On the notion of the political in postmarxist theory.


[Which Spinoza?]

Ontology of multiplicity, politics of affects. Post-Marxist readings between 1960 and 1980. Paper presented at the Opening Week, Jan van Eyck Academy, Maastricht, January 2012

Immanence is immanent only to itself

The last seminar in the framework of the research project After 1968. The notion of the political in post-Marxism examines, how to read Spinoza in terms of a non-substantialist metaphysics and how to deal with the internal problematics of such a reading, in particular regarding the question of immanence and the theoretical strategy used to progress from a positive ontology of multiplicity to a politics of affects.

One could conceive the Spinozian idea of immanence in the coupling of two formulas, a speculative and a practical or ethical one: Speculatively, Spinoza grasps immanence in the sentence that before all production, before all genesis and creation there is distinction. In other words, Spinoza’s substance is not like a One, from which there proceeds difference; the attributes are not emanations; the substance is thus nothing but its problematising expression through an infinity of different attributes and its solving or integrating expression through finite modes. Practically and ethically, however, Spinoza considers immanent causality as a mode of life or individuation characterised by the tension between an absolute potential defining the impersonal nature and a tendential potentialisation, a becoming-potential, so to speak, defining the individual.

In this sense, Spinoza’s Ethics is indeed a book of liberation that conceptualises the temporalities and modalities of the constitution of freedom. Key is that the free individual is grasped as a potentiality of impersonal nature itself; it is pars potentiae. Through its capacity to arrive at a certain degree of causality for itself, it expresses a part of nature: »Thus the power of man, in so far as it is explained through his own actual essence, is a part of the infinite power of God or Nature, in other words, of the essence thereof [...].« This capacity reveals a dramatic torsion that can take place in the process of individuation turning a situation, in which one has only contingent, fluctuating and imaginary affective experiences, to a situation, in which one is slowly entering a selective path leading from joyful passions to active affections and adequate ideas. Taking this path, individuals increasingly participate in the infinite without ever leaving the limitations of an individual that is always affected by other individuals, never autonomous, always surpassed by the potentiality of nature. That is to say, the free individual is a tendency, a tension or threshold. It will never arrive at complete self-presence. The imaginary, the passions, the inadequate ideas will persist. Hence, Spinoza endeavours, in the ethico-political dimension of his thought, to show, how the sad passions instituted in the regimes of the priests, the despots and masters, »so that men may fight as bravely for slavery as for safety«, though the masses are tendentially capable, by way of the joyful passions, of amplifying their potentiality to act and thus their freedom and rationality.

Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza is defined by an extreme co-articulation, even short-circuit, of the speculative and the practical formula of immanence: The very relationship itself, through which the differentiality of being is expressed, is conceived as life by Deleuze. This is one of the strategies by which he keeps at bay the anthropological figures of thought present in Spinoza by substituting anomal singularisation for emancipatory humanisation. Hence, for Deleuze, potentiality is nothing but the selective process of transmutation that opens in differential being itself, in which elements composed by infinite sets of other elements do mutually specify and singularise in infinite relations. Those relations are thought as (indeterminate) modes of life. In brief, immanence is not immanent to life, but immanence is a life itself.

An anomal encounter: Althusser and Deleuze

In what follows, I will consider a couple of problems regarding the Spinozian concept of immanence by revisiting Negri’s »metaphysics of productive force« and his understanding of immanence as tendency to complete agreement. I will briefly outline four problems: Negri’s oscillation between two divergent concepts of activity: labour power and striving; his dismissal of the attributes in Spinoza’s ontological topology; the lacking distinction between the order of essences and the order of (embodied) existences, and finally the problem of excess in agreement, or of how to exceed in the agreeing. To consider the dimensions of this problems, I will approach Negri through the detour of an anomal encounter, the encounter between Louis Althusser and Gilles Deleuze.

Louis Althusser and Gilles Deleuze equally pose the question of immanent causality by distancing from Hegel who conceptualised immanent causality as auto-mediation of the absolute. For Hegel, the different moments of the historical process are the path through which the absolute due to negativity unfolds through difference. As Nancy writes in The Restlessness of the negative: »It is this power of the negative that inhabits the gap where relation opens, and that hollows out the passage from presence to presence: the infinite negativity of the present.« Althusser and Deleuze encounter eachother at the very point, where they insist against Hegel on thinking difference other than this negative gap through which being refers to itself. They meet there, where they explore with Spinoza the positive causality of the differential. At the same time, they are challenged to grasp, »what is still Hegelian in that which allows us to think against Hegel«. Since Hegel himself is one of the most radical thinker of immanence, in a certain dimension of whose thought there is neither origin nor end, but only the actuality of the infinite making the finite things surpass themselves and mediate against eachother. Althusser and Deleuze leave Hegel exactly there, where he idealises this immanent movement of the infinite by confining all differences by way of sublation and negation of negation in an auto-referential and thus teleological process leading to the identity of auto- and alter-relation and by this way to the self-representation of the absolute. One might say, in their very distinction, Althusser and Deleuze are connected by rejecting this subjectification of immanence, intervening there, where Hegel constructs a unity of mediations which he declares to be the subject of mediation itself.

Opposed to their dramatic anti-hegelian self-presentation, Hyppolite’s reading of Hegel, in particular Logique et existence, is of importance to Deleuze and Althusser. Both find in Hyppolite a refined, non-anthropological interpretation of Hegel offering an alternative to Kojève’s reading of the Phenomenology. It is Hyppolite who produced the precise point, at which Deleuze and Althusser could leave Hegel. Deleuze’s 1954 review of Logique et existence shows, in how far he has taken foundational hypotheses from Hyppolite, in particular the equation of philosophy and ontology, the dismissal of anthropology, the substitution of sense for essence, the affirmation that behind the phenomenons there is no second world. Deleuze’s final disagreement with Hyppolite targets at the hypothesis, that being is only in so far differential as difference is pushed to the absolute, i.e., to contradiction. Against this speculative notion of difference, Deleuze develops his theoretical program to write an ontology of pure difference, in which difference has not to go to contradiction, because »contradiction would be less and not more than difference«.

While Deleuze starts here to conceptualise the expression of differentiality as a mode of life, Althusser thinks differentiality in the framework of an epistemological operation allowing him to make reproduction the primary problem in the analysis of societes with capitalist mode of production. Althusser’s thinking likewise bears on Hyppolite’s precising of Hegel and his critique of the young Marx. In his lecture On Marx’s relation to Hegel, delivered in 1968 in Hyppolite’s seminar, Althusser puts forward that Marx owes to Hegel the notion of a process without subject, more precise, that Marx with and beyond Hegel subtracts the teleologisation, i.e. the subject, from the notion of process and thus produces the concept of a process without subject, origin and end in its proper sense. Althusser pinpoints Marx's relation to Hegel in the figure of a proximity that separates. He argues that key Hegelian conceptions used by Marx—the critique of cogito, the suspension of a moral subject, the rejection of the idea of a social contract, the dismissal of origin and end, the affirmation of the concrete differentiality of the process—are actually concepts Hegel found in Spinoza.

This is why Althusser in his reading of Marx, in which he erases all anthropological, evolutionist and teleological narratives in Marxism, refers to both, Spinoza’s concept of an immanent cause and Bachelard’s concepts of an epistemological break. Althusser’s epistemologically purified Spinozist Marxism is generated by separating Marx from his his early writings and from both, Hegel and Feuerbach. Immanent causality in Althusser is based on a combination of concepts—in particular the concept of differential temporalities, overdetermined contradictoriness and of a complex structured whole that is in the last instance determined by the economic relationality itself. In the preface to the English edition of Studies on Marx and Hegel, Hyppolite reminds Althusser of taking into account the radicality of Hegel, in particular in those passages in the Logic, in which Hegel is untrue to his monism and conceputalises what Althusser himself proposes to conceptualise, namely »structures, in which the essential and unessential are reflected in one another, in which the existential conditions of a dominant contradiction are an element in the contradiction itself«. Three years earlier, in 1965, Pierre Macherey had likewise pointed Althusser, in a letter exchange, to the quasi-Hegelianisms in his notion of structure. Refering to Spinoza’s doctrine of attributes and the idea of non-numerical infinity, Macherey urges Althusser to get rid of the category of the complex structured whole and to radicalise his model of causality. He refers to Deleuze’s 1961 article on Lucretius, in which Deleuze highlights in Lucretius’ naturalism that »the nature as generation of the diverse [...] can only be an infinite sum, that is a sum, that does not totalise its elements«. Except in his last writings, Althusser will not take up these questions of non-numerical infinity and the »diversity of the diverse« that Deleuze in Difference and Repitition develops into the notion of the differentiation of difference (different/ciation) and in Expressionism in Philosophy, his book on Spinoza, into the notions of real distinction and affective duration. It is Macherey himself who—with critical reference to Gueroult and Deleuze—reformulates the question of immanent causality in his 1979 book Hegel or Spinoza, at the heart of which we find a reinterpretation of Spinoza’s idea of the infinity of attributes constituting the substance in infinite ways, in which the same order of causes is differentially expressed. Macherey claims that Hegel deliberatively misreads Spinoza to repress the proximity to him or even the aspects, by which Spinoza is a more radical thinker of immanence than he himself.

Negri’s slip: the impossibility of absolute auto-activity

In his 1981 book on Spinoza, Savage Anomaly, Negri introduces a dramatic turn into the conflict between Macherey and Althusser about the materialist reactualisation of Marx with Spinoza. Negri turns to a subjectivist and productivist interpretation of the Ethics based on an elimination of the instance of the attributes. Ironically, Negri whose anti-Hegelian self-presentation is as strong as Althusser and Deleuze’s one confirms Hegel’s understanding of Spinoza’s attributes, i.e., their external interpretation as mediation between substance and mode. By dismissing the attributes from Spinoza’s ontology, Negri destroys the very point, on which Althusser and Deleuze agreed, that is, the onto-epistemological axiom that there is a distance and difference immanent to the real making complete self-reflection and self-transparency of existence impossible. In other words, being or the real is a differential that excludes the idea of an absolute auto-activity of existence, its absolute Selbstbetätigung, of which Marx’s speaks in the Parisian Manuscripts or The Theses on Feuerbach, understood in the sense of an activity, in which self- and world-transformation completely coincide.

Since the end of the 1970s Negri’s thinking happens in the interval of two concepts of activity. It takes place in the distance that separates Spinoza’s notion of striving (conatus) from Marx’s notion of living labor. The short-circuiting of this distance presents the crucial problem of Negri’y experimental reading of Marx with Spinoza, in order to rewrite Marxism as »metaphysics of productive force« which breaks the Hegelo-Marxist tradition and its methodological primacy of dialectics by producing a new concept of human activity in Marxism. With theoretical violence, Negri pushes two divergent concepts of activity into eachother that belong to different models of causality. The first, living labor, conceived as objective mediation is defined by internal negativity (self-diremption, self-separation, passage into the other), the second, Spinoza’s idea that each thing strives to »persevere in its being«, is characterized by internal positivity (infinite multiplicity of the One, affirmation of the singular). Negri attempts to solve what he calls the »enigma of modern materialism« by reinterpreing the very idea in which materialist and idealist themes are most closely sutured to one another, the idea of the self-generation and self-possession of man in and through his activity. The most problematic effect of this operation consists in reactualising the image of transparent social relations in communism, the image of a communism as complete and completing immanence leading to the self-representation of the absolute, a Hegelian image of immanence that is subverted by Spinoza avant la lettre.

Striving to exceed what is

Spinoza’s notion of potentiality, the most simple dimension of which is expressed by the conatus, that is, the tendency of each thing to practically and actively affirm its being, suspends a couple of presuppositions on which Marx’s early notion of labour is based. Primarily, Spinoza dismisses the division of the world in a living, form-giving, voluntary subjectivity and a dead, inanimate and involuntary materiality. All things are active and effective; or as Spinoza writes in the last proposition of the first part of the Ethics: »There is no cause from whose nature some effect does not follow«. Even if he outlines an anthropology in the Ethics, Spinoza dismisses any anthropocentrism. Man is a thing among things, he or she is a transindividual interval, a differential of forces that articulates a certain degree of nature’s infinite potentiality. The difference between human and non-human things is not categorical but gradual. The polemical force of this hypothesis comes from its anti-teleological, anti-finalist and a-humanist sense. The conatus propels an immanent and infinite process, in which human things are able to progress from joyful passions to active affects and finally to the contemplation of their singularity in the infinite nexus of nature (knowledge of the third kind, intellectual love of God). The conatus affirms nothing but its own excessivity or as Matheron says »conatus, actualised essence, productivity of being, potentiality to act, all becomes identical«.

The decisive question to be posed here is—how does Negri understand the becoming-potential of the modes, their potentialisations, their finite articulation of the infinite that starts from the corporeal mixtures, the affective oscillations, and imaginary ideas? Departing from the 18th proposition of the fourth part of the Ethics—»Desire arising from joy is, other conditions being equal, stronger than desire arising from sadness« —Negri conceives of the conatus as proto-communist force pushing on the open path conatus-potentia-mens (striving-potentiality-intellect) to a self-transformation, self-multiplication and self-government of being: »Infinitely extended toward infinite perfection. A continuous transition toward always greater perfection. Being produces itself.« In other words, Negri thinks that Spinoza, with the concept of conatus, develops a doctrine that reveals the presuppositions of communism in being, an affecto-theoretical version of what Marx in the Parisian Manuscripts calls the »life-engendering life«. Key is that Negri omits the importance of the transition itself, the importance of the very problem, on which Deleuze focusses his reading. At bottom, one could say, Negri disregards the distinction between affections and affects, in other words between instantaneous state or cuts and intensive transitions. As affection, Spinoza designates the encounter of bodies in space resulting in an increasing composition or decomposition of bodies, thus defining the instantaneous states of embodied mixtures in a given situation. As affect, Spinoza designates the transitions in duration into increasing or decreasing potentiality to act accompanying the corporeal affection. Spinoza here speaks a triple language, that separates embodied states defined by corporeal agreement or disagreement (1) from affective transitions defined by degrees of potentiality (2) from singular essences expressing pure auto-affection (3): »The essence belongs to itself under the form of the eternity, the affection belongs to the essence under the form of instantaneity, the affect belongs to the essence under the form of duration.« Negri chooses only one language in Spinoza; he follows the perspective of corporeal affections and interprets it in the sense of a tendency towards agreement. He interprets human transindividuality as movement of increasing becoming-common and combines this interpretation with the Feuerbachian idea of social sensuality in the young Marx—emancipation of all generic forces, all-sided intercourse (allseitiger Verkehr) and free exchange of social activities.

Absolute communism

A second question has to be posed here: Though Negri constantly uses the concepts of transition, excess, increase, he overwrites the category of the transitional with the category of the absolute: In the Savage Anomaly he writes: »[T]he positivity, the productivity, the sociability of human action .... represents the absolute.« Negri omits, more precisely, he mentions but does not draw the corresponding conclusions that for Spinoza the finite modes express an infinite tension between being-in-the-other (esse in alio) and being in the self (esse in se), a transition, a degree, that never arrives at the absolute. Even the knowledge of the third kind, this mystical threshold in Spinoza’s thinking, in which human beings are supposed to recognize their singular essence and nature’s causality alike, represents no absolute state, but a threshold. The knowledge of the first kind, the passions, the imaginary images do not disappear. The sage, the free man, who appears in the course of an emancipatory process, has to repeat, time after time, the passage through the infinite compositions of relationships and through him or herself. As André Tosel emphasises, the free human is »result and balance, insofar priority is attributed to the impersonal process that produces him. Both, excentricity and interiority of the mode to the substance simply designate the objectivity of a process that produces an immanent end for us without having this causality as end as such.« Negri disregards here one of the most radical and a-theological dimensions of Spinoza’s metaphysics, namely that neither man nor his or her activity, neither the constitution of reason nor the constitution of matter integrate the sense of being. Spinoza’s model of immanent causality is characterised by the hypothesis that human activity expresses itself in the infinite impersonal productivity of nature without ever totalising or subsuming this productivity under itself.

The dramatic gap characterising Negri’s Spinoza reading is finally based on the elision of the attributes, that Negri removes from the Ethics’ ontological grammar. Thereby he also removes the idea of the differentiality of difference, with which in the thinking of being the idea of self-agreement, self-transparence and self-presence has been abandoned as onto-theological remainder. It is this omission of the difference of diffence that allows Negri to discuss the question of communism on the level of essences or the »absolute common« and to ignore the distance, that separates the world of embodied existences from the world of essences: The socialitiy of things in Spinoza remains characterised by disagreement, conflict and oscillating transitions of the potentiality to act. In this sense, Deleuze emphasised: »The order of essences is characterized by a total conformity. Such is not the case with the order of relations.« For Spinoza, the modes remain to be partial negations, because they do mutually limit and affect eachother, not in the sense of determinate negation, but in the sense, in which the medieval scholastics speak of gradus or pars as differential or transition to increasing or decreasing poteniality, that is to say, in the sense of an individual that is never identical with its essence, that never absolutely presents its essence. Liberation thus for Spinoza has not the status of a subject but the status of an effect; liberation is caused by a radically selective correlation of effects, that never closes on the end of history or the agreement of essences.

By the abolutisation of human activity, Negri tends to place the human modality in the position Spinoza reserves to God or nature, in the position of the causa sui, self-causality or autonomy, in which essence and potentiality are identical. Negri’s theoretical decision to ground the thinking of communism in the ontologeme of synergetic agreement drives his reading of Spinoza into an aporia—though he acknowledges that the application of the categories of the absolute to human practise is problematic. Negri leaves us with a strange question here: where to do the things step out in a nexus of being that expresses agreement? Wouldn’t in a communism that articulates the »absolute common«, as Negri puts it, in which each element does only affect itself, the excess exhaust itself?

Which immanence?

This aporia of a Marxo-Spinozian absolute auto-activity has been termed by Nancy immanentism. The closure characteristic for immanentism consists, according to Nancy, in the idea of the appropriatibility of all activity by the community, in other words, the idea of a self-possessing self-realisation. Nancy, however, insists on the force of the space left vacant by the withdrawal of any transcendent principle, on which community or history could be based, be it God, man, revolution, labor power or truth. According to Nancy, the community is constituted by being exposed to its having no principles or guarantees, by being exposed to the withdrawal of essence, to that which cannot be appropriated—singular death or expenditure. While Nancy opts for a transimmanence of this sort, in What is philosophy, Deleuze and Guattari reaffirm their key ontological claim— immanence is only immanent to itself. There is no emanative cause or higher One, no cogito or transcendental subject that subsumes and integrates immanence to itself, and thus there is no transcendence immanent to immanence, no abyssal space of a retreated essence, no reoccurence of the transcendent in the other or a non-appropriatable instance. The dichotomy of immanence and transcendence has thus become senseless. Difference, distance and excess are thought to be immanently expressed.

In this year’s course on reading Spinoza, we will reconstruct the radically conflictual lines of a Spinozist thought of immanence by starting from Althusser’s attempt to analyse the reproduction of the capitalist mode of production in differential terms. Immanent or metonymical causality has been the term—the latter one intially coined by Jacques Alain Miller—that Althusser takes on to determine reproduction as primary question of a critique of political economy. He grasps reproduction in the reciprocal interaction of heterogenous mechanisms—economic ones, ideological ones, legal ones—that mutually shift themselves in their effects being in the last instance determined by the economic relations. The first session will be devoted to the quasi-Hegelian or quasi-totalising elements in Althusser’s reading of Spinoza in the 1960s.

K. Diefenbach