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Tag: foucault

The State of the Pandemic (Toscano, 2020)


by Alberto Toscano, Historical Materialism 28.4 (2020) 3–23


The Covid-19 pandemic has further intensified a crisis in the functions and the perception of the state. It has also revealed underlying contradictions in both mainstream and radical ideologies of the state. A desire for the state as guarantor of public welfare vies with fear of the state’s hypertrophic capacities for surveillance and control. Following a brief exploration of the intimate modern connection between plagues and the state, the article tries to map some of the ways in which the state has been at stake in political and theoretical commentaries on the pandemic. Is an epidemiological politics from below, beyond the plague state, possible? Can recent emergency measures be seen as incomplete or inverted anticipations of a communist use of the state of exception? Or is the primacy of the political we are currently experiencing a mere fetish, indissociable from the rule of capital?

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Behind our Backs: Moishe Postone in Conversation


Moishe Postone, who was Thomas E. Donnelley Professor of the College, History, and the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago, passed away in March of 2018 after a long battle with cancer. A founding editor of Critical Historical Studies, he is best known for his important and novel reinterpretation of Marx in Time, Labor, and Social Domination. His passing is a serious blow; his mind and his person will be deeply missed.

In the spring of 2015, we sat down with Professor Postone to talk about everything except Marx. Our conversation focused on the authors read in the Social Sciences Core (Soc Core) sequence that he chaired from 1990 to 2016, “Self, Culture, & Society.” Professor Postone was the most formative influence on the “Self, Culture, & Society” curriculum during his tenure as chair and was a passionate advocate for general education requirements.

All undergraduates at the University of Chicago are required to take a year-long, three-quarter course in the Soc Core. “Self, Culture, & Society” (“Self”) is one of the three most popular Soc Core sequences at the University, the others of which are “Classics of Social and Political Thought” (“Classics”) and “Power, Identity, and Resistance” (“Power”), both of which are mentioned below. The reading list for “Self, Culture, & Society,” circa 2015, was roughly as follows:

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All Things Are Nothing to Me: The Unique Philosophy of Max Stirner (2018, Zero)

Stirner book cover

We think we have the measure of Stirner’s egoism: it is too tempting to dismiss it as a provocation whose political upshot is either reactionary libertarianism or infantile anarchism. Whether anarchist or libertarian in temper, Stirner’s egoism is assumed to be inimical to Marx’s communism. Jacob Blumenfeld’s dazzling reconstruction of Stirner’s philosophy overthrows this received wisdom. Blumenfeld does not just interpret Stirner’s thought; he appropriates it, thereby exemplifying its most radical injunction. In Blumenfeld’s memorable formulation, Stirner’s egoism is communism seen from the first person singular perspective. But the perspective of the singular is precisely what nullifies the bourgeois subject. Far from sanctifying the individual, Stirner seeks to unleash the nihilating power of the unique beyond the ego. This annihilating power follows from the unique’s productive consumption of every property, including itself. The point is not to replace the sovereignty of the state with that of the individual but to bring about a union of singularities capable of annulling “the thing-like quality of the world”, together with the phantoms of self, society, state, and God. Blumenfeld’s Stirner is the precursor of contemporary insurrectionists and secessionists, but one who refuses to subordinate insurrection to community or secession to identity. The result is an anarchist who subverts the elevation of groundlessness into another law and a separatist who destroys the ontological grounds of separation. What is generated through the union of the uncommon is communism as what Marx called the “fraternization of impossibilities.” – Ray Brassier, author of Nihil Unbound

Max Stirner is the bad boy, the black sheep of post-Hegelian philosophy. Often derided and dismissed, his philosophy of ‘egoism’ and his powerful critique of the ‘spooks’ of modernity have continued to resonate with those who are at odds with the world around them. In this brilliant book, Blumenfeld discovers that the ghosts of Stirner are alive and well, and that his message of nothingness and indifference speaks particularly to us today, living as we do at the end of history. Yet, as this book shows, rather than being the nihilist he is often characterised as, Stirner guides us along the path of a new ethical and political sensibility based on singularity rather than identity – something urgently needed today. Blumenfeld’s original and heretical reading shows Stirner’s undoubted contemporary relevance. – Saul Newman, Goldsmiths University

Max Stirner has been presented in many ways, but never as a punk rock philosopher. This is a refreshing take on a highly controversial thinker. – Gabriel Kuhn, author of Anarchismus und Revolution

Stirner argued that thoughts can and should be violently appropriated and made our own, if they are to be of any use. This is what Jacob Blumenfeld does in this book: provide an interpretation of Stirner’s philosophy that can make it truly our own. In doing so, not only does he illuminate neglected aspects of Stirner’s philosophy, but, most importantly, make it breath and palpitate for our times. – Chiara Bottici, New School for Social Research 

(order from: amazon  / uk / indiebound)

On Queer Privilege


In these intersectional times, it will not, I hope, be too controversial of a claim to suggest that, in different contexts and at different moments, hierarchies of power shift, and with them the relationship of different groups and individuals to what we have come to call “privilege.” Among the most common expressions of privilege as it is widely understood is a certain priority of speech: the right to be listened to, to be taken seriously, to be seen and heard as speaking from a position of conceptual and experiential authority. That priority of speech is often accompanied by the tacit assumption of an equivalent moral priority.

I would like to speak about something I can only call “queer privilege.”

Queer privilege is not everywhere. Even after decades of activism and “theory,” there is still a bigoted wide world out there, full of enforced normativity, compulsory heterosexuality, and relentless, violent policing. That goes without saying. Plenty are the spaces where queers are still shunned, vilified, or punished. But there are also spaces where the opposite is true. Activist spaces, social justice spaces, critical theory spaces; universities and meetings and small presses. Oh, and Tumblr. In these spaces, where a generalized ideology of anti-normativity holds sway, queerness is a badge of honor, a marker of specialness, and a source of critical and moral authority: in short, a form of privilege. It is the privilege that allows social justice discourse to use the phrase “cis white patriarchy” a shorthand for everything that is wrong with the world; it is the privilege that allows academics like Lee Edelman and Tim Dean to claim not only a value but an ethical imperative for non-reproductive sexual acts; it is the privilege that leads people who have never had sex with someone of the same gender to write impassioned essays about their choice to identify as queer because of their discomfort at being identified with the oppressive forces behind the label “straight.” Queer privilege is what allows a tenured NYU professor, tongue supposedly in cheek, to talk about starting a “barstool-roots movement for left wing urban homosexuals,” as if it’s heterosexuality that keeps most people from drinking in the West Village while they theorize and not the fact that they have to work 3 jobs and don’t have tenure at one of the most powerful universities in the world.

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