The Red Critique


The Poverty of (Post)Humanities

Teresa L. Ebert

Since the collapse in the early 1970s of the Keynesian compromise that had fashioned labor relations in the United States after the Second World War, the humanities have been undergoing changes that have transformed them into versions of (post)humanities—humanities without humanism. These changes have been necessary in order for the humanities to more effectively teach new reading strategies to the upcoming labor force. These new practices of reading interpret the social world in such a way that the workforce "looks upon the requirements" of capitalism "as self-evident natural laws" (Marx, Capital. Vol. I. 899). For a workforce to be proficient under capitalism, it not only has to have technical expertise but also to instinctively recognize the capitalist system as the "very Eden of the innate rights of man" and the "exclusive realm of Freedom, Equality [and] Property" (Marx 280). The task of the humanities under capitalism has been to develop an up-to-date interpretive unconscious in working people by which they spontaneously grasp the everyday through cultural meanings and values that naturalize capitalism and wage labor as the way things are and ought to be. "In bourgeois society the school has three principal tasks to fulfill." The first, and perhaps the most important, is that it "inspires the coming generation of workers with devotion and respect for the capitalist regime" (Bukharin and Peobrazhensky 228).

The interpretive unconscious, in other words, is consciously taught. The main strategies of post-Keynesian pedagogy in constructing the interpretive unconscious are ways of reading cultural texts that produce the meanings, ideals, and principles through which working people learn how to interpret the exchange of their labor power for wages as the sign of "their own free will" and understand it as if "They contract as free persons, who are equal before the law" (Marx, Capital. Vol. I. 280).

Interpretation is the centering pedagogy of the (post)humanities, whose main task is to displace revolutionary class struggles with social change through interpretive conflicts. Marx's maxim, "philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it" (Marx, "Theses on Feuerbach" 8, emphasis in the original), is now rewritten by bourgeois (post)humanities as "philosophers have only described the world in various ways; the moment now has arrived to interpret it" (Vattimo and Zabala 5, emphasis in the original). The task of (post)humanities is to "have truth dissolved into its own interpretations" (6); to make the objective social relations—how the accumulation of capital is the effect of the extraction of surplus labor at the point of production—disappear in interpretations. In this essay, I analyze some of the formative philosophico-political assumptions of the posthumanities and their roots in the humanities since the mid-century. I examine how they structure the contemporary interpretive unconscious and, by normalizing it, enable the North Atlantic cultural left to normalize capitalism.

What is traditionally referred to as the "humanities" are critiqued in contemporary "left" theories in the global North as representational pedagogies that are grounded in idealist theories of a referential notion of language and its metaphysical twin in which the human is represented as a coherent being with a self-same identity, whom Descartes, in the "second Meditation," calls "a thing which thinks"—res cogitans. Humanism is seen as depicting the human as an autonomous subject who knows, a self-reflexive agent of free will and self-determination, and thus as distinct from the non-human. The human in humanism is considered to be the bearer of a universal essence that is the ground, for instance, of human rights, morality, and struggles against racism—"rights" that are based on essentialism. The humanities—as knowing the universal and universal knowing are said to treat culture as a spiritual universal and ignore its self-difference. "What is proper to culture," however, according to Derrida, is

not to be identical to itself. Not to not have an identity, but not to be able to identify itself, to be able to say, "me" or "we"; to be able to take the form of a subject only in the non-identity to itself or,… only in the difference with itself [avec soy]. There is no culture or cultural identity without this difference with itself. (The Other Heading 9)

The undoing of in-difference decenters humanism by what Derrida calls "différance" (with an "a"). Difference writes itself into the universal and breaks the binaries that underlie its essentialism, separating human and non-human (Derrida, The Animal That Therefore I Am, Latour, We Have Never Been Modern); it becomes a beginning for the transformation of the humanities into a posthumanities.

The "post" is not temporal (not an after that is more advanced than the before). It is the difference of humanism-and-its-humanities from themselves. Posthumanities, in other words, are not the binary opposition of humanism-and-its-humanities with their own stable self-same identity. Rather posthumanities and humanism/humanities are each other's "dangerous supplement" (Derrida, Of Grammatology p141-64). I thus will put the "post" in parentheses to refer to both humanities and posthumanities.

This essay is a critique of the underlying theories of the (post)humanities beginning with a re-understanding of the very concept of humanism. Humanism, I argue, should be understood not in bourgeois terms as a mode of knowing but as a mode of owning—a regime of private property. In his The Metaphysics of Morals, to point to some of the ways humanism has been used as an ideology of private property, Kant regards the right to private property to be an innate human right: "someone who affects" my property, "without my consent... affects and diminishes what is internally mine (my freedom)" (§6:250). The right to property, according to Kant, is inclusive: it is not simply "holding" which is an "empirical way of thinking of possession, but rather the concept of having, in which abstraction is made from all spatial and temporal conditions and the object is thought of only as under my control" (§6:253).

In contrast, Marxist humanism is a materialist (post)humanism: it unties the human from class relations (property relations), which is the human's "return to himself as a social being" (Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 296). Humanism, in its materialist sense, is communism, which is "The most radical rupture with traditional property relations" (Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party 504). Thus "post" in materialist (post)humanism is the "post" of sublation.

The "differance" in bourgeois (post)humanities, in other words, is itself an idealist notion that is not situated in the social relations of production but in a discursive move "between the e and the a" that "eludes both vision and hearing" and thus "no longer belongs to sensibility. But neither can it belong to intelligibility" and "resists the opposition" (Derrida, Margins of Philosophy 5). It is therefore not difference from another (that would assume two self-same identities) but difference within the same—difference, in other words, as self-difference, the non-correlation of one with itself. The difference that as differance decenters the humanities is "Différance [as] the non-full, non-simple, structured and differentiating origin of differences. Thus, the name 'origin' no longer suits it" (11). Although Derridean deconstruction, as Slavoj Zizek puts it, "is fading away" (Parallax View 11) in cultural theory, his theoretical proposal and writings form "the continuing preoccupation of our work" (Butler, "Finishing, Starting" 291).

By making the "post" (in parentheses) a prefix for both humanism and posthumanism, I argue that both—bourgeois humanities and posthumanities—are local versions of the same global interpretive strategies that, through reading texts of culture, produce meanings and cultural values that normalize capitalism.


One—Bartleby, the Agrammatical

Contemporary (post)humanities displace explanations of texts of culture with descriptions of the text's immanent excess of meaning. They suspend the text's mediation by its material conditions and invoke instead the immediate sensuousness of the body, language, and affect. In place of conceptual analysis, they pursue interpretative "traces" and obscure the dialectics of texts and the social relations of productions. (Post)humanities are a tropic, anti-conceptual and reductive humanities that turn away from a militant critique of the ruling ideas (that are, as Marx and Engels remind us, always the ideas of the ruling class) toward a humanities of the "sumptuous… signifier" (Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text 65). The transformation of the humanities, like change in all social practices, is an effect of the development of new relations between labor and capital.

The humanities have always been the training ground for the labor force in class societies, and modern humanities have formed and re-formed in response to shifts in the labor needs of capitalism. I examine here some of the interpretive strategies, tropes and concepts that different configurations of the humanities since the mid-20th century—from New Critical humanist humanities to contemporary posthumanist humanities—have deployed to educate the labor force so that, in Marx's words, the workers look "upon the requirements" of capitalism as "self-evident natural laws" (Marx, Capital. Vol. I 899). To take labor relations in capitalism as self-evident, the labor force is taught different interpretive strategies at different moments in the development of capitalism. New criticism, for instance, taught "close reading" and fidelity to the text (warning against the "heresy of paraphrase") along with the humanist conception of the world that gave priority to consciousness and moral values, which were essentially the values of Fordist capitalism such as hard work, individuality and free choice. Since the 1970s as neoliberalism has displaced the Keynesian class compromise of the postwar period; Toyotaism has displaced Taylorism, and consequently "team work" and "just-in-time" processes now structure the working day. The Postfordist labor regime of neoliberal capitalism requires a new worker who has more "creative" initiative, is devoted to singularity rather than old-fashioned individuality, and consequently has unique tastes, desires new and newer commodities to affirm her identity, and emphasizes ethics (a way of life) rather than morality (a set of beliefs). He is more at home with technologies that increasingly resemble humans and thus is no longer tied to a humanist world view (Latour, Reassembling the Social). In response to Neoliberal economics and Postfordism, humanist humanities are reconfigured as posthumanities. "Close reading" which taught the authority of the text (rule of the master manager) is displaced by "deconstructive" reading, which places the manager and the worker not as two opposites but as fractured subjects of difference in a state of in-between-ness that obscures the class interests of the two and reduces their class oppositions to self-difference. In effect, it leaves the dominant relations intact as "natural." The "naturalness" of the relation of labor and capital is normalized by what Herbert Marcuse calls "affirmative culture"

in which the spiritual world is lifted out of its social context, making culture a (false) collective noun and attributing (false) universality to it.… a world essentially different from the factual world of the daily struggle for existence, yet realizable by every individual for himself "from within", without any transformation of the state of fact. (Negations 94-5)

"Affirmative culture" provides the affective and cognitive environment within which the worker deploys the interpretive strategies taught by (post)humanities to perform the capitalist inversions in the "working day" in which surplus value is pumped out of workers. (Post)humanities are technologies of inversion by which the workers normalize the up-side-down working day of capitalism as it inverts

the relationships between the producers, within which the social characteristics of their labours are manifested, take on the form of a social relation between the products of labour.… To the producers, therefore, the social relations between their private labours appear as what they are, i.e. they do not appear as direct social relations between persons in their work, but rather as material [dinglich] relations between persons and social relations between things. (Marx, Capital. Vol. I pp.164, 166)

(Post)humanities fashion and re-fashion capitalism's inversions—their spectral inversions conceal the material inversions. They teach workers to instinctively accept capital as the "Eden of innate rights of man," and as "the exclusive realm of freedom" and "equality" (Marx, Capital. Vol. I 280) and to go to work every day believing that their wages are a fair exchange for their labor power (which is the source of value and accumulation of capital). In other words, workers are taught by the dominant humanities to interpret their own exploitation as the normal order of life—the way things are and ought to be.

Capitalism needs (post)humanities to teach its labor force the skills with which they produce, on their own, capital-friendly meanings and value out of the signs and texts of culture. As I have argued elsewhere, in "The De-declining of (Post)humanities," the widely popular myth of humanities in decline is just that—a myth. The myth is constructed to justify using public funds to remake the humanities as more "relevant" to democratic society. "Relevance" is publicly represented as changing humanities to provide sophisticated skills for students (the future labor force) so that they can have more fulfilling jobs. In actuality, however, "relevant" (post)humanities mean (post)humanities that more rigorously teach interpretive strategies that replay the inversions of direct production and construct public meanings ("values") out of reading texts of culture in order to legitimate the labor requirements of capitalism. As capitalism has become more complex and its labor relations have shifted from industrial to cognitive capitalism (Ebert and Zavarzadeh, "Digital Metaphysics"), (post)humanities have also become more complex and layered in their invertive strategies. (Post)humanities are the cultural zone of invertive interpretations—from "reparative reading" (Sedgwick), and "uncritical reading" (Warner), through "destruction" (Heidegger, Phenomenology), and "deconstruction" (Derrida, "Letter to a Japanese Friend") to digital decoding and transcoding (Hayles). The dominant interpretive tendency among these various modes of reading in the (post)humanities, as I indicated earlier, is the separation of the text from its material conditions and substituting the immanent exuberance of the text itself for critique (of the outside).

Interpretation consequently is no longer an access to the truth of the text but a narrative that "narrates the impossibility of reading," that, among other things, means that the text is "deprived of any referential meaning what so ever" (de Man, Allegories of Reading 72). The text, in other words is freed from any concept by which it might grasp the world in its totality and becomes a tissue of self-referential rhetoric that "simultaneously asserts and denies" its own author and thus leaves the text "unreadable" (3-19) since it destroys "the foundations of any choice" (245); the text, in other words, is made "undecidable" (266). This is represented as an ethical pause, but its effect is to produce an interpretive standstill in which the social relations remain the way they are.

In his famous postwar text, "Letter on Humanism," Heidegger argues that "Value" is determined in relation to the human (a metaphysical category); "worth" is a relation to Dasein:

[I]t is important finally to realize that precisely through the characterization of something as "a value" what is so valued is robbed of its worth. That is to say, by the assessment of something as a value what is valued is admitted only as an object for human estimation. But what a thing is in its being is not exhausted by its being an object, particularly when objectivity takes the form of value. Every valuing, even where it values positively, is a subjectivizing. It does not let beings: be. (228)

Humanities without the metaphysics of humanism, is "The liberation of language from grammar into a more original essential framework [which] is reserved for thought and poetic creation" (194). The focus on language is said to be a resistance against the metaphysics of reading (which finds a coherent "message" in the text) by foregrounding the materiality of language itself. Language reading, or what Paul de Man calls "the return to philology," in other words, does not relate the text to something outside; it is not a transcendence from the text. Rather it is a reading of the text in relation to itself—it reads through the "specific use of language that actually occurred in the text" (Resistance to Theory 23). It is a poetics of its immanence (Deleuze, Difference and Repetition).

However, what is represented as an anti-metaphysics in (post)humanities, is itself an interpretive metaphysics that, in the name of anti-metaphysics, suspends knowledge of the concrete everyday in relation to "society as a whole" (Lukács 51). "Society as a whole" is represented in (post)humanities as the effect of a logocentric "totalization," and totalization is declared to be an impossibility because of the play of language:

If totalization no longer has any meaning, it is not because the infiniteness of a field cannot be covered by a finite glance or a finite discourse, but because the nature of the field—that is, language and a finite language—excludes totalization. This field is in effect that of play, that is to say, a field of infinite substitutions only because it is finite, that is to say, because instead of being an inexhaustible field, as in the classical hypothesis, instead of being too large, there is something missing from it: a center which arrests and grounds the play of substitutions. (Derrida, Writing and Difference 289)

Without the knowledge of the everyday in relation to the social relations of production as a whole, the everyday is seen as fragmented, unrelated "small narratives," each of which has to be read in its own terms. "Wages" cannot be related to "labor power," "labor" cannot be related to "value," and "necessary labor time" and "surplus labor-time" are not related to each other in the dialectics of "The Working Day" (Marx, Capital Vol. I 340-426). The social is depicted as a series of (semi-)autonomous practices. By foregrounding language and obscuring the relation of the text to its outside, it is taken as self-evident that reading "cannot legitimately transgress the text toward something other than it, toward a referent" (Derrida, Of Grammatology 158).

Reading as untying the text from its outside normalizes capitalism by constructing meanings from the text itself. For instance, in reading Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street," (post)humanities produce meanings from it that give cultural support to capitalism. The story becomes a valorization of singularity (the ground of identity for the entrepreneur) by representing "Bartleby" as an account of the individual's right to not give an account of himself to the social collective and to act on his desires and not take class sides: he "neither answers nor doesn't answer." His "I would prefer not to," is read as a fable of the right to "say neither yes nor no, and a neither yes or no that isn't simply a double negative or [and this is the key here] a dialectic (Derrida and Ferraris 26-7, emphasis added).

Like his "I would prefer not to," he is said to be an "agrammatical" person—an exception without referent in the existing social world (Deleuze, Essays 68)—one who does not fit into normal language rules or social regulations and is therefore beyond the law and the grasp of lawyers. He is the "wholly other," the "potentiality" that resists being absorbed into actuality: he refuses the binary of the potential/actual and remains the potential in the actual "not simply the potential to do this or that thing but the potential to not-do, potential not to pass into actuality"; he is the "existence of non-being, the presence of an absence" (Agamben, 179-80).

Bartleby in these neoliberal readings remains the "potential" singularity that refuses to become "actual" in the collective solidarity.

These readings construct an interpretive environment in which "Bartleby" is translated into a narrative about language itself and not the world in which language is used in relation to social relations. (Post)humanities language holds its own secret—its potentiality to "remain silent, to refuse to answer" (Derrida and Ferraris, 26) and thus never become an actual "weapon of criticism" in the struggles for freedom from necessity. Bartleby's abstention is made ethical by decoding the "formula" ("I would prefer not to") as an insight into the "responsibility of a response without response" (Derrida, Gift of Death 75), and thus a libertarian banality is elevated into a profound philosophical seeing through the beings of Being. Bartleby is treated as a capital sacrifice; thus ruling out, in fact, that he may be sacrificed for capital (as an object lesson concretely teaching workers the fate of the reluctant worker who neither says yes nor no in wage labor). These readings portray Bartleby as a martyr receiving the "gift of death" on behalf of a libertarian singularity who "devastates" the system by the "splendor" (Deleuze, Essays 71) of his "response without response."

In interpreting Bartleby as "the most singular of all" (Miller, Versions of Pygmalion 145) and reading his "negative preference" (Deleuze, Essays 71) as a sublime ethics, to give a final example, (post)humanities interpretations legitimate the ideology of libertarian singularity, which is the subject of capitalism. Libertarian capitalism refuses to give an account of itself to the public, keeping secret in order to remain outside social regulations and cultural grammars.

In the bourgeois canon, Bartleby, of course, is not the only"saint." Antoine Roquentin in Sartre's Nausea is Bartleby's twin: by his free choices, as I will discuss, he provides the subject of the free market with an existential alibi to substitute a commitment to an abstract freedom for freedom from necessity through the struggle to end wage labor. Bartleby and Roquentin, in other words, are interpreted as subjectivities that act spontaneously through the immediate encounter with reality (as in Roquentin's coming "face-to-face" with the root of the roots of the chestnut tree in the park). In other words, they are suspending all mediation of the social and representing their immediate lived experience as the real.


Two—Irony and Final Vocabularies: The Disappearance of the Social Contradictions of Capitalism in a Poetics of Tensions

(Post)humanities, like all cultural practices, are historical. The roots of (post)humanities lie in the theories of language and culture that have developed after the Second World War. The intensification of class contradictions in postwar capitalism; the transformation from Fordism to Postfordism; the "long Boom," the domination of Neoliberal economics, and finally the financial crisis of 2008 have provided conditions that demand a new interpretive analytics for reading and teaching culture

Contemporary cultural theories render language more and more opaque and anti-referential and install anti-representational representation as the precise, up-to-date and sophisticated language of culture. The first major attempt in this direction is "New Criticism." The New Critics denounce materialist explanations of culture and the realism they associate with it in increasingly more aggressive terms. R. P. Blackmur, for instance in his Double Agent: Essays in Craft and Elucidation (1935), argues against historical materialist aesthetics because he thinks it distorts criticism through an ulterior purpose: teasing out the "economic conflict of classes" from literary texts. His views are given further institutional power by some of his students, such as Edward Said who, contrary to his public image, has always suspended the structural relation of literature to its material conditions and instead relates writing to the world in moral and ethical terms by which he obscures the class relations that actually construct the meaning of meaning in cultural texts. As he writes, "I don't advocate, and I'm very much against, the teaching of literature as a form of politics." Deploying the cliches of a formalist aesthetics, he adds: "I think there's a distinction between pamphlets and novels," and concludes with yet another formalist slogan, stating the classroom is the space of the "interpretation and reading of literary texts" (Barsamian, 65). The "literary," in other words, is seen as a Kantian "thing in itself" cut off from the human productive activities that actually make it.

In Modern Poetry and its Tradition (1939), Cleanth Brooks coins the phrase "didactic heresy" to show his aesthetic contempt for materialist critiques of the arts because, he argues, they were aimed at proselytizing and propaganda. His writings are exemplary of the ways in which the New Critics provide capitalism with the concepts, reading methods and aesthetic doctrine that naturalize class interests (while at the same time denouncing the very idea of a "method" and "doctrine," which Blackmur, for instance, considers the death of imagination). Brooks' readings help to break down social reality into sovereign zones by isolating them, for example, as "literature" which is autonomous from the zones of the "political, or scientific or philosophical" (Well Wrought Urn 196). When the New Critics discuss social totality, it is almost always in terms of religious, natural, moral and spiritual values. For T. S. Eliot, for example, the social is an organic natural whole in which "the direct sensuous apprehension of thought" is possible and "thought" is as immediately available to the subject as "the odor of a rose" (64). The breakdown of the holistic leads to the "dissociation of sensibility" (64): the distance between thought and feeling which is for him the pathology of modernity. Although presented as an aesthetic concept, the "dissociation of sensibility" obscures the way in which the social division of labor under capitalism has alienated the abstract from the concrete. Eliot, in a stunningly simplistic formalist analysis of the history of literature, goes on to explain culture culturally and thus critiques Milton and Dryden (64) for the isolation of "thought" from "the sensual." Eliot's anti-historical "dissociation of sensibility" is a conceptual device for forgetting class. It constructs an affective logic for class politics in the poetics of New Criticism. This poetics is given a sophisticated theorization in Brooks' essays—a collection of which was published in his The Well-Wrought Urn (1947) the same year in which the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act was passed.

The theory of reading in The Well-Wrought Urn claims that a subtle and nuanced reading treats all texts as if they were poetry: complex texts of irony, paradox and ambiguity. Thus, a nuanced reading does not seek the "prose sense" of any text. Even though the text is not literally a poem, its "prose sense," according to Brooks, is "not a rack on which" extra-textual meaning "is hung" (199). Although Brooks ostensibly uses "poetry" as a special use of language, he implies that all uses of language are special and thus all writing is a generalized poetry because writing works by paradox and irony no matter what its subject and mode. "Even the most direct and simple poet is forced into paradoxes far more often than we think, if we are sufficiently alive to what he is doing" (10). And if we are "sufficiently alive," the assumption is, we realize that not only are there no "direct and simple poets" but all writers write poetry in the sense that they all deploy paradoxes "far more often than we think." For a serious reader there is no outside to poetry: all texts of culture regardless of their formal genre and contents are "poetry" because they are all language effects. Language is tropic, and since culture itself is intelligible only through language, culture is considered a species of tropic discourse.

Brooks and other postwar critics teach that texts of culture should be read as parables of language and that, as Northrop Frye argues, a literal reading (unearthing the "prose sense") is not ontologically possible. De-literalizing the real—translating "the working day" of labor (Marx, Capital Vol. I 340-416) into the unrepresentable—is the main theoretical work of (post)humanities. They divert attention away from daily class antagonisms by limiting critical attention to the words on the page or treating the words as codes of a reality that cannot be directly (literally) represented and thus will have to be treated as unexplainable, as the playful sublime. Brooks empties language of its economic content by theorizing a mode of "close reading" that normalizes the capitalist social logic and inhibits any reading that insists on the ideology of metaphor or teases out the objective reality from the second-order symbolic mythographies of writings.

Reading, Brooks argues, must turn away from "content" to avoid the "heresy of paraphrase" (Well Wrought Urn 192-214), because "form is meaning" (Formalist Critics 72). In other words, texts should be read in their own terms. This also means, by extension, that the market should be read in "its own terms" and not unpacked ("paraphrased") in "other terms" (exploitation) because such an unpacking will, according to this protocol of reading, "lead away from the center" of the text being read. The rejection of the literal as a vulgar mimesis is an ideological device to block the process of un-concealing objective labor and understanding how it produces wealth that is then fought over by owners in an intra-class struggle in the "free market." The "heresy of paraphrase"—which has since become a canonical concept in "close reading" in the (post)humanities—is one of the ideological devices deployed by (post)humanities to turn the text (i.e., all sites of cultural meaning) into a verbal myth: a self-constituted universe whose logic is at odds with the historical world of labor to which it has only a tropic relation in difference. Opposing "paraphrase," Brooks' close readings focus exclusively on the text and its textual protocols to bring the hidden "unity" to the fore by insisting that "literature is ultimately metaphorical and symbolic" (Formalist Critics 72). The unity of the work of art should not be taken literally (as if it were science) because it is not a matter of referentiality but an ironic difference. By "irony" (which is the archifigure of the culturalist reading of the social), Brooks does not mean its conventional understanding (saying one thing and meaning another) nor is he using it as the trope of undecidability the way Schlegel and following him Paul de Man (Blindness and Insight 187-228) deploy it. Irony for Brooks is a sign whose meaning oscillates between connotation and denotation, and the amplitude of flux derives from the (verbal) context in which it is uttered (Well Wrought Urn 209-10). Irony provides the verbal authority for "paradox" (124-50) and "ambiguity" (158-60). Along with them, it constructs a "complex of attitudes" (195) that produce a situation in which conflictual meanings, discord, divergence, and difference exist in tension (195). A "close reading" that is attentive to the ironic, the paradoxical, and the ambiguous is thus self-reflexive about the complex galaxy of meanings they construct and displays how these conflicts are part of a higher level of aesthetic accord and harmony. It finds the poem to be a "pattern of resolutions and balances and harmonizations, developed through a temporal scheme" (203). This unity, as I have indicated, is ironic in that it does not solve conflicts but suspends them, makes them harmonious. The text, in other words, dramatizes "one-ness" at the same time that it uses paradox to pay tribute to diversity (213) and becomes a "triumph" over "apparently contradictory and conflicting elements" (214).

Ironic unity—marking harmony without resolving antagonisms—in New Critical "close reading" is a response to the postwar labor-capital relations in which the class conflicts between the two have been suspended, without resolution, in the temporary "harmony" created by the false (because fleeting) prosperity of the "Long Boom" (1950-1973), when workers received more wages and some benefits in exchange for recognizing management's right to control and enforce peace in the workplace (Lichtenstein 98-140). Industrial harmony was constructed ironically (to use Brooks' favorite concept) in the context of a welfare capitalism that was determined to put an end to unionism and all collective work by labor (Babson 113-53).

By valorizing irony, paradox, and ambiguity, New Critical "close reading" teaches a cultural intelligibility in which class antagonisms are displaced by tensions in a poem. They are thus recognized non-didactically, with irony and subtlety, as conflicts without resolution. Close reading, thus, ends up legitimizing capitalism by treating its contradictions aesthetically and prohibiting their "paraphrase"—which could decode the contradictions as effects of the surplus labor extracted at the point of production. Through instituting "irony" as the mark of a complex understanding and subtle reading, close reading discredits the very notion of ending tensions (whether textually or socially—putting an end to class conflicts by overthrowing capitalism) as simplistic, even naive. It thus marginalizes all readings that tease out the objective reality of cultural texts and show that irony itself is a class trope invented to hollow out the material core of the reality of labor. Although the ostensible subject of the New Critics was "poetry" for the most part, their interpretive strategies have had a global impact on reading not just poetry but other texts of culture, such as philosophy, history and sociology. Richard Rorty, for instance, deploys "irony" to demolish what he calls, "final vocabularies"—the words by which the subject acquires a sense of totality and tells the stories of their lives (73-95). Irony is a doubting of "final vocabularies" and a trope of detotalization. Using irony to put "final vocabularies" into question and equate these with metaphysics, Rorty turns social totality—the social relations of production—into a contingent series of events and, in doing so, deprives workers of a historical grasp of the relations of capital and labor. The worker, in other words, is taught to reject any total critique and instead become a pragmatic person who relates to capital through an ironic interpretation of the "working day" without ever relating the "working day" to its underlying necessary logic (that would be mimetic). Hayden White in Metahistory (1973) sees irony as a condition of the historical itself because irony casts radical doubt on the "very effort to capture adequately the truth of the things in language" (37), and thus it "tends to dissolve all belief in the possibility of positive political actions" (38). In Tropics of Discourse (1978), White elaborates on how irony questions the possibility of any certainty (6, 93, 207-08, 281).

The purpose of ironic reading is to persuade the reader that reality is an effect of language, which is itself a network of figures. Everything that is called "real" and assigned a "meaning" derives not from direct production, which produces the social division of labor and the social differences that are the ultimate dynamics of meaning in texts of culture, but is seen as a specter of words. Any analytics that claims to offer a total view of reality—of the social beyond (by breaking through) figures—is suspect. A general social knowledge, therefore, is possible only if it recognizes its own status as a language effect and thus becomes self-reflexively ironic about the status of its own general claim about truth. The only general theory about reality for (post)humanities is a theory that is ironic about being both general and a theory: a theory that in the process of totalizing reality detotalizes itself. Charles Lemert writes: "An ironic social theory is general insofar as it is a thoroughly reflexive form that calls into question the very idea of general theory, which reflection is ironically general by virtue of being perverse" (22). Irony, in other words, puts the social reality in ruins. It limits knowledge of capitalism for workers to fragments of their own experience, which is, in turn, subjected to an ironic reading and thus translated into ironies within ironies, figures in ruins. Irony is a "peculiar position in relation to reality" (23); it reverses the relations that produce the real and suspends these relations in undecidability. Grounded in that "peculiar position," (post)humanities teaches that "nothing is certain save language, yet that language is a safe and reasonable certitude" (23), but all claims made in language are not about the real but about language itself. The ironic, in (post)humanities, manufactures a wisdom that represents itself as skepticism about human knowledge and its possibilities for transforming the social, but in actuality, it is a cynical ally of power and is quite skeptical about its own skepticism.

As the postwar war of capital against labor has intensified, irony has become more central in the discourses of capital, emptying out the material contents from objective reality. The most radical uses of irony are in the writings of such authors as Derrida, Barthes, Lacan, Lacoue-Labarthe, Deleuze, and Latour, who have dominated the cultural representations of capital since the 1960's. Unlike most conventional ironists who deploy irony thematically, as if it was a trope like metaphor or metonymy with a relayed reference, irony, for Derrida, is a figure without a theme; it is the performativity of a logic. Somewhat controversially, I call this logic "catachresis"—the irony of irony. Catachresis is usually treated as a thematic trope: either with more or less clear boundaries (Miller, "Catachresis"; "What is a Kiss?") or with blurred borders so that one cannot say rigorously "when catachresis becomes metaphor" (de Man, Blindness and Insight 284). In either case, it is the name of a misuse or perversion of a trope—a trope without a referent. As its logic, catachresis turns irony (a parodic perversion of the literal) into a perversion of perversion, a textualization (de-grounding) of textualizers. Although metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, all put in question the "literal" and its claim to direct access to objective reality outside language, they still remain at least residually representational because, in the end, they set up a binary (figurative/literal) and reverse the claim of the literal to truth: as if the figurative could succeed where the literal has failed (White, Metahistory 36-8). Catachresis puts these claims in question and moves beyond binaries—literal/figurative or authentic/inauthentic (as in Derrida, Given Time). For Derrida catachresis is irony's resistance to the violence of the concept (theory). It puts in question the epistemological claims of language and turns language into an assemblage of self-referring signs. Catachresis implicates itself in its own degrounding of the determinate: Derrida opens Glas with a (dictionary) "definition" of "catachresis" [a "trope wherein a word is diverted from its proper sense and is taken up in common language to designate another thing with some analogy to the object initially expressed" (2)] but immediately juxtaposes this "definition" with those of "catafalque" and "cataglottism," whose radically different "meanings" put "cata" in a semantico-epistemological crisis which leads to the collapse of the definition's assertion of the truth of the relation between signifier and the signified. Catachresis is a trope that questions the tropicity of tropes. Glas, in a more overt way than Derrida's other texts, is a treatise on catachresis because for Derrida language is itself a catachresis.

The success of capital in culturally turning the objective world of labor into tropes in ruins and turning reality into ghosts of language is clear from the popularity of such books as Roger S. Jones' Physics as Metaphor which considers "consciousness as the source of the cosmos" and therefore argues that "it is the mind that we see reflected in matter" (ix). History is, itself, a "catachresis," according to Gayatri C. Spivak (331), and, in turn, renders "value" a catachresis (105). Irony is the catachresis of a savvy capitalism. In deploying irony, (post)humanities renders all social practices as figures without (objective) referents, figures in ruins, and thus re-signifies the world in the negative where surplus labor becomes a labor without reference but with profit.

Like all figures and their logic, catachresis, too, is an effect of its class use; its uses are extensions of the social relations in dominance. In the postwar years and in the wake of the triumph of capital over labor, it has been appropriated by the governing class to articulate its class interests. Marx, of course, uses irony, but he uses it in a critique of ideology to tease out the structures of exploitation in capital (Wolff, Moneybags Must Be So Lucky). His practice set the tasks for contemporary materialist ideology critique, including demystifying the class deployment of language and to demonstrate that irony (language) is not by nature either referential or differential. The question of reference, to loosely paraphrase Marx from a different but related context, is not a question of theory but a practical question, namely the level of class struggle. Reference is a social relation and, as such, is (in)determined by the relations of labor and capital and the ratio of surplus labor. The debates over reference are left Hegelian diversions produced by business-friendly philosophies of spirit.


Three—Capital as Primordial

In Anatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye takes a somewhat different route in displacing the actual. He questions the adequation of language to reality by criticizing mimesis through a lesson on the impossibility of the "literal" and "literal reading" (76). He argues that all understanding is through language which has its own grammar of reality. The "literal" and "literal reading" require an encounter with letters, which means "literal reading" (a descriptive reading free from ambiguity) is "letter-al"—an effect of the materiality of the letter. The "letter" makes the "literal," and as such, the "literal" is a de-coding, an interpretation which is anything but literal (mimetic): "the literal basis of meaning" in other words, is "letters" and "letters" structure the world not in reference to it but in difference to other letters.

The meaning of the world of senses is coded by letters, and these codes are always and ultimately systems of archetypal, post-rational and mythic realities. The "meaning" of the world of commodities and exploitation, therefore, has to be sought not in the historical relations of labor and capital but in a trans-empirical reality that explains that what seems to be historical (e.g. class contradictions) are actually primordial human struggles with moral, natural and magical forces and thus cannot be abolished by such banal acts as a revolution in the social relations of production. "The imaginative element in works of art" is the focus of myth criticism in its reading of cultural texts because it "lifts them clear from the bondage of history" (347).

Displacing the actual by the mythical is, of course, nothing new in the history of capitalism. Postwar myth critics, such as Richard Chase, Daniel Hoffman, Leslie Fiedler and Amy Maud Bodkin (who was perhaps the most theoretical of them), were conceptualizing the critique of modernity started by T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and James Joyce in their poetry and narratives during one of the darkest periods in the history of capitalism. Eliot's mythographies (as in his "The Waste Land") are an attempt to redeem capitalism from its modernity—a move repeated more recently by Latour in a different register (We Have Never Been Modern; Modes of Existence). Eliot re-invents the meaning of the modern through myths and covers up the meaning of the system of wage-labor by the layered codes of "Datta, Dayadhva, Damyata," diverting attention away from the imperialist wars over the labor of the subaltern by chanting from the Upanishad: "shantih shantih shantih."

In "Myth and Society," which forms the "epilogue" to his The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell spells out the political economy of myth criticism and its theory of reality by inverting the materialist relations of reality to culture, individual and language (Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy 19-23). Campbell declares: "It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse" (391).

This is the core of a capitalist theory of the market where the hero-entrepreneur single-handedly changes his own fortune through free enterprise. The goal of myth criticism is to make this freedom part of cultural intelligibility because, ultimately, the purpose of the archetypal interpretation of the symbolic is ethical (Frye 349), namely installing a free society (348). The agency of freedom, however, is not revolution but culture itself (347), whose main lesson is contemplation in order to develop "a withdrawn or detached vision of the means and end of action." Action should come later and the later, of course, never comes. Archetypal criticism is the philosophy of meditation as a cure for revolution.


Four—Existentializing the Precariousness of the Proletariat

"A philosophy," Sartre writes, "is first of all a particular way in which the 'rising' class becomes conscious of itself" (Search for a Method 3-4). In his own writings, Sartre develops the concepts by which the rising global capitalism in the postwar period grasps itself and turns its class interests into a transnational ethics of freedom. The task of humans is acceptance of their freedom: "man is condemned to be free" ("Existentialism is a Humanism" 353). The reason for avoiding freedom is because freedom is fraught with anguish, anxiety and terror of the invasion of the absurd ("nausea") which points up the "abandonment" of humans in a world without essences: a world that does not inherit meanings, values, or ethical, epistemological or political guidelines. There is therefore no "human nature"; this is another way of saying a human is the being "whose existence comes before its essence, a being which exists before it can be defined by any conception of it" (349).

The only one who can define me is I through my actions; not what I wish to do (which is always an excuse for inaction and an act of bad faith), but what I actually do (Nausea 119-21). My "freedom," however, is not a fixed identity but is "perpetually in question in my being; it is not a quality added on or a property of my nature. It is very exactly the stuff of my being, and as in my being, my being is in question, I must necessarily possess a certain comprehension of freedom" (Being and Nothingness 566).

Sartre develops his idea of freedom as I-forming into an existential ethics that is, in spite of his intentions, a philosophical manual for the ceaseless activities of the capitalist entrepreneur in competitive pursuit of profit. To do business is, therefore, an act of free self-fashioning. However, since business depends on profits and profit is not from trade among free agents of equal status but from owners extracting surplus labor from workers, the freedom of self-making, in effect, means freedom to exploit. Only my freedom can justify my being; no collective norms, such as an injunction against exploitation, can deter my actions since in the absence of essences, "there is no determinism" (353). One is free from all collective norms, and even when one is part of a collective ("we"), Sartre gives ontological priority to individual praxis (Critique of Dialectical Reason 253-341). "Hell is—other people!" (No Exit 47). Anyone who invents a norm (e.g. socialism) hides from "total freedom" in the "guise of solemnity" (e.g. opposition to the exploitation of the other) and is, according to Sartre, a "coward" ("Existentialism" 366).

The deeds (free choices) of the entrepreneur are a negation of determinism (Being and Nothingness 562-64)—his resistance against the regulations of the free market by external norms ("essences"). Sartre argues that self-fashioning (free choice) is always also world-fashioning because when one chooses, one chooses for everyone: "In fashioning myself, I fashion man" ("Existentialism" 350). In exercising one's freedom to choose profit, therefore, one chooses capitalism for all.

Freedom separates humans (for-itself) from nature (in-itself). Through their deeds humans choose and form a moveable and contingent identity, which never coincides with itself, but in-itself has a fixed identity and always is itself. This kinetic identity is the identity of the restless entrepreneur: the being-for-itself which is always in activity. When he stops (to make a profit), he returns to the inert being-in-itself, loses his freedom and ceases to be human—he coincides with himself (Being and Nothingness 126).

The philosophical parable of making the "for-itself" is the working logic of the capitalist, who constantly negates what he is to move to new zones of enterprise where profits are "possibilities" (147-55). The anti-bourgeois bourgeois Sartre, in effect, valorizes the business venture as a responsibility of freedom; "It is the obligation for the for-itself never to exist except in the form of an elsewhere in relation to itself (126). This is the script of subjectivity for the global capitalist who relentlessly distances himself from his past to seek an other "elsewhere" where labor is cheaper and profits higher. Existentialism is the left philosophy of Neoliberalism. Sartre's novel, Nausea, is the phenomenology of the neoliberal world freed from limits; the world as market without rules and in the pulsation of profit-making.

While sitting in a park Antoine Roquentin, the protagonist of Sartre's Nausea, the entrepreneur of new experiences, comes face to face with "existence" in all its lawlessness and anarchic absurdity:

The roots of the chestnut tree were sunk in the ground under my bench. I couldn't remember it was a root any more. The words had vanished and with them the significance of things, their methods of use, and the feeble points of reference which men have traced on their surface. I was sitting, stooping forward, head bowed, alone in front of this black, knotty mass, entirely beastly, which frightened me. Then I had this vision. (126-27)

Before, he had seen the real as a referent of words, the world regulated by signs. This all changes after "existence" unveils itself to him and he sees the world in all its disorder, absurdity and nakedness: "I thought without words, on things, with things" (129) and was "faced with this great wrinkled paw, neither ignorance nor knowledge was important: the world of explanations and reasons is not the world of existence" (129). Explanations fix the world and Roquentin's lesson is that recognition of the absurd—the real that exceeds all explanations—is the recognition that "the essential thing is contingency"; one cannot define "existence as necessary," and it is this realization that causes "nausea" (131). The "bastards" try to turn the contingent into necessity "with their idea of their rights" (131), which is a "poor lie" because "no one has any rights; they are entirely free" (131). Words, categories are devices to regulate existence and overcome its absurdity with a reason (66-7). Roquentin's world without words—existence without essence—is a world in which reality is not classified and thus regulated by concepts and categories. His idea of freedom in a world outside the regulations of concepts is, in effect, an allegory of the free market without regulations on the way it deploys labor. He juxtaposes this freedom—that is, the de-regulated market-world—with the mechanically and highly regulated world of socialism.

The authentic person lives and thinks "without words, on things, with things" (Nausea 129), without an ordering system. The inauthentic one, like the Self-Taught Man, lives by the most rigid ordering system, namely, the alphabet which he deploys to organize his readings; he thus turns the contingency of living into necessity (29-30). The Self-Taught Man even gives himself a fixed identity: "I am a socialist" (115). Unlike the capitalist who is always moving "elsewhere," he is always here in the library, more an in-itself than a for-itself. He cannot even love any particular person, but is in love with humanity (an abstraction). He is, for Sartre, the final form of hypocrisy. The authentic of the world, like the singular, free-ranging capitalist, is always searching for difference, while the inauthentic (socialist) is obsessed with the same, the collective: "I am no longer lonely… I shall never be so" (116). The socialist looks to explain the world and change it collectively, but Roquentin luxuriates in his loneliness: "I live alone, entirely alone. I never speak to anyone, never; I receive nothing, I give nothing" (6).

Sartre's normalization of the class interests of capital is carried out by marginalizing class: "man may be born a slave in a pagan society, or may be a feudal baron, or a proletarian. But what never vary are the necessities of being in the world" ("Existentialism" 362). In other words, it does not matter under what specific material conditions we live. I may be born rich or poor; what matters is how I think about the facticity of my life. What counts is not the material conditions, but the way I interpret those conditions. We choose the world not as is, but by choosing ourselves. We choose the "meaning" of our situations: "I am angry because I produce myself as consciousness of anger" (Being and Nothingness 131), or more explicitly: "I could determine myself to be 'born a worker' or to 'be born a bourgeois. But on the other hand facticity cannot constitute me as being a bourgeois or being a worker" (132).

Such a consecration of capitalist ontology is all the more useful to capital because it is by a philosopher of the left, one who has actually declared "Marxism… remains… the philosophy of our time. We cannot go beyond it because we have not gone beyond the circumstances which engendered it" (Search for a Method 30). At the same time that he declares Marxism as "the philosophy of our time" that "we cannot go beyond," he acts, like most leftist friends of capital, to undermine the very theoretical basis of Marxism in his "Materialism and Revolution" (1962). Under the pretense of anti-Stalinism, he joins the cold war liberal attacks on Communism (The Ghost of Stalin; de Beauvoir Adieux).

Sartre makes what Joseph Campbell calls the "creative hero" into an existential figure and turns the unexpected daily events of the market—along with the worries of its surprising ups and downs—into the existential anxieties of freedom. The entrepreneur, who has to face the market with little or no reliable guidelines, in effect, is allegorized by Sartre as a person caught in a world without essences. Therefore, he will have to invent his own ethics by his (profit-making) deeds. For Sartre all begins from "subjectivity"—"Man is, indeed, a project which possesses a subjective life… Before that projection of the self nothing exists" ("Existentialism" 349)—and ends in subjectivity: "man cannot pass beyond human subjectivity" (350). In this zone of interiority, making sense of the world—reading—itself becomes a purely subjective act whose main goal is not so much a grasping of the objective but obliteration of the objective material world—the material world of labor. As another philosopher of existence puts it: "Criticism… needs to annihilate or at least momentarily forget, the objective elements of the work, and to elevate itself to the apprehension of a subjectivity without objectivity" (Poulet 68).

Like all friends of capital, however, Sartre also knows (and thus his many equivocations) that the future does not belong to capitalism: Nausea ends by the darkening of the horizon—"Night falls" (178).


Five—Cognitive Capitalism and the Humanities after Humanism

The human as agent of social change ("Men make their own history"—Marx, Eighteenth Brumaire 103) has become an obstacle to contemporary capitalism which needs a theory of capitalism as capital without labor, as an ethical theory that represents capitalism without exploitation and free from history as class struggles. Left theory in the global North has become an aggressive reformism: "There is no conflict here between reform and revolution" (Hardt and Negri, Multitude 289). It provides a logic of affirmation of capitalism by displacing revolution with mutation, thereby rewriting history as an immanent change without class struggles and the agents of class struggles.

In history as mutation, left theory undermines the material basis of a historical materialism that is grounded in the agency of the proletariat as the producer of value. It severs the relation of "value" and "labor time" in Marx's labor theory of value, which argues that "What exclusively determines the magnitude of the value of any article is therefore the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour-time socially necessary for its production" (Marx, Capital Vol. I 128-29). Antonio Negri—in his desiring reading of Marx's Grundrisse(sketched out before Capital), which he thinks justifies the new labor relations under cognitive capitalism—announces that "The Law of Value dies" in new capitalism (Negri, Marx Beyond Marx 172) and thus "The struggle of the working class no longer exists" (Negri, Negri on Negri 114). History becomes a history without the proletariat as the subject-agent of revolution. In place of the labor of the proletariat, Negri puts the desires and needs of the "multitude"—the new petty bourgeoisie of immaterial labor (Hardt and Negri, Multitude)—and, following Deleuze, displaces "labor power" with a vitalist "life power." History without a subject-agent of change becomes a form of technological determinism that marks the "end of man." History as mutation in North Atlantic (post)humanities is represented as a progressive and radical theory of history because it is depicted as a change (without revolution) to a "communism of capital" (Virno 110-11) or what Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt call a "spontaneous" communism (Empire 294).

(Post)humanism, like all practices, is a class theory and as such there is not only one theory of (post)humanism. As argued elsewhere (Ebert and Zavarzadeh, "Marxism and the Work of (Post)humanities"), Marxism is a rigorous theory of (post)humanism. Marx's understanding of the human as social (Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844) overturns the entire anthropomorphic analytic that naturalizes private property. Humanism, in other words, is not a tendency in Western metaphysics, as bourgeois philosophy assumes. Rather, it is the metaphysics of private property. Marxism as communism, and communism as the "positive transcendence of private property" (Marx 296) is a materialist (post)humanism.

In contemporary left theory, as I have argued, the human is decentered in the name of overcoming metaphysics (Latour, Reassembling) and suspended as an agent of social change. North Atlantic left theory thereby ditches the human as a being capable of understanding himself or, as Marx puts it, as a self-reflexive being for whom "his own life is an object for him" (Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts 276), and, as such, one who plans his own actions and in doing so transform history. The human's relation with the social is, of course, dialectical: "just as society itself produces man as man, so is society produced by him" (298).

Bourgeois (post)humanism undoes the human but not in historical materialist terms, that is, by foregrounding how the human is an "ensemble of the social relations" (Marx, Theses on Feuerbach) and thus an historical and not a metaphysical being. Instead bourgeois (post)humanism reduces materialism simply to matter and thus (seemingly) undoes the human by making materialism (of language, body, affect) a metaphysical instrumentality: "The human," Cary Wolfe writes, "is, at its core and in its very constitution, radically ahuman and constitutively prosthetic" (xxvi). Prosthesis here is the result of "technicity" (xxv), which is assumed to be autonomous from the history of the relation of workers and owners and somehow "natural" to humans as a species. Technicity, in other words, is a new metaphysics that is closer to Heidegger's theosophy of the "thingly" ("Origin of the Work of Art" 19) and the "thingness of the thing" (24), namely, the "thing [as] the aistheton," as sensation (25). In contemporary bourgeois (post)humanism, "techne" (prosthesis) "belongs to bringing-forth, to poiesis; it is something poietic" (Heidegger, Concerning Technology 13). It borders on the mystical.

The thing-in-itself, outside the history of human labor has become the main topic of the "object-oriented ontology" ("ooo") and "speculative realism" that has come to dominate the (post)humanities after the waning of deconstruction and Deleuzian vitalism (Morton, Realist Magic; Harman,Tool-Being). History as shaped by the agency of objects (digital, analog… ) is the theology of cognitive capitalism. Left theories in different languages—from left Heideggerianism and Left Bergsonianism to "ooo" and "speculative realism"—all suspend the proletariat as agent of history and announce the end of man as makers of history. Agency in bourgeois (post)humanism is absorbed in Being, Life (lifeforce), objects (Bennett, Vibrant Matter), or language ("the most fundamental prostheticity of all," C. Wolfe xxv).

To return to Heidegger's "Letter on Humanism," which fashions the idioms of (post)humanism in the (post)humanities, he writes:

You ask: Comment redonner un sens au mot "Humanisme"? [How can we restore meaning to the word "humanism"?] This question proceeds from your intention to retain the word "humanism." I wonder whether that is necessary. (195)

Heidegger takes humanism as a metaphysics that thinks of the human in terms of what Descartes (whom Heidegger addresses directly in Being and Time, 122-34), in the "second Meditation," calls "a thing which thinks"—res cogitans. Heidegger annotates res cogitans as "something that thinks, namely, something that represents, perceives, judges, agrees, disagrees, but also loves, hates, strives, and the like" (Phenomenology 126). These are for him metaphysical values that put closure to Being (as an open question) and take it as self-evident. But Being is that, which "in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it" (Being and Time 12/32). Heidegger claims to have suspended metaphysics and its imposed values and made philosophy posthumanist, namely an inquiry into the worth and worthiness of being: "Dasein understands itself in its Being" (12/32). Posthumanism for Heidegger is restoring Being to a question—not taking it as given and re-placing it in its "everydayness" where "Dasein's Being is an issue for it in a definite way" (4/69). Unlike Marx's notion of the human as a self-reflexive being who understands his life through his productive activities, Heidegger's (post)humanism is a meditation on Being as transhistorical. His (post)humanism is not a project of freedom, as is Marx's; rather it is an ontology that disperses the social into the imaginary scenes of Being as such.

Heidegger's "Letter on Humanism" is in part a critique of Sartre's existentialism as a residue of humanism. This critique of Sartre, and its continuation by Levi-Strauss, is often seen in the (post)humanities as a break with humanism and the opening of the contemporary discourses of (post)humanism. Levi-Strauss critiques Sartre's idea of freedom and argues that Sartre puts humanist "subjectivity" at the center of history whereas the goal of his own anthropology is "not to constitute, but to dissolve man" (Savage Mind 247, emphasis added). "Dissolving" the subject becomes the underlying logic the new anti-humanism and neo anti-conceptuality in reading texts in contemporary (post)humanities.

In his critique of Sartre, Levi-Strauss emphasizes that Sartre's theories "insist on tracing a distinction between the primitive and civilized" (Savage Mind 249) and disregard alternative modes of understanding history and society such as the one by Nambikwara whom Levi-Strauss describes as being without writing (Tristes Tropiques 294-304). The issue of writing becomes the core of Derrida's critique of Levi-Strauss' structuralist critique of humanism and forms the underlying analytics of the (post)humanities.

In his critique of Levi-Strauss, Derrida begins with the claim that there are societies without writing. Derrida argues that writing "is no longer understood in the narrow sense of linear and phonetic notation" (Of Grammatology 109). Writing, according to Derrida, is "différance" (with an "a") that is the very condition of all practices including speech (Margins of Philosophy 3-27). For Derrida, speech and writing, as I have already discussed, are not binary opposites but are in a supplementary relation. Speech's seeming plenitude—its unmediated presence—is obtained only by a power relation through which it excludes writing from within itself by attributing it to an outside "other" (writing).

For Derrida the arche-binary (speech/writing) that underlies Levi-Strauss's critique of Sartre's humanism is reproduced in Levi-Strauss' anti-humanism, in his "dissolving of man"—a critique that Derrida also makes of Foucault (e.g. Derrida, Writing and Difference 31-63) and Lacan (e.g. Derrida, "The Purveyor of Truth"). From their own self-otherness, Derrida constitutes a space between Sartre's humanism and Levi-Strauss' anti-humanism which is marked by self-difference. This is Derrida's (post)humanism which he does not name as "post" for obvious onto-epistemological reasons, some of which I have already pointed out.

In its most rigorous sense contemporary bourgeois (post)humanism is neither a negation of humanism nor an anti-humanism but is a state of differential in-between-ness. Bourgeois (post)humanism is a critique of the binaries of anthropocentrism and an opening up of the closed spaces of social and cultural practices—from the political and the aesthetic to the ethical—that are centered in human exceptionalism. Such (post)humanism is a putting in question of humanism as the regime of Truth—one that endows the subject (human) with plenitude and presence by opposing it to the non-human.

(Post)humanism, to say again, is a class theory, and as such, it is a response to the shifting relation of capital and labor. This is perhaps most clear in Foucault's (post)humanism. He opposes humanism in a theoretically thorough language, particularly in his early writings: "man is only a recent invention, a figure not yet two centuries old, a new wrinkle in our knowledge, and that he will disappear again as soon as that knowledge has discovered a new form" (The Order of Things xxxiii).

For Foucault, humanism is a discursive construction autonomous from the outside. The human, in other words, is a knowledge effect and not, as Marx has argued, a construct of productive activities: "The researchers of psychoanalysis, linguistics, and ethnology have decentered the subject in relation to the laws of his desire, the forms of his language, the rules of his actions, or the games of his mythical or fabulous discourse" (Archaeology of Knowledge 13).

In his Discipline and Punish, History of Sexuality, and the texts collected in The Hermeneutics of the Subject, Foucault examines the discursive technologies by which objective and subjective layers of the human (and humanism) are assembled. In Discipline and Punish, for instance, he writes that the "soul" is discursively structured into the criminal.

This is the historical reality of this soul… born… out of methods of punishment, supervision and constraint… it is the element in which are articulated the effects of a certain type of power and the reference of a certain type of knowledge, the machinery by which the power relations give rise to a possible corpus of knowledge, and knowledge extends and reinforces the effects of this power. (29)

The "soul" in the "criminal" is invented to spiritualize "crime" and obscure its roots in the contradictions of capitalism. In other words, what Foucault calls "discursive formation" (Archaeology 38), is not autonomous, as he argues, but is the effect of the conflict between the dominant (feudal) social relations of production and the emerging forces of production in early modernity. It is the philosophy of ascending capitalism and the rising bourgeoisie. This is another way of saying that modern humanism is a historical and transitory tendency; it is the effect of an economic order that begins in early modernity with the rise of

The specific economic form, in which unpaid surplus-labour is pumped out of direct producers.… It is in each case the direct relationship of the owners of the conditions of production to the immediate producers… in which we find the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the entire social edifice, and hence also the political form of the relation of sovereignty and dependence. (Marx, Capital Vol. III 927-28)

Through humanism, among other things, "human rights" have been invented to protect private property; capitalist economic values have been represented as human values; social contradictions have been spiritualized; the human has been made the center of being to legitimate abuse of other animals and control of the earth's resources by capital. Humanism, in other words, is the metaphysics of capitalism. It is the source for the tropes, concepts and interpretive strategies, as I have shown, that the capitalist culture industry uses to construct the meaning of "the way things are" as the way they "ought" to be and to signify the existing social order as "moral" and wage labor as "rightful."

Humanism, however, is a historical construct and has now become an obstacle for the frictionless advancement of contemporary capitalism. Its essentialism, for instance, with its binary oppositions (sexual, racial, age, ability, native/foreign); its inflexible subjectivities (identitarianism) and universalism (overlooking difference), among other things, have become incompatible with the cosmopolitan workforce of capitalism. Global capitalism needs a hybrid workforce with a flexible subjectivity and an affective outlook, one that is at home with trans-sexualities and the difference of the other. Classical humanism, in other words, can no longer culturally justify the emerging contradictions of cognitive capitalism on a global scale. The contradictions exceed humanism's discursive resources—it cannot, for instance, reconcile, on a global plane, the demands of capital for the lowest wages, which reduce workers' living to bare life, and at the same time advocate "human rights" (i.e. the right to own and consume). Humanism is culturally exhausted and, therefore, is no longer as useful to capital as it was when the Fordist economy was hegemonic. Under pressure from the new economic realities, humanism is adjusting to the changing global labor processes by being re-signified as (post)humanism. What is a historical necessity for capital to counter its falling rate of profit, however, is represented in (post)humanities as a philosophical rethinking of humanism.

(Post)humanities, for instance, suspend binaries—which display class oppositions in the global workforce—as a logocentric will-to-power and undo them through double writing (Derrida, Positions 40-2) that displaces class antagonisms for a state of in-between-ness in which both labor and capital are more at odds with themselves than with each other. Both, in other words, are made to be versions of (self-)difference. As I argued earlier, the dominant (post)humanities are responses to class relations: first, New Critical "close reading," which produces harmony out of tensions following the collapse of the Keynesian class compromise; and next deconstructive interpretation, which teases out excess from the self-difference of meaning, thereby destabilizing meanings and providing the interpretive conditions for normalizing deregulations of the market with the emergence of (U.S.) Monetarism and (originally European) Neoliberal economics. Currently, the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2007-2008 is marked by a "new Materialism" that turns objects into autonomous social agents (Bennett, 20-38) and, in doing so, suspends the idea that people make their own history. Consequently, it produces a form of Nietzschean "fatalism" (Genealogy of Morals 230) that concedes capitalism is "indestructible" (Zizek, In Defense of Lost Causes 339) and thus people "cease to react" (Nietzsche 230) to what Marx calls the "The silent compulsion of economic relations [which] sets the seal on the domination of the capitalist over the worker" (Capital Vol. I 899).

The class-sidedness of contemporary bourgeois (post)humanism in producing meanings that naturalize capital, however, are represented as new philosophical breakthroughs in the interpretation of texts by using the languages of resistance, rebellion and transgression (Negri, Books for Burning). In his Time for Revolution, one of the canonic texts of dominant (post)humanities, for instance, Negri uses a Heideggerian language to posthumanize temporality. He obscures the historical time of production as an outdated notion and reinscribes temporality as kairos that which "produces the being that comes 'before' as it produces that which comes 'after'" (Negri 5.4). The material temporality of "The Working Day" (Marx, Capital Vol. I 340-438) is thus suspended. Before and after are seen as produced by the same temporality: the difference of the time of "necessary" and "surplus" labor is obscured in the uniform temporality of kairos. What happens in-between the "before" and "after," namely the exploitation of surplus value, disappears in kairos. Negri disappears the disappearing in his poetics of "Living labor" (Negri on Negri 108), which is a code in his writings for singularity and subjectivity. By posthumanizing temporality, Negri abolishes history as the metabolism of labor and nature (Marx, Capital Vol. I 290): "The past is reconstructed on the basis of kairos, but it is not the past that constructs kairos" (Negri on Negri 107). The class contradictions that are concealed in the inversion of humanism into (post)humanism in bourgeois theory surface, in part, in Negri's attempt to reconcile his passionate humanism, which he draws from Machiavelli (Insurgencies 36-97), with opportunistically re-forming it as a way of normalizing cognitive capitalism. He ends up, as usual, in an in-between-ness:

antihumanism, however, need not conflict with the revolutionary spirit of Renaissance humanism.… In fact, this antihumanism follows directly on Renaissance humanism's secularizing project, or more precisely, its discovery of the plane of immanence. (Hardt and Negri, Empire 91)

Although bourgeois (post)humanities' interpretive strategies and their philosophical underpinning are different from each other, they all arrive at more or less the same conclusions. For instance, Derrida takes a different path from Negri; he actually criticizes him for being "confined, out-of-it-in-it, within the walled perimeter of a new ontological fatherland" ("Marx & Sons" 261). Derrida thus appears to be at odds with Negri's arguments and his conclusions, but while using different assumptions and interpretive arrangements, he reaches the same general conclusions.

Derrida begins by undoing the ontological foundation of "law" and placing it in difference with "justice," which he interprets as law without law, anti-foundationalist law. In a rhetoric that has been received as transgressive and thus progressive by the left because it seems to question the dominant laws and their repressive practices, Derrida argues that justice is an "event" ("Force of Law" 971), and as an "event" ("Saying the Event"), it is outside the regulative means (of law). If "justice" is represented, it becomes "law," and as such, it will be an un-lawful law because law cannot lawfully set its own ground. What establishes it as lawful must precede the lawful and the unlawful. The law, in itself, is thus neither lawful nor unlawful:

[F]or a decision to be just and responsible, it must, in its proper moment if there is one, be both regulated and without regulation: it must conserve the law and also destroy it or suspend it enough to have to reinvent it in each case.… Justice remains, is yet, to-come, à-venir, it has an, it is à venir, the very dimension of events irreducibly to come. (Derrida, "Force of Law" 961, 969)

Justice, for Derrida, is not foundationalist; it cannot be grounded in the metaphysics of a final signified outside (self-)difference. This idea of law as epistemologically indeterminate and the notion of justice as anti-foundational—a post-legal ethics—has become the theory of justice in contemporary bourgeois (post)humanities (Cornell, Philosophy of the Limit; Possibility of Justice).

If, according to Derrida, the law is essentially un-lawful, then the unlawful cannot be against the law. This is another way of saying that capital's breaking the fundamentally unlawful law is a returning of (unlawful) "law" to "justice"—law without an imposed and arbitrary foundation. The unlawfulness of law—law as a violence to the free market—is, of course, the grounding assumption of neoliberal capitalism in its arguments for deregulation of the market and displacing law with (voluntary) practices which are "regulated and without regulation." The free market—where there are (assumed to be) no laws but the singularities of practices governed by their own immanently "regulated" without being founded on a "regulation" outside themselves—becomes the exemplary case of "justice," namely where matters are settled not by "law" but by case-by-case proceedings without pre-founded criteria. Law-as-justice, in other words, becomes a mode of ethics. Ethics, however, not as a set of "principles" but as "a sense of ethos, of manner of being" (Derrida, Negotiations 13). In his Echographies of Television, Derrida asserts the justness of the free market:

At bottom, the question of democracy concerns, among other things, the relation between the openness of a market and public space: how to maintain the greatest possible openness of public space without letting it be dominated, I won't say by the market, but by a certain commercial determination of the market? (47)

Market as justice is market without "determination" from the outside (e.g. laws of commerce). Derrida's market as the exemplary site of law without foundation (justice) is not identical with but close to Bill Gates' idea of the market as the site of a "friction-free capitalism" (180-207)—a place without outside determination.

To say this differently, the bourgeois debates on the end of humanism, as Cary Wolfe's What is Posthumanism? clearly indicates, are mostly attempts to update humanism by freeing it of its Cartesian legacies (31-47) and rewriting its economic assumptions (about private property) as a cutting-edge (post)humanism in which "economy counts with the aneconomic" (Derrida, "Politics and Friendship" 206).

Within the over-determined (semi-)autonomous cultural zone, the (post)humanities deploy the alibi of undoing the metaphysical binary of human/animal (Latour, Reassembling) to obscure the social division of labor and class relations that are the materialist causes of "speciesism." For instance, Cary Wolfe uses a moralistic jargon to dissolve differences in a liberal sentimentalism for justice, as in his calls for "sharing the planet with nonhuman subjects and treating them justly" (62). But speciesism, as Marx argues through his concept of "species being," is the effect of the conditions of direct production under capitalism (Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts 270-82; Nick Dyer-Witheford, "The Return of Species-Being"; Gerda Roelvink, "Rethinking Species-Being").

(Post)humanities' theories of undoing the human are all responses to the emerging labor-capital relations. As the relations of labor and capital change, so changes the concept of the human in (post)humanities.

Here it is important to re-emphasize how—with the shift of capitalist forms of exploitation to cognitive modalities in which commodities assume a more pronounced form of autonomy from labor—the (post)humanities produce modes of interpretation in which the objects themselves become more and more active agents in the social. The notion of the object as agent, as I have discussed, is dominant in contemporary (post)humanities through the increasing popularity of object-oriented ontology (Bryant; Morton) and "speculative realism" (Harman). The turn to (object) ontology, however, is most active in the writings of Bruno Latour who, in rejecting the negative (dialectic), echoes the Nietzschean themes that have dominated (post)humanities. Through his trope of the "parliament of things," he writes that "It is time, perhaps, to speak of democracy again, but of a democracy extended to things themselves" (We Have Never Been Modern 142).

But, the "thing" has been, is and will always be congealed alienated labor under capitalism—the "social hieroglyphic" that obscures human labor, which is, of course, why Latour so feverishly abandons the "critique" of "fetishism" (Factish Gods). Critique unconceals the "fetishism" of things showing how capitalism inverts reality so that

To the producers, therefore, the social relations between their private labours appear as what they are, i.e. they do not appear as direct social relations between persons in their work, but rather as material [dinglich] relations between persons and social relations between things. (Marx, Capital Vol. I 166)

Dominant (post)humanities are the scene of inversions, reversals and re-writings that, in various forms, normalize capitalism. The task of materialist (post)humanities is to contribute to what Marx calls the "return of man to himself as a social (i.e. human) being," one who has transcended private property. Humanism is the metaphysics of private property. Revolutionary (post)humanism is its materialist undoing.


First published in Knowledge Cultures, vol. 4, Issue 6, Nov. 2016.


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