It’s now been the better part of a year since I finished this book. Our pandemic world makes it extraordinarily difficult for me to accomplish the mundane academic task of producing summary statements of what I’ve read. I offer this belated set of notes on the third part of Laval, Paltrinieri and Taylan’s text because these essays are rich and important. I hope these partial reflections (long though they are for a ‘blog post’) might inspire some of you to tackle the French original.

  1. Tony Negri, “Subjectivity rediscovered: A Marxist Experience of Foucault.” Negri’s essay focuses on modes of subjectivation, modes of class struggle, and biopower, and the struggle to produce the commons. Negri lists four points that frame Marx’s project:  radical historicization of the critique of political economy; recognition of class struggle as motor of capitalist development; subjectivation of the workforce of living work in struggle; and the adequation of productive bodies to the mutation of relations of production. In relation to this frame, Negri reads Foucault in terms of (1) the grammars of archaeology and genealogy (each of which enacts its own radical historicization); (2) the restaging of class struggle through modes of subjectivation; (3) the machinic transformations of corporeities and subjectivities (Simondon) as the transformation of modes of life into modes of production; and (4) the resistance to relations of production through the struggle for justice, the feeling out of a political spirituality, and the production of the commons. Negri rightly notes three horizons of difference between Marx and Foucault that really are non-resolvable: that Marx theorizes command through sovereignty, while Foucault theorizes it as diffuse and circulating horizontally through society; that for Marx, capital is the political dominant, while for Foucault biopower socializes the political; and for Marx, the proletariat is the center and focus of liberation while for Foucault aims at diffuse and singular subjectivation.  At the close of his essay Negri turns to the ethico-political lines of thought in Foucault and asks how these might be situated in the wake of Marx. Foucault’s early Collège de France lectures on parresia can be seen to posit not only the injunction to speak the truth to power but that doing this requires a speaker to stand on or speak through a terrain of truth. A study of history enables us to see the terrain of truth that is both an expression of the ontology of ourselves and what enables practices of making the commons. We are not individuals, Negri argues, but as subjects, we are constructed intersections of being and doing that can and will be organized. The task is to organize ourselves as and in a commons. For Negri, this task does not produce an end to humanism but produces a humanism “after the death of Man.”
  2. Pierre Dardot’s essay, “From praxis to practices,” looks closely at the term praxis which simply means ‘practice’, though it has come to imply a specific relationship of theory to practice. For both Marx and Foucault, the relation of theory to practice is generated by behavior or comportment. Dardot is quick to note that Foucault’s early works in archaeology seem to avoid practice by arranging his arguments as a relation of savoir (structure of knowledge) to connaissance (the range of knowledges and practices structured by savoir). By connecting non-discursive practices to savoir and by theorizing only discursive practices, Foucault seems able to put double distance between himself and practice. But Dardot then qualifies this reading. First of all, archaeology inverts the commonsense relation of consciousness and discourse—just as Marx inverts the commonsense relation of consciousness and life. Second, practices do occur within “regimes of rationality”, but these regimes are themselves affected by material conditions, including human practice. Finally (third), it may seem that subjectivation is determined by scientific categorization (the power of the human sciences to name) and by so-called “dividing practices” (the power of the human sciences to normalize) but practices of the self can work on and against these categorizations and divisions and thus produce what Foucault calls “practices of liberty.” Dardot ends his essay by reconsidering Foucault’s accounts of practice in light of Marx’s theories of class struggle. Different forms of class struggle can be seen as different practices by which to arrange life. As Foucault says in Remarks on Marx (Semiotext(e)), Marx was concerned with how “man produces man” and this concern evidences how practices on the self and society’s practices of subjectivation can be linked to economic production. Like Negri, Dardot sees immediately that viewing practice this way has ethical and political consequences. As in Marx’s third thesis on Feuerbach, humans change, but humans are also the condition of change. The crucial question is how change happens and how to recognize and embrace the conflictual nature of change. Dardot instists that we not relegate all rationality to the distasteful aspects of normalization. Some rationality is involved in practices of liberty—as we witness on the social plane of class struggle.
  3. Emmanuel Renault, “Power or domination? Power or exploitation? Two false alternatives”. Renault takes up the question of how Marx’s focus on domination and exploitation differs from Foucault’s theorizations of power. Foucault didn’t set out to develop a theory of power, Renault argues, but became frustrated with Marx’s monolithic use of “domination.” Renault reads Foucault as articulating domination to four kinds of relation: (a) the process of stabilization and convergence of power relations; (b) a specific form of this process of stabilization; (c) a dimension of governmentality; and (d) as a limit case for power. Renault charts these four relations through the chronological development of Foucault’s œuvre. First, Foucault looks at how the circulating of power develops into theorientation and effect of a strategy (“a” in the list above), and his particular studies provide ethical, religious and social examples of this stabilization (“b”). Foucault next turns to questions of governmentality that shift his theoretical focus to the relation between domination and technologies of self (“c”), and this leads him to posit domination as a limit case, that is, as something that can be navigated and negotiated but not overcome (“d”). Through this schematization of Foucault’s theories of power and domination, Renault tracks Foucault’s attention to whether political struggle only really counts if it is a resistance that resists domination (204). Attuned as he is to the heterogeneity of power relations, Foucault’s shifting but persistent answer is no. Starting in Punitive Society and Discipline and Punish, Foucault expands Marx’s theorization of class struggle to a general sense of society as ongoing civil war (“a” and “b” above). He then turns to strategies of governance and notes that the problem is not how to resist government but rather “how not to be governed like that” (“c” above). Finally, Foucault posits that resistance to power is not resistance to domination but practices of liberty (205-206). Renault claims that Foucault learns from Marx that capitalists and capitalism use diverse mechanisms to work on the worker and to reduce the time of life to the time of production, and that history is full of worker resistance to power. The two thinkers, Renault concludes, are not opposed in their theories of power and domination.
  4. Laurent Jeanpierre, “Capitalism and Government of Circulations”. The core of Jeanpierre’s essay is how “human mobility is at the heart of capitalism” (222). Goods clearly cross borders more easily than do people, but Jeanpierre claims that to really understand the pulsing heart of capitalist circulation, we need to look more closely at how both Marx and Foucault draw on Trosne’s 1764 discussion of vagabonds (Mémoire sur les vagabonds et sur les mendicants). Trosne’s text explains the severe clamping down on mendicants and vagabondage in the late 18th century as a social and political attempt to restrict bodily movement, with the goal of producing a worker-subject that is subdued by and reconciled to capitalist production. In this way, Foucault notes, the very ability to move across borders came to be inherently attached to the meaning of liberty. To be free is to be able to cross borders, to have untrammeled mobility across the earth. Foucault follows Trosne in tracking the ‘thinning out’ of social vagabonds and adds his analysis of the rise of the 1830 Penal Code, which cracked down on a number of longstanding illegalisms. Jeanpierre interprets these illegalisms as smaller and more local kinds of mobilities and notes their shift to a different register under the new conditions of factory production and the Penal Code. The body moves away from production when it can, through tactics such as taking breaks, daydreaming, napping, taking days off, and slowing down work. Foucault correlates the crackdown on illegalisms with the rise of the “workbook” a record of a worker’s performance that capitalists soon required for granting workers living quarters, access to bank accounts or loans, and relocating to another city. This workbook, then, came to function as another kind of border control, another material means of restricting the movement of workers while easing the movement of commodities. Jeanpierre summarizes three point on which Marx and Foucault reinforce each other: capital can control work only by relying on larger social practices of control; state government is a constituting component for determining technologies of circulation; and the aim of governing circulation is to obtain an optimum of mobility for a given configuration of production. He ends with the hopeful note that every border or checkpoint for circulation can also always become a site for resistance.
  5. Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc, “Race, population class: historico-political and biopolitical discourses of capital from Foucault to Marx”. In this important and complex essay, Sibertin-Blanc (1) raises the possible contradiction between Marx’s historico-political understanding of class struggle and Foucault’s theory of biopolitics as tactics for managing a population, (2) posits Malthus as the middle figure between them, and (3) comes to resolve this apparent contradiction while also holding Foucault to account for not adequately theorizing race and colonization.  Sibertin-Blanc names Malthus as the hinge between Marx and Foucault in that Marx rejected Malthus’s bio-economic theories for their lack of attention to class struggle, while Foucault critiques Marx for avoiding Malthusian-like factors of bio-politics. Marx critiques Malthus’s law of population for omitting the sharp power differentials sustained by exploitation and surplus labor. Foucault takes up this critique but wraps it in a functionalist circle that oscillates between the development of capitalist forces and relations of production and the development of what Foucault terms “new rationalities of the new techniques of power” (233). Even so—from a Marxist perspective—Foucault remains opaque in his discussion of how population and biopower relate to or work upon each other. Foucault uses metaphors to explain the connection, asserting, e.g., that biopower “shores up” the population, or suggesting a relation of “reciprocal adaptation” or “adjustment.” Sibertin-Blanc asks how a closer examination of twentieth-century capitalism (i.e., post-Marx) might clarify this relation between biopower and capitalist development. The first factor—what Sibertin-Blanc calls the Marxism forgotten by Foucault—is the intensified super-exploitation of the worker that effects a generalized destruction of humanity. The body of the worker itself becomes a biopolitical reality. The second factor—what the author terms the Foucauldism anticipated by Marx—is the fact that the increasing need for the state the assist capitalism in managing the workforce leads to the socialization of the State. Sibertin-Blanc then orients this super-exploitation of the worker and hyper-activity of the state to the ever-present factor of race, a factor neglected to the point of near exclusion in both Foucault and Marx. But necropolitics is clearly the continuation of biopolitics by other means: the biopower of empire requires the death of the colonies and immigrant bodies. Sibertin-Blanc names the logic of western capitalism as dispossession. He ends his essay with a section called “declassed populations, racialized classes”. Racism, he writes, overdetermines biopolitics. The difference between historico-political accounts of the development of class and biopolitical accounts of state management is, in the end, merely apparent. All class struggle, he writes, should be seen as a struggle for the deracialization of the popular, the worker, the colonized, and the poor. In this struggle, race functions at once as a floating signifier and a rigid designation.
  6. Diogo Sardinha, “The Nominalism of relation as anti-metaphysical principle.” Sardinha’s compelling essay asks why Marx and Foucault insisted they were not philosophers; he draws on Balibar’s commentary to ask what it means to think of Marx and Foucault as nominalists. Sardinha argues that the flight from philosophy in Marx and Foucault is a flight from “essences.” Drawing on Balibar’s essay, “The stakes of nominalism,” Sardinha discusses how Foucault refused traditional philosophical questions and sought, instead, new areas of questioning around subjectivity, truth, and power. Perhaps counter-intuitive to readers of Foucault, Balibar suggests that Marx has a less substantialist sense of “body” than does Foucault since “body,” for Marx, is always an array of shifting relationships. Balibar then extends this supposition by examining Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” as a set of reflections on the constitution of subjectivity by historicized relationships (Philosophy of Marx). Sardinha asserts the need to reconceptualize human “essence” as an ensemble of relations. He writes, “Human essence ‘exists’ insofar as it is produced, practically and theoretically, as function of a situation of social complexity” (248). Human essence has no existence but does have effects: It is not (ce n’est pas), but it is there (il y a) (249). If the task of philosophy is to replace an abstraction with a concrete concept, then we can see both thinkers moving from philosophy to some other terrain of thought and practice, a terrain that refuses both abstraction and static concretion. Sardinha calls this new terrain nominalism. It is nominalism in the sense that it deploys terms not as essences but as placeholders for processes and strategies. Names and concepts are bundles or networks of relations. Drawing again from Balibar, Sardinha claims that Marx too is a nominalist in this sense, that is, not in prioritizing the individual over the general but in theorizing both particularity and generality as historically shifting networks of relations. This focus on theorization as a means of foregrounding relationality and material practices is termed Dieseitigkeit in Marx, a term Gramsci translates as terrestréité. These terms refuse metaphysics and thus refuse the traditional tasks of philosophy, even while carrying forward the crucial task of thought.