Friday, May 01, 2009

He Might As Well Have Said He Was Hungry

"Maureen: (getting less confused and quite interested): You mean to say that Socrates talks philosophy, knowing that he is going to die?

Leslie: Weird! A professor who talks and talks although he knows that the executioners are waiting for him, right outside his classroom. How does it all hang together?

Seidenberg (excited): Not only that. The two main characters of the dialogue Professor Cole wants to read with us, Theaetetus and Theodorus, were historical figures, both outstanding mathematicians. And Theaetetus, it says in the introduction, has been severly wounded in a battle and shortly after died from dysentery... there is an 'existential dimension' as one might call it - the way in which the entire conversation is inserted into extreme situations of real life. I feel this is very different from large parts of modern philosophy where you analyse only the logical properties of concepts and think that is all that can be said about them.

David (hesitatingly): I have read the dialogue because I wanted to be prepared for this class. I, too, wondered about the ending. But I don't see that it has any effect on the debate. The debate sounds very much like a philosophy class I just had; there is somebody who says that knowledge is experience...

Dr Cole: Perception...

David: ...well, that knowledge is perception, somebody else has counter-examples and so on. True, the dialogue is a little long-winded - but one doesn't notice anything about death in it. At the end Socrates suddenly says he has to go to court. He might as well have said he is hungry and wants to have dinner. At any rate, this seems just to be added for effect, it doesn't give any existential dimension to the concepts." -- Paul Feyerabend, Three Dialogues On Knowledge (1991)
I have some books written in prison. Antonio Negri's Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grundrisse, including the 1991 author's preface to the English translation, are written in circumstances beyond my understanding of Italian politics. The book, apparently, is based on lectures Negri gave in the mid 1970s to the École Normale in Paris. He was there at the invitation of Louis Althusser, in exile from Italy, under charges of having incited a riot in Padua.

This is, I gather, before Althusser murdered his wife by running her over. I never got much out of Althusser's For Marx. It seemed to me all methodological preliminaries, never illustrating or demonstrating that these preliminaries were worthwhile.

Negri's later introduction to the English edition is written from prison. I gather he was found guilty of having conspired with the Red Brigades to have kidnapped and murdered Aldo Moro, an Italian ex-prime minister. Negri's group was Potere Operaio (Worker's Power), not the Red Brigades.

I might as well summarize my understanding of the point of Autonomia. For Negri, previous Marxisms depicted workers as objects reacting to the machinations of capital, never as subjects initiating history themselves. Negri emphasizes the subjectivity of workers imprisoned throughout their lives, not just during their work time. Subjectivities will be organized around, for instance, ethnicity and gender, not just class. You can see how this is relevant to debates over Marx's outlines for Capital, whether he ever abandoned his plan for a volume on wages, and just did not get around to that volume. But I don't fully understand either Marx Beyond Marx or the more recent Empire.

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