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May 06, 2007


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Joseph Kugelmass

First, radicalism does not have to be a rhetoric of defeat--and I don't think it always is. I think of Hugo Chavez, my current favorite example of everything. It seems to me odd to jump to the conclusion that radicalism is indistinguishable from an already present or assumed defeat. That capitalism has its own forms of radicalism, and has appropriate most--if not all--of what might be associated with radicalism does not mean that everything is already lost, absorbed, defeated.I agree with this, and admire much of what Chavez has done. However, for me to call myself a radical, as an aspiring academic in California, is more an act of identification among communities than a specific statement of belief, and I no longer believe the communities calling themselves radical represent our best hope for change. When it is a question of identifying yourself with something, the rule is more important than the exceptions. Neither does the Democratic Party, incidentally, but I'm happier calling the Democrats un-progressive, than calling them"not radical" -- the former is guiltier for them.

It's also the case that I'm not opposed to breaks with the existing ways of doing business, so long as those are responsive to the particular circumstances of a people. Bolivarianism is a version of Marxism, and Chavez is at one remove from Bolivar, and in each case the adaptations have been based on a deep understanding of locality.

Second, Kugelmass wrongly makes radicalism the culprit in academia and in politics for things he doesn't like. Why not blame capitalism?

I do -- I blame capitalism for doing its best to make "radicalism," an important political term in the 1960s, a philosophy generally characterized by defeatism. But this is not just a matter of pressure and bad publicity; the things I want, including the things Chavez has done in Venezuela, are not as radical as they may appear from a U.S. perspective. Mass vaccinations? Public ownership of the infrastructure? That doesn't change roads or disease as we know them -- it just maintains one, and combats the other, more rationally and effectively.

I think for Kugelmass it has something to do with Lenin and with Zizek's use of Lenin. But I don't find Lenin or Zizek either untenable or extreme. And, I don't know if Kugelmass isn't against all extremes or if some might be tenable. It seems to me that what is extreme or untenable at one time later becomes part of the history of an idea or practice.

If you've never seen anything but Guernica, then certainly, Picasso appears to be an extreme artist. On the other hand, if you look at the historical circumstances of the painting, and the gradual developments within Picasso's own art, then you can see that his cubism was an idea that had ripeness -- its time had come. Actually, I'm thinking of Zizek here, and his analysis of the forced choice. When I wrote about the "untenable extremity of critique," I had in mind things like the auto-critique of Foucault, which turns some of his writing against anything faintly resembling a positive project in his books.

I don't have any outrageous ideas, so I don't know. But I think I might like having some.

Me too. But I'm not going to consider a mischievous, hypothetical pose like this the essence of my politics, because I could only evaluate and integrate an outrageous idea from the standpoint of what I know, and what I have experienced.

Third, politics is about division. It isn't about people's personal decisions and limits.

Well, I would say that politics is about governance. But insofar as you are claiming that politics involves disputes about governance, rather than personal matters, I basically agree with you. I'm talking here about the insulating pomp of the word "radical" -- for example, in your earlier post, you described how you refrained from contradicting a friend about God's grace. That is how I would like to behave in a similar situation, even though I don't believe in God. When I raised the question of personal decisions and limits, I was thinking of the abuses of the slogan "the personal is the political."

Joseph Kugelmass

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Joseph, thanks for your comment. We agree on nearly everything under discussion here--most of the disagreements are probably tweaking (so, I agree with you regarding abuses of the slogan personal is political, but perhaps want to emphasize a bit more the gap between politics and governance, perhaps so that I could then make them overlap from time to time).

I also agree with your reluctance to identify with a term like 'radical'--it doesn't really tell us very much; we speak, after all, of the radical right. But then I might want to stretch out the limits of identification for politics and I expect that, while we might find spots of disagreement, the intuition there would not be counter to your own.

I also agree with your emphasis on locality. I might tend to call it context or setting as way of emphasizing that radical is a situated descriptor that tells us about the relation of a policy, slogan, or action to a dominant norm. I thought I was radical in 4th grade when I petitioned my Mississippi elementary school to allow girls on the safety patrol. I wanted to riot. My parents suggested gathering signatures. I did the latter and girls were allowed on with no controversy. No radical--new, a change, but not radical. So, I like the way your response pushes me to think about political changes and alternatives without attaching the world radical to them--as if that told us very much.

I'm not sure what you have in mind regarding the forced choice. But I do think that Zizek over uses the term radical.

khalid mir

Joseph, would you say it's possible to be radically conservative? Not in the Taliban or american fundamentalist way, but in what E.P. Thomson calls 'customary consciousness'?

I think your point about 'the shock of the new' (or development, progress and escape)is a great one and though it is intimately connected to capitalism ('production' -rather than reproduction) I wonder if it isn't deeply connected with the displacement of religion (or theoria) in favour of Becoming?

Joseph Kugelmass


Makes sense; thank you again for your interesting response.


"Joseph, would you say it's possible to be radically conservative? Not in the Taliban or american fundamentalist way, but in what E.P. Thomson calls 'customary consciousness'?"

There the word 'radical' is just being used to signify "muchness," and it would make more sense to say "very conservative."

"I wonder if it isn't deeply connected with the displacement of religion (or theoria) in favour of Becoming?"

I'm a little unclear about what you mean. If you mean the displacement of religion by thinkers like Nietzsche, that's not happening -- Nietzsche and pals are nowhere near popular enough, sadly.

Lots of Western philosophers of Becoming, including Hegel but also including Heraclitus, were deeply committed to religion. Likewise, some Eastern religious thought (e.g. Taoism) can be productively read as a religious dialectic of Being and Becoming.

khalid mir

Joseph, I'm not a philosopher so please excuse my poorly formulated thoughts.

I guess what I mean by that is the beginnings of the idea that we are historical beings and that only (and that all truth is *in* history). It is what, I think, Spengler would call the anti-classical spirit of modernity (a Protestant search for the truth as opposed to a Catholic possession of it, to paraphrase Auden).

I know this must sound as a gross generalization to you, but I would see capitalism as one dimension (or expression) of this restless individualism: A 'constantly seeking happiness machine'.

In some sense, this mirrors the original Fall and is the birth of time (or at least a consciousness of it). Which is why I like the idea of 'liquid modernity'..it suggests, to my mind at least, that we moderns are being devoured by time.

I understand your point about dialectic in Taoism but my question could be looked at as asking whether the idea of the new or the open (without one member of the dialectic)is another way of saying that everything is process, that everything is flowing?

I only used the words 'radical conservative' because C.Fuller once did for William Morris , who lived not too far from where I am now!

I am interested in why you think it is *unfortunate* Nietzsche isn't listened to but this is Jodi's blog so I won't ask. (in some muslim circles it was said that he was half a muslim because he only reached the stage of 'la' (negation))

Joseph Kugelmass

"I guess what I mean by that is the beginnings of the idea that we are historical beings and that only."

This is one version of anti-foundationalism, perhaps best articulated by Foucault, somewhat in the form of an elaboration of Marx.

It's not very popular, though within the academy it certainly has adherents. From the standpoint of Western society, or the globe, the number of people who believe this is so insignificant that so far it has had a purely descriptive role, rather than a transformative one.

(Also, note that this kind of historicism isn't identical with materialism.)

"I know this must sound as a gross generalization to you, but I would see capitalism as one dimension (or expression) of this restless individualism: A 'constantly seeking happiness machine'."

This tends towards a critique of Western laxity and irreligious decadence, I think. Actually, it might make more sense to describe capitalism as divided between the pursuit of happiness, and the ethics of "hard work," achievement, and competitive advantage. As in Weber -- Protestantism is a work ethic.

The idea of the Fall into time that you're advancing here makes me think that you would *love* Norman O. Brown's Life Against Death.

To say that everything is flowing means creating a formal fixity ("change" as a constant), and placing all beings in the category of Being. That is why, for Hegel and others, Becoming is in a dialectical relationship with Being.

Calling Morris a socialist is most precise. Otherwise, the moment someone refers to the conservative theories of Edmund Burke, the whole issue will become confused.

"in some muslim circles it was said that he was half a muslim because he only reached the stage of 'la' (negation)"

Nietzsche was a deeply affirmative thinker, though not except by way of a series of negations. In Nietzschean circles, people who read him as a nihilist are thought to be -- halfway there.

khalid mir

Joseph, thank you for your thoughtful reply.

you say it is not "popular" but my understanding is that in terms of notions of "development", in terms of the notion of there being no telos, of everything being connected with "life" (biological process , or stds of living[Arendt]), and in regards the demise of natural law (Leo strauss) it would seem that it is very popular. Illich would say it is a "revolt against necessity" (perhaps this ties in with Marx and production) .

I think there is a line in Tarkovsky's Solaris where one character says, there's no going back to the cosmos. That makes me think of the great Hans Jonas's essay: gnosticism, nihilism and existentialism.

I like your idea about the tension or divide ("contradictions"..D.Bell) in capiatalism-along the lines of Tawney. In this regard, liquid modernity is closely aligned to the "divine frenzy" rather than holy sobriety.

But it is, perhaps, the *pursuit* of happiness that represents the new restlessness of modern man (his new infinity, even). This pursuit becomes a "right" and also an object of the calculus of power.

Great point about Hegel..to say "is" is already to be led back to Being. Is this , in some ways, like Nietzsche's eternal return? One wonders if he needed a spiral rather than a circle?

the immanence you describe sounds claustrophobic to me. I liek what Levinas has to say in this regard: Gagarin, on reaching outer space, says: there is no god here. Which means that even at the outer limits, man , after "killing" God , only encounters himself or the products of his own mind.

confusion is good , isn't it? This older left actually is close, in some sense, to the 'right'. Illich, for example. Also, (and this is only from my limited reading of Motherland, by Lesley Chamberlain) it would appear that there was another socialism, another 'left', before Marx's "western" socialism.

What did he affirm Joseph?sovereign Becoming, joy in contingency?Again, my reading is very limited but it seems that he was lonely man and that he, unlike Burckhardt, didn't keep a faithful heart.

But I guess we shall just have to agree to disagree over what is meant by affirmation.


"Mass vaccinations"

Sodium pentathol, perhaps Komrade Kegelmass: and Nietzsche would approve. We stand at the offramp of History

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