Power, powerlessness, entropy and dissent. A manifesto by de Lagasnerie and Louis & response by Stiegler

Over on the LA Review of Books site there is a really interesting sort of ‘call and response‘ debate, in which Geoffrey de Lagasanerie (Prof. of Philosophy at ÉNS) and Edouard Louis (author) offer a manifesto for counter-acting a perceived capturing of politics by a kind of right-wing intellectualism (this was originally published in Le Monde, and translated for LARB), to which Bernard Stiegler (philosopher & activist) offers a forthright response (translated for LARB).

de Lagasanerie and Louis observe:

Against this massive political-intellectual dynamic [populism, Islamophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, antisemitism], a general mood is established. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there are many today who make their living off of this disarray and sadness. To experience politics, for most of us now, is to experience powerlessness.

and offer a kind of manifesto, or set of principles, in response: to refuse to recognise particular ideologues; to recognise refugees and racists alike as what they are rather than bow to a perceived deception; to ‘redistribute shame’ by making those on the far-right understand that their remarks are worthy of nothing but contempt; and finally: to intervene, wherever possible. They argue that:

…we cannot just lament the situation without questioning the means of creating new structures. In fact, all hope is not lost: the Zemmours and Houellebecqs are bent on denying what they really are, and lying. The left continues to dominate symbolically. In France, “intellectual right” remains an oxymoron, better still: an impossibility. We must at least rejoice in that.

In response, Bernard Stiegler opposes the sweeping generalisation of the identification of any kind of ‘intellectual’ which for him validates a kind of proleterianisation (after Marx) that is (in fact) a loss of knowledge (regardless of class position):

In the first place, for any thinking that claims to think powerlessness (and “to say things other than what is already agreed”), the common noun “intellectual” (“an intellectual,” “intellectuals”) must not only be the subject of critique, but should be scrupulously avoided. […] The figure of “the intellectual” is an unfortunate invention that unquestioningly internalizes the opposition between “manual workers” and “intellectuals,” […] Behind all this lies proletarianization, which today affects all forms of knowledge, and firstly as a destruction of knowledge – of how to live, do, and conceptualize.

Stiegler moves on to discuss how the issue of powerlessness not only stems from the issues that de Lagasnerie & Louis diagnose but are, further, entrenched and tied up with these forms of proletarianisation (losses of knowledge), in which even those apparently radical thinkers on the left are somewhat complicit (with a particular withering for Badiou). It is worth quoting at length here:

Geoffroy de Lagasnerie and Edouard Louis deplore the absence of intellectual debate. For my part I deplore that, like Manuel Valls, they have apparently never heard either of Pharmacologie du Front National or of States of Shock – in which I argue that so-called “post-structuralism” has significantly contributed, in France and elsewhere, to the legitimation first of neoliberal discourse and then libertarian discourse, the libertarians being those who are the practitioners of disruption.

This is occurring not only because “intellectuals” yield to the drive-based ideology of the extreme right as it continues to gain ground. It is because there is no thought of the present age worthy of the name – and here, where I am resolutely “on the left,” I would never say that such a thought “worthy of the name” would necessarily be on the left.

The “intellectuals,” whether of the “left” or the “right,” are stuck in an antiquated opposition between “intellectual” and “manual” that refers in a more profound way to the opposition between logos and tekhne against which Marx fought, and which he posited as the basis of the ideology that was then called “bourgeois.” This has largely been forgotten, in particular by the heirs of Althusser and firstly by Alain Badiou. For the consequence lies in the fact that, contrary to what Badiou’s hero, Plato, wants to prove, knowledge is always constituted by technics, which in so doing always constitutes a social relation.

In this forgetting of the technological composition (in all of the meanings of that word) of society and humanity we fail to recognise the context of what is variously (by politicians and technologists alike) referred to as ‘disruption’. Stiegler argues (somewhat) in passing here, and in greater detail elsewhere, that this is precisely what is stake in coming to know/understand the ‘anthropocene’. He discusses how this relates to contemporary feelings of powerlessness through the trope of entropy/negentropy – which he has been working with across various books (some of which have recently been translated and some which are still to be translated):

Entropy is becoming, devenir. Negentropy is what inscribes within it a future, avenir. Becoming and future have until today been confused. It is this confusion that makes us powerless, and it is what the impasse of the Anthropocene reveals. Such a perspective is also an immense building site for intellectual construction – open to all those who still have the ability to think for themselves, rather than vainly repeat received ideas.

These two articles are well worth a read, they offer an interesting counter-poise to anglophone debates about the multiple ‘crises’ in Europe (of refugees, of the rise of the far-right, of the capitulation of democracy to technocracy etc. etc.). Plus they’re good fun to read 🙂

Manifesto for an Intellectual and Political Counteroffensive by Geoffroy de Lagasnerie & Edouard Louis, translated by Adam Briscoe.

Power, Powerlessness, Thinking, and Future by Bernard Stiegler, translated by Daniel Ross.

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