Subjectivation: Aufheben or Therapy?

I’ve just finished After the Future by Franco “Bifo” Berardi, a text that I loved for its effortless prose and ability to convey theoretical ideas with a refreshing sense of clarity. Bifo is an expert on Guattari, and so his whole approach to the question of subjectivity is premised on a non-dialectical approach, one that is anti-Hegelian. In the best section of the book, “Exhaustion and Subjectivity,” he makes the point that subjectivation in neoliberalism will only happen through therapy, and not through Hegelian Aufheben. This struck me as a curious point for a number of reasons.

But before we examine it, it’s important to say that subjectivation is an often vague term philosophers use to refer to a becoming subject–a theory of subjective modification, or change. Subjectivation isn’t always about an achieved or normative state, and nor is it a teleological status of becoming. For example, for Lacan and Badiou, subjectivation results in a certain weakness–a destitute state. This is why for Badiou, subjectivzation is an almost precarious position for the subject as the truth they are transformed by contains a certain power over them. Thus, we should not think of subjectivation as necessarily resulting in an Enlightenment sense of autonomy, having Kantian self-legislation as its modus operandi.

For starters, Bifo argues that Hegelian sublation is no longer operative based on the totalizing presence of neoliberalism. I don’t have the time to get into the history of anti-Hegelianism in French philosophy during the late 20th century, but it’s evident in Deleuze, Foucault, etc. The consequence for this discussion is that for Bifo, sublation is inoperable because the immanent system of neoliberalism has totally enveloped a subject’s capacity for autonomous resistance.

Another way to state this might be that resistance subjects the subject further. This is similar to Foucault’s basic notion of subjectivation, that there is always a process of subjectication in the act of resistance as such, that the apparatus subjects. But Bifo combines a bit of Foucault with a bit of late Marxism to a wider claim that neoliberalism has caused an affective paralysis that is leading to a wave of unprecedented psychopathies. This is a claim that he convincingly backs up with empirical research and studies that show how the new virtual proletariat, the “Precariat”, are facing such intense affective exhaustion, that we no longer have the capacity to keep one foot in the system, and one foot out. Finance capitalism has shown that it can restore its own vitality without lifting the social commons to a place of stability and restoration. The old Keynesian dream is dead. This is the horror and the pervasive face of death that neoliberal capitalism projects since it has relinquished its handmaiden of the actual people. It’s an often neglected point that neoliberalism has successfully severed its former mutual interdependency on social welfare. Does Keynes even have anything productive to say anymore now that this interdependency is gone?

To resist in the age of neoliberalism, we find the insurrection as the primary tool. But Bifo is pessimistic about the insurrections, and he sees a future dystopia where non-temporary autonomous zones are created that include disaffected but “cured” of neoliberalism and its demand for constant productivity into every sphere of life. This strikes me as a new version of the “turn on, tune in, drop out” motto of Timothy Lear and it also echoes privileged “intimate revolt anarchism.”

For Bifo, we no longer operate with a centered agent, but the “general intellect.” A lot is said about the general intellect, but it is an Marxian term that refers to how knowledge reaches a state of such abstract expansion that it subsumes subjects–at the level of the social and creates new forms of labor power based in technology. Bifo is influenced heavily by Felix Guattari and so he thinks the general intellect as a dispersed and de-centralized network that is no longer tied to a dialectical subject. This strikes me as highly problematic. It is problematic because his vision of a subject, and i.e. of subjectivation is one that is dependent on a radical tuning out and entering into a new space of pure life. This is reminiscent of Agamben’s “whatever being” in a way, but it is problematic because when it has been tried, it never seems to work. This sort of autonomous communal planning always results in a vague spiritualism, as we find with the current Zapatista movement.

The general intellect does not need a party, Bifo argues, because it does not have leaders that can speak on its behalf. Its primary call would be posed to citizens of the decaying neoliberal states in a negative fashion. Instead of: let’s build a new world together, it might be, you will have to join us because the depression, pain, and loss of vitality will reach such astronomical highs that your body will force you to tune out. This makes for good sci-fi, but bad leftist political philosophy.

But all of this is fine and dandy. It’s not the type of politics that I think we need. Personally, I lean towards a communist mode of resistance that is grounded in the creation of a new party, and not the resignation or quitting the system. What I am more interested in is this idea of how subjectivation will be built around therapy and not around the negation of the existing order in the future, or rather, in the time after the future, which is now.

In Hegel’s speculative philosophy, we find a certain therapeutic process of subjectivation, but it follows a much wider and more varied road. Of course this is not the place to write such a paper or study–Hegel’s therapeutic movement of spirit–but perhaps such a study should be written. Let’s start with a few brief thoughts.

Hegel writes in the Phenomenology of Spirit:

The Phenomenology is not a teleological development towards the reconciliation of all oppositions between consciousness and its objects, to the abolition of ‘natural’ consciousness as such, but a speculative presentation of the perceptual deformations of natural consciousness (Phenomenology, 159 – 160).

The need for a phenomenology of natural consciousness is justified as one of the determinations of substance, but in modern times, the abstract form of thought is, “already prepared” as Hegel says. The problem is arises because the universal does not emerge from the concrete, but:

The labour [of bringing about the universal] consists not so much of purifying the individual from an immediate sensuous mode and making him into a thought and thinking substance, but more in the opposite in actualizing and inspiring the universal by removing, fixed, determinate thoughts (Phenomenology, 302).

Thus, the phenomenology is about bringing fixed thoughts into fluidity. As Jean-Luc Nancy points out, when Hegel says “We”, he is speaking to the philosopher, and he is also speaking to the very movement of spirit, which is a universal movement and also a birth of new modes of subjectivity. The concept of subjectivation in Hegel is multi-layered, historically determined, and highly complex, if not also very contradicting. For example, what he says in the Jena Lectures compared to the Phenomenology, and in the System of Ethical Life are all often very different.

What Nancy stresses in his excellent book on Hegel, Hegel: The Restlessness of the Negative, is that the passing away of spirit is based in relieving consciousness. Indeed, this is what the history of spirit is about. What’s essential in this movement is that the ego has to be induced to give up the fixity of its self-positing, not by leaving itself out, but by giving itself up. As Gillian Rose points out, it is about giving up the idea that determination is merely differentiation, a creation and extension of the ego.

So we find Hegel’s movement of spirit, the realization of the consciousness always follows a path of despair that “is not negative, because while natural consciousness may not grasp the necessary connection between its first and subsequent objects, we can grasp it, and hence the experience is formative for us” (Phenomenology, 163). As Hegel says:

To know fully the determination of consciousness, what is posited must be known as having an immediate being too, not as put there by us, but as what determines itself as us and is there in the determination (Phenomenology, 194).


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