Preface

in The Sociogony
AutorIn: Mark P. Worrell
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The Sociogony is the first volume in a larger project entitled Sacrifice and Self-Defeat that sets out to accomplish three broad results: lay out the terms and conditions (Volume One) under which we may explicate the moral geometry of collective consciousness (Volume Two) in a social system dominated by the commodity form (Volume Three). Specifically, the present and first volume deals with “social facts” and the distinction between objects and things as moments within a genetic procession or sociogony characterized by differing degrees of liquidity and crystallization, transparency and reification, with an eye toward the moments of derealization and transvaluation in which society partially or totally decomposes into the night of monsters. The specific goal of the second volume is to map the currents and modalities of self-destruction within the modern social system. Here we will develop the concept of the social octahedron or what amounts to a geometry of collective consciousness that assists theorizing the late imperialist epoch of neoliberal social disintegration and extreme polarizations. The final, twofold aim of the third volume is the examination of the Calvinistic logic of ascetic labor in a calling as a “vanishing medium” (Karl Rosenkranz, in Hegel 2002: 264) escorting Spirit into the modern epoch of mass death and, secondly, extending the idea of the “social octahedron” from volume two in an effort to reconstruct and expand Marx’s general formula for capital (for this I have constructed a “New General Formula”) that enables an exposition of the “octagonal” structure of the commodity.

What you have in front of you was originally conceived as a slim volume of love letters for dead theorists but, whatever the original impetus, I have obviously loved them to death. My colleague and long-time collaborator Daniel Krier says that this book reminds him of the Pequod: “A cannibal of a craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies” (Melville [1851] 1988: 90). Cannibalism is a fitting motif to describe what I have done here and there is no way to conceal the crime. Bergson says that the author should make the reader forget they are using words (1920: 57) but my readers will unfortunately never forget. It’s not a fun read and one that is sure to annoy partisans and outrage purists. Marx, Weber, and Durkheim figure prominently in this work but in synthesizing these currents into a composite they figure less as autonomous problem solvers and more like dismembered atrocities bolted together into a monstrosity named Max von Marxheim. But make no mistake, at the end of the day the real driving force behind the whole thing is the primacy of Marx’s theory of the commodity. Marx is unsurpassed is in his critique of political economy, dialectical analysis of the commodity, and phenomenology of value forms, however, his underdeveloped vision of communism, the social psychology of the proletariat and the dialectics of solidarity, as well as his attack on the social division of labor and institutionalized social mediation all pose serious problems that generations of critical social theorists have wrestled with but heretofore not solved.

Marx has been fused with just about every intellectual current under the sun but few have attempted to forge the particular alloy I have in mind. This theoretical blindspot is due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of liberal and radical thinkers “cannot see a Durkheimian world as anything other than a moral abomination” (Haidt 2012: 193). A rare exception is James O’Connor who says:

The failure of Durkheim’s successors [Mayo and Parsons] to critically address the problem of social solidarity … should not dissuade us from studying Durkheim’s own views on that subject. The reason is that, unlike the works of modern bourgeois sociologists, Durkheim’s thought cannot be understood as a lower species of ideology…. Durkheim was a devoted, skilled scholar with a firm belief in science on the one hand and a solid commitment to creating a society based on individual self-development on the other. His work is an example of the best that bourgeois thought has to offer, or what bourgeois thought is capable of when it is stretched to its limit in the hands of one of its leading practitioners. This is the general reason why it is worthwhile for Marxists to study Durkheim …. 1980: 60

The paradox of freedom and solidarity has plagued the entire history of neo-Marxism and bourgeois liberalism. Today, we know that we are doomed without the regulating function of the social absolute but we cannot stand to have our autonomy limited. “A Durkheimian world … places limits on people’s autonomy and it endorses traditions…. For liberals, such a vision must be combated, not respected” (Haidt 2012: 193).

In the aftermath of the First World War, Marxists turned in a number of directions to comprehend the enigma of the proletariat, most notably to Freud, but they never considered the master theorist of solidarity. Durkheim has something to offer progressives, radicals, and social democrats and I think we should take seriously the claim made by Wexler that Durkheim is “among the most unclaimed important theoretical forebears of social psychology” (1996: 37). Wexler did not mean social psychology in general but specifically critical social psychology. I have coined the “Marxheim” neologism but I am by no means the inventor of this way of thinking – as far as I am concerned that distinction lies primarily with David Norman Smith at the University of Kansas who taught me that the comprehension of the commodity and exchange-value is enhanced by recourse to Durkheim’s theory of the totem and mana as well as Weber’s theory of the calling and charisma. Historical precursors to this way of thinking include Gurvitch, Bataille, Goux, and perhaps even Althusser to an extent. Bataille once said, “Emile Durkheim seems to me to be unjustly disparaged nowadays. I take my distance from his doctrine [?] but not without retaining its essential lessons” (1989: 123). More recently, O’Connor (cited above) makes the case that Marxists should not only take Durkheim seriously but that an interpenetration of the two thinkers leads to an enrichment and mutual strengthening (1980). A positive antipodal soulmate is O’Keefe’s Stolen Lightning (1982) that bears on the problem of magic; Karatani’s recent work on exchange and the intersection of Maussian gift theory with Marx (2014) is relevant; Gangas suggestively draws out some important parallels between Durkheim and Hegel (2007; see also Therborn 1980) as well as Durkheim’s untapped potential for critical social theory (2017: 551–53); and not least of all, Stephen Wilson provides a sterling example of the power of combining neo-Marxist social psychology (Adorno) with Durkheimian sociology in his monumental theorization of French antisemitic ideology during the Dreyfus Affair (1982: 602–51). Hopefully, the volumes that comprise Sacrifice and Self-Defeat will not only make a contribution to our understanding of the commodity world but probe the limits and potentials for rational solidarity and reasonable social control in a world that seems to be falling apart.

The Sociogony

Social Facts and the Ontology of Objects, Things, and Monsters

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