Thursday, 19 June 2008

Why groups? Why then and now...?

One question which has to be addressed is as to the relevance of group theory as such at all. Why was it that in seeking to update his basic existential-phenomenological theory of the subject did Sartre necessarily need to invoke some kind of group dynamic for what was at least initially an absolute individual freedom of consciousness? One can only presume that this was in the face of his more doctrinaire Marxist critics, who pointed to the very real exigencies which face his conception when applied to the social world. In acknowledging these criticisms, and in light of his discovery and near obsession with the dialectic, Sartre phrased his new project as a return to a pure Marxism, free from the dogmas which had befallen it by the time of the early 1960s. Whilst it is true that an overly determinist-mechanistic view of history combined with a dangerously obsequious pro-Soviet Union line were damaging the intellectual and moral credibility of continental Marxist parties, what Sartre did was quite distinct from a mere corrective. In actuality his project (in Critique of Dialectical Reason and Search for a Method) emerges as a way of integrating the Marxist dialectic with his previous work, and as such there remained an irreducible tension. This tension, between the grand sweep of the dialectic and the ultimate freedom of the individual reaches its highest point in his understanding of the group, for it is here that individual freedom, dialectical motion, and the exis of the practico-inert situation meet and are negotiated. For Sartre at least the theory of the Group evolved as the solution to the tensions of combining an individualistic existential phenomenology with a dialectical view of history. In this sense the group is the point where he cedes some ground (in terms of the originary freedom of the individual) in the face of the viscous gluey stability of the already socially formed world.
Why now? Because the problem still hangs partially unresolved. Whilst Badiou prima facie (in Being and Event) at least seems to dodge the question entirely, both he and Guattari have recourse to strikingly crypto-Sartrean accounts. In terms of empirical history, the very issue which was both the spur and ultimate limit for the CDR remains highly problematical to anyone thinking post-Marxist political theory: the collapse of the Soviet project into a tyrannical bureaucratic Stalinism. Any account of revolutionary strategy must deal with this, and it will be interesting to disentangle this historical challenge in the works of Badiou and Guattari. For Guattari the resistance to micro-fascisms is a central part of his answer. For Badiou his ethics of the truth process would seem to preclude such collapses into neo-Stalinism. But still, whilst these answers go some of the way towards satisfying the need for an answer to this question, in operational terms they remain somewhat unsatisfactory, mere moralising injunctions against such a collapse - for me at least there is a need to answer at the very level of the intersubjective structure of the revolutionary group itself.

5 comments:

schoolboyerrors said...

Alex:Just thought I'd stop by.
I'm interested in the idea of transversality you've outlined before and its relation to the differential synthesis. The way I understand it, Deleuze (eg. in the Proust book) says that transversals are the means by which a multiplicity is organised: they don't gather up the fragments into a whole, affirm without uniting irreducible fragments, with a corresponding time equivalent to Bergsonian duration.

This seems akin to his (earlier) accounts of the differential relation between bodies/forces/whathaveyou, in which the two terms in the relation are brought together, their degree of power measured against one another, and given specific qualities on the basis of this. (like, in the determination of forces two forces come into contact and the one that is of a greater quantity of force is designated active, the other reactive...). Difference's corresponding time is also duration.

What I'm interested in concerning transversals and difference in itself is they establish a relationship between fragments/forces/etc by being brought together by that which they have in common. But what they have in common is nothing other than their differential relationship. Their difference. Transversals, like difference bring together what they separate.

This is pretty confusing, any thoughts?

Alex said...

Hi Diarmuid, good to see you. I'm stuck into reading Sartre at the moment, so I've not delved too deeply into the issue of transversals yet, but this comment is very interesting. I had read in Genosko's book on Guattari that Deleuze only makes very infrequent references to tranversality (it seems to be more Guattari's conceptual progeny). For Guattari at least the concept emerges out of his clinical practice at la Borde: a system by which institutional therapy can problematise every aspect of the place, from the relations between patients and staff to the buildings, the kitchen staff etc... the interesting point is how at this stage transversality is merely a coefficient, basically of communication between strata or layers within an organisation/institution. It opens up a space of creativity in which new forms of subjectivation can occur (ie- at La Borde new forms of subjectivation for the patients, original rather than a reversion to some prior pre-sickness "healthy" mental state). This seems a simple enough notion, and evolves specifically to combat the issues Sartre found with the solidification of praxis/groups-in-fusion when they settle down into bureaucratic organisations. The difficulty is that this sets Guattari against later pronouncements especially by Deleuze on the matter of communication (cf the anti-communication rant in What Is Philosophy?). In an interview from 1995 with Antonio Negri ("Control and Becoming") Deleuze speaks of transversality as opening up vacuoles of non-communication "circuit breakers, so we can elude control". Further Guattari's own later ontology of four functors basically uses transversality as its fundamental principle, complicating things again. This is the so-called "schizoanalytic metamodelization" a kind of cartography of the functors of deterritorialization (in Chaosmosis)... again Transversality appears to be pretty close to D+G's notion of deterritorialization in many respects... anyway this metamodelization is basically a mapping or cartography of subjectification... what is interesting (as Genosko notes) is that the four functors (and the transversal relations between them) basically goes a bit further than previous reductive Deleuzean dualisms...

The really fundamental point is the issue of relationality and ontology- which is where Badiou's useage of category theory in Logics of Worlds comes in. Badiou seeks to DENY relation (for him deployed to describe the logic of appearance, or, as he puts it, of being there) an ontological primacy- relation comes after its terms, and has no bearing upon them. As Hallward describes it in Subject to Truth: "Categorial elements are nothing but relations of self-identity, expressed by a function of appearing or measure of existential intensity. If relation does not create difference, we might say, it is because it creates identity itself" (Subject to Truth pp.314-5)I'm pretty confused myself here, but to return to Hallward on relationality, he seems to argue that in this regard Badiou comes very close to Deleuze himself, in that relations between elements are always secondary to the relations of those elements to themselves. Still confusing, but Hallward's final word on the matter is pretty intriguing, vis: "...the alternative to either of these singular positions [is] that both elements and relations can be accounted for only together, as co-implied in a single process that maintains the elmentary integrity of what is related precisely insofar as it is related." (Subject to Truth p.315). This is a hint of Hallward's own project on relationality, and basically I think I have to investigate this question in order to fully grasp an intersubjective theory of groups.

Nick said...

Hey, this is interesting stuff; I'm enjoying reading it as you work your way through your project!

I think this might be of use to you:
Zachary Fraser, 'The Infinite Unanimous Dissonance'

It's a dissertation systematically working through some of the important relations between Sartre and Badiou. I haven't had time to make my own way through it yet, but a quick glance suggests it's good quality. (I think I originally got it from the Badiou-list on Yahoo, but I'm not sure anymore.)

I know in the midst of writing, the last thing you want is more to read! But it might be of use anyways.

Alex said...

Hi Nick- yes I have already obtained Zachery's dissertation thesis from my tutor- it looks to be pretty essential reading. By the way, the consensus amongst my fellow MA students is that your blog is by far and away the best theory read on the internet at the moment- keep up the excellent work, and it was a great idea to start a blog on speculative realism- especially to attempt to begin to sketch out the relation between that and politics, which to me is the most exciting question in continental philosophy at the moment...

Nick said...

Thanks for the kinds words, Alex! I really appreciate them.

I'm in complete agreement about the importance of the relation between realism and politics, but I'm still unsure as to where to go from there...