Archive for postmodernism

Real Truth

Posted in Actions with tags , , , , , on 2013/10/01 by las Pétroleuses

One of the important contributions which Slavoj Žižek has made to contemporary philosophy is his reconceptualization of the category of truth. For decades, there have been two irreconcilable positions regarding this category (and which unsurprisingly line up with the analytic/continental divide): those who hold to the classical correspondence theory of truth, and those who hold to a relativist/perspectival position (usually connected to postmodernism). The former is quite familiar, even commonsensical: truth is a property of statements (by a subject) in relation to (objective) reality, namely whereby they accurately represent it. (In line with this, knowledge is usually defined as justified true belief, where a belief is basically a statement, such that knowledge is not simply true statements but statements whose truth is justified by some argument.) The latter is no less familiar, at least in the academic domain of theory: the truth of a statement is understood to be inseparable from its context, that is, the set of conditions (the “discourse” or “dispositif” or even the “episteme“, even though in Foucault these are not the same) which is the background that allows the statement to be meaningful (the point being that this process of becoming-meaningful precedes that of becoming-true). Žižek occupies a third position with regards to these two, defining a notion of truth which on the one hand avoids the subject/object dualism of the former position while not abandoning truth to the relativism of the latter. We can understand this as a dialectical triad: if the perspectival position is an abstract negation of correspondence, then Žižek’s connection of truth with the Lacanian category of the Real serves as a determinate negation. First, we have objective reality and a multitude of subjective positions which can be true or false; second, we have only this panopoly of subjective positions, insofar as objective reality is inseparable from them (i.e. insofar as such a notion of objective reality is an example of the “metaphysics of presence”); finally, we have the re-definition of truth as connected with that position which can account for this very multiplicity, with that Real antagonism which generates this multiplicity in the first place. Žižek’s classic example is class struggle: we have a multiplicity of positions on this fact which structures our economy (reactionary, conservative, liberal, social democrat, marxist, anarchist, etc.), but only one of these positions (for him, marxist, for us, “communist” in a broader and yet more esoteric sense beyond the marxist/anarchist feud) is true, insofar as it can (here, through [a specifically “intersectional”] class analysis) account for the range of possible positions we encounter.

Vicissitudes of Value

Posted in Speculation with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 2013/09/20 by las Pétroleuses

One of the more controversial constellations of concepts dropped in our lap by the Leftist tradition is Marx’s labor theory of value. On the one hand, in his own context, his views were entirely uncontroversial: when Marx was writing, the idea that value was a product of human labor was simply assumed across the political spectrum, and this had been the case for at least a century. On the other hand, we are looking back on this time from one after the “marginalist revolution” (among other things), and so there is a weird coloring which Marx’s analysis takes on: for those on the right, that enlightened condescension we all know so well, and on the left, that odd combination of nostalgic reverence (“if only we still lived in a time where value was such a simple conundrum…”) and embarrassed occlusion (not to mention those who obstinately defend Marx against all). Here, I’m going to focus on how Marx’s conception of value is stricto sensu idealist; in later posts I’ll address how this problem does not weaken, but in some cases actually strengthens other arguments of his (including, but not limited to, the infamous “law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall”). This post is the first in a series which shall try to illustrate how, far from being outdated, the analyses Marx puts forth in Vol. I of Capital provide the tools for a robust understanding of our contemporary economic situation–how, as Ernest Mandel put it in his introduction to Vol. I, “Marx is much more an economist of the twentieth [or twenty-first] century than of the nineteenth.” (p. 12)

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