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4. February 2015, Michael Toggweiler | 0 Comments

It is late for these remarks; this is to say: I am late – only one day before the beginning of the winter school 2015 am I posting a note on Jean Baudrillard. And it will be a kind of adventure because I am going to write about an author whom I have not studied properly, but who, it seems to me, should not be silenced in a winter school dedicated to capital.

It was in the seventies of the last century already that Baudrillard published L’échange symbolique et la mort. In it, Baudrillard diagnosed a historical change: This consisted, according to him, in an advent of a new era, of a new era of capitalism or maybe better: of a new era post capitalism.

Namely if capitalism could be described by a dialectics of use-value and exchange-value, the new era is characterised by the reign of the exchange-value alone. Therefore, capital is not any more a key term for understanding the contemporary; instead, the term of the code becomes a key to the contemporary. Meanwhile, objects as exchange-values become signs referring to other signs. The signs form a system of their own, independent of use-value. With the system of signs, everything becomes interchangeable. Terms like politics or ideology become outdated. What is necessary, then, is finding a new vocabulary for the changes that have happened and are happening. I stop here.

I am sure that my view of what Baudrillard has said or is supposed to have said (his critics denounce his style as hermetic, impenetrable and dark) is very limited, and I might even be entirely wrong in my rendering of some of Baudrillard’s thoughts. Nevertheless, I would consider it necessary to take into account Baudrillard‘s contributions in our discussions that regard both the utility and the scope of the term of capital.

Personnally I am persuaded that Baudrillard has indeed seen, felt, or experienced „something“ – and this almost 40 years ago. But I doubt that his analysis is very helpful, and I am even more skeptical about the lessons he has drawn from his analysis. By lessons, I mean his insistence on indifference or his teaching of seduction or his strategy of fatality.

For those who are entirely unfamiliar with Baudrillard, I would suggest to them to read the wikipedia-entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Baudrillard

 


1. February 2015, jpearson | 0 Comments

My current research project on television advertisements for financial services started as an aside in an article in progress on Frank Herbert’s SF classic Dune.  In it I argue that Dune’s protagonist Paul Atreides is a prototype for the exemplary postindustrial subject that would emerge as a dominant neoliberal ideal twenty-odd years later, what Wendy Brown has called the “entrepreneurial actor” and Martin labels the risk-capable investor (Martin, 20).

In Paul a sardonic, instrumentalized affective flexibility combines with a computational capacity for speculative extrapolation to uncouple him not just from self and history, but from space and time as well.  As he can “move within himself,” so he can project his awareness into the roiling timescape, seeing “many places at once” (13).  In doing so, he is responding to the structural demands of a globalized and networked capitalism.  As the time frame for acting on one’s knowledge of market fluctuations shrinks ever closer to zero, the perspective needed to apprehend them extends deeper into the connections of the present, the entailments of the past, and the possibilities of the future.  Just as Benjamin’s work in the Arcades Project can be read as showing how the burgeoning complexity of the Modern industrial marketplace exceed the grasp of any fixed position of Napoleonic or Hausmann-esque perceptual mastery, demanding instead the mobile, multi-perspectival experiential montage of the flâneur, so the speed and complexity of the global marketplace of postindustrial capitalism demands a perspective that can not only surveil the present—all of it, all at once—but “sample the winds of the future” (Dune, 193) as well.

There is a clear linkage between a panoptic, non-local subjectivity such as Paul’s and Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr.’s description of the decentralized global networks of capital and power in Empire. Like Paul, Empire “exhausts and suspends historical time… its physical space is limitless, open to perpetual expansion, and its social space is open to variety, hybridity, and relentless denaturing… Empire intervenes both in the social world and in the minds of individuals, two spheres [its practices] fuse” (“Science Fiction and Empire” 237).  Randy Martin describes subjects like Paul—so in tune with both the form and the demands of Empire—as having a self “dispossessed of a secure past, present, and future” (Empire of Indifference, 36).    Unmoored from history and continuity, Paul achieves an unprecedented mobility and flexibility allowing him to “prey[] on marginal fluctuations [and] balance with alarcity” where the obsolete, encumbered stable subject would stand fast (Martin, 36). His batch produced performances of interiority are tuned, not merely to his observations of his immediate surroundings and his immediate interlocutors, but to the whole social system in both its present and its many possible future states.

Paul’s combination of panoptic surveillance of the timestreams with expanded knowledge of the present, and the capacity to batch produce his affect in response to both, is a performance of self that closely resembles the temporal logic of financial speculation and military pre-emption.  Identifying possible threats and opportunities in possible futures, and then moving preemptively to manage them, volatilizes the present in an attempt to contain the future (Martin, 19, 34, 36).  As Irulan’s epigraph on prescience suggested, in such a speculative regime it is hard to distinguish “How much is actual prediction … and how much is the [Paul] shaping the future to fit the prophecy” through his arbitrage in the present (277).

Yet in order to activate the flexible, responsive techniques of his weaponized ecological and affective literacies, Paul must surrender his self-direction and become increasingly reactive.  Where others decide for themselves, “the arbitrager is embedded in the decisions of others, surfing the waves of decision and deriving unseen value from the undertow” (Martin, 22).  Here yawns what Leonard Scigaj called “the trap of prescience” (343) in Dune:  when sensitivity to opportunity shade into reflexive response, individuality and masculine autonomy are lost to an automated, deterministic rehearsal of the reactions to stimuli technique demands.

As Juan A. Prieto-Pablas has argued, “the science fiction superhero… [offers] an exemplary instance of the symptoms which a new view of reality made possible… the result is a kind of hero in whom the reader’s fears are projected more intensely than their desires” (73).  Emulating the mobility, flexibility, and universality of postindustrial capital, Paul gains effectivity (as an arbitrageur) in proportion to the self-abnegation of his own distinguishing properties.   To become “man enough” (effective enough) to meet the postindustrial marketplace on its own terms, Paul must surrender almost everything traditionally associated with masculine interiority.

The novel’s proto-financialized approach to subjectivity and agency, and its pathological result—neither schizophrenia nor anesthesia, but sociopathy—differed from other writing of the time, but seem increasingly familiar to us now.  Dune articulates an SF parabola within which sociopathic antiheroes such as Batman’s Bruce Wayne, Watchmen’s Ozymandius, American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, and Dexter’s Dexter Morgan continue to operate today.

In the midst of working through the implications for the form of posthuman, postindustrial subjectivity Herbert’s novel presents, I stumbled across Morgan Stanley’s 2007 television spot, “World Wise”:

Morgan Stanley_World Wise

This short video brilliantly and viscerally communicated the subjectivity of “one who can be in many places at once.”  Goldman and Papson, discussing this ad in Landscapes of Capital, point out that rather than employing the conventional trope of “looking down on the globe from afar to conceptualize it as a whole, viewers are positioned by the camera’s point of view to share the panoptic eye’ whose mastery is claimed here by Morgan Stanley, one able to “envision the otherwise determinately abstract flows of the geopolitical forces that shape portfolios…..  [The ad thus constructs] a political-economic landscape that it implies can neither be assembled nor understood from a lay perspective”  (201).

The ad needs to simulate a posthuman perspective, spatially and temporally unbound, in order to articulate the complexity of the market.  The scale of that complexity, in turn, alienates and seems to disqualify any local or human attempts to understand or effect change upon it.  The ad is thus both constructs and performs an elite subjectivity that claims privileged access to and agency within our global moment–exactly the kind of subjectivity that was being constructed and coded as “heroic” in the SF and fantasy I was working with in my dissertation project.

I’m still working out how deep and how meaningful those connections and correlations are.  I look forward to sharing that work with you.

 

Attebery, Brian.  “Science Fiction Parabolas: Jazz, Geometry, and Generation Starships.”  Parabolas of Science Fiction.  Eds. Brian Attebery and Veronica Hollinger.  Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2013.  3-23. Print.

Benjamin, Walter.  The Arcades Project.  Trans.  Howard Eilen and Kevin McLaughlin. Ed.  Rolf Tiedmann.  Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 1999.  Print.

Csicsery-Ronay Jr, Istvan.  “Science Fiction and Empire.”  Science Fiction Studies 30.2.  231-245.  Print.

Goldman, Robert, and Stephen Papson.  Landscapes of Capital: Representing Time, Space, and Globalization In Corporate Advertising.  Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011.  Print.

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri.  Empire. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2000.  Print.

Herbert, Frank.  Dune.  1965.  Berkley Mellon Books, 1977.  Print.

Martin, Randy.   Empire of Indifference:  American War and The Financial Logic of Risk Management.  Durham: Duke UP, 2007.  Print.

Prieto-Pablos, Juan A.  “The Ambivalent Hero of Contemporary Fantasy and Science Fiction.” Extrapolation:  A Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy 32.1.  64-80. Print.

Scigaj, Leonard M.  “Prana and the Presbyterian Fixation: Ecology and Technology in Frank Herbert’s Dune Tetralogy.”  Extrapolation 24.4 (1983). 340-355.  Print.


11. January 2015, Michael Toggweiler | 0 Comments

Promises, Contracts and the Derivative Form

Arjun Appadurai

Derivatives (financial instruments that involve trading on the basis of differential assessments of the future prices of other underlying assets) are ways in which financiers have found ways to make money out of risk, rather than out of prices of assets. Derivatives therefore raise the question of whether they are themselves a version of the commodity form or whether they represent a new symbolic form in which money has become largely separate from commodities. This puzzle is central to the sense in which finance has become the dominant current form of capital. My lecture explores the relationship between promises, contracts and derivatives to suggest that derivative finance is the latest instance of Joseph Schumpeter’s idea of “creative destruction”, in which capitalism grows and expands by destroying its prior institutional axioms and forms.


11. January 2015, Michael Toggweiler | 0 Comments

Social Capital in the Network Society

Martin Hartmann

In Robert Putnam’s Making Democracy Work (1993) social capital comprises features of social organizations such as trust, norms and networks that facilitate cooperation. Later Putnam uses social capital merely by referring to networks. In his article Martin Hartmann analyzes the relation between networks and social capital in relying on Putnam’s distinction between horizontal and vertical networks. While Putnam assumes that vertical networks, that is networks between unequal or unequally powerful individuals, cannot engender norms of reciprocal obligation and thus cannot produce social capital, Hartmann claims that social capital can be produced in the context of asymmetrical relations. To substantiate this thesis an economic model of networks is introduced and linked to neoliberal contemporary capitalism. In building upon the work of Boltanski and Chiapello it is further assumed that neoliberal capitalism is a network capitalism in which those who can successfully act in these networks as they are flexible and in possession of key qualifications rely on the work of a static and hardly recognized stratum of “doubles” that locally administers and organizes the social capital from which the successful, the ‘network opportunists’, profit. Read more


11. January 2015, Michael Toggweiler | 0 Comments

Subsumption, Subjectivity, Synchronicity circa 1848

Anna Kornbluh

In early 1848, the Manifesto of the Communist Party irrevocably articulated “class struggle” as the defining feature of “all hitherto existing society.”  Exploring the consequences of this universalization of antagonism, this lecture considers the moment of 1848 as revolutionary not only in practice (in the Springtime of the Peoples), but also in theory: in the concep-tualization, across political discourse, literary invention, and mathematical formalism, of what Marx called “real sub- sumption.”  The disappearance of the gap between capitalism and its preconditions, between capitalism and sociality as such, between capitalist schemes for intersubjectivity and all other schemes, is a historical transformation of capital, even as it obscures history.  The Manifesto and Wuthering Heights (1848) (and, in a surprising way, the discovery of Set Theory) each make that transformation thinkable.


11. January 2015, Michael Toggweiler | 0 Comments

The riddle of value or, where to begin

Vicki Kirby

“Value” in the Saussurean sense is an economic notion, a system of differential exchange through which signification comes to reside in and as a word/concept with an apparently intrinsic value.  We tend to assume that a sign is present because other signs are absent, but this is far from the case.  Saussure argued that the sign is consubstantial with the system that gives it life, but if this is how a system “produces” worth and value then a simple presence/absence model – this is not that – seems unworkable.  Indeed, we are left with the paradox that this is that, even when it appears to be entirely different, other and elsewhere.  Could this sense of an inherent and originary entanglement implicate what we thought was material with/in what we presume is ideational?  This paper will explore the broader implications of this riddle by questioning the nature/culture divide and the place of the biological body in our understanding of economy and value.


26. November 2014, Michael Toggweiler | 0 Comments

SONY DSCArjun Appadurai is the Goddard Professor in Media, Culture and Communication at New York University, where he is also Senior Fellow at the Institute for Public Knowledge.  He also serves as Tata Chair Professor at The Tata Institute for Social Sciences in Mumbai and as a Senior Research Partner at the Max-Planck Institute for Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Gottingen. He was previously Senior Advisor for Global Initiatives at The New School in New York City, where he also held a Distinguished Professorship as the John Dewey Distinguished Professor in the Social Sciences. Arjun Appadurai was the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at The New School from 2004-2006. He was formerly the William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of International Studies, Professor of Anthropology, and Director of the Center on Cities and Globalization at Yale University. Appadurai is the founder and now the President of PUKAR (Partners for Urban Knowledge Action and Research), a non-profit organization based in and oriented to the city of Mumbai (India). During his academic career, he has also held professorial chairs at Yale University, the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania, and has held visiting appointments at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris), the University of Delhi, the University of Michigan, the University of Amsterdam, the University of Iowa, Columbia University and New York University. Arjun Appadurai has held numerous fellowships and scholarships and has received several scholarly honors. He has authored numerous books and scholarly articles, including Fear of Small Numbers: The Future as a Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition (2013; An Essay on the Geography of Anger (Duke 2006) and Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minnesota 1996; Oxford India 1997). His books have been translated into French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese and Italian. Website

Regarding the topic of the Winter School 2015, his areas of expertise are Financescapes, Anthropology of Globalization, Cultural Dynamics, Urban South Asia

 
MARTIN HARTMANNMartin Hartmann is professor of Practical Philosophy at the University of Lucerne. He studied philosophy, comparative literature and sociology at the University of Constance, the London School of Economics and the Freie Universität in Berlin. He received his PhD with a thesis entitled Kreativität der Gewohnheit. Grundzüge einer pragmatistischen Demokratietheorie (The Creativity of Habit: Principles of a Pragmatist Theory of Democracy at the Goethe University Frankfurt in 2001 where he also qualified in 2009 as a professor (Habilitation) with a thesis entitled Die Praxis des Vertrauens (The Practice of Trust). Martin Hartmann was a scientific assistant and lecturer at the Department of Philosophy of the Goethe University and  a research associate at the Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt (Institut für Sozialforschung). He was a visiting fellow at the University of Chicago and the “Maison des Sciences de l’Homme” in Paris and an associate professor at the Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg, the Technische Universität Darmstadt and the Goethe University Frankfurt. Martin Hartmann is Chairman of the Board of the ”Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Lucerne (GSL)” and Scientific Director of the Executive MAS “Philosophy and Management” at the University of Lucerne. Website

Regarding the topic of the Winter School 2015, his areas of expertise are Social Capital, Network Society, Political Philosophy, Social Philosophy

 

Vicki KirbyIMG_0617 is Professor of Sociology in the School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, The University of New South Wales in Sydney.  She holds a BA Hons from Sydney University and PhD from The University of California at Santa Cruz.  She has an enduring interest in the question of language and matter, and works at the intersection of feminism, deconstruction and science studies.  She has held numerous Visiting Fellowships (Australian National University, University of Waikato, Auckland University, Utrecht University, The George Washington University, Centre for Contemporary Theory, Gujarat).  Her books include Telling Flesh: The Substance of the Corporeal, Judith Butler: Live Theory, and Quantum Anthropologies: Life at Large. Website

Regarding the topic of the Winter School 2015, her areas of expertise are Value, Embodiment, Language, Nature/Culture Division Poststructuralism, Feminist Theory, Quantum Anthropology

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnna Kornbluh is Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois Chicago.  Her work centers on conceptual and historical connections between the Victorian novel and critical theory.  She is the author of Realizing Capital: Financial and Psychic Economies in Victorian Form, which studies the emergence of the metaphor of “psychic economy” in the epoch of financialization, and she is currently writing two books,   The Order of Forms, an experimental anti-mimetic ontology of literary realism rooted in its relations with architecture, structural anthropology, and mathematical formalism, aimed at wresting literary (and political) theory from Foucauldianism, and Marxism: Fight Club, for the Bloomsbury Film Theory in Practice series.  Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in ELH (English Literary History), Novel: A Forum on Fiction, Mediations, Historical Materialism, Henry James Review, and elsewhere.  For links to essays, talks, reviews, Chicago projects, and calls for collaborations, visit her website

Regarding the topic of the Winter School 2015, her areas of expertise are Capital, Marxism, Critical Theory, Psychoanalysis, Structuralism, Formalism, Victorianism


15. September 2014, Michael Toggweiler | 0 Comments

When: 5 – 11 February 2015
Where: Schloss Münchenwiler near Berne, Switzerland
Languages: English (main), German, French
ECTS: 6 | Costs: 500.- Swiss francs (travel and accommodation [double room] covered by organizer)

Application deadline: 13 October 2014

Official flyer

Read more


11. September 2014, Michael Toggweiler | 0 Comments

Maman2

 
For quite some time now, the concept of “capital” has been employed as an analytical category in the humanities and the social sciences beyond simple economic reductionism. Such critical but in the main affirmative appropriations include Pierre Bourdieu’s mapping of types of capital (economic, social, cultural, symbolic) within a multidimensional social topology, James S. Coleman’s conceptualization of “social capital” as a form of capital that inheres in social relations and transactions between and among actors, or John Guillory’s introduction of “cultural capital” into the analysis of debates on canonical vs. non-canonical literature. More recently, we have been able to observe a growing concern about the alliance of biotechnology and capitalism. Enlisting terms like “genetic capital”, “biovalue” or “biocapital”, analyses elaborate Foucault’s “biopolitics” and Paul Rabinow’s “biosociality” – concepts that have already articulated how technologies bring “natural life into the realm of calculations”.

In parallel with such interdisciplinary transformations of “capital”, interest in the workings of “financescapes” (Arjun Appadurai), the simultaneously disjunctive and intertwined relationships between capital, technology, the media and socio-cultural practice continues to be investigated, as do the number of investigations of the disposition of global financial capital. The transfer of money via electronic market places has reached dimensions previously unimaginable. Moreover, financial trading and speculation appear without any regulation by coherent self-regulating markets, let alone a selfish yet reliably rational homo oeconomicus. Contrary to the hope of some still euphoric representatives of the economic sciences, more and more critical economists and business representatives, and an increasingly sceptical public, conceive of the financial world as irrational, chaotic and unpredictably metastatic. A veritable hauntology (Derrida) is emerging, with the financial crises of the first decade of the new millennium as harbingers of an inevitably global collapse. It congeals into the figure of the “trader” with his or her narrative of voracious deprivation and addictive moral and physical self-destruction within a hermetically concealed, spectrally guided sect.

Paradoxically, insider and outsider narratives criticizing the invisible confusion of the postmillennial Oikodizee or the fatal disorganization of global-liberal capitalistic competition are congeneric with euphoric notions of the market guided by an “invisible hand” automatically leading to the common good (Adam Smith). Both build on dichotomies between order and chaos, rationality and irrationality, which, according to Josef Vogl, have characterized all political economic discourses since the late 17th century, including the critical voices.

The Winter School 2015 addresses the following questions:

  • Is “capital” an indispensable tool in order to analyse (and criticize) past and present economic realities, especially today’s (imaginary but highly effective) high-speed train of globalized financial competition and its constituting Others that are left behind?
  • What are the benefits and pitfalls of “capital” as an interdisciplinary analytical tool beyond (neo)classical economic questions?
  • Might the tendency to treat “capital” as a coin for exchange within the humanities and beyond lead to an all too stable concept of “capital” that turns out to be itself an effect of a genuine haunting which has erratically infected the way we do research and ask questions? Are we capitalized by “capital” – and might there be adequate alternatives, such as “value”?
  • Do such derivative forms of capital also disclose new conceptions of individuality, personhood and mediation? Does the question of “value” f.e. allow a sidestepping of matter-culture dichotomies, as it might shift our attention to what gives every kind of system or unit (literary, economical, ecological, physical, biological) it’s general weight?

 

Invited guests and the focus of their lecture

Arjun Appadurai
(Social-Cultural Anthropology, New York University)
Anthropology of Globalization, Financescapes, Cultural Dynamics, Urban South Asia

Martin Hartmann
(Philosophy, University of Lucerne)
Political Philosophy, Social Philosophy, Social Capital, Network Society

Vicki Kirby
(Philosophy / Sociology, University of New South Wales)
Poststructuralism, Feminist Theory, Quantum Anthropology, Value, Embodiment, Language, Nature/Culture Division

Anna Kornbluh
(Victorian Literature / Critical Theory, University of Illinois)
Victorian Novel, Critical Theory, Capital, Marxism, Psychoanalysis, Structuralism, Formalism


15. August 2014, mrossini | 0 Comments

Linking back to the Winter School 2013 and the theme of posthumanism, I’d like to invite those of you working on human-animal and human-machine relations and intersections between the humanities, medicine and technoscience more broadly, to consider participating in this international conference and doctoral workshop. Further info: link

When: 4-6 June, 2015
Where: Geneva (t.b.c.), Switzerland
Deadline for abstract submission: 30 September, 2014

Guest speakers:
Jeffrey Cohen (Medieval and Early Modern Studies)
Stefan Herbrechter (Cultural Studies, Englit)
Margrit Shildrick (Gender Studies, Bioethics)
Cary Wolfe (Animal Studies, EngLit)


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