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  • Magic Versus Neoliberalism:Riots Against Everywhere
  • Craig Willse (bio)
Philippe Pignarre and Isabelle Stengers's Capitalist Sorcery: Breaking the Spell, translated and edited by Andrew Goffey, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011
Franco "Bifo" Berardi's After the Future, edited by Gary Genosko and Nicholas Thoburn, translated by Arianna Bove, Melinda Cooper, Erik Empson, Enrico, Giuseppina Mecchia, and Tiziana Terranova, Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2011
Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson, and Vassilis Tsianos's Escape Routes: Control and Subversion in the Twenty-First Century, Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2008

Each of these three books wrestles with how to produce political vision in a historical moment that has often felt heavy with defeat. Written in the aftermath of the antiglobalization actions of the 1990s and early 2000s, but before the transnational emergence of uprisings at the close of 2010, each text offers ways to reflect critically, and with hope, on the current sociopolitical moment and its immediate histories. Working through some of the limits of the texts, especially in terms of missed opportunities to theorize the racial projects of capitalism, may also point to limits in our writing, thinking, and organizing with which we can and must grapple.

In Capitalist Sorcery, Pignarre and Stengers draw inspiration for thinking about politics through magic from the work of pagan activist and writer Starhawk, which they address toward the close of their book. While Pignarre and Stengers's engagement with magic hovers at the level of analogy, the metaphor nonetheless helpfully reorients the question of what Marxist analysis might offer. For Pignarre and Stengers, to address capitalism as spellbinding provides an alternative to ideology critique. They do not claim that capitalism has no ideology; far from it, Pignarre and Stengers argue that neoliberal capital derives great force from a mythmaking insistence on its own inevitability and unstoppability. In the wake of Reagan's and Thatcher's post-social interventions, to suggest that neoliberalism could be undone, or even simply pushed back, has been to open yourself to critiques of foolish, childish romanticism. "Get with the program" has been the response of ideologues (whom Pignarre and Stengers term "minions"). [End Page 317] In its analysis of political opposition or alternatives, Capitalist Sorcery thinks in terms of inheritance (i.e., what do we inherit from Marx or from antiglobalization movements?) and the concept can be applied to neoliberalism as well. Neoliberal thought and practice inherit centuries of scientism; whether called an invisible hand or a law of nature, a positivist fantasy that the world is both given and transparent has lent weighty credibility to a neoliberal claim that no other way could be possible. To describe capitalism as spellbinding is to note its alchemical capacity to hold together, to attach: we are bound in and to capital. And so from here we can sense the limits of ideology critique: "It is not enough to denounce a capture in the way one might denounce an ideology. Whilst ideology screens out, capture gets a hold over something that matters, that makes whoever is captured live and think" (43).

While this may not differ much from a sense of ideology as constitutive (as in Althusserian interpellation or Foucauldian discipline), the language of capture draws our attention to "a double movement: a suspension and an exposing to risk" (43). For Pignarre and Stengers, such a model challenges the arrogance of the denouncing social critic who positions themself outside ideology. Pignarre and Stengers are right to point to the remainders of vanguardism (something that might inhere in a division of labor upheld by a professionalization and institutionalization of academic production), but leave open the question of how to engage in mutual and thoughtful exchange. Recent theorizations of affect might be helpful for considering the bounded-upness of thought, feeling, body, being, and activity (as in Clough 2007).

Nonetheless, Pignarre and Stengers's model suggests that the effectiveness of neoliberalism depends on its capacity to capture—making its inevitability real in effect. They make a parallel argument about Marx, positing that his categories can be lifted from their own indebtedness to scientism and recognized as useful and forceful (i.e., real) because they have mobilized and made possible another set of countercaptures: "From...


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pp. 317-325
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