Jodi Dean

“For the left to be able to make a break we have to speak a language that is not already the one we’re in”, political scientist Jodi Dean states in an interview in Krisis – Journal for contemporary philosophy. What she’s referring to are the contemporary calls for more ‘direct democracy’, as an alternative for the worldwide failing electoral regimes of representative or even participatory democracy. Calls for democracy, without asserting the class basis of societies, only lead to a reinforcement of what she calls ‘neoliberal fantasy’. “... democracy is a kind of ambient milieu, it’s the air we breathe, everything is put in terms of democracy nowadays. [-] ... the rhetoric of democracy is particularly strong now in the way in which it is combined with the form of capitalism I call ‘communicative capitalism’, where ideals of inclusion and participation, of making one’s voice heard and one’s opinion known are also used by T-Mobile and Apple. Participation ends up being the answer to everything.”

However, since the rise of post-structuralism we know: as far as reality is discursive, any critical discourse will participate in the construction of the world it describes or criticizes. A discourse that positions itself in contradiction to a dominant structure is already integrated in the discontinuity and complexity of existing discourses. For the Internationale Situationniste this was the main question: is a resistance possible that cannot be recuperated in the society of spectacle?

Guy Debord’s answer was: “It is obvious that no idea can lead beyond the existing spectacle, but only beyond the existing ideas on the spectacle”. And so yes, criticism can be spectacularized or commodified by separating it from the practice it advocates and placing it in the petrified ahistoricism of the spectacle, as philosopher Sadie Plant once wrote, but this does not mean that there is no possibility of using these constructions to think beyond the ends to which they are presently employed, if one acknowledges the historical consciousness of the possibility of their authentic realisation. [A bit problematic, this last part of the sentence, since it would imply that there exists something like an authentic realisation – but that’s another story.]

Accepting that the language and values with which criticism is expressed are defined by the existing social and discursive relations only enforces the need for a critical attitude to all existing conceptualisations and values, since these are necessarily the tools with which the existing reality must be undermined and which must be used against the structures within which they have developed. And Jodi Dean’s suggestion of a renewed use of the term ‘communism’ is not really convincing when it comes to deciding between choosing “a language that is not already the one we’re in” or a terminology that is enclosed “in the construction of the world it describes or criticizes”.

See the next contribution on this blog.