Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Poor Thing She Suffers Reverse Exploitation Too

Neoliberalism bullies its helpless victims into choosing the most profitable capital investments. Wendy Brown exposes the horror:

CPS: You have argued, speaking of neoliberalism, you have argued that neoliberalism does not simply promote economic policies but to quote you “disseminates market values into every sphere of human activity.” What distinguishes your perspective here from the despair found in someone like Adorno? What would it require to translate the despair that many people experience in very personal and de-politicized ways into a form of political mobilization?

Wendy Brown: That is an interesting question because it assumes that neoliberalism produces despair. I wish it did but I am not convinced that it does. I think that the process that some of us have called neoliberalization actually seizes on something that is just a little to one side of despair that I might call something like a quotidian nihilism. By quotidian, I mean it is a nihilism that is not lived as despair; it is a nihilism that is not lived as an occasion for deep anxiety or misery about the vanishing of meaning from the human world. Instead, what neoliberalism is able to seize upon is the extent to which human beings experience a kind of directionlessness and pointlessness to life that neoliberalism in an odd way provides. It tells you what you should do: you should understand yourself as a spec of human capital, which needs to appreciate its own value by making proper choices and investing in proper things. Those things can range from choice of a mate, to choice of an educational institution, to choice of a job, to choice of actual monetary investments – but neoliberalism without providing meaning provides direction. In a sad way it is seizing upon a certain directionlessness and meaninglessness in late modernity.


  1. "the vanishing of meaning". Funny, among people I talk to, the mood is fear. Of losing their job. Of finding a new job now that they lost the old one after 40 years. Of being old and broke. I'll have to point out to them that they should be worrying about meaning. I expect it will be a relief.

  2. she's really a bad person.

  3. The equivocation with the term "market values" is the best indication of how completely dishonest the whole endeavour is, what a crass anti-communist ideologue she is.

  4. But her view that "neoliberalism" is an instrument by which the "unemancipatory" "working and middle class" impose their slave habits and slave subjectivity on the ruling class, and make the ruling class feel like "human capital" instead of glorious blond beasts, and take their unique individual specialness away from them, and force them to lead boring empty lives of accumulation, is catching on.

  5. http://www.humnet.ucla.edu/mellon/American%20Nightmare.pdf

    Neoliberal de-democratization produces a subject [the "working- and middle- class" neocon base] ... who may be more desirous of its own subjection and complicit in its subordination than any democratic subject could be said to be.

    That is, even as [Thomas] Frank explains compellingly how the rich and powerful have exploited the disappointmentand frustration of working- and middle-class America, this explanation hews to a model of objective interests on one side and ideological obfuscation and manipulation on the other. Thus it resurrects a certain political hopefulness through the worn figure of “false consciousness” and eschews the more troubling possibility of an abject, unemancipatory, and anti-egalitarian subjective orientation amongst a significant swathe of the American populace.

    They are the ones who are making her and her fellow rentiers take the highest return on her capital and inflicting the torment of reverse exploitation on her.

  6. "it resurrects a certain political hopefulness through the worn figure of “false consciousness” and eschews the more troubling possibility of an abject, unemancipatory, and anti-egalitarian subjective orientation amongst a significant swathe of the American populace"

    "Eschews"! "Worn"? "Troubling"? "Swathe"?



    ... Ah hah.

    I see it's from a site called "MarxLacanZizek" (alloneword, therefore allonething, apparently, orsoweareledtobelieve). So I'm going to reply to it, with all due troubled seriousness, at my spanking new Theoretical website: "EinsteinLiberaceSarkozi" (www. ffs. com).

    Watch That Space, because even an absolute vacuum is not entirely lacking in energy.

    - w.

  7. "the worn figure of “false consciousness”" can be bought in a collectible edition now, with the worn figure of Exploitation, the worn figure of Poverty, the worn figure of Propertylessness, the worn figure of Wage Labourer, the worn figure of Imprisonment, the worn figure of Slave Labour, the worn figure of Overwork, the worn figure of Unemployment, the worn figure of Accumulation, the worn figure of Plunder, and the worn figure of Profit.

    The collectible worn figure cemetery is available for purchase, where the new shining figures of Gigi Governmentality and her boyfriend Nigel Nihilism can visit and leave collectible wreathes.

  8. While glancing at AllThreeNames did anyone else click through to the Internatuional Journal of Z***k Studies?

    The rotating head shots of the eponymous lecturer gave me an inkling.

    'But then to read, With a desire to avoid "how many Žižeks can dance on the head of a pin?" types of debate, and mere hagiography ... .'

    No "mere" hagiographyfor these guys. No, they will strive for a transcendant reverences that eclipses hagiography.

  9. egad -- i didn't go that far

    it really is interesting to see how this stuff works, like flypaper

    Brown is even worse in ways than the Zizz because she's thought to speak seriously and knowledgeably. And she has either never read a word of Marx or any Marxist or she is just a shameless liar. Or possibly so indoctrinated and braindamaged from her own rentier class interests that she cannot comprehend straightforward prose.

    here's a good speech, only semi-sequitur,


  10. Never read Marx, never understood it, a liar or class blindered.

    I read that dumb-a** paper last night. And arrived at those very same conclusions.

    If I can clear enough work off the desk this morning, I hope to write a brief proof for these conclusions.

    Although my real conclusion will be "Wendy Brown" is an 'effect' of neoliberal discouse and tenurality.

  11. like "capitalist" is a word only Marxists use. Brown actually speaks of "the capital relation" to mean market exchanges.

  12. this whole genre of "neoliberalism", like the whole genre before it of "globalisation" is more candied thought-flavoured tastypuffs. i mean, the word can/does mean something, and Harvey is pretty good, but this overblowing of supposed "ideological" quality - this "they're all in the grip of" what GB the first called "voodoo economics" and milton friedman, even after the bailouts and tarp and all that showed as plainly as could be that there is no confusion whatsoever about the effects of policies called "neoliberalism" among those enacting them - is so transparently childish and ridiculous and plain wrong (unfactual) that one wonders how it can continue to be asserted in this pose of seriousness and accepted.But it is a kind of etiquette at work. Just like the etiquette that says you have to accept anything white academics want to say about black history, no matter how false, absurd, slanderous, phantastically racist, because just the fact that they discuss it is laudable. Just teh fact that someone discusses "the capitalist state" and "neoliberalism" is so admirable that to criticise what they say is just rude and "divisive".

  13. Not to get ahead of myself.

    But. Brown on the surface advises, conjuncturally of course, abandoning mobilization around demands for social democracy and advocates exclusive concentration of demands for political democracy.

    Scratch the surface, and she isn't even particularly Foucauldian in her argument. She's arguing pure Habermas. Universal, extra-historical norms of reason in discourse. Her foundation for the entire argument.

    It all adds up to (redistributive) liberalism. And a snotty one at that.

  14. This is the first sentence:

    "Neoliberalism and neoconservatism are two distinct political rationalities in
    the contemporary United States."

    already any serious person knows the writer is either a propagandist or a junior high school student struggling to bullshit through an assignment.

    but you are right about the Habermasian programme. and strange how it's mixed with Nietzschean descriptions, like it's dressed up. (i suppose her idea of the relations between these "political rationalities" of neolibs and neocons could be the inspiration of her habermas in foucaultian costume act)...

    this is very characteristic of her; an old fashioned way of describing her basic approach would be "hypocrisy"

    anyway i look forward to your post about it...

  15. the fundamental fantasy of the robinsonade in Brown is very typical of the kind of the thing the pseudo-left of "postmoderns" advanced, this belief that everyone is a proprietor. Brown is a bit extreme in how visible she allows this assumption to be (she flaunts it more than foucault), but it means she has to dodge all the time. In the video I posted before she even used that "not going to answer the questions as they come" tactic, and thus avoided the guy who explained the advantage to Brenner's patrons of outlawing heirloom seeds. her model, like foucaults, of all humanity is a population of competing academics. everyone's relations are just like the relations between Wendy Brown and a colleague competitor. So she thinks that "neoliberal" "governmentality" desires the same behaviours and "subjectivity" in domestic servants as in managers of capital, and then she moralises about this "subjectivity" (as basically knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing yadda yadda). It is impossible for her to udnerstand that the enlightened self interest of the working class, collectively and as individuals, is inimical to, actually structurally antagonistic to, her own self interest as bourgeois rentier. She is sure the "Hegemonic Neoliberal Rationality" demands that the person cleaning her toilets act in her own self interest as that self interest miust be, for Brown, indistinguishable from the self interest of her employers.

    "The state is one of many sites framing the calculations leading to social behaviours that keep costs low and productivity high."

    She simply - because class blinkered, or lying, or really brainless - cannot understand that in passive construction with all this vagueness this has to be pure gibberish. But it is the gibberish of a suggestive kind which gently promotes the notion that there is "the individual v. the society" etc, and promulgates basically a fascist view of the relations between classes.

  16. Wendy seems like a fine exemplar of people reading the way they watch television.

    As I read and incessantly asked myself, Does she *believe* this? I I thought of the video, when she gloats, You know where I got that? I got that from Marx!

    And with the gloat seems to do two things. To mention Marx to validate her superior transgressive authenticity. And explicitly wield Marx to discredit an imputed faulty Marxism.

    As rhetorical/pragmatic devices both rely on "Marx" TM, rather than any conceptual substance from Marx.

    Marx and all her cited texts are nothing but clothes and accessories. Which means I think she believes that she believes what she says. But her 'believing' operates within 'brands.' Like 'facticity' instead of facts, a shift that puts her conceptually out there toward 'truthiness.'

  17. occurs to me that the promotion of all these performer-thinkers, these stage leftists - zizz, wendy brown, and others - whose main thing is to misrepresent marx and marxism is not about mainly defaming marx and the tradition of marxist intellectual product - this is the charge always, that to object to this is to be a defensive fanatic devoted to the Great Man and the Favourite Theory toys - but to defame humanity that was the protagonist of all the revolutionary struggles and a lot of successes of the past century. So to say, the mob is idiotic and of course manipylated by demagogues. So Marx is a dunce, really saying things any child can see is foolish, and the billions whom this analysis inspired are that dumb mob unfit for self government, whose empowerment only leads to violence, famine, and finally tyranny over itself after tyranny of and by itself.

    and the other thing is just to train people to hgave a reflex of recoil, anxiety and burst out into ridicule and belligerence, at the suggestion that there is a ruling class, that it is organised and conscious, and that it's motives are self reproduction, the securing of past gain and the accumulation of future.

    because the problemwith brown is not just that "she is no marxist"...and nobody would say this is requried. there are lots of things one can get out of lots of thinkers and culture producers who are not marxist. the problem is she is an antimarxist;, and anticommunist, the purveyor of slanders, propagandistic disinformation, ofthe only kind that countrs, the misrepresentation of class struggle now and the history of class struggle, the misrepresentation of the history of hiumanity's struggle against the ruling classes. and it's never a flattering or neutral misrepresentation - its not an accident. her work, like zizz, is a consistently defamatory misrepresentation of humanity's struggle for emancipation from exploitation and oppression, tailored to confuse and discourage its audience and gently reconcile it to playing its crucial role of administering ruling class rule over humanity most of whom have no contact with this product.

  18. "her idea of the relations between these "political rationalities" of neolibs and neocons could be the inspiration of her habermas in foucaultian costume act"

    Mostly specifically the neocons. They seem to be her real gripe. Anti-rational, authoritarian. Foucault provides the diagnosis. Habermas defines the healthy state and provides the cure. But her use of Habermas is part of her duplicity. Although his Enlightenment poltical model provides the essential framework for the argument, a contribution far more important than Foucault's, she doesn't give him the credit. F's logo gets plastered all over, but if I recall correctly without going back to check, Habermas she mentions once in a footnote.

    Anyway, I probably won't be back until Monday. Hope I have 1/3+ ofa post ready.

  19. years ago, John Pistelli wrote a great blog about the moral bankruptcy and corruption of a certain kind of self-congratulatory wit fashionable in editorials. Brown does this too - her ideological effect derives as much from style and its priorities as from "content" (her content is too incoherent and derivative to much matter). She has the relentlessly ingratiating manner, gentle california archness, in delivering absurd sophistry dcked out as "insight" - here

    "First, most religious truths, but
    especially those deriving from the New Testament, are relentlessly tethered
    to a declarative modality of truth. “God said ‘let there be light’ and there
    was light” was surely among the earliest and most dramatic instances of the
    power of performative speech, the original recognition that a saying can be
    a doing and a making, that an utterance can bring its truth into being and
    thus literally make and re-make reality."

    Is she intending to say there was no performative speech prior to the writing of the Torah? Or is she assuming we are prepared to treat genesis as an historical account of the creation of spacetime? in the miudst of her complaint about christianity in US politics? it doesn't matter, she's just trying to please by creating an illusion of cleverness and wit we can all participate in by being satisfied and impressed. but she has the same loathesomely self-satisfied tone when describing the occupation of Iraq - in the video she says Bremer was appointment "chairman and CEO of Iraq" and then she actually pauses for a laugh, smirking with self-satisfaction.

    How nobody has entarted her I cannot guess.

    But this delivery is part of the reactionary pedagogy, part of the indoctrination. Irrationality, callousness, superficiality - the affection for all these are required to appreciate her performance, and there are rewards for appreciating it and costs to failing to do so.