Public Seminar deleted my response to Luke Mergner's review of Crowds and Party.
The review is critical -- so critical that the author doesn't even get the title right. Nor does he get the title right of one of my other books that he mentions.
Here is my response (fortunately, a Facebook friend was able to recover it):
Hi Luke, thanks for the thoughtful review. My 2009 book is called Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies.
As you know, definitions are not always useful since most of our concepts have histories. The concept of the crowd that I use comes primarily from LeBon (a temporary collective being) and is expanded via Canetti (especially with respect to the egalitarian discharge). Crowds don't have to be spontaneous; they can be organized and produced. I talk about mobs on pp. 7-8, and refer briefly to some of that literature. As I note, the 19th century opens up the discussion of whether a crowd is a mob or the people. This is a political question, a matter of struggle and debate. This struggle is always necessarily situated -- what is opened up, what is possible? Some commentators always mistrust the people, always render the crowd as a mob. Others find possibility.
I don't deconstruct the idea of individual interests because I am more interested in rejecting the individual form altogether. You write: "Dean wants to argue that intelligible interests can be attributed to collectives" -- that description doesn't ring true to me since I don't use the language of interests. Instead, with respect to the crowd I use Canetti to speak of the discharge as the moment of equality that gives the crowd its substance.
You say I don't give concrete historical examples of the party -- but chapter 3 discusses Lenin's account of the party and chapter 5 talks about experiences of members of the British and US communist parties.
Where you really misunderstand (or misrepresent) what I'm doing is when you say that "the party form, like the crowd, provides a mechanism for the individual to find meaning and reinterpret their identity." This isn't accurate because the first two chapters of the book dismantle the individual form. Even the quote from me that you use to support your point doesn't work because in the quoted passage I refer to communists in the plural. My point involves the way that the Party is a site of collective belonging that works back on the collectivity. There is no rediscovery of individuality -- the long section on Kristin Ross should make that clear. At any rate, my point is not that "its the ability to subsume individuals into a collective" that links crowd and party; it's that the party is the form that organizes fidelity to the egalitarian discharge of the crowd. By organizing this fidelity, it can hold open the gap opened up by the disruptive crowd event (and of course not all crowd events are disruptive).
Also, notice: it is not just participation in a crowd event that disrupts the interpellation of the subject as an individual. Rather (as chapter 1 argues), it is already the case that commanded individualism is over-burdening the fragile individual form. The extremes of contemporary capitalism are too much for individuals to bear (as I explain via the account of the changes in the individual form). So there are material reasons for the dissolution of this form today that should be understood not as pathologies (ala Turkle) but as indications of real contradictions.
I'm not sure what's at stake in your claim that I engage few contemporary authors other than predictably European ones. I'm tempted to think that you read in a different archive and I didn't refer to the people you like to read. But, the first chapter talks about a number of contemporary sociologists, I talk about Sherry Turkle, Kristin Ross, Judith Butler, John Holloway, Hardt and Negri, Eugene Holland and, yes, Althusser, Dolar, Zizek, Badiou.
You say I don't mention political science or any of the literature on parties - -there is an extensive discussion of Michels and notes to political scientists' commentary on Michels. You have a general dismissal that says looking at the literature on representation, democracy, and parties would benefit my scholarship. But you don't say how or in what way in would change my argument. It's interesting to note that by misstating the title of my 2009 book, Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies, you actually omit reference to a book where I do engage work in democratic theory. Again, I'm left thinking that basically you are just signaling that your archive is different from mine.
You mention that I reject identity politics. You don't mention my argument -- which is that identity today is fully saturated. It can't ground a politics. The claim for or attribution of an identity tells us nothing about a person's -- or a group's -- politics. (I'll add here that my first book was Solidarity of Strangers: feminism after identity politics, 1996). I emphasize as well that "the wide array of politicized issues and identities enables a communism that, more fully than ever before, can take the side of the oppressed, indeed, that can make the multiple struggles of the oppressed into a side."
It seems to me that you have one criticism: Dean rejects individuality. Yes, I do.
And then you end with an anti-communist gesture -- one that you link to recantations part of the history of anti-communism. But of course that does not sum or capture communism or anti-communism, so it strikes me as an odd kind of ideological signal.