On February 1, 2023, Social Science Matrix presented an Authors Meet Critics panel on Microverses: Observations from a Shattered Present, a book by Dylan Riley, Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley.
Professor Riley was joined by two discussants: Colleen Lye, Associate Professor of English at UC Berkeley, affiliated with the Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory, and Donna Jones, Associate Professor of English at UC Berkeley and Core Faculty for the Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory and the Science, Technology and Society Center. The panel was moderated by Alexei Yurchak, Professor of Anthropology at UC Berkeley, and was co-sponsored by the Townsend Center for the Humanities.
As described by its publisher, Microverses comprises over a hundred short essays inviting us to think about society—and social theory—in new ways. It analyses the intellectual situation, the political crisis of Trump’s last months in office, and love and illness in a period when both were fraught with the public emergency of the coronavirus, drawing on Weber and Durkheim, Parsons and Dubois, Gramsci and Lukács, MacKinnon and Fraser.
“It is really a marvelous little volume that takes on a wide range of questions in a short-essay format,” said Marion Fourcade, Director of Social Science Matrix, in her opening remarks. “It beautifully blends the deadly serious with the very important mundane. There are reflections about the weight of history, the usefulness of concepts, the potency of classical music, and last but not least, how to think sociologically about our tumultuous times.”
Alexei Yurchak noted that the book is a “collection of 110 very interesting, sometimes very intense, analytical, sometimes very light, but insightful comments and analysis and thoughts on the current situation.”
In his remarks, Riley explained that Microverses “was really a response to a triple set of crises: one global, one more national, and one very personal.” The global crisis was the COVID pandemic, and “especially the early months of that experience, which were incredibly disorienting for all of us in in various ways — a feeling of suspension, suspension of time, and this fundamental rupture of normal routine that we all experienced.”
The second crisis, he said, was the final months of the Trump administration, “which was a very, very bizarre period politically,” culminating in the January 6 Insurrection.
And the third crisis was Riley’s wife’s terminal illness, which was diagnosed in late August 2020. “These three things came together for me to create a profound feeling of disruption, and a kind of hiatus,” he said. “I was, in a sense, forced to continue being active to write in a different way. And for me, that was essentially pen and paper and notebooks. A lot of these notes were composed in waiting rooms, in parking lots, or in a cafe, because I was just didn’t have access to normal routine…. I had to learn how to write in a way that was more direct than I’m used to.”
Riley explained that the essays in the book have three main foci: politics and political culture, with a running “friendly” critique of the contemporary left in America; a more personal set of notes, focused on illness and related issues; and a constant meditation on sociology and Marxism.
“The idea that I was after,” he explained, “was to try to link the personal to the theoretical, in some kind of fairly direct and unmediated way, and in a way that was not burdened with an overly technical or specialized language — and that could in a sense turn social theory into a tool for mastering, to some extent, life.”
To hear the responses from Professor Lye and Professor Jones, watch the video above or listen to the podcast.
Authors Meet Critics: Dylan Riley, “Microverses: Observations from a Shattered Present”
[MARION FOURCADE] Hello, everybody. Welcome to Social Science Matrix. I’m Marion Fourcade. I’m the director of this wonderful institution. And I want to welcome you to a new semester here.
So today, I’m very excited because we are featuring the work of my very dear colleague, Dylan Riley, who’s a professor in the Sociology Department here at Berkeley. The book’s title, as you can see, is Microverses– Observations from a Shattered Present. And it is really a marvelous little volume that you can see here that takes on a wide range of questions in a short essay format. And it beautifully blends, I think, the deadly serious with the mundane and very important mundane.
There are reflections about the weight of history, the usefulness of concepts, the potency of classical music, and last but not least, how to think sociologically about our tumultuous times. Today’s event is part of Matrix’s Author Meets Critic series. And it is co-sponsored by the Townsend Center for the Humanities. I’m very happy because this is our second collaboration. And there will be more in the future.
As always, I will mention a few upcoming events. On February 15, our Matrix distinguished lecture will feature Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar. His lecture is entitled Reimagining Global Integration. On the following day at noon, we will host a related panel titled Economics and Geopolitics in US International Relations– China, Europe, and the Global South. And in that panel, in addition to Justice Cuéllar, we’ll have James Fearon, a political scientist from Stanford, and two Berkeley economists– Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas– and Laura Tyson.
And then, let me also mention two more Author Meets Critics events in March. On March 6, we will have a discussion of Cooperating With Colossus, a new book by Rebecca Herman. And on March 7, we will discuss Courtney Morris’s book, To Defend This Sunrise. And then, we have many more exciting events that I encourage you to look up on the Matrix website.
So now, without further ado, let me introduce our moderator, Alexei Yurchak. Alexei is a professor of anthropology here at Berkeley and is affiliated with the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures and with a designated emphasis in critical theory. He is the author of Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More– The Last Soviet Generation published by Princeton University Press in 2006.
That book won the Wayne Vucinic Award for the Best Book of the Year from the American Society of Slavic, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies. The extended Russian edition of the book won the 2015 Enlightener Award for the Best Nonfiction Book of the Year in Russia. He is currently finishing a book on the political, scientific, and aesthetic histories of Lenin’s body that has been maintained and displayed for a century in the mausoleum in Moscow.
So without further ado, I now turn it over to Alexei. Thank you.
[ALEXEI YURCHAK] Thank you very much, Marion, for the introduction. And I will introduce our panelists today. And the first author, speaker, Dylan Riley. Dylan is a professor of sociology at Berkeley. He studies capitalism, socialism, democracy, authoritarianism, and knowledge regimes in broad, comparative, and historical sociological perspective.
He has authored or co-authored five books, including the Civic Foundations of Fascism in Europe– Italy, Spain, and Romania 1870-1945, which came out in 2010 at Johns Hopkins University Press and then, again, in 2019 was published by Verso. He has also published the Antecedents of Census– From Medieval to Nation States, Palgrave, 2016; Changes in the Censuses– From Imperialism to Welfare States, also Palgrave, 2016; and How Everyday Forms of Racial Categorization Survived Imperialist Censuses in Puerto Rico, Palgrave, 2021.
He has published in many sociological, historical, and social theory journals, including Journal of Sociology, American Physiological Review, New Left Review on whose editorial board he sits, and also Theory in Society and many others. Dylan’s most recent work focuses on the relationship between democracy and capitalism, particularly in its current phase. For example, recently he published with Robert Brenner an important piece in the New Left Review last year called “Seven Theses on American Politics.”
To get a sense of Dylan’s views, you may consult recent profiles that appeared in The Nation and the New Statesman as well as podcast conversations with Daniel Denvir in The Dig and Alex Hochuli in Aufhebunga Bunga. His memoir entitled [INAUDIBLE] will be coming out next year in Verso. He is also at work on two larger book projects right now, a collection of essays provisionally titled Science Ideology and Method and the comparative historical analysis of democratization in Germany, Italy, Japan, France, the UK, and the US from 1200 to 1950, which is provisionally titled Special Paths.
And today, we’ll be discussing Dylan’s most recent book Microverses, which you see published in 2022 by Verso, which is a collection of 110 very interesting, sometimes very intense analytical, sometimes very, as Marion was saying, light but insightful comments and analysis, thoughts on the current situation.
Our discussants will be Colleen Lye and Donna Jones. And I will introduce both of them. Colleen Lye is an associate professor in the Department of English and core faculty for the designated emphasis in critical theory. She is the author of America’s Asia– Racial Form and American Literature, 1893-1945, which was published by Princeton in 2005. The book received the Cultural Studies Book Award from the Association of Asian-American Studies.
Recently, Professor Lye edited a volume which is very relevant to the discussion of the Marx literature theory and value in the 21st century published by Cambridge last year. And she is currently working on a new book on Asian-American identity and global Maoism.
Professor Donna Jones is associate professor in the Department of English at UC Berkeley and also core faculty in designated emphasis in critical theory. Looks like all of us are.
And in the Center for Science Technology and Society as well. She is also affiliated with the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. Professor Jones is the author of Racial Discourse of Life Philosophy– Negritude, Vitalism, and Modernity published by Columbia in 2010.
That book won the Jeanne and Aldo Scaglione prize from Modern Languages Association. And Professor Jones has also a forthcoming book, The Ambiguous Promise of Decline– Race and Historical Pessimism in the Interwar Years, 1914-1945. She’s also working on a different new book project, The Tribunal of Life– Reflections on Vitalism, Race, and Biopolitics.
And now, after the introduction, I would like to invite Dylan to say a few words. After that, we will have both commentators comment. And I will say a couple of things. And then, we will open the floor for questions and answers from the live audience and from the Zoom audience as well.
[DYLAN RILEY] So first of all, I just want to thank you guys. Thank you, Alexei, for that beautiful introduction. And thanks to Colleen and Donna for agreeing to do this. And thanks above all to Marion for organizing this and for the Matrix for allowing me to talk about this kind of interesting or funny little book that I’ve produced. And I appreciate people taking it seriously.
I want to talk a little bit about the method of composition, essentially how I did this and why I did this. I want to talk a little bit then after that just about the main foci of the different mini essays that the book is composed of. And then, I want to talk about my stance in them.
So I guess I’ll just proceed in that order. First of all, just the context and the procedure of writing. So Microverses was really a response to a triple set of crises, two of them global– or I would say one global, one more national, one very personal.
The global crisis was the one that we all went through, which is, obviously, the COVID pandemic and especially the early months of that experience, which were incredibly disorienting, I think, for all of us in various ways– feeling of suspension of time and this fundamental rupture of normal routine that we all experienced. The second of these, I guess, just moving from the more global to the more national was the final months of the Trump administration, which was a very bizarre period politically. And it’s culminates in the January 6 insurrection or uprising or whatever we want to call that moment.
And the final one and probably the most significant one for me was my wife’s– what proved to be her terminal illness. She was diagnosed in August, late August of 2020. So about, what? About 3 or 4 months into the pandemic. And so these three things came together for me, essentially, to create a profound feeling of disruption and a kind of hiatus as I’m sure many of you also felt having gone through these things. But somehow, it was more acute because I think this intersection of the global, the national, and the personal really came together for me in that period.
And so, especially as I was dealing with taking care of Emanuela, the whole set of conditions of existence that we all have grown used to of academic life with its libraries and its access to colleagues and all of that, that was all suspended really. And I was in a sense forced to continue being active to write in a different way. And for me, that was essentially pen and paper and notebooks.
So a lot of these notes were composed in waiting rooms or parking lots or just sometimes in a cafe because I was just knocked out of. I just didn’t have access to a normal routine. It just meant that I had to learn how to write in a way that was more direct than I’m used to the claims that are made in a sense– I mean, I would be very– in a sense they make me uncomfortable.
They’re not supported with the normal pillars of citation and quotation and stuff. It’s just OK, what do I really think? And then also, what’s going on? So these are the two ways in which they happen. So the method of composition is really dictated by this triple suspension.
So shifting a little bit to just the foci of the essays, they’re just how I think about them linked together. I’d say there are three main foci. One is politics and political culture. And particularly, I’d say a distinctive feature of them is there is certainly a running critique, not a hostile one– I hope a friendly one– but a running critique of the contemporary left that I personally see– and I’m speaking, obviously, as an American and talking mostly about the American left– personally see is suffused with a legalism and moralism, which I see as politically debilitating.
There’s a couple of examples of that. And so I think maybe the best way in a sense to get into that is just to read one of the notes. I think I’ll start really with– there’s a brief one on justice. And give you a sense of what I’m doing here.
“Certain arguments in Marx and Hayek bear an uncanny resemblance, in spite of their diametrically opposed politics. Both were fascinated with the blind character of social cooperation under capitalism– a society of all-round interdependence mediated by private decisions. Whereas this contradiction inspired Hayek to compose quasi-Burkean hosannas to ignorance, Marx identified it as the fundamental weakness of capitalism.
Both also rejected the application of the category of justice to the social process– for Hayek because the extended order was a natural development, and so expecting justice from it would be akin to expecting justice from a tree or a mountain, for Marx because justice applies to the distribution of currently available resources, but offers no guide to the division of the social product between current consumption and investment. There is in a sense no socially just structure of accumulation, or rather there may be many, some of which are more desirable than others but for reasons that have nothing to do with justice.
Noting these common points brings out with great sharpness the real differences. All of Hayek’s arguments are based ultimately on the idea of the social as a manifestation of the sublime, leaving the analyst in a state of dumb credulity. Marx’s arguments derive from precisely the opposite impulse– that society is a creation of the human species, and potentially controllable by its rationality. Justice itself, being a human creation, cannot be allowed to become a fetish– as if the meaning of human history could be decided through a judicial procedure, as if there were a meta court standing outside of history.
There’s no just society in general, and every society that has laws presumably in some sense a just society. The point is not justice but rationality– which is to say, freedom.”
The second set of notes is more personal. And it basically has to do very much with, I would say, Emanuela’s illness, which is this running background theme in this. And I’ll just read one note that exemplifies this kind of writing. It’s called “Soma.”
“Can health care be a commodity? In the United States, every ‘service’ has its price. Conceptually, the provision of health care in this system is thought of in the same way that the cafeteria restaurants that used to be popular in the 1970s priced and delivered food. I still remember fondly the slightly pasty taste of ‘Blue Boar’ mashed potatoes, whose flavor could never be reproduced at home with an actual tuber.
In any case the doctor is conceptually a ‘server’ who offers the ‘client’ a particular item. The sovereign patient/consumer can then choose among the options. Would you like to have a side of nursing with your chemotherapy? It’s always nice to round out your treatment with an extra helping of nutritionist’s advice.
We have two different courses of treatment that you can follow– and you are free to choose, just as you are free to choose the chicken steak or fish of the cafeteria. But, of course, the commodity form is entirely inappropriate to the ‘service’ on offer– health. Why is this so?
The first problem is that the ‘patient/consumer’ is fundamentally ignorant and stands in a relationship of layperson to expert in the context of health care. This is all obscured by the falsely demotic language of ’empowerment’ that enjoins the patient to ‘take charge’ of her own care. But the entire reason that the patient seeks care is that doctors, nurses, and specialists are experts– they’re not offering ‘services.’ Instead, they are presumably in a position to determine which ‘services’ have an actual use for the patient.
But the commodity form undermines the expert/patient relationship by establishing the false sovereignty of the patient. Inevitably, this is reinforced by the ubiquitous customer satisfaction survey. ‘Did you enjoy your surgical experience?’ The sprawling apparatus of US health care is premised on the fiction of the patient as a sovereign consumer– the reality is anxiety and bewilderment.
The second problem posed by the commodity form is that the health ‘services’ violate the concept of marginal utility. There’s no reason to think that the ‘utility’ of an additional unit of health care will eventually decline as the total number of units of health care consumed increases. This is because ‘utility’ here is not a quantitative accumulation but a qualitative state– health. This state cannot be reduced to any series of fungible units, which is why, by the way, the saying that ‘health is wealth’ is absolutely false.
The third problem is that health care provision cannot be described by an indifference curve in which one commodity can be swapped out for another– two open-heart surgeries and an appendectomy cannot be substituted with a kidney transplant and cataract removal. The reason is that health care makes sense only in relation to a specific illness and is meant to return its recipient to a specific state.”
So if I’ll just try your patience for one more brief reading, the third foci or the third theme in the essay is really about the constant meditation on sociology and Marxism. And here, I’ll just give you one example of the kind of thing I’m doing here.
I’ll read note 35 entitled “Pseudo-antitheory.” “The self-hating sociologist is as familiar a figure of the current intellectual landscape as her close cousin, the self-hating philosopher. The target of this type is inevitably ‘theory,’ disparaged as a body of antiquated and irrelevant text at one time that may have been useful magazine of ‘hypotheses,’ but which now clutters intellectual space like a collection of unloved family heirlooms that no one has the courage to take to the dump.
But what is to replace them? Here the antitheorist inevitably suggests the following three claims. First, everyday explanations have just as much, if not more, analytic power as the specialized languages and categories of the classics. Second, significant social relationships are immediately apparent, especially now that we are awash in such a massive sea of data that even the tools of statistical inference, especially sampling, are no longer relevant. Third, and finally, scientific progress is most clearly indicated when scientists forget the history of their own fields of inquiry.
The paradox of the antitheorist’s position is that each of these claims is eminently theoretical. The first says that science is transparent to its members; the second, that causal connections are directly intuitable; and the third, that history of science is linear and progressive. What wild and unsupported metaphysical claims are these?
They reveal that the antitheorist is always in fact a pseudo-antitheorist, whose metaphysical body must be extracted from the misleading positivist shell in which she shrouds herself. Only then can the quivering fragility of the metaphysics be examined in the cold light of reason and evidence.”
So those are just some examples taken from these three themes within the book that I thought you might be interested in hearing. I mean, let me talk just very briefly about, I would say, my stance on each of these things.
The idea that I was after, I would say, was just to try to link the personal to the theoretical in some kind of fairly direct and unmediated way and in a way that was not burdened with an overly technical or specialized language. And that could in sense turns social theory into a tool for mastering to some extent life. That’s all I really have to say about it. So thanks.
[ALEXEI YURCHAK] So now, I think it’s up to you. You can sit here, if you want. So the first commentator will be Colleen Lye, professor of English.
[COLLEEN LYE] Serendipitously, I’ve been enjoying this book, Marx’s Literary Style, a work published in 1975 by the Venezuelan poet and theorist Ludovico Silva but only published just this year in English translation. When I was asked to respond to Dylan’s book, referencing a line from Marx, that the poet is one who perceives what he thinks and thinks what he feels, Silva suggests that this might be true of Marxist style in general.
For Marx, Silva says, “Thinking is something that can be plastically perceived. The conceptual has a perceptual value.” Marxist metaphors help us to perceive the properly scientific or theoretical content of his propositions. Moreover, through an appropriate expenditure of energy on each page, utilizing a principle of linguistic economy, Silva says, Marx was able to be the ideal class that he was. That is, a breaker of ideas. His literary style had few equals when it came to, quote, “implacably stigmatizing ideas and personages while preserving a serenity of reasoning,” end quote.
To this point, Dylan Wiley’s Microverses represents a stylistic departure from such works as the civic foundations of fascism in Europe. Perhaps it could already be said of civic foundations that it implacably stigmatized ideas and personages while preserving a serenity of reasoning. But if so, not quite so economically as Microverses, which is perhaps to say figuratively.
So here are some examples, quote, from Microverses. “And who is the social theorists who develop the logic of the spreadsheet into a full-blown social theory? Pierre Bourdieu.” Or on Goran Therborn. Therborn’s influence, quote, “has now clearly taken on a reactionary or chloroforming significance. The thesis functions as what could be termed either ‘consolation prize Marxism’ or ‘subaltern Fukuyamism.’ The function is to integrate scholars who would otherwise produce more hard hitting and critical work, but who are now bogged down in an indefensible position.”
Not just with the use of metaphor to stigmatize ideas and personages but a metaphoric redeployment of a formula, an eye-opening metaphoric deployment– pardon the pun. For example, quote, “The circuit of simple commodity production illustrated by the formula C-M-C describes not just a type of economy but more importantly, a way of experiencing capitalist society. The democratic socialist left’s critique of capitalism with petit bourgeois ideology, an immediate point of view that sees capitalism through the spectacles of C-M-C.”
Speaking of democratic socialism, he also says, quote, “A rather ironic tone hangs over the products of the DSA intelligentsia. Jacobin’s colorful images, self-deprecating responses to social media attacks, and tongue-in-cheek section heads, ‘Means of Deduction,’ ‘Cultural Capital,’ they exemplify a cultural style that could be called ‘postmodern Kautskyism’ or ‘Kautskyism in an ironic mode.’ Like its forebear, it is characterized by the tendency to cover up and slaughter over theoretical and political difficulties; but unlike the original, this is all done with a nod and a wink,” end quote.
In a manner reminiscent of what Ludovico Silva refers to as the rounded style of many of Marx’s sentences wherein Marx formulates a phrase and then follows it with another using the same words with inverted syntax, here’s this one from Microverses.
Quote, “Intellectually, we live in the age of ‘adjectival capitalism’ Why is this the case? It might be connected with a new phase of capitalism, what I’ve termed ‘political capitalism’– another adjectival form. It might be the case that the political supports of surplus extraction are now so obvious that the critique of capitalism necessarily takes on a naive quasi-enlightenment form. But it might also be the case that the new adjectival capitalism talk is simply an occult demand for a capitalism without adjectives,” end quote.
At their best, metaphors clarify quite difficult abstract concepts without simplifying them as when Riley is trying to figure out how to explain the distinction and relationship between productive and reproductive labor. Quote, “Productive labor always leads to accumulation in some form; there is always at the end of the process ‘stuff’ that was not there before. There is always also a ‘mess’– this last requires reproductive labor to clean up.
The second difference to be noted concerns the differing orientations to time that flow from the two forms. The time of productive labor is teleological. It unfolds in relation to a purpose or end state. More generally, life, from the perspective of productive labor, is a project. The time of reproductive labor is, in contrast, cyclical. It unfolds not in relation to a given that it seeks to transcend, but to one it aims to conserve.”
Note 70 earmarked ‘Slow learner’ I think gets to the heart of why this form of writing, why Microverses. Quote, “I’m learning many lessons, but the most important ones concern time. The whole organization of time under capitalism discounts and ignores the now; everything is organized in relation to an ever receding past and a projected future.
The present becomes a mere means of linking the two voids. This relationship to time is always violent and irrational. But in my current circumstances it is pathological as well. One careens from painful nostalgia to despair without realizing what is happening now, which is precisely everything.” That’s it.
[ALEXEI YURCHAK] Thank you, Colleen. The next commentator is Professor Donna Jones also from the Department of English.
[DONNA JONES] Hi. OK, thank you. Yes, well, again, thank you for inviting me. And so yes, well, I must say it’s difficult, nonetheless, to put into words how for me this academic occasion differs from every other gathering to discuss a colleague’s work. Dylan is a colleague and a friend. And I’ve spoken about the work colleagues and friends before.
Yet Microverses not only presents an opportunity to think through and observe new thinking of a colleague and a friend. It also allows one, myself particularly, to think through a shared experience– the crises of COVID, the psychological and political torment of the Trump years, and for you Dylan, a crisis of which I witnessed and was unthinkable– the loss of Emanuela.
As I’m here on the social scientists’ turf, I will find safe haven in my comfort zone or what the kids refer to as my real house– the literary. Part of the thrill of reading Microverses is observing Dylan’s remarkable facility with sociological fundamentals. For literary scholar, the names Otto Hintze, Weber, Durkheim and Parsons are positively exotic.
Microverses are, undoubtedly, a meditation on critical sociology, a work of classic– to quote Dylan, “a work of classical social analysis written in the fashion of C. Wright Mills.” By critical, Dylan means critique as it is understood through Marx. Each note presumes a social totality. That totality may be a concept, a sociological or political concept, class, the state, or an example of the everyday– of everyday life– online teaching, music, class.
Each of these totality are understood through critique. That is, as Riley described so eloquently– I’m going to switch back and forth between Dylan and Riley. I’m just going to settle on Riley. Thank you. It’s like, yeah, what we do.
That is, as Riley described so eloquently, an elucidation and condition of possibility for something to exist. In his note on of critique, it is precisely this mode of critique that is mobilized, page 23. Read this.
“Critique. What does sociology lack– why does sociology lack a culture of critique? Undoubtedly, the sociology of knowledge, especially in its Bourdieusian form, bears a heavy responsibility. The basic task of the critic is to deal with the text before him or her.
The piece must be treated in the first instance as a self-standing structure, like a built object, although it must also be subsequently contextualized historically. It should not be dissolved in the acid bath of ‘positionality’ or alternately treated as the expression of a stance in the field. One effect of approaching culture from the perspective of reduction to biography or of stance-taking is that it becomes impossible to treat ideas seriously; and as a result, critique also becomes impossible, or rather a suspect activity.
The critic, after all, also has a position in the field, an agenda, et cetera, so why bother with what he or she says? Reviews, in this context, become more or less sincere advertisements.”
“The piece must be treated in the first instance as a self-standing object.” In treating the piece as a self-standing objects, curiously, this describes the orientation the critic should maintain towards the object in order to conduct a critique. One must hold the concepts and hold the concept scenario at length and provisionally lend it the autonomy of separation from its surrounding, although to historicize– although to historicize allows one to think the object through a context.
This describes the method of critique. But as a literary scholar trained to observe the form of an object, Riley also presents a rationale for the notes, for the necessity of short prose, aphoristic in moments, impressionistic in others, critical in most, and while I would say all. As the title suggests, Microverses, each note is an instance of critique in itself, a collection of self-standing objects, each an instance of critical sociology.
In my limited time, I would like to remark on the work of Microverses– excuse me, on the work of Microverses. It is an untimely work. That is, while we see examples of short prose everywhere– I mean, we can think of this in Twitter, for example, which is writing directed by and appealing to the algorithmic superego– I would say that we rarely see so decidedly a critical approach to the short form, one which brings us back to the philosophical aspirations and radical traditions of note and aphoristic writing.
So bear with me for a moment with my reckless positioning. But I have a fond memory of our intense walk once, Dylan. And it was muddy and in twilight. And you mentioned that you were writing this book, this collection of short works, I remember you saying. And I remember– or maybe I said this outline. I’m not quite sure. But I remember saying something to the effect of, isn’t that positively 19th century of you? [LAUGHS]
But let’s talk a little bit more about the short form. So the short form is fitting for a critical account of social concepts in a time of crisis, which I understand as a period of suspense much like the Roman usage, which analogizes social crisis with that of the body. A crisis marks a moment in an illness when the body was at a cusp of recovery or decline. The height of a fever, for example.
A work, which, I think– I don’t know if we spoke about together. But I remember thinking about when I read Microverses is by the cultural critic Eric Cazdyn, whose intellectual memoir, already dead, refers to crisis as an extended period to fight against late capitalism’s dissimulation– excuse me, dissimulated crisis imagined as catastrophe.
Cazdyn writes, “Crisis is not what happens when we go wrong but what happens when things go as they should.” And it’s an interesting work too because Cazdyn– actually, this is a work that was written on the occasion of him moving to a new job in Canada and having been diagnosed with leukemia. So he comes up with an idea of the chronic, which was all about his engagement with the health care system in Canada and how health care was not about cure but about maintenance. And so your note on “Soma” really made me think hard about Cazdyn’s idea about chronic as being the temporality of late capitalism. Be interesting to see what you think about it.
So as you all know, there’s a long history of the short work and aphoristic writing and the radical tradition, which most of you know. I won’t rehearse here. But there are some features of this history, which I think Riley’s project explores and expands upon. First is that aphoristic writing short works are structurally positioned to engage with the here and now.
This frequently take– this frequently involves the short work’s uncanny ability to interject critical worldviews into subject matters that are considered light or mundane that comes from, I guess, a kind of politics [INAUDIBLE] tone, for example. I mean, pushing the radicals to the culture page in our newspaper post the 18 Brumaire. But it also, we see this in political– we see that political engagement with the mundane throughout. Jakob Norberg writes famously about Adorno’s Minima Moralia, that it resembles an advice column.
So in another way to you, another thing about aphorisms and aphoristic writings is that it has a relentless engagement with the present and an understanding of the present as a state of suspension. And Colleen, you spoke to this. But I won’t– because I’m running out short of time, I won’t speak to that. And we see this a great deal in some of the more beautiful segments, for example, the note on walking, which speaks that absolutely gorgeous line, “The absent-minded solitary walker is nowhere to be found.”
So in the perambulatory aspects of the aphorism or aphoristic writing. Again, in and through critique, we see how it is engaged with this present, what is walking look like in our present moment. And our present moment, it is about the biosociality of recognizing that we are all disease vectors. And so that sense of freedom that we get from walking is not quite there. But there is a moment of social recognition, of social truth that we get to evolve from that.
And then the last point, I would say, is that aphorisms percent themselves as a world unto themselves as totality is. Andrew Hui argues that the aphorism oscillates between fragments and systems. Or as Schiller views, a fragment should be isolated like a little work of art and complete in itself like a hedgehog. In collection, red ensemble, we argues that a collection of aphorisms morphs into a multitude of cunning foxes.
And I would say that that relationship between parts and whole, the beautiful metonymy of your work, which is incredibly Marxian, Marx in what I would say is the grand formal innovator of metonymy of parts and wholes. We begin with linen. And we end with the grand conceptual universe of exchange value.
But I think your expression of that metonymy, of the importance of the metonymy in the note and in understanding our social world comes in a beautiful note on granny quilts. And I think– granny squares. And I think I’ll just end with that actually because it was precisely that everyday aspect that critique as it looks at the ordinary, the mundane.
So “Blankets. In crochet, there is a technique called ‘granny squares’ in which the maker produces a number of small multicolored squares of yarn. These are subsequently assembled to form a blanket. The technique is often deployed to use up odds and ends of yarns accumulated as leftovers from previous projects.
Emanuela recently completed a very beautiful such blanket. These notes are also ‘granny squares.’ They are scraps of thought worked up into little tiles. But whether they will form a striking mosaic will depend on how they are arranged and put together.”
[ALEXEI YURCHAK] Thank you, Donna, very much and Colleen. And now, maybe Dylan can respond. And then we’ll have questions and answers.
[DYLAN RILEY] First of all, I’d just like to say, really sincere thanks to both Colleen and Donna for these comments and just the care with which they thought about Microverses. I would just say that what I have learned from these comments but I don’t think I really understood before is the way in which the stylistic move that I’ve made in producing this book, I think it does very much have its roots in my particular understanding of social theory and of Marxism. I just wasn’t really aware of that before.
So I don’t know what to say about that other than thank you for bringing that. Thank you for bringing that point to the fore. And it gives me a lot to think about and to work with. And I hope that this is the beginning of maybe a very serious conversation that really links social sciences and humanities together on this campus. I say, thank you for that.
[ALEXEI YURCHAK]OK, great. Thank you. So we have this half an hour for questions, discussions, comments. These folks who are on Zoom, you can put your questions in the Q&A section. Or you can also put them into the chat. I see both windows. And maybe we can start with the audience here. I understand that not everyone probably had seen and read the book yet. Question them.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Thank you very much. I much enjoyed reading your book. And I just have a couple of queries about a couple of your entries that you could maybe reflect upon. One is where you talk about Trump. And you say that there’s perhaps been too much obsession with his capacity for deceit and not enough on what you refer to as his extraordinary ability to speak, quote unquote, “spectacular truth.” I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that.
Second, you have a couple of entries that speak about racial capitals. And it seems to me you’re querying or troubling that in some way. One seemed to be in relationship to American historiography and the origins of American capitalism, where it seems to me that you question whether, for example, the American slave plantation should be construed as capitalist. That’s, obviously, part of a long-standing debate, as you know.
But it seems to me you are also something in there– this is what I’d like you to reflect upon– some other type of implicit questioning of the category of racial capitalism that turns on the threat of class that runs through your book. I wondered if you could reflect upon that I have another question about your decolonizing sociology. But should I ask that too?
So you say– OK, so sociology is in the middle of a decolonizing moment. And then you say something like– I’m ventriloquizing. I’m probably misreading what you have to say.
But you say something like, well, that’s all well and good because it raises questions about the relationship between knowledge and empire. But that taken to its logical conclusion will produce something– you end that quote– you end that entry by saying something like it will simply end up with nothing more than “annotated bibliography,” quote unquote. I wondered if you could opine on that one too.
[ALEXEI YURCHAK] Should we take a number of questions?
Yeah, maybe we– but you already have a number. You have three. So maybe–
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Hi. Thank you for this. I just started reading the book. Really look forward to finishing it. I was curious about the concept of– the Durkheimian concept of collective effervescence of questions of– I’m a humanist, trained in humanities.
And so thinking about transcendence, presence, immanence, feeling, soul, could I say? But collective effervescence and wondering where in the book, if at all, you might engage with these questions. And it would seem to me that given these three major traumatic events in your life– and some of them that we experience– that perhaps some of that would emerge, so.
[DYLAN RILEY] Well, great. Thanks for these questions. So I guess I’ll just go in order, the question. So the question about Trump. So it was, obviously, media on why was the Trump was this unprecedented liar. I think The Washington Post even had a tracker that had some– sorry, I’m failing in my duties to use this microphone correctly.
There was a tracker of all the lies that he told. But I was just unsatisfied with that. As a way of understanding his particular form of charisma, of course, he said absurd things all the time. But what I always found so interesting about him was that the times that he’s told the truth– and I’m thinking particularly– I think I mentioned it in the note– it’s that South Carolina Republican primary, where he’s up here on the stage with these candidates.
And they’re talking about the Gulf War. He’s just like, oh, this is a total disaster. And you people are responsible for it. Absolutely right. And, of course, no Democratic candidate would ever dare to say something like that. Or the other time when– I think this was after the election, where he says, well, Schumer and Pelosi, they’re just creatures of finance capital. Who could argue with that?
So I mean, there were just these moments in which I thought that– and just more generally, there was this, obviously, part of his appeal was that he was revealing the feeling that the game is rigged. This is the way things really worked. And, obviously, I’m just as corrupt as these people. But at least, I’m openly corrupt. And I’m openly lying to you.
So I just think that was an important thing to understand. And I thought that this wasn’t captured very well by the sententious moralizing of the liberal center as it went on and on pointing out how many lies Trump told. So I guess that’s what I was trying to pull out from that idea.
On the question of racial capitalism, I mean, I think that the question of race and capitalism is absolutely central. And I don’t think it’s well posed in the concept of racial capitalism, as I understand it primarily from Cedric Robinson’s book Black Marxism. So my position on that, I guess, in some ways, is a kind of fairly orthodox one.
I do think, obviously, that if we want to understand the dynamics of the American political economy, we, obviously, have to understand racialized commodity-oriented slavery. I do not think– in my view, I don’t think that the right way to pose this issue is to say, oh, American capitalism somehow wouldn’t have gotten off the ground if it hadn’t been for racialized slavery.
I don’t think that’s the case. I actually think that from an economic point of view, the American South was an enormous drag on the American economy. And I think that if you actually look carefully at the historiography, it basically says that in the decades leading up to the Civil War, you see a process of economic decoupling between the North and the South. And that’s actually in some ways an important driver of that whole period, that what was really driving American capitalist growth was the East-West exchange and not the North-South one.
So I think there are some important questions about this notion. And I also think that what I find surprising about the recent readdition of it– this is the complex literature. And people are talking about it in different ways.
But the basic idea of racial capitalism, I still think, relies on a fundamentally unfair trade model of exploitation and essentially says that what allowed for capital accumulation in the North, now speaking broadly, the core European lands and Northern parts of the United States was that there was a class of primitive accumulation based on this unpaid transfer of labor. I wouldn’t say that there wasn’t an unpaid transfer of labor. I would just very much question its centrality to the origins dynamic of capitalism in its core zone.
So it’s just an empirical point. And I believe that– I mean, I offer a different way of thinking about the relationship between race and capitalism that’s really premised on the existence of uneven development is the key issue. But we can talk about that maybe separately.
On decolonizing the syllabus, I mean, I guess my point about this is simple. I don’t want to be Mr.– this idea that the syllabus is an untouchable thing, I think, is absurd. I will say that right off the bat.
And I think one of the things that’s good about this moment that sociology is going through is that it’s examining and thinking about its core, its foundation. Having said that, I just don’t– in sociology, this movement has not produced what I see as an actually particularly hard-hitting critique and reconstruction of the core thinkers. It’s essentially become an additive process, in which what we say is that, oh, well, we have these people. And here’s this other person, who was writing at the same time. So they should go in.
So this is just a weak– it’s just intellectually not yet solidified is what I would say in sociology. And that’s what I was pointing out. I do think that what it has done most importantly is to emphasize the concept of empire and theories of imperialism as a central topic. So I think that is important.
On Durkheim, I don’t talk too much about collective effervescence. But I have enormous respect for Durkheim. And I’m actually– one of the notes that I’m very proud of is my Durkheimian discussion of Robert Brenner’s theory of the origins of capitalism called sticking together.
So I do think that Durkheim is of fundamental importance. I actually think– well, I have peculiar views about Durkheim. I think that Durkheim’s substantive social theory, especially in the division of labor in society, is virtually identical to Hegel’s theory in the philosophy of right and that the two can be read all– the books are so similar that one can almost be read as a French translation of the other or German trends. Anyway, I think they– and I also think that Durkheim– I mean, his commitment to totalizing explanation and all of that, I have great appreciation for that.
[COLLEEN LYE] Just, if I may jump in on the first set of questions, just to supplement your response to the question about decolonizing the syllabus and racial capitalism debates. I’ll try to be really pithy. But my take on what you had to say in Microverses or at least what I got out of Microverses starting with the racial capitalism question was that I was struck– it seemed to me that certainly in this text, you were not going to be able to or you were not interested in making a full-fledged argument that could get into the weeds as to whether plantation slavery in the South in the 19th century could be proven to show a declining rate of profit nor whether or not it counted as productive labor that was creating surplus value at the level of value and accumulation or the level of profit.
Rather, what I got from what you had to say was that there was– so it wasn’t an economic argument you were making here or capable of making here. The one pithy thing I got from it was that you were distinguishing between the economic maneuver at the heart of racial capitalism, which was centering on the concept of the rip-off. Off. And that’s the term you used on page 99 to 100 in note 88– versus what Marxian’s critique of wage labor within capitalism, which is the core insight.
There’s a labor power, was free and paid at its value. The point is that it’s not wage theft that’s happening at the level of labor power as a commodity so that you’re making a kind of distinction here between the rip-off versus being paid at value. Therefore, there’s two different kinds of arguments being made.
So I think that’s interesting. I don’t know if that’s [INAUDIBLE] to make that decision. I just wanted to point that out. And then on the decolonizing the syllabus thing, I thought what was super interesting coming from the perspective of literature, of course, canon war is something we’ve been having since the 1980s. So–
[DYLAN RILEY] Sociology is slow.
[INAUDIBLE]. [COLLEEN LYE] So what I thought was super interesting in light of your account of the state of the discourse there is that in literary studies, the left Bourdieusian position is contra the decolonial position. They’re on opposite sides of that. And I don’t need to get into all of this. We could say like it’s John Guillory versus ethnic studies or critical ethnic studies.
So what I found very interesting from your perspective was that you were drawing a set of dots between a left Bourdieusian perspective and a decolonial perspective, which had something to do with there being a kind of dialectical relation, it seemed to me, between the dissolution of positions within what you call– dissolution of ideas within the acid bath of positionality, on the one hand, and the logic of the power of the spreadsheet, which was fascinating to me.
So what is annotated– creating more extensive annotated bibliographies have to do with the spreadsheet. Like, is there a connection between those forms of sociology, critical sociology? So that sparked some questions for me. I thought it was interesting.
[ALEXEI YURCHAK] So let’s take one question from the audience. And then maybe we can answer all of them.
Oh, thank you. Yeah, I just had two questions. One is, what social actor is able to affect a shift in the terms of debate from justice to rationality? In other words, who most urgently needs to take off the spectacles of C-M-C? And what spectacles do they need to put on? The second question is, what is the method by which social theory can be turned into a tool for mastering life?
[DYLAN RILEY] OK, let me– so I guess I’m going to– I’m going to respond first to Colleen and then to William. I’ll respond to your question. It’s just really interesting what you’re saying because I think it would be right to say– I mean, Marion, it would be interesting to see what you think about this. But I think it’d be right to say that the movement toward a post-colonial or decolonizing sociology, the movement, it is generally– I’d say it’s driven by people who would consider themselves left Bourdieusians in some way.
So that’s just a very interesting observation. I had not thought about that particular opposition. And I do think– I guess what I’m saying, yeah, the idea of– one of the ideas behind it is, of course, this notion of positionality that we have this canon that is constituted by these middle class white guys. And we have to get different perspectives.
So that’s where it’s coming from. Or that’s the particular theoretical impetus behind that. I mean, the other, I think, major theorist, of course, is Foucault. I mean, that’s the other person that’s really important for, I guess, sociology. I mean, at least– or at least there’s this invocation of the notion of an episteme as structuring things.
So I just have to think more about exactly why– I mean, these questions of– yeah, I mean, I suppose in some ways– I mean, in some ways, this is a very disciplinary book, even though it’s also not supposed to be really an academic book. But it’s very, obviously, rooted in a particular intellectual perspective in that way. And I don’t know what to say exactly about that. I’d be really interested to hear more about or just think more about this conflict that you’re talking about between the left Bourdieusians and the decolonials in literary studies.
So William, yeah, your two impossibly hard questions. So let’s see what to say about that. So the basic– so I would say that the– I think that– here is my bottom line about this.
I do believe that the contemporary intellectual left is in a very difficult set of circumstances because I think in some ways– so I think in some ways, it’s not an accident that the flagship journal of the American left is called Jacobin. Because I think, basically, we’re basically back before the French Revolution in certain respects and that, basically, the task of the left is to re-establish the bourgeois state, which is not– it’s an odd position to be in. And so basically, what you have is the idea– what are the things, the animating– what are the animating ideas? It, obviously, monopoly power, unfairness, rip-off economy, reinstituting legality struggle against corruption.
So I don’t know whether I’m– what I would say is that in some ways, I’m offering a critique of this as saying, well, these things are not– they’re not exactly what we had thought about in the classical Marxist tradition, which was about creating a new form of society. But it’s also understandable why those things are the kind of horizon of political possibilities at this point in time.
So I guess that’s the tension that runs through a lot of these notes in a way. And on the other one, in terms of– I think you asked something about how social theory could be made relevant to life. I don’t know. I mean, my glib answer would just be to say, well, just read Microverses [INAUDIBLE]. I mean, it’s basically– the idea is just that you can– it’s the idea that there’s something therapeutic about being able to position oneself in a historical moment and in the social structure, that that itself is somehow a relevant exercise to life.
[DONNA JONES] Yeah, no, Dylan, actually, I was going to ask a question of the task of the left, which is to kind of reestablish, really, a state in some ways or elements of it. And it’s in the neoliberal nightmare, where you talk about the state of basically politics, and socialism and politics. Actually, that’s a lovely– truly a– I’m just going to read them.
I think it’s actually really fascinating note. Hold on a second. There we go. “Neoliberal nightmares, Hayek’s greatest fear and the thing that set it apart so clearly from his classical forebearers like Smith, was that socialism might be the default condition of humanity.” And I love that for this. Exactly, the state of nature, of course. Obviously right.
“So it is this gnawing sensation that drove his obsessive defense of the price mechanism and its various moral and institutional supports was right. Perhaps, the massive historicizing apparatus of Marxism has misled to some extent.” I’ll let you go.
“For crises, social and personal, reveal an extensive network of reciprocity resting just under the surface of capitalist society. The proof of its existence lies simply in the fact that hundreds of millions of people have not been thrown into the streets. The social mechanism still works. How is this at all possible?”
“Socialism is already here. It needs only a crisis to reveal it. Or perhaps, this is just the idle dream that emerges every time the humanized society recedes beyond the horizon of the attainable. Anarchists and opportunists are forever forgetting politics. They are most appealing when politics itself seems hopeless.” This is fascinating.
[DYLAN RILEY] Yeah. I mean, that note created a lot of friction, I will say.
So what’s being said in that note, am I saying– I mean, I’m trying to say that I understand the appeal. I understand the appeal of this idea of a kind of– I guess the millenarian hopes without politics. But I think at the end of what I’m saying there– is that’s probably an illusion. It’s probably an illusion to think that ultimately, politics is completely unavoidable and obviously not necessarily just electoral.
In fact, necessarily not electoral politics alone, but that that is– I guess there’s a kind of barbarian idea of slow boring of hard boards or whatever that has to happen in order to carry forward one’s project. So I think ultimately, I’m trying to distance myself from these things. But also to understand the appeal and to understand this idea that, well, maybe there was this– because that was also trying to understand this moment of the coronavirus as sort of like, wow, it’s quite amazing that, in fact, how connected everyone is I found.
[DONNA JONES] Well, I mean, yeah. No, I completely– and also, again, looking at this structure informally, what I see in the argument is a way in which, again, the critique enables us to look through certain dissimulating aspects of capitalism. Capitalism wants to prevent catastrophe in a particular way. That without politics, it is just zombie apocalypse [INAUDIBLE].
And so I think the fact– I mean, again, that in this crisis, what, and if we put this crisis that is being presented to us in terms of apostrophe that we look behind that and that there is a nonetheless a kind of social structure of care that is borne out of necessity that isn’t Hayek’s world as nature.
[DYLAN RILEY] Well, yeah. I mean, what I find so fascinating about Hayek, and I think Hayek– what I find fascinating about Hayek is that he sees cooperation as the default conditions. This I find very interesting. And his point is not that capitalism is natural, but that it must be created through this process of socialization and norm creation that must break the naturally solidaristic sort of tendencies of humanity.
I just think that’s amazing, actually, that particular idea. And in a sense, it’s an even stronger statement. It’s not socialism is hardwired into human nature. But the problem is you won’t get growth. I think that this aspect– I just think Hayek is actually very interesting thinker to think of– in relationship to these things.
And as I’m saying, in a way, he turns Marx completely around in that way. Because for Hayek, socialism is the starting point. But for Marx, it’s the endpoint. So that’s kind of interesting. I don’t know. Anyway, I don’t know if that answers your question.
No, it on this topic exactly right. [INAUDIBLE]
[ALEXEI YURCHAK] I wanted to ask if there are any more questions because we–
[MARION FOURCADE] Thanks, this is a wonderful exchange. First, there’s a question online that I have to post. It say something like, I’ve heard that Dylan Riley is the best sociologist in the world. Is that true? And second–
I wanted to ask you, I enormously admire the form, and we’ve been talking about the form of this book. And I’m wondering how do you go back after this? How do you go back to professional academic sociology? And how do you envision going back or not?
[ALEXEI YURCHAK] Are there any more questions? Let’s take three, and then–
–we’ll go to the–
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Hi, just a remark. Like that there was this micro verse about health, and you made this beautiful metaphor about cafeteria and about– we all hear that. But what I was thinking after like hearing that, it’s actually the idea that with health, maybe it’s not necessary only to get into the point where we are OK, like we are treated, we are cured.
But there was always– and it still is and it’s a growing– the idea that we might be more. So it’s not only curing. It’s like upgrading.
[ALEXEI YURCHAK] Dylan, if you don’t mind, I will ask a question as well.
I quickly make it a third one. So in many places in the book, you talk about this problem with the kind of politics, which critiques corruption or which focuses on redistribution, in a way, Democratic Socialists, the left today in the United States. And the examples of Brazil, Italy, the rest of Europe maybe, United States, of course, and I’m just curious, would that argument work in every context?
I’m thinking in particular today about the other place, which you have been thinking about deeply in the last year, Putin’s regime in Russia, where the left oppositional politics is simply impossible. I mean, it exists outside of the place. And there is this movement around Navalny, who I think you know Alexei Navalny, who is this liberal oppositional figure who focuses precisely on the corruption of the elites.
And yet, that movement has been very much in– well, one can argue at least, it has been used by a lot of the left as a kind of a vehicle through which to organize. And in the process of the interaction, it has itself been mutating. So the arguments, which these politicians, liberal politicians in the opposition, are making are now being influenced by the left. Is this very different context? And this is why maybe you’ll say something else about it, or can something like this be also relevant to the US?
[DYLAN RILEY] OK, so I’ll just say– OK, so I know one answer. I’m definitely not the best sociologist in the world. I’m not even sure I’m a particularly good sociologist. Anyway, that’s–
It appeared that was the first question.
Yeah. What I will say about your question, about how do you return to– I mean, I think the conditions of existence for the production of these were somewhat particular but I do think it will have lasting effects on the style of work I do going forward. Having said that, like I respect very much, actually, just the craft of sociology. So I think it’s a very serious enterprise. And I hope to continue to contribute to that enterprise in the way that we do. We’ll see if I’m successful or not.
Now, OK, who am I missing here? Was there another question after Marion’s question, but before Alexei’s question?
About the health.
The health question. That’s right. Yeah, no, that’s a great– yeah, so what I wanted to say, I think, in the health one is simply this idea– yeah, I guess I don’t mean to say that health is necessarily a minimal state, but it is some kind of state or a practice. And I think that what I was sort of playing with was the idea that it might be very difficult to treat a state of being in that way through the lens of commodities, where particular pieces of it are hived off.
And when you’re going through something like what Manuela and I went through, you see this very clearly. And there’s one way in which you see it very clearly that I didn’t write about it in the notes but I will tell you now, which is at the end of the time when it was obvious that she was dying, that was never communicated. Because the way that the health care system saw her was through a series of metrics and numbers.
So even weeks before she was dying, they were saying, well, this blood works fine so we’ll continue. But I was like– what I wanted to say is like, I can see her. I know this person, and she’s dying. And that’s another way in which there is just this cognitive disconnect between an overall state and the form, the commodity form, and there’s delivery of the health care happens.
And I don’t mean to– I mean, the people who cared for Manuela were amazing. But there is this enormous– obviously, there are these institutional pressures and there are even technological pressures to look at things through what are essentially disconnected metrics and never retotalized them, and, well, there’s a person here that you need to look at this person who’s in front of you.
In fact, because of COVID, she was visited only one time by a physician in person, I should say that, too, which is remarkable. And on what Alexei’s last question, I’ve been thinking about this for– I mean, you anticipated it, so I’ve been thinking about–
So the first thing I would say is that my critique of these various anti-corruption movements is not to dismiss them. I mean, even in the West, and there’s a real reason for Lava Jato. There’s a real reason for manipulating. There’s a real reason for the enthusiasm around Navalny. I think they’re probably– I think they’re probably species of a genre or however you put that.
But I think it is very difficult for the left to engage in a serious way. I think anti-corruption can be a real difficult nettle. And the reason is because to point out that the state is corrupt can have exactly the opposite effect of one intends. It can basically reinforce the idea, well, if the state is corrupt, why are we paying taxes? If the state is corrupt, why do we engage in any social enterprise?
So obviously, in the Russian case at this moment, the role of Navalny is unquestionably progressive, and it’s completely obvious that he should have the support of the left. And I think Bourdieusians and others have been making that point very clearly, and that’s right. But I think there will be limits, I mean, to that sort of politics.
And it would probably be worthwhile to really– I mean, I think for the Russian left, as well, to think about, particularly, the Brazilian case and the Italian case and what happened to these very substantial anti-corruption movements and the way that they immediately, almost immediately, became hijacked by the right. There’s some structural relationship between anti-corruption as a platform and a kind of anti-statism. And that’s just a difficult thing to I think overcome.
[ALEXEI YURCHAK] OK, I think we– unless there is another urgent question– we are coming to the conclusion of this event. Thank you very much, everyone.
[DYLAN RILEY] Thank you all. Thank you very much. [INAUDIBLE].