Discussion Notes from the April 20, 2016 meeting
Nature, Labor, Science, and Utopia
Led by Kristin Romberg
- How can Wark’s philosophical (and sometimes aggravating) approach supplement a more archival approach?
- How does “struggle” factor in? He posits class struggle as almost a mask for the real struggle (against the Carbon Liberation Front). Does this minimize the proletariat, the group that Bogdanov and therefore Wark, claims to focus on?
- What can we gain from ideas about ‘low theory” and restructuring systems of knowledge? Why look at elites to think about restructuring knowledge? Why not look at the proletarians themselves?
- What’s the meaning of the title? Molecular is presented in contrast to molar, and can also be used to apply to forms of socialism; red can apply to many themes: communism, blood, Bogdanov’s own work on Mars, Mars in general.
- Bogdanov wrote about organizing the working class, but to what extent is such a system desirable? In last month’s discussion of Howard, we questioned to what extent residents supported the creation of spaces like the Garden City; does the same tension apply here?
- What is Wark’s idea about totality? How do indigenous studies challenge this definition (as seen in Todd’s work)? How do we balance questions of the particularities versus the totalities (the molecular versus the molar)? In terms of urban planning, how do we balance the concerns of areas being brought under the umbrellas of cities with the question of the future of the whole city? How do we balance competing voices?
- How can a conception of the totality bring together the competing ideas that (1) there should be unity but (2) there are competing threads within that unity and these threads may run counter to each other? This requires constant compromise, which means there are no constant definitions.
- Totality can imply that all the molecular components are equal, which is refuted by archival evidence (e.g., members of the working class have very distinct voices/opinions/experiences). How do we balance the complexity of individual experience (a complexity that Bogdanov himself often steam-rolled over)? And isn’t the act of having multiple viewpoints (multiple suns?) in itself a part of the utopian vision that Bogdanov claimed to want?
- How does the debate over molecular versus molar connect to the topic of anthropocene? How does Wark link it in using labor practices?
- Does intentionality matter in Wark’s argument? Does it matter why people act the way that they do?
- To what extent is the anthropocene linked to capitalism? To what extent is it linked in Wark’s analysis? How is the anthropocene differentiated from the earlier age, the holosene?
- To what extent is Wark’s vision utopian? His reading of the anthropocene as the end of pre-history implies this epoch isn’t the end of time. (Or is it actually deeply depressing, and the anthropocene can be read as anthropocide?)
- What does Wark’s affiliation with the Situationist International tell us about his positionality? Can we read this as parody? Or is it too humorless? His book argues for the need for “vulgar Marxism” and simplistic definitions, but his work does the exact opposition and deliberate obscures the subject matter.
- Wark seems to be promoting the idea of proletarian involvement in solving the question of the anthropocene, but to what extent do people need significant amounts of training to involve themselves in these debates? How does that contribute to blocking off non-elites from the realm of debating/questioning issues of climate change?
- How is Wark limited by relying on translations? Does that prevent him from understanding either the nuances or even the main points of Bogdanov and Platonov? Wark is interested in moving laterally across fields without becoming an expert (using metaphors to find analogies and basing analysis off of that), but that means he doesn’t bring in sources that he should. How do those deficiencies affect his ultimate analysis?
- Industrial, urban environments are not those who have the most intimate interactions with the environment; peasants and agricultural do. To what extent does Wark’s analysis subtly highlight the urban, the mechanized, the proletarian to the exclusion of the peasant? Does it only become important when climate change affects not only the peasant, but also the worker and the city?
- Wark uses the Marxian idea of metabolic rift: the idea that industrialization disrupts a natural cycle, and that it is impossible to put back the excess that have been pulled out. This was originally applied to surpluses in products, but Wark uses it to discuss environmental processes.
- Writers have pointed to the same idea about disruption and rift (Rasputin in the 1970s, Solzhenitsyn), but they’ve been classified as anti-Soviet, because they link those ideas back to the mechanization of the Soviet project.