It was very considerate of Nina Power to publish an article on Rancière, Feuerbach and the early Marx just when I’ve been trying to figure out this relationship, and so when I’m in a position to take advantage of her very clear discussion. One thing that’s not clear to me, though, is the relationship between universality, which was the central term for the Young Hegelians, and equality, which is the central term for Rancière. Nina seems to consider the two terms to be more-or-less interchangeable, but I think there’s a crucial difference between the two. The distinction is what Marx calls:
a question of the opposition of the universal as ‘form’, in the form of universality, and the universal as ‘content’.
A certain brand of socialist is obsessed with refuting the purported right-wing claim that socialism would socialize your toiletries, forcing you to share your toothbrush. I’m not sure any opponent of socialism has ever actually made such a claim (from what I can find, it appears to originate with 19th-century socialists attempting to distance themselves from communism), but given the craziness of arguments advanced against socialism it’s not entirely implausible.
But the coincidence of the Twitter NHS love and the latest communique from the Socialist Lavatory League got me thinking. There’s an interesting similarity to the socialism of the public toilet and the NHS, in that both involve the coincidence of public provision and a very particular bodily intimacy. This is actually quite uncommon, though other examples might include soviet communal apartments, collective canteens, and Dominic’s proposed nationalized strip clubs. I wonder if this socialization of biological need isn’t a kind of zero-degree of socialism. The need to defend against imagined socialized toothbrushes would then be a sign of a deep anxiety about socialism itself.
“You are doubtless like myself, you all have the same terrifying and tedious depths,” ads without products quotes Flaubert, reminding me of something in Graham Harman’s Guerilla Metaphysics:
In addition to being charmed by objects, we ourselves want to emulate them, and wish to charm the world. It is simply not the case that our fundamental wish is to be viewed as dignified free subjects with a chance to speak at the microphone of the universal assembly…. The kind of recognition we would prefer is always far more specific, since we often feel ourselves to be so painfully mutable that any specific role will do…. The one book that all of us would approach with greatest interest, that no human in history would be able to resist opening, would be a book of anecdotes about ourselves as told by other people. The appeal of such a book would not lie in some sort of grotesque human vanity, but in our wish to be something definite, a desire at least as great as our desire to be free. There is a profound need to escape the apparently infinite flexible subjectivity within, which feels far more amorphous to us than to anyone else.
Contrary to the usual view, what we really want is to be objects.
I do like Harman’s description of the “painful mutability” of subjectivity. This pain is compounded by the illusion that we are the only people to experience this mutability: so often everyone else seems to be exactly themselves, with the terrifying and tedious depths confined to ourselves alone. Would it be wrong to see this as one of the ways in which we experience the existence of inaccessible depths in objects? Read more↴