The following is the video and transcript of the fourth “Critical Conversation”, a monthly Zoom seminar with advance registration sponsored by The New Polis and Whitestone Publications and involving international scholars. The seminar took place on November 17, 2020.
Roger Green: Welcome, everyone. My name is Roger Green and I am the general editor of The New Polis. And today we’re going to have a discussion around the concept of neoliberalism related to Carl Raschke’s recent book on University of Edinburgh Press which is Neoliberalism and Political Theology: From Kant to Identity Politics.
I’m going to introduce the respondents, and then I’ll let Carl take it away. So, our respondents are Ward Blanton, reader in biblical cultures and European thought at the University of Kent. He’s the author of A Materialism for the Masses: Saint Paul and the Philosophy of Undying Life from Columbia University Press, and he’s co-author with Jeff Robbins, Noelle Vahanian, and Clayton Crockett of An Insurrectionist Manifesto: Four New Gospels for a Radical Politics. Kieryn works as a graduate student in philosophy at University of Bonn in Germany and a research fellow in human rights and freedom of religion and belief at the European Baptist Federation. So, Kieryn and Ward are going to respond to Carl. They’ve read his book, but you do not have to have read the book to participate in this conversation. After they’ve responded we’ll open up everything into an open discussion with Q and A. If you have questions in the meantime, you can start putting them into the chat whenever you want, and I will take them in turn when it gets to question-and-answer time.
And then finally, right before I introduce Carl here, just to put on your mental maps, on December 8th we will have Dr. Tink Tinker, who’s a wahase or Osage scholar of American Indian traditions, and Barbara Mann, who is a Seneca scholar, and they will be talking about the twinned cosmos of American Indian deep thought, “deeply-framed thinking” to use Tink Tinker’s terms, and Tink has written a number of pieces on The New Polis and he’s often in these conversations, and so that’ll be on December 8th. There’ll be an announcement, but just to let you all know that that’s upcoming. And, so, without further ado, I’ll introduce my senior editor and colleague and friend and mentor Carl Raschke who’s prepared some opening remarks. Thanks for being here.
Carl Raschke: Let me just say “senior consulting editor.” That’s important because even though I’m on the board of the nonprofit foundation that supports The New Polis, Roger is the man, as far as I’m concerned, so even though I do a lot of that kind-of technical stuff behind the scenes. So, um, I have a little bit of heavy, heavy heart here. Oh, before I go forward, Roger, because I’ll be working from my notes which are taking up the screen, if does have questions could you monitor the chat and flag them when need be?
Roger Green: Sure. Okay.
Carl Raschke: So, I have something of a heavy heart, as I was saying here because I feel like what I’m about to say isn’t going to make a lot of people comfortable. It might even make some of you mad. And just as a warning, it’s worse than saying there is no Santa Claus. Maybe I shouldn’t be overly concerned because I do have something of reputation for playing the role of Nietzsche’s “madman in the marketplace” even though, I confess, I forgot to light my lantern this morning before going on Zoom, so hopefully my cat will show up at least. Of course, even if you read my book, which few have thanks to the predatory pricing of Edinburgh University Press, you will find that it not only does not fit neatly into, but brutally transgresses semiotic barbed wire that is supposed to fence off intruders from attacking and diving into the fortified trenches of the two main rival and incommensurable ideological frames that we inhabit today, that is right and left conservative and progressive. The frames which George Lakoff, without any irony terms, the moral politics of our hapless hyper-partisan era. So, what I’m going to do, I’m going to start off by presenting some theses – theses related to my book, but more to put it into perspective of what’s going on now and actually just in the last few weeks. Not 95, because I don’t have time for that.
Thesis one. This election in the United States, this presidential election, even more than 2016 was about capital versus labor, and capital appears to have won, at least for now. Now it’s not your grandmother’s capital – that old-fashioned industrial capital amassed and controlled by virtuous, morally scrupulous avatars of the bourgeoisie that appears to have won, because that kind of capitalism long ago passed from the sea. It is the apparent victory of the new global symbolical capital, or cognitive capital, or human capital, or even trans-human capital, whatever you want to call it, that claims to be a progressive neoliberalism, which I admit is something of a misnomer because neoliberalism was always progressive to the degree that it relied on the fiercest ideology of diversity, equity, and inclusion, all the while powering the juggernaut that massively expropriates actual human labor and increasingly concentrates financial power and cultural hegemony in the sensibilities and lifestyles of a very few tightly defined and highly educated cosmopolitan elite. That trend that began in the late 1960s accelerated during the third-way regimes of the 1990s and picked up even more steam is the great Ponzi scheme that was a globalized financialized economy collapse in 2008 beginning the so-called Great Recession.
It’s a novel, insidious, and strange type of capital; one embedded in what I have called the “digital financial corporate university complex” and I use that terminology in my book. But it is a kind of capital that rather than serving the interests of the multitudes, and as the word progressive might imply, it transforms gargantuan economic, social, political and cultural sovereignty to the ever fewer and fewer remote and recondite few: the so-called “Masters of the Universe” who, many of them were in Silicon Valley as you know who, like the Wizard of Oz, keep us hypnotized with our omnivorous consumption of moralistic messaging and socially conscious consumer goods.
Dedicating our lives to the cause of justice, while offering up our talent and treasure to the vast fine-tuned almost imperceptible Moloch that beastly gorges itself on wealth expropriated from human labor and bodies in the form of a mysterious AI, stock trading algorithms, special investment vehicles, enormous stocks of funny money sloshing around and every nook and cranny of the global economy. It gets transferred in the dead of night from one equally phantom format. Of “private equity capital,” used not only to feed the ever-voracious machine but wander through the most proper and seemingly benevolent social institutions. Ill-gotten gain from human trafficking, forced labor, criminal scams without national frontiers and, of course, the sale of arms financing low intensity warfare from the Congo to Central America. The US is not the center anymore of this kind of capital, it is Beijing. And if you’ve been reading about what’s really going on in China, which most of us prefer to look the other way at because it’s “a communist regime,” fear not, there’s more coming. It’s getting worse.
Thesis two. Donald Trump is not a nice man, which I hereby put forth as a fulsome, deliberately discombobulating, bear-baiting understatement. But the fact that a rogue, over-ambitious, self-aggrandizing, publicity addicted, verbally incontinent narcissist can win over so much of the working class is an indisputable fact that clueless academic elites have still, after four self-absorbed years as part of the “resistance,” have not yet digested. What is even more astonishing is that while the minority of educated whites who voted for Trump in 2016 migrated back to Biden in this election, racial minorities – especially Latinos – voted for him in significantly larger numbers, actually a third of all Latinos. And that included a much larger segment of Mexicans. Tell me about it because I’ve been getting an earful from them for the last few months. Which should give us pause about whether politics now isn’t really more and more about class differences. Indeed, the Republican Party, on which Trump in his own Machiavellian modus operandi performed a total makeover is now officially and statistically, you know, that’s been confirmed even by the mainstream media, the Party of Labor.
And the Democratic Party is the Party of Capital. It is, of course, progressive capitalists we see in the warm-hearted way that Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, whose house is actually larger than the Taj Mahal, and buys it mediated to defeat the likes of Donald Trump. And Fox News, which represents the old-style conservative, is having an identity crisis right now struggling to define its real constituency. If anyone can remember the six-year running TV series Lost, and I’ll admit that I didn’t watch it when it was actually on TV, but now on Amazon Prime my wife, Sunny, and I have been basically addicted to it for many months. It takes a long time to watch. But if anybody could remember this running TV series, I will offer this observation. Trump is the “black smoke,” but Biden turns out to be the smiling figure of Jacob. The question of which of the two you secretly in your self-righteous hearts all want to kill – remember now, it’s only a TV show – may not be so obvious once you see events that are now quickly unfolding actually play out. And because most of the audience probably is torn about whether it really wants to leave the island anyway. Trump has never been a good man, either, but he has historically played the role of what the Bible calls “The Catacomb,” the meaning of which I will leave to your scholarship and your imagination.
Thesis three. It’s an old Marxist axiom going all the way back to the Second International that raises reliably deployed as a weapon for dividing the working class. In this time, it has also been used as a weapon to demonize much of the working class, including even the non-white working class, who are beginning to assert their class consciousness over their ethnic conscious, even though they vote for people who from the neoliberal ideological spectrum they’re supposed to loathe or vote for. It’s now “what’s the matter with Kansas” syndrome replayed for the 2020s, but in a different register. This is for the apparent triumphant global neoliberal capital and this electoral round, even if they capture the day by making false promises of bettering the lives of millions of marginalized racial minorities will be a pirate victory. What Marx called “the contradictions of capitalism” apply even more profoundly to the new etherealized global capital.
The main contradiction comes down to the fact that the supposed new symbolic economy where everything, as Baudrillard famously put it, is merely a simulacrum that cannot hold together without the inputs of physical labor. As we see it in COVID, someone has to deliver the groceries or clean up bedpans in the hospitals. And if Jack Dorsey, the male-soft patriarchy version of Marie Antoinette, were somehow to let down his guard and blurt out, “Let them eat algorithms!” the depths of his folly would only be matched by Rahm Emanuel’s recent generous recommendation for the hundreds of thousands of laid-off restaurant workers when he said at a press conference in Chicago, “Let them just code.”
Thesis four. Bernie Sanders – now here I just talk about real politics. Your Bernie Sanders may now become the “black smoke.” Since it looks like he isn’t going to be made Labor Secretary, which is a pity, because he always understood the relationship between capital and labor. He probably miscalculated that after his defeat last spring, it would be in his best interest to learn to start talking neoliberal if he wanted the job. But the best laid plans of mice and men. The neoliberal apparatus, or appareil, if we want to speak in the Foucauldian dialect, doesn’t honor honest politicians, let alone honest human beings. Which brings us to academia. Maurizio Lazzarato, a bonafide socialist whose writings on neoliberalism, especially in his book The Making of the Indebted Man, which actually is the book that inspired me to write this book we’re talking about. Lazzarato identifies the contemporary comprehensive university – the “grand side of knowledge production” as we want to call it – as the Heart of the Beast. when it comes to neoliberalism. I quote that fact in my book. So, are we all compliant players in the indefeasible advance of the new neoliberal world empire? Or are we truly woke, that is letting the scales fall for her eyes and taking charge of the power we really have and letting go of the line to which we’ve bought? My answer is yes and no, though mostly yes. What we want to make sure is that we are not today’s petty bourgeoisie, in Marxist terms, who all give lip service to what we call our “community values” in the diluted hope that somehow we will be able to do good in the world, while the new captains of industry ensure that their names will be internally etched on the coruscating marble cornerstones of expensive buildings, or claiming sports complexes that have little to do with education or the people who work for a living and don’t really want. But they do serve as ornaments, like endowed professorships.
Ornaments or not, I like the German term Schmuckstuck. Are we really Schmuckstuke that enhance the so-called college experience which no one can currently have because of COVID? The adjunctification of the new knowledge industry, the substitution of contingent faculty for permanent structures precisely corresponds to the degradation and de-dignification of labor Marx and his economic and political writings described so vividly. And these are signs of the impending crisis which cannot be held off much longer of global cognitive capitalism. For the second International it took a long, drawn out World War. For the fourth one, which is us, it will probably be COVID. Though we can see that the neoliberal earner is using the COVID crisis to gain even more and more power. Jeff Bezos is richer than he’s ever been. In 1917 the petty bourgeoisie finally realized much of it was actually lower than the lumping proletariat. Some clung to the illusory privileges, others join the uprising. My final remarks, therefore, and I address you as citizens, comrades, COVID-fighting communards, radical and resilient revolutionaries of the rising republic of reciprocal recognition – you don’t know what that meant, read the last chapter of my book – or what I term, actually, in the Levinasian sense, “radical responsibility to the other,” I appeal to you get off your worthless sugar-high concerning a bogus electoral outcome that makes absolutely no difference when it comes to having us to confront his cohorts and cadres, the armies of the night that are rapidly assembling.
And I want to conclude now, I guess I didn’t over-spend my time, with the last part of my book. This is on page 165 for those who actually have the book. “The spiritual principle of radical responsibility of ‘the other,’ which a figure such as Levinas draws out of the Hebraic tradition harkening back millennia means, in reality, that any political solution to global challenges was bent back upon itself to the historic deep theology or deep ethics of the of the West itself that ultimately contravenes and overrides the ethnic identity in history of the West as a whole.” And here I’m not talking about whiteness, I’m not talking about Europe, I’m not talking about Euro-Christianity. I’m talking about something that goes deeper than all of them. “That amounts to the realization that God is and can be seen at all times in the face of ‘the other.’” This is the principle behind Hegel’s master and slave dialectic. No matter how to myself that other: may appear, relatively speaking. And I’ll go on because I’m running out of time here. “That is where politics must start: defying all political solutions based on abstract moralistic mandates that recognize true identity in difference, which is the same as the revelation of the divine as wholly other and every other. Let us call it the great personalistic insurrection of every human tribe and tongue against neoliberalism. It is the revolution that is not represented, it represents a holiest of holies at every turn that we once knew merely as the marketplace.” It is the revolution soon. It is truly Deridas’s l’avenir.
Roger Green: Thanks very much, Carl. I’m just going to go in alphabetical order because that’s the way we did it on The New Polis site, so I’m going to turn it over to Ward now. And please put your questions as they come up into the chat. Thanks.
Ward Blanton: Well, thanks. I guess I’ll start just by saying thanks to Carl for this excellent book in neoliberalism and political theology and also thanks to The New Polis journal, to Roger Green also for his pathbreaking research on political theology of the citizen of modernity and for setting up the conversation. And finally, just because I know a few people are out there, thanks and hi to many socially distanced friends out there during the pandemic. It’s nice to be linked up over the ethers, I suppose, and I hope we’ll be able to see each other in real life again soon. I won’t take too long. I just was going to speak less than the 20 minutes I was allotted, and I’ll say a few words about the book, and then I’ll add just for our conversation a line of inquiry about the recent neoliberal turn of political theology, which Carl’s book so powerfully pushes us to consider.
To start then, just a few personal remarks about neoliberalism and political theology. If for some months our household, Yvonne Sherwood and I had on our refrigerator a paragraph from Carl’s book, which I read most mornings before work. The paragraph was about the neoliberal logics and contemporary student life. Above all, it was about a nexus of aspirations and pressures and, often enough, indebtedness which determines university and college life at the moment. And I’m not joking when I say that for a while I read it every day as a kind of magical utterance which lit up so compellingly the situation in which my students are finding themselves. Or maybe I read it because it was a kind of prophetic promise, something to hope for. If we can illumine where we are, maybe this vision, our capacities to see where we are, will somehow give rise to some new way of engaging this situation or maybe help us to chart a way out of a deadlock within which aspiration and indebtedness seem to promote each other endlessly. It’s a serious issue, that deadlock, and that that kind of dialectical link between aspiration and indebtedness which really constitutes my recent experiences, my recent years in university life. And similarly, I read this book from a professional context as a university employee in which I have been, well, I’ve noticed a constant weird realization that, on the one hand, there’s an army of amazing, learned, gifted thinkers, writers, and teachers who are unemployed or underemployed and longing for more security and a shot at really building something like a life’s work over a long-haul.
And at the same time, on the other hand, I noticed also all the time, in this army of amazing, learned, gifted thinkers, writers, and teachers who are weirdly, genuinely struggling with a question of whether they should leave those very jobs that they worked so hard to attain. This too has been part of banal, everyday university life for some years now. On both sides of this equation is the question of sustainability. With life looking from both vantage points to me like a panoply of spiritual exercises, dosing regimens, therapies and very, very evident neuroses without which no higher education sector seems to exist. And I say these things, not because they are remarkable, on the contrary, but in fact only because I very much appreciated Carl’s contribution in this book to the discovery of a kind of everyday language which engages the banal ubiquity of the crisis of contemporary neoliberalism, a crisis which is at every level settling in, morphing the life forms were becoming, particularly in all those aspirational spheres in which we are improving ourselves, education above all.
These things being said, I want to spend now just a few minutes putting on the table a very brief affirmation of Carl’s story about the turn of political theology away from strong sovereignty – if we may put it this way – toward ourselves as neoliberal entrepreneurs of ourselves, our capacities, and our dreams. So, this turn, for those of you who haven’t read the book, is a big focus of the book, and crucial. And so, inspired by that, I guess I just wanted to throw out a couple of stories here. In part because Carl himself like pushes so much the question of, you know, how do we tell the genealogies of where we have been and how we’ve come to engaging this topic of political theology and neoliberalism, and that question of where we map this turn, this focus, this interest is what’s on my mind at the moment.
And I think that Carl’s stories in the book are going to provoke a lot of further cultural analysis. I’m really intrigued by his suggestions always about the transformation of religious studies from the 1980s to today, and he sometimes glosses these shifts in terms of a shift in focus for political theologies or all those hidden, repressed, returned, or hyper-real theologies underneath our political discussions and experiences. This shift from strong to a weak sovereignty involves reorienting those earlier political theological discussions. If you recall those from, say, from Carl Schmitt’s modern dictator as a new Moses on Mount Sinai to these many discussions of the states of exception or the many political theological discussions of the US invasion of Iraq, if you’ll recall, the US acknowledgment of torture as a practice, the imprisonment of Guantanamo Bay, all this stuff of earlier discussions of political theology of strong power. And as Carl points out a shift comes in the focus, in this move, and it opens up a massive comparative resource of the archive of the political theology. This time now to grapple with the questions of neoliberalism as a kind of soft power of incitement in censure, making us, shaping us into good participants in a growing, healthy economy.
This pressure and, in fact, a kind of spirituality as he describes, it is called by Carl “a gigantic apparatus feeding and fueling, shaping everyday life,” and it is as he as he explains in the old lyrics “Killing Us Softly” by increasingly absorbing the stuff of civil society into its remit. In keeping with some of my recent work on what I describe as the Protestant dose ethic and the spirit of capitalism, I want to wonder aloud about how our genealogies will, in the end, associate these shifts in political theology from a hard to a soft power by way of thinking about potentially something I’m interested in this specific techniques and technologies of self-enhancing or self-stimulating life. Out of a welter of possible stories, I want to play with one weird juxtaposition here and let me see if I can share it. I found myself often wondering, for example, about the relationship between the shifting brand of political theology from its focus on hard sovereignty to a focus on soft power.
And the surprising recent brand histories of Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart. So, in this odd exercise of our imagination, what would we make of the shifting performances of, say, Snoop Dogg against the backdrop of the role of something like the fundamentalism project of Martin Marty appearing in the longer version over the same years? Several highlights of this experiment in thought that I just wanted to throw out something for you to think about as you drift off to sleep tonight. Several points. First, Snoop’s brand first announced itself alongside some of Marty’s most influential collections, but also alongside Dr. Dre in their theme song, if you recall, for “Deep Cover.”
There, alongside the analysis of political religions as new forms of strong power we also found Snoop portraying himself as a drug dealer of substances demanding that he straddle the boundary between society and murder, or between enjoyment and death. And if you’re keen to see that I direct your attention to their video for the “Deep Cover” song. Secondly, it will not take too long, however, for Broadus, aka Snoop, to rewire this brand with several television series showing him, if you remember, as a happy, go-lucky trickster, as a loving father, and as a hard-working businessman. And here I refer you to the TV series like Snoop Dogg’s Fatherhood” or “Dogg After Dark”. Both texts to consider over and against the books of the fundamentalism project and, in fact, emerging at the same time in a way that we could think through. We should also note the way Snoop’s brands during this period became very much associated with marijuana as precisely a kinder, gentler, safer, less destructive drug than crack.
In every respect the Snoop brand was moving away from a strong to a soft dose. In one episode, Snoop speaks to a former crack addict who now has a job, no addictions and who owes it all to switching from crack to weed. Snoop says very simply here in the film, “You’re welcome for this conversation.” And where would the transformation of sovereign, extra-legal exception goes, replete in the early video with a question of the right to kill in order to make a drug business live. Well, maybe you already know. It would end up in fact in the kitchen of Martha Stewart, with Broadus and Stewart teaming up for cooking shows, chat shows, unending series of jokes about cannabis – which Stewart only engages, she says, by way of CBD oils – and finally, the mutual transformation of two empires, two brands in which the light everyday dose of aspiration, of self-improvement, and modest shareable enjoyment shows itself to be the real winner, the true sovereign. My little parable of two intertwined brands then, I offer as one of the many, many contemporary stories of the gadgets and dose ethics forming are aspirational entrepreneurial futures. You see what I’m getting at. And I conclude on this note: Behind political theology self-transformation from the analysis of hard to soft power are also those contexts in which the most powerful brand version of Snoop Dogg is the one wearing Martha Stewart’s Christmas sweater. Which is also to say, though, that when Martha Stewart CBD catalog invites her customers to relax into their own inner Martha, this aspirational enter Martha is the one best expressed by the moderated image of Snoop Dogg. And with that dialectical consolation, I thank Carl Raschke and the provocation of his wonderful book.
Roger Green: Okay, we’ll go over to Kieryn Wurts.
Kieryn Wurts: Thank you. I can’t follow that act, but there we are. I don’t know how to follow that up. Lovely. So, I want to thank Carl and Roger for the invitation to respond today. I’m going to do a couple of things here. In a way, I’m just going to be defining some terms today. So, we have three sections to get through. We’re going to talk about neoliberalism, I was asked to talk about what that was. Then we’re going to talk about political theology. And then we’ll go to neoliberal subject subjectivity or subjective conditioning. I kind of argue that really at the core of Carl’s book is, it’s a book in large part about subjectivity and there’s a neoliberal subjective conditioning that he kind of maps out for us. And he also proposes something of an antidote, which I think will be interesting to discuss. So, like I said, there are three sections neoliberalism, I really wanted to talk about political theology, and then the subjectivity question.
So, we’ll just get going. So, neoliberalism is perhaps first defined by enumerating some of the economic features that shape the global economic order since roughly the 1980s. The fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s was a watershed moment which culminated in a set of political and economic conditions which only strengthened neoliberalism’s dominance on the global scene, a development which Francis Fukuyama so unforgettably and sanguinely heralded as the end of history. For these defining economic features consistent with neoliberalism include quickly austerity and the dismantling of the social state. The second is free trade and the consequent depression of wages through outsourcing of labor to cheaper and under-regulated markets. Three is predatory debt and lending practices which we’ve referenced a lot today, which is a particularly extreme practice in the US context. And fourth is the advent of evermore precarious and ill paid work across the labor market impacting both blue- and white-collar workers.
These economic features constitute a hegemonic, economic, political order. Neoliberalism is a modern-day Leviathan, with obvious similitudes to the political orders as of yesterday. The neoliberal tendencies towards monopoly, deregulation, massive corporate profits, and the resulting outrageous and ever-increasing wealth inequality perhaps first evokes historical images of the unrestrained and unregulated social and economic injustices of the late 19th century Gilded Age of capitalism. Raschke however engages in a genealogy of neoliberalism which identifies other important historical predecessors that influence our contemporary neoliberal modus operandi. Three of the significant predecessors include one, the legacy of European colonialism, especially regarding the brutal exploitation of both persons and commodities, which was energized and justified through the ideology of the European civilizing mission. This comes up a lot in Raschke’s book. He argues that this landed a vernier of moral goodness to the self-understanding of the European colonizers and he emphasizes the narrative and its parallels to the moralistic stories that we tell ourselves today which serve to justify and distract from some of the most brutal forms of contemporary exploitation.
The second kind of predecessor to neoliberalism is the Prussian innovations and state socialism supported by the introduction of universal education by Frederick the Great. Precious paradigmatic development of universal primary, secondary, and university education throughout the long 19th century nurtured an educated class of citizenry loyal to the abstract interest of the state. Such a system was protected and guaranteed by a parallel system of militarization and economic protectionism. In the mechanisms of the Prussian empire, Raschke identifies innovations and government totality, which Foucault would term bio political later. And these inform techniques of government totality employed in today’s neoliberal knowledge society.
And the last precursor is the legacy of the Imperium Romano them. Like ancient Rome, the neoliberal ideal is an all-encompassing cosmopolitanism in which religious, ethnic, geographic, and ideological difference can be integrated into a streamlined and profitable empire. However, the integration of various people groups across vast territorial expanses was implemented in Rome, primarily for the enrichment of a small political and economic elite, which is similar to today. In these another historical examples, we can see the reflections of our own contemporary political dramas. The rather dizzying genealogy of neoliberalism in this book. accomplishes a few things. First, it seeks to relativize rather limited US perspectives on neoliberalism, which tend to reduce this complex global phenomenon to patterns of analysis tailored to the US party system, which Carl already indicated today. This system itself is a distortion of even the traditional left and right political binary. It should, of course, already be clear to us that the Democratic Party is a neoliberal party par excellence. The dangerous right-wing populist inclinations of the Trump era deserve their own study. That’s a complex and sensitive topic, which I honestly don’t have time for today, but we can maybe talk about it in the discussion. What should be clear is that the forces of neoliberalism will not be defeated by a simple defeat of the GOP in the US, nor simply by the defeat of other right-wing nationalistic parties internationally.
Raschke’s work here is intended to hold up a mirror to us and to make clear through the genealogical method that we are the neoliberals. He does this through a sophisticated Marxist analysis of labor alienation, put rather simplistically, the educated classes if somewhat fatally failed to develop class consciousness. In this failure and self-understanding has, in large part, inform the parameters of what Wendy Brown terms progressive neoliberalism. Lastly and insignificantly, Raschke’s analysis posits that neoliberalism is more than just an economic phenomenon and requires an analysis that extends far beyond a myopic economic critique. Neoliberalism is very much a social, cultural, and philosophical phenomenon and further, it’s a form of hegemony dependent on positively religious and theological developments. Neoliberalism and Political Theology is a text that fits squarely into the realm of critical theory, but I think we require a bit more explication on order to identify what political theology is and how it functions in this work. I know in kind of my own work with political theology people that aren’t engaged in it professionally don’t know what it is and don’t have any context for it and they’re like, why are you talking about that in economics? So that’s kind of the inspiration for this next part is just to be, like, what is political theology? Why are we talking about theology? And you can feel free to respond to that in any way you’d like. It seems necessary to clarify at the outset that political theology is not merely discussions about politics on a religious or theological register. But rather it’s to be understood as a specific method of critical theory.
A certain Carl Schmitt quote has become almost obligatory in any introduction to political theology and it’s all-significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized, theological concepts. And crucially he continues, not only because of their historical development, but also because of their systematic structure. Schmidt was originally referring to the analogy between Christian theology and the theory of the state, and Schmitr’s analysis focuses primarily on the sovereign state of exception calling upon the traditional analogy between the sovereign king and the monotheistic god. Schmitt’s 1922 texts open the doors for political thought theology as a method of analysis of the analogous relationship between the dominant theological and metaphysical beliefs present within a society and the political structures and practices of that society.
Jan Osman famously inverted Schmitt’s thesis, arguing that every theological concept is in fact an elevated and absolutized political concept, and applied this analysis with great importance to the political and theological structures of premodern Egyptian and to Hebraic societies. Eric Voegelin argues similarly in his The New Science of Politics that premodern empires, and I quote him, “portray themselves as representatives of a transcendent order, the order of the cosmos, whether one turns towards the earliest Chinese sources in the Xiujin or the Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, or Persian inscriptions.” In each case, the order of the empire is interpreted as a representation of the cosmic order through the medium of human society. The empire is a cosmic analogy, a microcosm as a mirror of the all-encompassing macro-cosmos. Sovereignty becomes the task of bringing the social order into harmony with the cosmic order. Political theology as a method lends itself, at first glance, much more easily to premodern, pre-secular societies in which there was no disrepute in the attempt to harmonize political and religious concerns. Political life in the Roman understanding had everything to do with religio, binding in the sense of the word, binding society back to the will of the gods through the use of religious ritual, dogma, and tradition, as well as binding the society together to share pietas.
Neoliberal ideology lays claim to no singular religious tradition. Rather, I argue that it is religious in the classical sense of ancient Roman religiosity. neoliberal prescriptive political theology involves implementing the mechanisms of empire to bind citizens to an imminent frame, purporting a particular anthropology and a structure of human subjectivity implemented through technologies of both control and devotion, control being things like chronic indebtedness of neoliberal subjects, and devotion being this Foucauldian, voluntary entrepreneurship of the self. These structures of control and devotion, which are religious in the classical sense, leave plenty of room for individual alternative religious confessions and identities.
Such identities are integrated into a streamlined and, of course, always profit generating hegemonic system. Neoliberalism follows the bargain of religious pluralism in ancient Rome. You can worship any God’s you like, just so long as you also serve ours. The wager of a political theology of neoliberalism is that the purportedly secular nature of neoliberalism, or liberal democracy, does not exclude elements of religiosity native to the neoliberal order. That is, a political ideology of neoliberalism investigates practices, ideologies, and rituals that justify the current neoliberal political order through a claim about the basic nature of reality or the ultimate imminent order of things.
It is in this way that a political theology of the secular is possible. Try as it might, secularity can never fully refrain from claims about the ultimate order of things, even as that order is understood as an imminent and not a transcendent order, as in premodern societies. It’s quite of-the-moment to locate the origins of neoliberalism or other contemporary political boogie men, like right-wing populism, in some kind of proto-Christian frame. Tracing the connections between Christian theological developments and the political developments of the West is a rich area of inquiry. Works like Max Weber’s 1905 The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of capitalism is something of a paradigmatic and commendable example of this kind of project.
In The Kingdom and the Glory, Giorgio Agamben also argues that the Christian mediation of the Trinity through the Greek logic of oikonomia develops genealogically into a bipolar paradigm of governance in the West. Singular sovereignty is necessarily enacted by a pluriform and economic system of governance. Just as the economy of the Trinity mediates the activity of a singular and sovereign deity, the oikonomia of governance is everywhere necessary for the implementation of sovereign power. This may be in part what Ward is referencing with this soft sovereignty, as it were. Agamben’s work is, I think, crucial in the development of political theology insofar as explicates the mechanisms of governmentality in terms of their positively Christian theological heritage. I can, however, detect two dangers here in this method. The first would be to argue that all political theology need exclusively concern itself with Christian theology. Carl Schmitt wrote his political theology within the Christian register, but even he, at the time, understood political theology as a structural analogy between metaphysical claims and political practices.
Political theologies and analytical tools, thus, are not married to the Christian religion, but can be applied to any number of cultural and political contexts and phenomena. And even those like neoliberalism, our current occupation, which doesn’t support any religious heritage, affiliation, or loyalty. The second danger would be to deploy political theology in the service of a rather crude polemic along the lines of “Because neoliberalism is bad, and because Christianity is also bad, the neoliberalism is, at its core, very evil because it’s very Christian.”
This would constitute a bad critique and a sentiment that is quite common. My point is not to defend or attack Christianity as such, but to rather point out this kind of argument cannot work because it relies on a sort of religious essentialism, reducing a religion to one core active principle and all times and places. Raschke doesn’t fall into either of these two dangerous things. He doesn’t do this. And political theology is working at multiple levels in this book. There are useful insights to be found about how Christian theologies of sin, atonement, debt, and guilt play a role in the development of the neoliberal debt society.
There’s also his handling of New Age aesthetics, which he argues are kind of propping up the expansionist drive of capitalist markets through this moralistic, aesthetic, open, cosmopolitan story. It’s kind of like a religiosity of choice of neoliberalism, harkening back to the libertarian aesthetics of the 1960s. Such insight certainly can constitute critiques of neoliberalism on the register of political theology, but I argue they’re not ultimately at the center of Raschke’s project. In the seventh chapter, Raschke posits a deep political theology of neoliberalism. This deep political theology has little to do with essentializing the religious heritage of neoliberalism, but rather mapping the cultural, metaphysical, psychological, and anthropological structures which inform neoliberalism and aid in the production of a certain type of subjectivity. In a very significant sense, as I’ve said before, Neoliberalism and Political Theology is a book about subjectivity. And it’s here with a short foray into Raschke’s diagnostic of neoliberal subjectivity we’re all to conclude the reflections and hopefully we can discuss.
Throughout Neoliberalism and Political Theology, the question is raised continually: What kind of subjects does neoliberalism produce? Assumed in the question is that neoliberalism is reproduced by both sovereign and subjective conditioning. Raschke draws the connection between the subjective technique of entrepreneurship of the self, identified by Michel Foucault, and in Wendy Brown’s critique of neoliberal rationality, a logic which transforms the Aristotelian homo politicus into the homo economicus, a transformation perfectly represented by this neoliberal locution, which comes up in the book Human Capital. The problem lies precisely therein: You and I are the human capital.
And further, the logic which renders the human person first and foremost as commodity is woven into our very sense of self. Raschke’s targets in this analysis are precisely the educated classes, as we heard in the talk at the beginning. The knowledge workers, the tech workers, nonprofit and business administrators, university professors and students, media professionals, or basically anyone else that could potentially be contemptuously labeled the “liberal elites” by right-wing media personalities. Raschke’s argument through and through is that we are the neoliberals, it is the educated classes that produce and reproduce the conditions of neoliberalism, which they, in turn, so reflexively condemn.
This argument relies on a class analysis on a two-tiered system of elites. There are the true elites, defined in the classical Marxist sense as the propertied, those possess and control significant capital. What we might term today as the “one percent.” But it is the professional classes who truly make neoliberalism possible through the routine enforcement of its methods of profit extraction. This is as true of the mid-level corporate administrator at Amazon, tasked with maximizing efficiency and minimizing costs, as it is true of the adjunct or tenured professor at an American university who produces an educational product. A product for which they are usually underpaid and a product for which students are overpaying with money they don’t have in order to be able to enter the labor force in the first place. Raschke names these educated elites the “new pastorate” according to the Lacanian model. White collar workers are those who enforce the intangible system of values, as well as the tangible system of pastoral or governmental power that uphold neoliberalism, all by while simultaneously themselves being locked into their roles by a dual dynamic of neoliberal debt instruments and wage repression.
Beyond this updated, but rather traditional Marxist analysis of methods of labor exploitation, which generate profits for financial elites, Raschke also takes a deep dive into the neoliberal methods of psychological manipulation, expertly crafted to create more efficient and effective knowledge workers. Naming, for example, Wendy Brown’s concept of neoliberal responsiblism as a defining ethos of our age. But perhaps even more interesting than obvious financial and social instruments of repression are the ways in which neoliberalism extracts profits and extends its hegemony by appealing to what are, at the surface, our better angels: Our cosmopolitan and humanitarian values.
One of the clear examples of this dynamic would be the manufacturer of social and humanitarian outrage through social media. Raschke writes scathingly of the Ballardian hyper-reality of the humanitarian imaginary, made possible in large part by contemporary social media cultures, and I quote him here, on page 43: “The new elite cosmopolitan sensibility is characterized by irony. A pseudo-engagement that is not even emotional but relies on the projection through the lens of sublimated moral outrage of our own sense of isolation, purposelessness, an emptiness into the open spaces of theatricalized human suffering.”
Here, Raschke hits on an element of the peculiar anti-social sociality of neoliberal acculturation. Contemporary media culture especially, reporting to intensify connection, at the end leaves persons more socially and politically passive, isolated, and alienated than they otherwise would have been. This anxious, high-minded passivity of the knowledge classes is an over0determined reality that, put simply, profits somebody. One important question Raschke poses is how to reclaim an authentic critical cosmopolitanism, an effective and true solidarity or Derridean new international when the cosmopolitan ethos is so routinely coopted to the ends of neoliberal profit accumulation. I think I’m over on time here, but I’m almost done. The last element of this multi layered account of the conditioning of the neoliberal subject is the handling of the Western philosophical heritage.
The assumption here is that subjective development is as much influenced by philosophical developments as by technological or economic ones. I wager, and Carl can, of course, correct me if I’m wrong here, is that at the core of what he is up to is a political genealogy of subjectivity, which is significantly not a genealogy of political subjectivity. This like all genealogies is a long and naughty affair. With respect to the time limits, and with an eye to the coming discussion, I would like to quickly pick out three key thinkers that influence Raschke’s diagnostic of our neoliberal condition. It’s going to be Nietzche, Levinas, and Badiou. Nietzche’s critique of what Raschke terms the platonic, Christian, Kantian, and moral universalism and the structure of ideology therein and the fabrication of the universal concept and the reification of the “ought” over the “I” constitutes for Nietzsche the origins of ideology.
To continually measure the self and world over and against a utopian ideal leads, for Nietzsche, to the self-devaluing, the infertile, of our highest values. The Greek homonyms for “utopia” are instructive here. “Utopia” can mean both “the perfect place” or “the no place.” This place, according to Raschke, on the subjective register, and I’ll quote him again, “The mass man or mass woman cannot predicate or affirm anything unique about themselves. In Nietzsche’s parlance, they lack the positive will to power. Their will aims only to be conformed to an abstract universal and rational ideal that is always pragmatically outreach.” Platonic Christian Kantian Universalism, as its termed here in our alienated neoliberal climate, leads to a passive and forever resentful and unsatisfied utopianism, a no-placeism. The cure? So, what’s Raschke’s cure? He gives a prescription, and I think this is something worth discussing because it’s less detailed than the description of the disease. It’s a Levinasian inter-subjective reckoning. Following Levinas in Totality and Infinity, Raschke equates the standard Western philosophical position as a warlike desire to know, possess, and determine all of reality.
As Levinas says in the first chapter of Totality and Infinity, “The peace of empires issues from war and rests on war.” And for Levinas, much of the philosophical tradition constitutes an investment in the project of empire on the epistemological register. Levinasian alterity introduces an entirely different subjective footing discovered in the face of the other. Levinasian eschatology is the inter-subjective position as the beyond of history. Eschatology not as a study of the end of times, but as the last things or the final destiny of the soul and of humankind. Levinas, in part immanentizes this final destiny, locating the trace encounter with infinity in the face of the other.
Raschke reads this Levinasian encounter as the Badiouan event, as I read it. The foundation of universalism, which need not play out on a traditionally Christian or religious register, but as present also in secular emancipatory projects. For Raschke crucially, any emancipation is grounded necessarily in transformative encounter with the other. Through these three thinkers I think it’s possible to get a flavor for this diagnostic of the neoliberal condition or Raschke’s. I moved really quickly through Nietzsche’s account of the herd subjectivity, as well as Raschke’s use of Badiou and Levinas, and I would love to pose this question to the group, especially this group, if Badiouian and Levinasian subjectivity are compatible at all.
And really, I’d like to hear the takes on that because I think there are different ones in this room. And, notably, Raschke proposes in this diagnostic no political program is such. No pragmatic political strategies of resistance to neoliberalism. But I would argue that the intent of this work was never prescribe a detailed set of policy proposals or political program to deliver us all from the grips of neoliberalism once and for all. Rather, the intent is a bit more subtle. This political genealogy of subjectivity is intended to hold up a mirror to the reader. Even when the vast majority of us do not belong to the ranks of the ultra-rich, we are in some sense the neoliberals, co- creators of the conditions of neoliberalism. The intent here is neither to blame, nor condemn, nor is it an apologetic for neoliberalism – this incoherent, inhumane and unsustainable political state of affairs in which we find ourselves. But we must find ourselves within it, we must be able to locate our political, even our spiritual position, within neoliberalism.
Such is the condition that necessarily proceeds any effective change. To conclude, as the rather annoying adage goes: “Wherever you go, there you are.” In the same way, even as many self-avowed leftists or progressives passively and vaguely fantasize about revolution, make memes about revolutions against neoliberalism, there remains that perennial problem of revolution itself. Even if it is indeed impossible to somehow overthrow the neoliberal powers that be, the question must be posed: Who comes into power after the Glorious Revolution and will they actually produce a significant improvement upon the political order that preceded it? To remain within the paradigm of hegemonic universalism, which Emmanuel Levinas name a “totalitarian ontology,” would be to simply riff off of the structures of neoliberal hegemonic exploitation ad infinitum. Raschke suggests a messianic subjective reconditioning on a Levinasian register. And perhaps the first step on that path is to pose that perplexing and disturbing question; a question once formulated in skeptical defiance of the ethical or the Torah teachings of a certain Messianic Galilean. What does that question? “Who then is my neighbor?”
Roger Green: Thank you, Kieryn, for that cogent and elegant gloss on Carl’s book, and I don’t see any questions in here yet. A couple of people have had to leave. And, so, since Kieryn just posed that question about that Badiouian versus Levinasian sort of modes of inquiry, maybe we could start there. And also just in the spirit of Carl’s book which, I agree with Kieryn, is about holding up a mirror – and Sarah Pessin has a comment here, so I’ll go to her next – in the spirit of holding up a mirror just especially if we’re Levinasians or Badiouians if you could just be aware that maybe not everybody in the discussion has read in depth Badiou and Levinas. So, I’ll turn it to Sarah here because she has a comment. Thank you, Sarah.
Sarah Pessin: Well, thank you, everyone. This is really amazing. And I’m working through Carl’s book, as well. So, this is just a good inspiration to work through it faster. I like Ward’s method of doing that. Maybe I’ll give that a try, and really just amazing. Thank you, everyone. This has been great. So, I’m just going to jump in.
Carl Raschke: Sarah, can I interrupt just introduce you? You were here on the last one, but so we’ve been talking about Levinas and I defer to Sarah because she is the famous Levinasian expert here.
Sarah Pessin: Well, thank you, Carl, so I am just very, I’m very excited that Carl brings in Levinas, obviously, because that gives us more to talk about in coming years and I also just before I get my comments started, I guess, about the Levinas, Badiou, and Nietzsche piece that Kieryn asked us to think about that I think is helping me constantly to question also for Carl, I also want to thank Ward. I have long craved somebody calling into it like register the Snoop Dogg meets Martha Stewart, like that to me, it literally keeps me up on most nights like for years, and nobody’s – I mean maybe people have talked about it – but I’ve never heard it, and the slide. I mean, I took a picture of it, I’m going to put it up on I mean, thank you.
Thank you. I just, that is a whole book, by the way, I hope to read in the future. I like that just okay, so I just want to express that. OK. So, now to go to the sort of related piece. I, with Carl, agree that there is a need for Levinasian intervention and relatedly to his not in the book as Kieryn noted coming out with a political program in the way that she recommended is that, and again, maybe I’m glossing the way that Kieryn meant to say it, but it sort of, she expressed that it’s not the point of the book, the point of the book is to hold up this mirror.
I think that’s all excellent. I would also add that in a Levinasian intervention, the point is, is that there cannot be a political program which somehow magically answers the question. So just want to highlight that that that’s actually part of a Levinasian intervention is to recognize that political interventions alone cannot be a solution. So, just want to highlight that. I’ll just briefly then add on the piece. So, I agree and resonate deeply with that impulse and the idea, and the Levinasian space in which it is what in my work I call a pausal intervention.
From the other time of the presentation in terms of what I’ve described as a “looking-over-one’s-shoulder-ness” in this relation to the neighbor and to kind of contrast that with the piece that how Kieryn said it, you know, that wherever you go, there you are. In a way, in the Levinasian intervention it’s the “wherever you go there she already was in a call.” And I want to make that distinction between the “wherever you go, there you are,” and the “wherever you go there she already was in a call” to you as what I think is the difference for me between Levinas and Nietzsche and Badiou.
Nietzsche and Badiou are a “wherever you go there you are”, and Levinas singularly emerges for me separately from those two and in addition to the ways that Carl is tying them together. I also say, you know, Simon Critchley and his work brings Badiou and Levinas together in some ways that I do like, but ultimately anytime someone brings Levinas together with Badiou or Levinas together with Badiou and Nietzche, I want to emphasize that there is a difference in modality between wherever I go there I am, and wherever I go there she already was in a call. It’s an essential difference. It is literally what makes, in my work that’s hopefully soon going to be done, of the pausal nature is specifically in relation to the human neighbor, neighbor or stranger alike. So that’s a very, very particular difference and also difference with respect to what Carl had talked about into kind of a Hegelian recognition.
It’s also different because in Hegelian recognition it is also with two. So that’s again, with Levinas different from Badiou and Nietzsche, the Hegel piece that Carl references with the recognition of does have two. So, in that respect it is closer to Levinas, but if I’m to say that the Levinas is “wherever I go there she already was in a call” modality of life, that’s quite different than a Hegelian wherever I go there she was in a conflict cutting me down at the knees. There’s a difference. So, and similarly, even in an assert version that’s a little different too. But I really want to say there’s something in there and in the Levinas piece which I connect up to the heart and spirit of what Carl is calling for in the avenir, so I’m very excited but I’ll zip it for now.
Roger Green: Okay, any other questions or comments.
Sarah Pessin: Can Carl say something? Or we’re just saying the questions?
Roger Green: Oh, okay.
Carl Raschke: Sarah, I’m with you very much on that, you know, and that’s what I said. You know, I threw in Levinas not to try to connect him to Badiou a Nietzsche, actually in the book I don’t talk about them together, Kieryn brought them up, which is fine because they’re all different, they’re all important to different levels of the analysis that goes on there. Let me just say one thing about the mirror. Which I like that metaphor about the book as holding up a mirror, that’s somebody who’s just condensed it into a trope of what I really say this book is about, because when I first presented some of this research at a public lecture at the university, I think it was in the fall of 2017, I got a question from the audience. And most of that lecture is actually the first or second chapter of this particular book. So, it says, well, who are the neoliberals and I said, well, you’re looking at one. He looked at me like that, and I said, “Look, and pull up a mirror to yourself. You’re looking at one, too.”
I’m reminded here of Jacques Lacan’s notion of the mirror stage, which was determinative and informative in the development of Freud, which really wasn’t back to Freud, you know, innovations and psychoanalysis, where he says, in some ways, language and consciousness, and, in fact, what we call cognition is only possible because of a moment which supposedly precedes all language when the infant looks in the mirror and sees herself or himself and recognizes “that’s me.” But the rest of Lacan we tend to think of psychoanalysis as the same as psychotherapy, which it’s not, it’s not about somehow clarifying ultimately in some Cartesian way the ultimate “me.” We tried that in the 60s, you know, it’s kind of amazing to me how these critical conversations we’ve been having – now this is the fourth one – have all had their own cumulative logic, which we didn’t intend. But they have, you know, because Sarah was there last time and then we were talking about subjectivity since the 60s, which focused in many ways on Roger’s book, and how in the 60s we saw, you know, “it’s all about me.” That’s why the Baby Boomers were called the “Me Generation” and I think just to be crude about it I think you know the difference between Millennials and Baby Boomers, and I realize there’s Gen Z now, but that’s the big distinction is the Baby Boomers says where the “We Generation,” but it’s a different kind of “we-ness” because as long as we are in some ways chained to the mindset of neoliberalism, you know, we can’t break this mirror.
And what Levinas does is basically shatters a mirror. And that’s where Levinas’s own powerful notion of transcendence comes from. And it’s not a notion. It’s not a philosophical concept. It’s something that’s always been there; it precedes. It’s not on the way, it meets us on the way like Abraham. And that’s very important. I will say that it’s been those moments in my life, which I’ve had, that – and you know Kieryn kind of knows what she talks about because she read what is kind of a covert autobiography years ago – that it’s the shattering of the mirror that brings us into relationship with something that doesn’t fit in these schemas or categories and so forth. Is that political? No. Is it metapolitical? No. Is it beyond politics? No. What is it? It is proto-political in some kind of powerful and revolutionist radical sense of the word. But it’s also proto-personal. But, anyway, I don’t want to get into all that right now, but that would be my response to what Sarah said. At some point Sarah and I need to have this conversation about, you know, Levinas because I was raised a liberal Presbyterian, she was raised in a totally different Jewish context, and somehow we both came to Levinas.
Roger Green: And since Joshua Lawrence, your question precedes me, would you mind just reading out your question yourself?
Joshua Lawrence: Sure. And I’ll try to, it’s hard to put a question sometimes in a very limited space. So, what I wrote was: If the analysis centers on the neoliberal subject, and I’m getting this from Kieryn’s gloss which was very helpful, thank you Kieryn, as well as from Ward’s discussion of the subject and which I think it’s quite formal, and this is from Carl’s introduction of the text or his own remarks. I agree with Kieryn. Part of what draws me to a lot of Carl’s work is the subject emerges and it is a, it’s recurrent and a distancing of sorts from a concrete materiality. There’s self-enhancement, consumption, forms of escape, which is the sort of departure from the body from sort of concrete materiality. And I know Carl referenced Marx, so I remember Marx sort of precisely critiquing the departures from the body, because when he says human he’s talking about bodies and I know that Marx himself was concerned about that, despite his own maybe problems with formalism.
Badiou, in my readings of Badiou, and of course, major works as well as a bit of secondary literature, Badiou likes axiomatics and I’m attributing this analysis to Dan Smith at Purdue is a Deleuze scholar that tries to pit Badiou and Deleuze against one another to kind of draw out some of the differences. And so, Badiou I think is undeniably very formal. And I think that’s part of what makes his writing so seductive and persuasive is it’s clear, it’s clean, it’s almost too clean. And Nietzsche, I don’t know what to do with Nietzsche I’m going to defer to Carl and all the others who have spent time. I’ve certainly read Nietzsche and it’s hard to pinpoint Nietzsche, but I know that he writes about the subject being very problematic. Because with the subject, you can sneak in all kinds of theology and stuff that, you know, things that were disturbing to Nietzsche.
But I don’t want to say that he’s certainly against the body or the sort of force or whatever. I mean, he’s described in so many ways. Levinas is clearly concerned about bodies – plundered bodies, affected bodies, bodies that are genocided throughout the 20th century, if I can turn that into a verb. And I’m interested if Carl would speak a little bit about the body, specifically in the context of the latest election because I know that he referenced the Latino vote, which was around the third, I think you said Carl. The black vote didn’t shift a lot and black bodies in the context of the United States are a very different thing. However, black people, in large part, and I will say this is maybe a generational difference as well, black persons that I had deep conversations with who are in their 20s, 30s and 40s often voted for Biden but were not in any way of the belief that he’s not a racist or white supremacist or the architect of mass incarceration or all forms of these technologies that you’ve referenced. So, I’m wondering how you would speak to the framing that you introduced in relation to the body, and in particular in our context, Carl, the United States, the black body. Because the Latino community is considered white. There’s white Hispanic and white non-Hispanic. And that’s a bit of history with the Spanish American War and stuff, I know here in Texas that comes up a lot in conversations where I’m located. But I’d love for you to say a little bit about that, Carl.
Carl Raschke: Can you make the question a little bit more precise because I don’t want to get into a whole… You’re talking about the election or we’re talking about race or what exactly? I’m sorry
Joshua Lawrence: You couple Levinas with Badiou and Nietzsche. Neither one of them are as interested in the subject as an embodied reality, that I believe. Now Nietzsche is debatable a little bit. I don’t think Badiou is as concerned about it. But if Kieryn or others are right in the surfacing of the subject as a deep concern of yours, and I tend to believe they are, I think you can’t leave out, like, I haven’t, I mean, for one thing, you know, I don’t see a lot of black people engaged in the conversation and that remains a deep problem in all forms of political and other conversations that occur. There’s a noticeable absence.
Carl Raschke: Let me just say this in general.
Joshua Lawrence: Thank you. Okay.
Carl Raschke: I don’t want to use this as a forum to talk, I want to say to Kieryn and Ward that I really, really appreciate your comments. They were coming in different ways. Ward, I mean, this is amazing. The way you can bring Martha Stewart in and Kieryn, you know, in some ways, I think – and, by the way your German philosophical education is starting to show finally, and you now have a British accent, which shows you’re truly European – but it was amazing, it gave me insights in this. Obviously, all of us think out of a kind of point of view. I think both intellectually and experientially, I always do. But, ultimately, it’s experientially because I don’t try to determine my experience by what I’ve read, but the other way around. Let’s talk with the general question, and you’re raising the issue of race, which I didn’t raise it here, I do talk about it in the book, but I talk about it in the general way. Obviously race, as Cornell West says very famously: Race matters. The question is, what do we mean when we say something like that and how do we use race because the very notion of race is in a sense, the structure of signification and structure – a signification that produces certain kinds of discourses which serve certain… Even the language of embodiment, you know, it’s sort of a way of genuflecting now. We don’t talk about black people; we talk about black bodies or we’re talking about Latino bodies and so forth. And, actually, this language comes from second wave feminism in many ways. There’s a way of structuring academic discourse that it finds its way.
And now it has, it’s found itself in the public arena, it’s become the kind of lingua franca insomuch, particularly progressive politics, but a genealogy makes us aware of that. It doesn’t assume we’re talking about something. Yes. Black and Latino or African American, which we were always changing our preferred ways of talking about and we should be listening to people who, in a sense, these signifiers matter. But again, critical race theory, which I’m very much immersed in in my own thinking and reading right now, looks at the whole question of blackness. Black is a marker and, of course you can read what I consider the most profound theorist of critical race theory, which is Achille Mbembe who is African, and particularly his Critique of Black Reason which is his third major book, and all of his books are, you know, they’re better than Badiou in terms of relevance right now. But there’s also a lot of histories that shows forth that the marker of race, particularly of blackness, has its own genealogy which goes back to the markers, the primary markers of otherness, and numerous scholarly theories have shown that otherness is constantly shifting markers depending on whatever the strategic problem is in that particular generation, and so forth.
I mean, I was there in Berkeley in the 60s when the Black Power Movement sprung up and where, in a sense, we abolished, once and for all, the word “negro.” It’s like, we don’t use that word anymore. And there was a good rationale for that, you know. We kind of go back and forth but the question is: who’s bringing the shifts and for what purpose. You know, you talk about the difference between blacks and Latinos. There is a different kind of marking going on there it’s like it depends who you talk to, you know, to just say peripherally Latinos are white. Well, yes, they are, and no, they’re not, you know, it really depends on the context. But the thing is, we should allow them to contextualize it. There was a major study that came out about a year ago and so forth that that most Latinos, do not like the phrase which we take as our own nomenclature – their own polite nomenclature – Latinx. They don’t like it. Okay, so that’s coming from white academics who thinks somehow they’re speaking, I mean the whole postcolonial theory movement that was started by Gayatri Spivak was the essay, you know, “Can the sub alter and speak?”
In other words, the real question is, a postcolonialism and criticizing the colonials, are we allowing people really to speak, or are we speaking for them? And I would say that the vast majority of neoliberal academics think they are speaking for people that they are, in a sense, they are putting their own words in their mouth. We have to let them speak. I don’t want to hear a best-selling white Italian woman be the primary spokesman for black consciousness, I use the 60s term there. I want to hear somebody who speaks out of the experience which they claim to be talking about and so forth.
The same with Native Americans, or Indians or whatever we want to call them. We’re going to hear that next week. That’s what we call authenticity, and neoliberalism basically gives us a very self-satisfying discourse so that we can feel somehow we’re speaking for others when we’re speaking for our own selves and our own structures of hegemony. That’s what smashing the mirror really means. Okay. Now, as to the election. I think this election was basically a choice between two very not-so-subtle, worn out, as Lacan would say objet petit a’s, tropes that signify something that very few people understand. And, you know, if Trump had won – And by the way, it is still possible that this election can be reversed. I don’t think we’re there, but you know what I’m reading it’s still possible. I mean, the fact that he pulled it out in 2016, you know, should give us pause. Once it’s certified, then I will say, you know, he won the election. But it has to be certified on the, I think on the eighth of December. So, after that, you know, whether he likes it or not. If Trump had won, it would just be flipped. Flip the script. Now we flipped the script, we’re back to 2016. This isn’t going to get resolved by whoever wins the election.
In fact, all the election is doing is postponing the inevitable, which is a catastrophe. And I think what Kieryn is saying, and I’m glad she’s saying this, is that when the catastrophe hits, we’re going to look at ourselves and say, “Oh, I didn’t have to do that, it was them.” Or we’re going to say, “No, maybe we didn’t go deep enough.” We as academics, you know I went into this business so I can understand the deeper meaning of history, and the deeper of meaning the world around us. I went into academia – it was the last thing I want to do – in the midst of an unexpected series of chaotic moments, which included devastation, which I didn’t expect in my own life that changed everything. It basically formed an identity and a romantic notion, or a demonic notion, of my generation. Same thing is going on today, again, as it always does in every generation. And I wanted to understand. I didn’t go into this so I could somehow teach people how they could think critically so they could get good jobs. I wanted people to say, “What, what the hell is going on around us?” so that, in a sense, we have the tools and the resources and the self-understanding. You know, we can see every detail in that mirror and what higher education has become, for a lot of reasons some of them are mentioned the book but need further analysis, it has become basically a way of polishing the mirror and our images in the mirror.
And we use all the language of goodness, that’s what I’ll call it. It’s what Lilie Chouliaraki, who’s a social theorist and that was the book Kieryn was referring to, talks about: the ironic spectator. We look at the world as a spectacle based on what is essentially our own mirror image. And we think, because we have the right moral intentions, we’re for everybody, we’re inclusive, we’re not racist because we don’t give out the dog whistles. We listen to critical theorists; we are steeped in critical theory. Yes, we are. We’re probably the most clueless people in the world as academics, and we should not be the most clueless people in the world, we should be the most self-aware people in the world. And that’s what I’m calling for. And if we don’t, if we don’t take charge of this now, this whole neoliberal oz machine that is woven its spell over us is going to come crashing down and it’s gonna be very ugly.
Roger Green: Thanks, Carl.
Carl Raschke: I’d like to hear if Ward has anything more to say.
Ward Blanton: Thanks. I’ll probably jump in at some point. I really appreciate everybody’s thoughts. There is so much happening. I don’t have anything burning, but I’ll come back around.
Roger Green: I’d just like to allow people to have a sort of clarifying point on the catacomb eschatology la venile, which is French for “the future.” and this “she was already behind me.” All of these temporalities, and it’s just been a theme throughout the conversation, so I want to give people a chance just to sort of elaborate or clarify on how temporality is showing up here.
Carl Raschke: Can I start with the katechon?
Roger Green: Sure, sure.
Carl Raschke: Katechon is a word that the apostle Paul uses in a, I believe it’s either first or second Thessalonians – Ward is the biblical scholar. Ward, is it second Thessalonians? Am I correct?
Ward Blanton: Yeah.
Carl Raschke: Where he is dealing with church in Thessalonica that is expecting the parousia, what is crudely translated as the second coming of Christ first here, literally in Greek means “the fullness of presence”; The full manifestation of the resurrected Jesus. And they’re getting all excited about that and Paul warns them, he says, “don’t get too excited yet. It’s not happening yet.” He says that first, the man of lawlessness is come, who’s being restrained. And he doesn’t talk about that. This is all very “left behind.” Paul is basically trying to dampen eschatological fervor in this. But the notion of the catacomb literally means “the restrainer.” And there’s lots of speculation about, is he referring to anybody, or is this kind of a general principle? Is he talking about the Roman emperor? This is kind of pre-Neron. What’s he really talking about? Then he the man of lawlessness is, you know, is he talking about Caesar? Is this some kind of general eschatological principal? Ward do you want to explain? This is kind of your thing; do you want to explain to us what eschatology means?
Ward Blanton: No. No, no, it’s really interesting. I mean, and also to think of the ways in which people are fantasizing the end and fantasizing the break of certain hegemonies, and fantasies which got archived and are still crucially important because we’re still desperately in similar straits. I mean, we need the resources that we can find from our archives. That’s one of the things which really intrigues me here about the question of neoliberalism and then using this issue and some of the discussions about it in order to frame a kind of rewiring of the archive. Now, you know, looking for indications of the odd ways in which the energy is perpetuating an epoch which are actually something that we’re struggling against weirdly. I don’t have great tales to tell, I think, in terms of catacomb or eschatology, except to say there’s probably a lot we could do with both topics.
Carl Raschke: The word “eschatology” comes from the Greek eschaton which means “the end” and there are two words for “end”, and it gets translated in Greek: One is telos, which you find in Aristotle, it’s “final end,” it’s “purpose.” It’s that form toward which all things are attending. Hegel uses a lot of this. Answering Sarah earlier, I don’t want to in any way imply that Hegel is a kind of crypto-Levinasian because these are two different projects. But the oak as the telow of the acorn and so forth. The eschaton means the end, it means the terminus, which is the Latin translation. It means beyond which is terra incognita. “Here be monsters,” so to speak, you know, and it’s the eschatology generally within the history of western religious thought or post-Roman religious thought which has been Christian religious thought primarily. Eschatology isn’t technically about the last things. It’s about, you know, the end of time or the limits of time. When Francis Fukuyama wrote his famous book, kind of his pain to neoliberalism, I think, was published in 1991, it was right at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union and it was like a best seller.
The terminology he was using was from Alexandra Kojeve’s lectures, it’s called The End of History and the Last Man, “the last man,” of course, being in terms of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. So, it was eschatological language, and he was basically saying, yeah, now that communism is gone, we’ve reached this ripening, this fullness, this apparacia of all the political, social tendencies that were inherent, which was liberal democracy. Well, you know, there’s as much talk inboth the Greek and Hebrew Bibles about false prophets as there is about, you know, prophecy and the truth of prophecy because the end is always opaque. That’s why the Book of Revelation is probably the most important, but the most opaque book there and everybody’s trying to in some ways concretize and literalize it, though they should be reading Matthew 24 where Jesus is talking about the destruction of the temple which nobody expects and he says, “Many will come in my name, many will say they’re the Messiah. See, they say there’ll be all these rumors of wars,” but still the end, the eschaton, has not come. And so, the question is, what do we mean? It’s funny, eschatology should be a serious philosophical issue because it’s the ultimate issue about what temporality is.
The only philosopher that ever used it seriously was Heidegger, and people ignore that part of it because it sounds too Christian, but he talks about the eschatology of being, which is in his lectures on Hegel, which, most people who study Heidegger avoid anyway, which is probably the most profound book. I mean, he really gets into that. And I have to say it was reading that that made me think about things years ago and inspired me to write The End of Theology, which was starting of the kind of revolution and religious law we call postmodern theology So yes, we need to talk about eschatology because that’s what the 60s was all about. The question is the eschatology, like the kingdom is both here, now. It is kind of a now, but it’s not an eternal now. It is a kind of fleeting now that, in a sense, always is and always was, it’s Alpha and Omega. But now maybe Sarah ought to explain what she’s talking about.
Sarah Pessin: Oh, that’s a great setup, because it’s in the now and it’s an inflection of that now that allows it to function in the way that Carl is describing it. And the inflection of that now is with a pastness, and it’s not the past that’s in the past, it’s the pastness that’s in the now. And it’s not about conservatism or traditionalism or fatalism or whatever the other ways the past might drive the present. It’s none of those things. It’s the inflection of the present now that allows it to function in the way that Carl is speaking of and in the Levinasian tenor. He speaks about it in different ways across his writing, but I’m working on the book on his earliest work in the 40s. He just speaks of it as a pause, and it’s a pause in the moment that’s now into what Roger asked me to talk on what I’m describing as an over-one’s-shouldered-ness relation to the other for Levinas and back to the framing point of subjectivity, there is in the now before we get to the other, already a kind of if I’m to describe it as a sort of heel being caught in the crack with respect to ourselves in the moment, that I would also describe as an over-one’s-shouldered-ness with respect to oneself that he starts with and that in that both prior to and posterior to that in, again in a structural now, is the being caught in a kind of way with respect to oneself signals a kind of break in which the self is not able to come to terms with its being, that there’s a kind of rupture in the very constitutive of the self that is that looking-over-one’s-shoulder-ness as oneself, which is related in ways that I can’t described now but to Joshua’s question related to embodiment’s own structure already reveals that that being in a kind of bind with respect to oneself, in a kind of dissonance with being is already to be in a bind in a hospitable bind and in an indebted bind, but not in the neoliberal sense of debt in what I refer to just, you know, to say it in a quick shorthand, David Graeber’s sense of the sort of light communism – that’s not what he calls it, he has a different word – the sort of a kind of basic interhuman debt sense of debt that to be in a bind with respect to oneself, to be caught back in a past with respect to oneself in the present is already to be held back in an indebtedness with respect to the neighbor in the present. So those are all interconnected, and they’re also connected to embodiment.
But most importantly, it’s a Levinasian temporality of what I call “Covenant Eventality” because it kind of has something to do with a pastness in the present that to play on to a kind of, I agree with Kieryn about the dangers of sort of overly kind of getting too negative on the Christian. And in that respect, also, and this is a little bit of a tacit version of that on my part with respect to a worry about the Christian which is any kind of context that sets up a religion called the New Testament is going to have some problems with respect to a whole group of others. So, I’m going to highlight out the old of the Testament and the covenant all that boring, terrible, detritus and I’m gonna recuperated in the notion of the Covenant eventful, so different than the Badiouian or a Heideggarian or a Kierkegaardian or a Pauline frenzied futureness, although again in a complex way. And again, the way Carl is describing it has more nuance to that, but a Covenant Evantality is the term that I use to sort of highlight negative Jewish terminology to highlight and inflect a way in which the tradition for Levinas and for me speaks to a kind of in relationship, over-one’s-shoulder-ness with respect to the other in the now.
Roger Green: I see Kieryn’s hand and then Ward’s, and then I’ll get you in here, Thomas. I know you have a question in the chat. Go ahead, Kieryn and Ward.
Kieryn Wurts: I just wanted to respond to Sarah shortly on the critiques of Christianity that I did, which was that it isn’t about – I think there are hundreds and hundreds of legitimate critiques of Christianity. The only thing that I was critiquing was like an essentialism. There’s a way of arguing, which isn’t really anything that you’re talking about, about temporality or anything like that. There’s a way of putting everything bad in one bag and saying that they’re all the same thing, this kind of like cheap critique right so Christianity is neoliberalism, is colonialism, is that. And I was just arguing for a bit more complexity in that and that Christianity has an issue with the other, especially the religious other, but other kinds as well. It’s a deep issue rooted in the theology, a bit of a crazy-making issue, but it’s only to say that it’s just an argument against a religious essentialism to say that a religion can mean one thing, have one driving force at all times and places.
Sarah Pessin: That’s wonderful. And I’m just going to say one more thing, but I am concerned about, for another time and Carl I look forward to talking with you another time about these identity pieces because even to Kieryn’s point, I gave a talk a few months ago where I realized that I was doing this more, which is to say given my inflection as a Jew, I can’t but help have certain of a kind of critical relationship to Christianity and that’s not fixable. And that’s also something that we need to acknowledge. So, this is where also I worry about sort of an over-critique of identity politics. If somebody tells me enough, Kieryn isn’t saying this or Carl, but I’m just saying if somebody says, and Badiou kind of does say these things, where it’s time to move past and sort of get into these, like, you know, he has a pretty quick solution to the Middle East problem. And it’s like, okay, I don’t know if that can work where people just sort of forge forward into their new identities and it’s like, we also have to be kind and ruptured in our concerns that even Carl, to the extent that I agree with many of the points you make I’m still not sure about where we go given that we have certain identities that we are connected to that connect up with memory and connect up with the grave of the dead that we live for. So, I just worry about all of that. We can’t just get past identity politics. And I think Badiou does that in an especially irritating manner. I just want to lose more sleep about that, but also about the fact that where are my sleeves? That I’m definitely in a kind of polemic with Christianity when I wake up in the morning, but that’s the way it’s going to be for this life span. So, we have to somehow factor all of that in as well.
Ward Blanton: Sarah’s the only person I know who’s losing sleep over both the pairing of Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg and also Badiou on identity politics. Thanks, everybody. You know, this is where I think this stuff gets really exciting. I mean, you know, when I was saying that it for me the question about joining the archive to the question of analysis of contemporary culture under the form of something like a story of neoliberalism. However, we construe that is really exciting because I think a lot of the work remains to be done. But it’s here, and the reason there is intervention there from all three of you that it sounds like we could really get somewhere, you know, because the question is, I think, as Carl frames that it, for me it was very much a question of how we how we could live today, so kind of experimental question but also question about enjoyment. You know, Carl sometimes talks about the material of something and I got it that underneath that there’s a sort of substance of enjoyment that it just kind of is its own its own limited, provides its own insecurity so you don’t just get lost in abstractions and formalities.
And the question of what we have to sacrifice to pick up on Sarah’s question, the question of what we can be true to without worrying about re-inventing or creating the new – this isn’t about like ancient apocalypticism eschatology, the problem of the New Testament, it is all of that, but this is also about “what the hell are my students supposed to do? I mean, literally, this is the question of whether they’re going to like, use themselves as fuel in order to keep themselves alive in certain strands of the contemporary economy where everybody’s overworked, everybody’s like overextended, and everybody is going into debt increasingly just to keep the game alive. It’s a wonderful time to be thinking about these archive questions because I can’t imagine a more relevant moment than to be to be processing these kinds of questions. There is nothing about this that is just in the past. I’m with Sarah on this, you know, there’s a there’s a funny kind of now time in which I think the question of how we and our students, just to keep things as a as a kind of university-type question, are going to cope with our own self-sacrifice in this economy of optimization overlaps entirely with these with these traditions we’re inheriting and still negotiating.
Roger Green: Okay, so we’re going to go till about 10 after because we started about 10 after. We have one quick one more question here that we have from Thomas who’s been waiting patiently. And as I introduced this and sort of ushered into our conversation, I want to invite anybody, because I’m looking at who’s in this chat right now, on these questions to write on the community scroll and the temple scroll and how they might fit into this conversation. If you know what I’m talking about or you know, those, those things I would love to see a New Polis piece on that. Okay, don’t mean to point there. So, Thomas asks: Can you talk to the idea about technology, 3D printing, social media, etc. as a path both to undermining and perpetuating neoliberalism.
Carl Raschke: To whom is the question addressed?
Roger Green: I think it’s time to you, but probably your respondents as well, so robust conversation at the moment.
Carl Raschke: Okay. Again, you know, I’ve always got a lot to say but I really welcome other conversions here. I’ve been so thrilled by what I’ve heard. Technology is a big issue. But of course, you know, what we mean by technology precedes digital technology which is largely what we’re talking about. And remember, digital technology, by its very nature means basically where our discourse, where our world is dominated by a system of binary codes. One of the points I make in the book in terms of genealogy that we have with post-structuralism is in such giving kind of primacy to the binary, to an insolvent dialectic. In the digital binary, there is no alphabet. And Deleuze in his famous book on Nietzsche, which made him famous, it came out in 1962, the first chapter is called “Against the Dialectic,” which was against Marxist orthodoxy, especially Sartre who was sort of Oedipal figure for all the French post-structuralists in that particular era, and so forth. But one of the points I make is that it is binarization that begins with what we might call post-structuralist logic that is in many ways the deep code for neoliberalism.
And, you know, digital technology is just, you know, mastered houses work. We’ve instantly got to choose. I mentioned one thing, and this is, I think, a very important book that people want to read – the book by the Harvard economist Theodore Levitt called The Marketing Imagination, which came out in 1967. And Levitt was also the one who coined the term “globalization”. He didn’t use the term “neoliberalism”, which actually was being used back in the 60s but in very obscure circles with different meaning of love. Levitt’s famous line is, you know, you’ve heard about where they say with restaurants it’s “location, location, location.” For Levitt it was “differentiation, differentiation, differentiation.” In other words, basically, make the same different.
Give it a kind of semiotic twist so it looks different when it really is the same. And I have a story about this, which I’ve told many of my students, but it’s a very important story because my revelation of this. My father was in the food manufacturing business and he got promoted very fast just before he died in 1967. He was a vice president for Safeway stores, and he took me around to is different plants to show me how other things were being made and he took me to a soap plant, which was basically raw soap and the end of the assembly line one went to the right, every other bar of soap up with to the left. The one to the right went into this cardboard box that was a store brand for Safeway Stores. The one the left went into a gold foil wrapper which was Dial Soap, and I said, “You make Dial Soap?” And he said, “Yes.” And of course, there was a big advertising program with the jingle, “Don’t you wish you used Dial Soap? So, don’t you wish everybody did?” That was kind of you, you know, you’re the consumer. And the point was that this is just soap, but because it’s in a foil wrapper and it’s aimed at you and there’s all these advertising dollars, you feel special. You’re not consuming scope, you’re consuming the signifier for soup. And that’s what neoliberalism it
Kieryn Wurts: Might I make a short addition to soap and social media and consumer culture? Just quickly, because I think there’s a connection. As Carl and Sunny have been obsessed during quarantine with Lost, I’ve been doing a deep dive into Mad Men, and I think this is kind of this conditioning of the consumers we’ve been experiencing for at least a couple of generations. And I think that makes me a bit negative about any kind, at the moment, a bit negative about potential emancipatory uses of social media in the classical sense – like the big ones: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and even the Tik Toks because they just seem to be elements of distraction, and of course, the classic neoliberal, you are the product, just as you add a capital or you are the commodity, of course, your insights, your outrage, anything you produce is a product to profit somebody else on social media. This isn’t my insight; this is common knowledge. So, I would be interested, I think there are, of course, technological subversions of kind of the ways in which they were exploited, but I think especially directly getting at, like, political discourse through social media has the dangers of that and all the pitfalls of that have just been very obvious since 2016 in terms of just manufactured outrage, just like manufactured soap. It’s kind of the same conditioning.
Roger Green: I’ve had a request here just to go back and hear a little bit more on addressing what Ward is talking about with students stuck in the cycle and what we can do as educators.
Ward Blanton: I was just going to write something about that. We’ve been thinking about it a lot here and really struggling with all kinds of questions. It’s about the way in which we integrate the whole question of education or the whole function of the institutions we’re a part of in relationship to these larger questions. I mean, you know, getting a job just for a start, I mean, I don’t know what everybody else feels. One of the basic questions here is that what passes for something which is supposed to be helpful in getting people jobs isn’t doing anything. And it’s because the conversations that we’re having as academics are so weirdly out of touch. And the answer for academics being, in some sense, out of touch, then turns into hey, what if you outsource this stuff, let these managers tell you how to do this, which just makes it all worse. Just one example is like If I think, you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about the question of doses and new developments in terms of CBD and also other kind of related weird gadget or technology questions. And when I think about these things, I mean, this stuff is like, really deep Any one of these questions, you know, Snoop and Martha, you know, that’s deep. That’s a big thing.
You see, you open up that can of worms and it really can take you into the archive in the most nerdy fashion. And here we’ve been trying to hit on ways in which we take those things that are weirdly the most concrete, but also potentially the most nerdy and trying to get people to talk them through. It’s this weird moment in institutional history here in terms of just people just trying to touch on the actual, touch on the reality of the contemporary situation and it’s not so easy. We’ve thought of everything literally from revamping how we teach our classes. We’ve both gotten a lot of guff for this, strangely, which I really don’t understand.
We’ve both considered leaving the university and working with corporations, which I’m sure is from the frying pan into the fire in some respects. I think we just have to keep experimenting. And just wanted to add one more thing, I’m sorry to blab. On this, you know, Badiou, Levinas, they helped me very little. I think for me, my judgment is on the contemporary questions here, Badiou for example, I mean his whole framing of politics versus identity politics – I can’t find much in there that I can offer to, say, my students or myself if the question is, how should we live in order to make sense of the things that we’ve become suspicious of, namely a kind of neoliberal entrepreneurialism of self.
Roger Green: Okay, we’re getting to closing time here. Any final remarks that people have? Sarah’s saying she hears you, Ward. And on Levinas she says, “I do find a poetics that helps open these questions on Levinas.”
Carl Raschke: So, I just wanted to go back to the issue that came up in the exchange between Sarah and Kieryn, and it also stalks us throughout this and in terms of previous critical conversations. It’s been an ongoing question and it’ll be one in the next critical conversation, and that is the question of framing. I want to say that, and of course I mentioned Lakoff in my own initial presentation here and the whole idea of deep framing. Neoliberalism is a form of deep and subtle and almost-invisible framing, and that’s the point I want to make. Christianity, whatever we mean by that, or Euro Christianity or however you want to iterate it, qualifying nuances is a form of framing. Judaism – what we mean by that is a form of framing. Islam is a form of framing. Even we’re talking about religion, these are colonial ways of framing people like David Chidester or also Masuzawa in her book on the invention of world religions talks about how this works.
This is by systems of governance, it was colonialism that discovered what governance really means. It’s soft power, to go back to Ward’s original term, which I use in the book. Soft power is the best kind of power, you know, imperialists have known that, you know, since time immemorial. Basically, coercing people directly, disciplining them in a hardcore away, brutalizing them – that doesn’t really give you power, at least in the longer of sense. Making people feel good and good about themselves is how you maintain power, and neoliberalism has become this very sophisticated, corporatized, highly financialized art form that allows us to do that. But then the question is: where does the political come in here? Where’s the political theological?
And that’s what the last chapter is about, and its only kind of a poetic preamble. And I would like to get into that. I won’t. I can’t. I would just say that since the past is preamble, the preamble has passed. Let’s call it the “eschatological moment” – I’m not using it in the Christian sense, let me use it in the original Greek sense. I’m basically saying that in some ways to break the spell of neoliberalism is to step into the eschatological moment. If it’s framed by any of these religious frames, theological frames, it’s not really this kind of eschatological. That I think in some ways the “Levinasian ethic,” which we put in quotation marks because it’s not what Kant means by “ethic,” I think “Levinasian ethic” of responsibility – not “responsiblism” as Brown talks about in Undoing the Demos – but responsibility to the other is that eschatological moment because ultimately, in a sense, and I think Walter Benjamin understood this, we’re going to talk about the political we’re going to talk about the Messianic. And again, I’m not talking about any particular frame that gives meaning into what we mean by the Messiah, I’m meaning Messianic in the original sense of the presence of the transcendent, the holy other, in its opposite, its embodiment, you know, the rubbing into the oil of the body, that’s where the term comes from – the anointing of the king.
That Messianic moment is where only when we begin to live truly, the Messianic moment that is right here, now, in the face of the other, which is everybody on the screen, not as an abstraction, not as an identity, not as somebody who fits into some kind of moral system of judgement, but it is that face of the other in which neoliberalism as a mirror shatters before our eyes. And what we truly call the political, it is not a frame, it is a singularity. And this notion of the singularity, which is a term used also for black holes, it=t’s beyond limits, it’s beyond the eschaton. We can’t see it, but it’s there, it’s present, it’s empowering, it’s giving us life, so to speak. It’s there. It’s beyond all religious frames, it’s beyond all theological frames. That’s where we have to step into, and that’s, in a sense, where quote the revolution begins.
Roger Green: Okay. Thank you to everyone, please join us December 8th when the United States becomes publicly certifiable and when we have our next Critical Conversation on, surprisingly, some related issues of deep framing here with Tink Tinker, Wassaja/Osage, and Barbara Alice Mann, Seneca scholar, who will talk about the twinned cosmos of American Indian cosmology and deep framing, and they will be particularly critiquing the notions of identity and identity politics as this comes up here. Thank you very much to our respondents, Ward Blanton and Kieryn Wurts. Thank you to our regulars, Sarah Pessin and everybody else has been joining. Please spread the word on these Critical Conversations and feel free to contribute to The New Polis, we’re always looking for more material. Have a great day.