Sunday, December 21, 2008

James and Purposivity

Before doing anything with James and transnational readings of Facing Reality, I'd like to take a quick look at James on the concept of purposivity.

Now, it is clear to me that marxism (as a body of texts affiliated with the corpus of Marx, not as an official movement or organized set of interpretations) has difficulty with non-purpose driven modes of sociality. One thing I am interested in is a Heideggarian Marxism that would open up the ontological constitution of the subject to non-intending modes of being-in-the-world. Can labor coexist, say, with language as ontological determinants of a marxist subject? Perhaps not. The point, however, is that Marx, for me, took liberalism and liberal philosophy at its word in terms of its constitution of its subject. Corporate subjects (like classes) are either inert and mute, like potatoes in a sack, and therefore existent only in-themselves; or, they have been activated as purposive subjects and become for-themselves. Similarly, non-corporate sociality - like simple exchange - is also, for Marx, always already premised on relations of desire and purposeful interaction. One is never just with someone. Because of this subject constitution, vanguardism seems to me to be the inherent and ever-present risk in marxism itself.

But what if subjects were not merely constituted through purposivity; or, if purposivity were held to be a fiction? James of the early 40’s (and even through Notes on Dialectics, though there things begin to tilt into an organicist language) was self-conscious regarding the artificiality and exteriority of “purpose” to the entity that was being organized as purposive. That is, James did not imagine that a political purposivity naturally or essentially emerged from “the worker” once the worker had received his name (if we read naming as a moment of purpose/identity endowing). In a 1943 article on Sidney Hook, James takes issue with Hook’s characterization of Marxist historical philosophy. Hook, James writes, sees Marxism as endorsing a nearly theological teleology that is scientifically untenable; for Hook’s Marx, the proletarian’s purpose is inscribed in the fabric of time. James responds:
[An entity like a river] acts that way because that is its nature, and my business as a scientist is to examine that, and not look for the hand of God or any outside agency. On this use of “purpose”, both Hegel and Engels, as we see, had common ground. But both Marx and Hegel understood quite clearly that you could never finally prove this purpose or any necessity purely by empirical observation. […] As Engel’s says: “The empiricism of observation alone can never adequately prove necessity…. But the proof of necessity lies in human activity, in experiment, in work.” Could anything be simpler? (James 1943, 55)
“Purpose” is not verifiable as a fact within the world. The proof of the philosophical attribution of purposivity rests in changing the world itself. (Here James interprets the eleventh thesis.) The attribution of “purpose” establishes the agency of the actor (not “the hand of God or any outside agency”) and the necessity of the actor’s work within the world to make true the attribution of purpose. Establishing purpose is thus a program. It is, properly speaking, a fiction.

The question that I have, that I will address later, is this: does this fiction overcode the real of alternative socialities, and can these different modes of being-in-the-world gain recognition by a marxist politics? If the attribution of purposivity makes a class that was in-itself legible as for-itself, what do we make of the "pre-"purposive socialities catechrestically named as class "in-itself"? I ask this only because, as I think I showed below, James' post-trotskyist work extends the function of purpose-giving to the proletiat itself; the proletariat, in production, produces knowingly its own purpose (cf. Facing Reality, 78, 88, 109) This position is coterminous with James' increasing organicism. But can we think of politically actionable "inorganic" socialities violated by the fiction of purpose? James on race or anti-colonialism might be a way out here, but I'm not sure.

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