In Romania, sexomarxists are a new category of people that face a hostile audience. They have all sorts of warts such as gender ideology, Marxism, gayness, the lack of authentic Romanian-ness, to name the most visible. They are a nuisance for those who defend Romanians and fight the colonial west and for the lovers of the west who are bothered by political correctness.
That’s not exactly the way to make friends, is it? They are like the not-so-cool high school friends that do not understand that you need to bring a flower to the history teacher to pass the exam. But these sexomarxists have their counterparts in Anglo-American academia. Such creatures are many and seem to ignore each other. McKenzie Wark’s book is not only about this ignorance, but also about an orientation to become sovereign in one’s own little landpiece of sexomarxology. The challenge of their (since Wark is a they) book is: can you imagine a mode of production that would move beyond one’s own version of critical theory? What would Žižek’s friends produce in common with gender anarchists who love Paul B. Preciado with Marxists who like Autonomistas who were born in neorealist Italy (such as Bifo Berardi) with technomarxists who do not believe in human agency? Wark is telling us, you need talk to your comrades who have spent at least twenty years fighting the same battles to produce something that could be called a general intellect.
General Intellects is like a version of a 1970s socialist Romanian film where the villain is accused of being too individualistic. Critical theorists are summoned in the manner of workers who type furiously in Beans and Dots to generate a new mode of production. A Romanian version of this experiment would be like calling contributors to Scena9 and Radio Romania Cultural to work with people from dezarticulat on the stage of OneWorld Romania, while they are critically assessed by both Macaz and Observator Cultural writers. Well, the answer to the experiment is as you can imagine: “not really”. Wark is willing to give it a try, but the cards are staked. The author already believe that the answer to the question is a technomarxism without too much human agency, yet they argue like they can reroute capitalism toward one’s egalitarian goals. From their standpoint, the other sexomarxists fail to make a dent in the violence of capitalism because they do not get it.
Why don’t they get it?
The first problem is Foucault. Wendy Brown is a critic of neoliberalism, but she does not understand that her Foucault-inspired critique of capitalism is part of a Cold War that produced the current state of things. Foucault is deeply complicit with a global anti-Marxism. Judith Butler has the other problem. Not Foucauldian enough, she does not understand that media produces bodies and affects that are already sampled for representation. The implication is that public protests such as Occupy are already capitalist because they are framed to represent capitalistic modes of acting and thinking. One thinker that seems to do something interesting is Preciado, who proposes queer and trans theory that does get capitalism. Free Fuck and Open Gender are possible because you can oppose disciplinary societies if you hack and become trans. In the end, critical theory such as Foucault’s and Deleuze’s is for Wark a secondary product of computer technologies: they are already a derivative of a code that we have not yet analyzed. The second problem is that autonomista Marxism is a dated version of a phone made for other modes of production. Paolo Virno works with passé categories such as human and living labor. Maurizio Lazzarato’s problem is that he talks about capitalist subjectivities but is too abstract to give us a map about current shifts in technology and subject change.
The book gestures to directions of thought that are worth pursuing. Who are Wark’s heroes? They are scholars who understand that human agency is overrated and capitalism can only be deturned collectively from its fetishistic embrace of exchange-value. Amy Wedling tells us that technology gives us the conditions of acting and resisting capital, and Karatani argues that organizing collectively and sharing information is a tactic to face global capitalism. Angela McRobbie suggests yarn bombing and street art, Paul Gilroy sees hybridization as an answer to the reification of race, Jodi Dean wants to build a symbolic (a Lacanian version, I assume) that can produce egalitarian and less hierarchical subjects, Galloway teaches us that computer technology can be hacked, Timothy Morton that we can see other objects that are not yet in our vision, Donna Haraway that we can perceive ourselves living in a world of small gods who are breaking constantly into each other.
The book is a collection of lectures on individual thinkers and can be read like that. Or not. What is significant in Wark’s approach is their call to forget Foucault, go back to the question of labor and technology, be skeptical about resistance to power, put your minimal trust in detournement and transpunk politics.
Would local sexomarxists like this book? Hard to say, probably not. It lacks any awareness about history and its colonial and imperial dynamics, so the Telciu people may not read it. It does not give a fuck about racialization and ethnicity, so decolonial and anti-racist theorists will raise an eyebrow. It does not mention much about the history of work, socialism and anti-communist witch-hunting, so local activists who explore Romanian socialism will find it not useful. The only group that could be interested would be media thinkers and artists who want to think with Marxist categories. And that’s why you are reading this review in Revista ARTA.
McKenzie Wark, General Intellects: Twenty-One Thinkers for the Twenty First Century is available in Romanian as Intelecte Generale: Douăzeci și unu de gânditori pentru secolul douăzeci și unu (Tracus Arte, 2018, translation coordinated by Vasile Mihalache).
Andrea Lieber is a critical sexomarxist theorist....