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Evan Calder Williams on criticism, genealogy, and struggle


As part of the LA Review of Books’s ongoing symposium on critical thinking and writing amidst social crisis, Evan Calder Williams evokes the work of Chris Chitty, a distinguished Foucault scholar, to consider the relationship between criticism and anti-capitalist struggle. An excerpt:

The strength of this approach, one which is not just Foucault’s but Chris’s too, doesn’t lie only in its insistence that power is multidirectional. It’s also based in how it permits a crucial reading of class dynamics itself, one not restricted to interpretation via periods of historical accumulation (as potentially suggested by the broadly Giovanni Arrighi-esque schema through which Chris periodizes). Instead, it offers an angle of approach onto how social form continually works through, not on. Social control’s “distended organizational calculus,” in Hortense Spiller’s words, makes vectors, not victims, we might say, and the work of revolt has neither recourse nor exodus to any structure wholly of its making, let alone a prelapsarian commons, transhistorical species essence, or human community (the notorious, if slippery, Gemeinwesen found in Marx). It must instead make use of the very discursive, circulatory, and spatial patterns that its prior resistance helped form and which now array against it, comprising the weave of society’s flexible and homeostatic power.

In this regard, the comparison between Foucault and E. P. Thompson made by Colin Jones and Roy Porter seems relevant to the particular way that Chris picked up on and extended Foucault’s method, given the dual emphases on how class is made, not discovered, and on how a loose aggregation of disparate behaviors become a category of condemnation, such as homosexual or witch, primarily in order to veil even larger processes of accumulation and upheaval. So while Chris’s thought shares more obvious overlaps with queer militant theorists, like Guy Hocquenghem and Mario Mieli (and involves compelling and almost classical echoes of attention to minor details of rhetoric and text, reminding me of Hans Blumenberg), I’ve come to see in his work the same spirit of inquiry into social formation and rebellion that marks the work of Silvia Federici and Peter Linebaugh. As in their thought, the task of research is to take history apart at the seams, inverting what could appear as constants, or at least as methodological points of departure — like the queer in queer history — and reveal them to be a messy index of the discrete instances of insurrection and punishment yoked together by that term.

Image: Caravaggio, The Cardsharps.