It’s been a while since I’ve written much online, but I wanted to briefly relate some short and hesitant thoughts about a theme that keeps recurring in some of my recent research. Across speculative realism, Marxism, non-philosophy and actor-network theory, one of the constant tensions is between a totalizing theory and what we might call an assemblage theory. Most Marxism (to my knowledge) and non-philosophy seem to both rely upon the assumption of totalization – either capitalism is a totalizing, unified system, or philosophy qua decision is a totalizing theory (and we might easily include correlationism in with the latter). The response to these totalizing functions is to try and articulate how one can escape from them – either through postulating an instance that lies outside capitalist valorization (and see Benjamin Noy’s recent thoughts on the metaphysics of labour power for more in-depth thoughts and variations on this), or showing how capitalism produces its own external resistance, or showing philosophy’s decisional structure is unilateralized and made relatively autonomous through a real instance which always-already remains indifferent to philosophy. But the same structure reoccurs in both Marxism and non-philosophy – the assumption that what it is resisting is a totalized system. If it’s a totalized system we’re fighting, then certain tactics become useful.
But what if that’s not the case? What if, following ANT and Deleuze and Guattari, the whole is merely a part produced alongside other parts? What if capitalism-qua-system is as much a product of Marxist theories as it is of any physical and social reality? The enemy to be fought, in other words, is constructed by the theories aiming to resist it. We can see this fairly clearly in the recent Marxist works on real subsumption, or in the return to Marx’s Hegelian (systematic dialectic) themes. We can also see it in how Laruelle declares all philosophy to partake of a decisional structure which renders philosophy sufficient-in-itself. Each of them constructs its enemy as a totalizing structure.
But if this isn’t the case, the question becomes, how to resist something that is non-systemic, non-totalizing and more heterogeneous than previously presumed?
The alternative, however, isn’t to say that nothing like ‘capitalism’ or ‘philosophy qua decision’ exists. This is where, despite the advances made by ANT, it ultimately falls short. Both Latour and the main ANT economist, Michel Callon, argue that capitalism does not exist – for Callon rather, there is a massive diversity of ‘markets’, which never synthesize into something like capitalism. The problem Callon then sees is that many markets don’t allow for the full plurality of voices to contribute to their construction – we need a democratization of market construction. But what this misses is precisely the sorts of things that are valuable in Marxist systemic critiques – the internal tendencies and logic of something like a capitalist system, and how it propels itself forward. While an ANT analysis of financial crises could certainly be made, it’s not clear that the repetition (and historically, the increasing frequency) of financial crises could be explained in an ANT framework devoted largely to ethnographic and local case studies. In other words, there are some sort of systemic tendencies, but there can be no totalizing system. How then, to explain this? How to square the circle and incorporate Marxism, non-philosophy and ANT together?