In this issue
Giorgio Agamben, the Italian professor of philosophy and aesthetics who recently protested the new U.S. fingerprinting policy by canceling plans to teach a course at New York University, responds to a series of questions related to his writings on biopolitics and subjectivation, his recent work on Paulâs letters and the role of the messianic posture in politics, and much more. We are grateful to the editors of the French journal Vacarme and to Jason Smith (whose translation of Pierre Machereyâs essay on Judith Butler appeared in the January 2004 issue of RM) for making it possible for us to publish an English-language translation of the interview with Agamben. âWhat is at stake here is nothing less than the new ânormalâ bio-political relationship between citizens and the state,â wrote Agamben in the 10 January 2004 edition of Le Monde, in which he explained his opposition to the use of biological methods such as finger and retina prints and subcutaneous tattooing to track citizens for the political purposes of the State. Here, Agamben elaborates on his consideration of the problems of identity and the subject in terms of the difference between âclassical politicsâ and what he considers to be, after Foucault, the ânew terrainâ of biopower and biopolitics. This terrain is defined by, among other things, a new structure of identity and subjectivity that refuses the power of the State (e.g., a âcare of the selfâ that is also a âletting go of selfâ), the opening up of zones of communal life (e.g., by insisting on use without claiming rights), the need for a new concept of time (so that the messianic posture, as a paradigm for the political, is not oriented to the future but can address the present), a rethinking of the problem of the party (in order to find a space that does not simply oppose the party model to individual revolt), and the search not for universal human traits or principles but for remnants and for that which resists State-imposed divisions (such as when undocumented immigrants are defined according to law). In the end, Agamben rejects the idea that his is a pessimistic view, that he focuses too much on aporia and too little on opportunity. In his view, the impersonal process of desubjectivation, the destruction of all subjectivity, and the possibility of flight to nowhere are revolutionary experiences that give us life.
Quite different senses of flight are at the center of the pictorial essay that documents the artistic work of Alia Hasan-Khan. Originally installed in 2003 in the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City, Hasan-Khanâs âFlightâ registers a panoply of significations, from the history of migrant experiences (since the museum is a landmark building, home to nearly 7000 working-class immigrants from over 20 nations between 1863 and 1935) through the airborne terrorist acts of 11 September 2001 (two of which occurred not far from the museum) to the forced detentions and deportations of thousands of Arabs, South Asians, and Muslim men and women (due to minor visa violations and suspected illegal activities) in the climate of intimidation that has culminated in the new U.S. policy of marking and registering the bodies of visitors, students, and employees from other countries. In her project, Hasan-Khan encourages us to reflect on the consequences of the specter of fear that has curtailed civil liberties, extended the power of the State, and transformed quotidian actions and objects into extraordinary threats to ânational security.â
The much-heralded emergence and expansion of digital media technologies and the spectacular crash of the dot.com industry together signal the limits of capitalism. For Mike Wayne, the âoldâ idea of mode of production represents the key to unlocking the hidden secrets of these new developments. First, the Marxian concept of mode of production (defined as the couplet of forces and relations of production) needs to be shorn of its technological determinist implications. Reinterpreted in this manner, it can be then used to show that technological developments in the new media and telecommunications sectors could not overcome or eliminate the contradictions of capital: the âsystemic, structural, and reiterated predilection within the capital system that makes crashes inevitable.â Second, mode of production can be expanded to incorporate the concept of âmode of developmentâ (recently developed by Manuel Castells) in order to capture the contradictions of âinformationalismâ: on the one hand, the use of information technologies in production has benefited capital, by lowering necessary labor-time and increasing surplus labor; on the other hand, it opens up a cultural crisis, calling into question the legitimacy of both the value relations that sustain capitalism and the private constraints on the sociality of information and the means of entertainment. The success of Napster, the free music file-sharing system that has been attacked by the recording industry, is Wayneâs example of how digitalization has galvanized the contempt for capitalist profiteering on the part of consumers and musicians and shown how knowledge can be shared and generalized. The new forms of conflict between the forces and relations of production thus continue to create the conditions for overproduction and, at the same time, to âoffer a utopian prefiguration of alternative social arrangements.â
The mode of production is also central to Iona Singhâs analysis of the extraordinary work of Delft painter Jan Vermeer. Building on and extending the critical apparatus previously developed by Gary Tedman (and published in the pages of RM, in 1999 and 2003), Singh seeks to deconstruct the claims of spirituality and transcendence often attributed to Vermeerâs paintings by focusing on the sensual elements of material and technique. She sets the stage by examining the economic pressures on and technical changes in the artisanal guild structure within which Vermeer learned his craft and carried out his work. She then explains the particular materials used by Vermeer, including her own experiment in reproducing the ground that was put down on the canvas of Lady Standing at the Virginals, in order to account for characteristic elements of Vermeerâs paintings, including their gravity and dynamism, the harmony of colors, and the âcrushed pearlsâ effect in his pictorial representation of light. The distinctiveness of Vermeerâs paintings is supplemented by the minimization of narrative (at least in comparison to other examples of the Genre movement of the time, such as the work of Pieter de Hooch). Singh argues that focusing on these sensual, materialist moments serves to disrupt the âpolicingâ of Vermeerâs work in contemporary art theory (including that of Marxist art critics such as Nico Hadjinicolaou and T. J. Clark). Moreover, it enables viewers to sense the âunityâ of intellectual knowledge and manual labor represented in the paintings that have been handed down to us by Vermeer.
The theoretical importance of the Marxian concept of mode of production also occupies an important place in Thomas Carmichaelâs reinterpretation of Kenneth Burkeâs engagement with Marx. Carmichael demonstrates that, contra the view of Fredric Jameson, the âgreat problematics of Althusserian Marxism and the logic of their resolutionsâ can be found in Burkeâs writings. Ironically, the Althusserian conception of ideology in relation to the mode of production (in its widest sense, as a conception of the social totality) structures Jamesonâs discussion of cultural production and textual representation as well as his critique of Burke. However, in Carmichaelâs view, it is possible to find âanticipations of a responseâ to the reservations articulated by Jameson in Burkeâs own work. For example, while Jameson charges Burke with forgetting about the unconscious and confining the treatment of ideology to false consciousness, Carmichael reads Burkeâs discussion of âclass unconsciousnessâ as both capturing the logic of Marxâs Eighteenth Brumaire and presaging Althusserâs approach to ideology. Carmichael also finds in Burkeâs writings concepts of expressive causality, the dialectical relationship between the discursive and nondiscursive, the differential structure of the social totality, and so on that run counter to Jamesonâs critique. These overlooked contributions allow Carmichael to restore Burke to his proper place in a âline of Marxist thought that anticipates in many ways the great moment of Althusserian structural Marxism.â
Communism is a historical process of transformation through which âthe principle of freedom supersedes the principle of entitlement.â Thatâs how Ernesto Screpanti proposes to rethink Marxâs theory of communism with respect to one of its four dimensions, the sphere of consumption. For Screpanti, the principle of freedom differs from the principle of entitlement in that the latter depends on remuneration and property titles while the former is based on the idea that âeverybody is free to draw from the social productâ according to their needs. Communism is therefore defined as the expansion, within capitalism, based on the democratic social struggles of the majority against the minority, of the set of âsocial goods.â Screpanti treats these goods as being offered under conditions of nonexcludability and nonrivalry, in other words, users are not made to pay for them and their consumption by some users does not diminish their availability to others. Thus, for example, if medicines are offered free to all citizens, private goods are transformed into social goods; they are the products of society that can be appropriated by anybody in society. The important point for Screpanti is that the struggles over the existence and expansion of the sphere of communist consumption can and do take place on a number of battlefields, from the legislative (concerning the number and types of social goods) and constitutional (in the interpretation of existing laws) to that of social and fiscal policy (and therefore the rules of accessibility and its financing). Popular democratic movements therefore lead to communist advances by extending and enriching the choice sets (including both social goods and free time) available to all individuals; in this, they comprise the âreal movement which abolishes the present state of things.â
Theodore Burczak engages with a different attempt to articulate a Marxian conception of communism, George DeMartinoâs approach to âRealizing Class Justiceâ (initially explored in his book Global Economy, Global Justice and more fully elaborated in the January 2003 issue of RM). He sees DeMartinoâs project as correcting a âmajor defectâ in the theory of justice offered by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum and producing a well-developed framework for âthinking about ending class injustice.â But he takes issue with DeMartinoâs âstrong definitionâ of appropriative justice, according to which workers âare not excludedâ from participating in the appropriation of the surplus. For Burczak, only the workers (and not the larger community) should appropriate the surplus, for both political and theoretical reasons: politically, because he rejects state planning; theoretically, because he defines exploitation as occurring only in production. However, while he wants to defend an appropriative principle different from DeMartinoâs, Burczak expresses his fundamental agreement with DeMartino that the capabilities approach can serve as the basis of a âcomplex, nonessentialist theory of distribution according to need.â
A sense of humorâtogether with a dash of satire and not a small dose of sarcasmâ is crucial for teaching economics. Certainly in this day and age when, for many (students and professors alike), the neoclassical conception of markets has come to be treated as holy scripture. In the Remarx section, Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi offers his own parable of the history of economic thought, starting with the first words of the Hebrew bible: âIn the beginning God created supply and demand.â
The second contribution to the Remarx section, by George Economakis and John Milios, calls into question Rosa Luxemburgâs critique of Marxâs reproduction schemes for a capitalist economy and, by extension, other âthird partyâ theories of under-consumption. According to Economakis and Milios, the reproduction schemes of volume 2 of Capital are designed to show, for a capitalist economy comprising two sectors or departments (of consumption goods and means of production), the strict relations that must obtain for the system to achieve simple (no growth) and expanded (with growth) reproduction. In 1913, Luxemburg criticized Marxâs schemes, arguing that capitalism suffers from insufficient demand and thus expanded reproduction in a pure capitalist economy is impossible. Her conclusion was that some kind of âthird party,â some stratum of buyers other than workers and capitalists, is necessary for capitalism to avoid the inherent problem of underconsumption. As Economakis and Milios see it, introducing a noncapitalist sector modifies, but does not undermine, the conditions for reproduction outlined by Marx. According to their model, the same problem (of balance between demands and supplies within and between sectors) exists, whether âthird personsâ are added or not. They conclude that the main argument underpinning nearly all Marxist underconsumption theories âcannot be sustained.â
Margot Backus finds a great deal of rethinking Marxism âoutside of any binding orthodoxiesâ in the collection of essays, The Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital, edited by Lisa Lowe and David Lloyd. The project taken up by Lowe, Lloyd, and the other essayists is to move beyond the search for a unitary subject, which serves as the shared foundation of both liberalism and traditional Marxism, in order to elucidate the many other historical and contemporary resistance movements marginalized in and by those traditions. While Backus worries about the editorsâ âslipperyâ definition of liberalism, she applauds the contributorsâ efforts to explore âa range of oppositional alliances forged on the basis of shared, contingent commitmentsâ and to reposition culture as a political force.
We want to take the opportunity to introduce Julie Graham as our new Managing Editor. Readers will certainly recognize Julie from the articles she has published (alone and with her frequent coauthor Katherine Gibson) in RM. She has also been a longstanding and active member of the Association for Economic and Social Analysis, the RM editorial board, and the Advisory Board. We look forward to working closely with Julie in this new capacity.