My latest article examines the material history of Foucault’s relationship to revolutionary politics. Excerpt: “The contradiction that I would like to elucidate is that of the radical recuperator, meaning the intellectual who appears radical in certain circles but whose primary social function is to recuperate truly radical critique within the extant system, thereby policing the left border of critique. What interests me first and foremost, then, is how Foucault’s work—like that of other French theorists, but often with more political panache and historical flair than Derrida, Deleuze, Lacan, and co.—has played an important role in a much larger historical reconfiguration: the great ideological realignment of the Western intelligentsia, which took a gradual but decisive step to the right by distancing itself from anti-capitalist revolutionary politics. In order to see how this process unfolded in the case of Foucault, which of course involved myriad forces and was nowise due to him alone, it will be helpful to lay out and contextualize the evolution of his mercurial politics. This will allow us to bring to the fore a clear pattern and identify the man behind the many masks.” [read more]
My review of Massimiliano Tomba’s latest book, Insurgent Universality: An Alternative Legacy of Modernity, is just out in Political Theory. Click here to read it online (if you have access), or here to download a pdf.
The article I co-authored with Jennifer Ponce de León, “Toward a Compositional Model of Ideology: Materialism, Aesthetics, and Cultural Revolution,” was just published here in Philosophy Today. If you do not have access and would like to read it, a pdf is available here.
Abstract: This article sets forth a compositional model of ideology by drawing on the tradition of historical materialism and further developing its insights into the aesthetic composition of reality. It demonstrates how ideology is not simply a set of false beliefs but is rather the process by which social agents are composed over time in every dimension of their existence, including their thoughts, practices, perceptions, representations, values, affects, desires, and unconscious drives. By working through a number of diverse debates and authors—ranging from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to Louis Althusser, Eduardo Galeano, Rosaura Sánchez, and Paulo Freire—it thereby elucidates how ideology is best understood as an aesthetic process that includes every aspect of sense and sense-making, and that therefore requires a collective, cultural revolution as its antidote.
Key words: ideology, aesthetics, commodity fetishism, materialism, Marxism, ideology critique, conscientização, cultural revolution
The intellectual world is by no means immune to this logic [of the cult of novelty]. A preoccupation with the latest trends drives the global theory industry, which packages and sells what it proclaims to be cutting-edge contributions to thinking. Knowledge that is scientifically anchored in deep, collective traditions—such as the materialist heritage of Marxism and anarchism—is often considered to be vulgar and passé, unless it is spiced up with modish vocabulary, references to the established brands of the star system, and deferential homage to the totems of trendiness. Although these structures and tendencies are more difficult for some to see in the products of high culture than in their low culture equivalents, it is important to recognize that this is due to the very social logic of “high” culture, which brands itself as free from vulgar determinants like class and consumerism. However, aside from this marketing exception—or, rather, this marketing of exceptionalism—the patterns are largely the same.
This pressing and frenetic temporality of consumerism—which in the case of intellectual production consistently peddles “the latest” rather than “the truest”—complements the capitalist urgency of short-term gains. Long-term consequences, like ecocide or the destruction of human life, are of no importance to the imperative of making as much as possible, as quickly as possible. “In every stock-jobbing swindle,” Karl Marx presciently wrote, “everyone knows that some time or other the crash must come, but everyone hopes that it may fall on the head of his neighbor, after he himself has caught the shower of gold and placed it in secure hands. Après moi le déluge! is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. Capital therefore takes no account of the health and the length of life of the worker, unless society forces it to do so.” Continue reading
My latest article, “Foucault, Genealogy, Counter-History,” was just published here in Theory & Event (click here for a pdf). It is the result of long years of wrestling with genealogy in Foucault and Nietzsche, discovering its enormous limitations, and attempting to elaborate a materialist counter-history that both overcomes them and allows for a more politically trenchant form of historical critique.
This article examines the force and limitations of genealogy in order to develop a practice of counter-history that is capable of both overcoming its inherent problems and providing a more trenchant mode of critico-historical engagement. Using Foucault’s well-known essay on Nietzsche as its methodological centerpiece, it begins by elucidating the latter’s powerful contribution to the historical analysis of values, while also foregrounding the quasi-naturalized morality of genealogy that structures it. Against this backdrop, it examines Foucault’s symptomatological distinction between two opposed and normativized conceptions of origin in Nietzsche—Herkunft and Ursprung—in order to both explicate Foucault’s unique appropriation of Nietzschean genealogy and demonstrate its limits through the striking fact that this originary textual symptom of “properly Nietzschean” genealogy does not actually exist in the text. The remainder of the article draws on certain genealogical resources while challenging the historical order undergirding them in order to propose an alternative logic of history that takes into account its constitutive multidimensionality and the multiplicity of agencies at work in any conjuncture. It dismantles, in this way, the very framework that renders historical origins possible, as well as streamlined moral narratives of genealogical inversion, thereby parting ways with the moralities of genealogy in favor of the politicization of values.
“Given the individualist, libertarian tenor of Foucault’s work, his genealogical anti-morality tales are more keyed to personal, local and partial modifications than to systemic political changes, particularly those that are revolutionary and anti-capitalist. Care of self, we might say, generally superseded care of society, at the risk of developing parasitic practices that could only work within given systems rather than radically reconfigure them. Indeed, he preferred the interstitial work of the ‘specific intellectual’ who intermittently drew on his particular areas of expertise to intercede in public debate (rather than being consistently dedicated to collective political organizing). In this sense, he follows Nietzsche in understanding genealogy as a moral project of historical introspection. Although it might, and often does, contain certain political elements in its diagnoses, it is generally opposed to—and normatively codes as ‘bad’—the systemic remedy of collective social action.”
Excerpt: “The credibility crisis of the Macron regime is thus connected to a broader legitimacy crisis for the international system of pseudo-representative governments working for the capitalist class. As William I. Robinson has explained in books like Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity, the transnational elite has sought to establish a neoliberal consensus in the era of globalization, which has required the mobilization of a social base that consensually supports it. Although the ruling class has succeeded in integrating the upper-echelons of society and organic intellectuals through ideological and material rewards, the system of global capitalist accumulation has simultaneously undermined the basis for wider hegemonic rule by stripping the popular classes of the material base necessary for their consent. In this regard, the widespread discontent with Macron’s “government of the rich” is indicative of a broader crisis of legitimacy for the global elite technocracy, which is tasked with maintaining or increasing capitalist accumulation while pacifying or subduing all of those who suffer from it.”
I was interviewed by Jennifer Ponce de León about my book Counter-History of the Present, and how it relates to genealogy, deconstruction and anticolonial theory. Click here for a link to the interview, and here for a pdf. The title of the interview is “Materialist Deconstruction, Anticolonial Geographies, and the Limits of Genealogy: An Interview on Counter-History of the Present.”
In this wide-ranging interview, Gabriel Rockhill discusses his most recent book, Counter-History of the Present, in the broader context of his research to date on aesthetics, politics and history, as well as its relationship to important interlocutors like Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Rancière, Jacques Derrida, Frantz Fanon and Simone de Beauvoir. He explains the similarities and important differences between genealogy and counter-history, and he elucidates how his work performs a materialist deconstruction that contests the idealist logocentrism operative in purely textualist modes of interpretation. The interview also develops an account of “radical geography” that calls into question culturalist spatial imaginaries, which plague certain forms of decolonial theory that diminish or efface social stratification and class conflict. The discussion thereby contributes to the development of a new model for critical social theory with an internationalist perspective, which seeks to weave these conceptual innovations into a rigorous and radical materialism.
I was pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to a series in State of Nature on the Yellow Vests. All articles in the series were tasked with responding to the question: “What is the significance of the Gilets Jaunes movement?” Click here to read my reply (also copied below).
The Gilets Jaunes are significant for at least four reasons. First and foremost, they are a grassroots social movement that has arisen in reaction to the ongoing onslaught of global capitalism. The fact that this movement emerged outside of the representational structures that generally serve to support this system – including the professional political parties of parliamentary pseudo-democracy and the bureaucratised unions – indicates the extent to which these structures themselves, with few exceptions, have not been able to successfully mobilise and empower the working classes, but have instead managed their discontent. Continue reading
I’m honored by this Farsi translation of my latest article in the Los Angeles Review of Books’ “The Philosophical Salon,” entitled “The Failure of the French Intelligentsia? Intellectuals and Uprisings in the Case of the Yellow Vests.” A special thanks to my comrades in the Radical Education Department, as well as to Rahman Bouzari and Saleh Najafi!
I was pleased to be able to contribute to Ty Joplin’s excellent article on the Yellow Vests, which elucidates how the media spectacle around “violence” has obscured class struggle.
Excerpt: “Instead of taking activists seriously and discussing their demands for greater equality, thereby informing the public about what is actually at stake, the media construct an enormous spectacle out of ‘violence’ in order to present the movement as savage, irrational, and intent on destroying the very foundations of society,” Gabriel Rockhill, an Associate Professor of philosophy at Villanova University who also runs the Critical Theory Workshop in Paris, told Al Bawaba.
“Moreover, the production of this spectacle of violence also serves as cover for the greatest purveyor of violence in France today: the capitalist state and its repressive apparatus.”