if truth is that which cannot be thought. But the possibility of such an event is neither subjective—and, obviously, not a matter of will or intention—nor objective (since the real is precisely what is not true nor, strictly speaking, that which is inaccessible to thought—this is why, while the dialectic can be thought, in some sense, along the old lines of sub/object, it is best to consider “the dialectic” a pure signifier. Yet this too is not quite right, since the dialectic is not a logical principle, particularly in the legal sense that is necessarily beholden to the abstract universality of law (Jameson himself is explicit on this point). At bottom, the dialectic remains what it always has been for Jameson: an aesthetic principle—one that, if we follow his thought to its necessary conclusion, calls for the articulation of a new “transcendental aesthetic”, which, if philosophy is to have a future, must be one of its paramount tasks.

4. Why Althusser is worth fighting for: The dialectic, then, is not a principle of thought but calls for thinking: more precisely, it calls for what philosophy since Hegel (or, arguably, Plato) has always posited: the possibility of thinking something else. As Althusser famously said, “if … contradiction is to become ‘active’ in the strongest sense, to become a ruptural principle, there must be an accumulation of ‘circumstances’ and ‘currents’ …”. What we need to understand is the unfortunate word “accumulation”: not as a mere aggregation of contradictions but the topological relations of contradictions themselves (even as contradictions mark the limits of spaces), which results in the inexistence of the real—the fact that the real should appear to us as strange or perhaps even as erotically intolerable. In the face of the real, Badiou and Lacan have offered us a logic; phenomenology a method. In addition to these, what Jameson has indicated, even if he may not say this himself, is a correlative aesthetic; and for this, he remains, perhaps even more than Badiou, the greatest avatar of the dialectic today.


In the final volume of the Poetics of Social Forms, Jameson has again (as if we were not convinced previously) demonstrated that there is apparently nothing he has not read and, more importantly, nothing he could not fail to illumine. AF is more than the application of the critical functions previously developed to a particular genre, as certain reviewers (friendly as they may be) would have us believe. AF is itself a certain poetics, just as the genre it treats constitutes a certain poetics.

In speaking of Friedman, I take one key insight from AF (while doing some neglect to the critical method developed therein): that utopianism is not the goal of SF (science fiction) narrative but is a function of it. Is this not precisely what is revealed at the end of Friedman’s Coldfire triology? In the human encounter with the fae–with the unconscious power of life, of production, of immanence–Friedman posits the encounter with nihilism and presents a startling alternative to Zarathustra in Tarrant: the redeemed Messiah, the tragic Christ who brings God to man but in so doing debars himself from ever seeing His face. When the patriarch of the Church unites humanity under the sign of the Go(o)d–thus foreclosing the possibility of magic–he does so precisely by giving birth to the modern man–the divided psyche (Freud), the sovereign separated from nature (Comte or any number of others), the Ulysses bound to the mast (Adorno): Erna becomes the Earth from which the colonists had left.

And here the narrative ends. Utopia is signified by the absence of any détente or dénouement but in the smile “at the dawn of a new world”.

This new world is not a project (Heidegger) or a program (Saint-Simon, Fourier, etc). Friedman indicates nothing other than possibility itself–but a possibility marked by the burden of guilt (sacrifice), responsibility (the withdrawal of God), and freedom.