Horseless Carriages - Theoretical Fundamentalism - Immaterial Labor

Immaterial Labor - Scholz/Krysa - Rear-view Mirror of Theory

An addendum to our previous post - immaterial labor as epiphenomena

An addendum to our addendum.

Because of the length of our response to a recent comment concerning the above posts, we decided to turn the exchange into a post:

Nate said...

I don't understand - presumably historicizing involves reference to the past. Right? If not, then what does it mean? Can you name any properly historicized theory which avoids your concern about 'looking through the rearview mirror'?


Nate, thanks for the questions...

To "properly historicize" means understanding the context in which various concepts and terms come into use. Language in and of itself is "historical" in a very general sense (or involves reference to the past, as you put it), but the specific implementation of linguistic and conceptual terms within the framework of a theory has a more specific history than that sort of "legacy."

So what the various posts are getting at is a fundamental suspicion of theories that apply themselves to the world rather than allowing the world to act on them - what might be called "theoretical fundamentalism." Psychoanalytic theory tends to be an easy target here, having invented a whole range of concepts (ego, id, castration, etc.)that it then reveals lurking in films, politics, etc. Marxism too has its organizing myths seeing production and labor everywhere. Mapping the world using these specialized tools is certainly useful in certain contexts, but we just like to keep in mind that they are specialized, very partial, and historically bound views and that they are maps after all. Or to return to Baudrillard in reference to Marxism:

"Historical materialism, dialectics, modes of production, labor power - through these concepts Marxist theory has sought to shatter the abstract universality of the concepts of bourgeois thought...Yet Marxism in turn universalizes them with a 'critical' imperialism as ferocious as the other's."

"...Thus, to be logical the concept of history must itself be regarded as historical, turn back on itself...Instead, in Marxism history is transhistoricized: it redoubles on itself and is universalized."

"As soon as they [critical concepts] are constituted as universal they cease to be analytical and the religion of meaning begins. They become canonical and enter the general system's mode of theoretical representation."

And we can also appeal back to the "plain" language example of the different qualitative features between "horseless carriage" which makes sense of a new phenomena by directly invoking the old, and "automobile" which creates a new description altogether, admittedly grafting together "old" terms, but employing them in a very different way.