On the occasion of the publication by punctum of feminist philosopher Katerina Kolozova’s much awaited new book, Toward a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism: Marx and Laruelle, the Associate Editor and Designer for Katerina’s book, Troy O’Neill (a student in liberal arts at The New School, NYC), interviewed Katerina about this new work but also about her views in general on politics and philosophy in Europe and America in the midst of what we can easily call “very interesting times” —
The (Socialist) Future Is Not Necessarily Utopian: An Interview with Katerina Kolozova
by Troy O’Neill
Katerina Kolozova talks with the energy of someone who can see the ends and means of her goal. Her new book, Towards A Radical Metaphysics of Socialism: Marx and Laruelle comes after the well-received Cut of the Real: Subjectivity in Structuralist Philosophy; it picks up where Cut of the Real left off in terms of Kolozova’s nonphilosophical project, but is unique in its dedication to radicalizing current political positions towards democracy and liberation from capitalism. Kolozova explains that, as a native of Macedonia, she is sensitive to politics surrounding European Union (EU) integration, financial crises, and authoritarianism, which are reflected in the political considerations of her book.
In order to tackle these issues, Kolozova begins Towards a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism by identifying the alienation that is crux of capitalism itself. Kolozova marks this by saying that “a sense of possession is not what defines capital and the capitalist self; it is rather the insatiable urge for it that originates in the grounding dispossession.” Working in the spirit of new philosophical movements in realism, Kolozova attributes this alienation to the function of capital that makes it disassociated from its material conditions. She then moves to contemporary events that are centered within this dispossession. For example, she attributes the collapse of the finance economy in 2008 to the alienation created by the speculative function of the finance market itself: where capital is detached from its use value, creating an economy that utterly detached from the material needs and labor.
In order to accomplish a new democracy that is situated around materiality, the real laboring body, as well as the technology that exists alongside it, must be liberated. Here, Kolozova shows that Donna Haraway’s cyborg offers an opportunity to imagine a technological body that is not created at the expense of the subjugation of the physical/organic. Technology is then refashioned out of its capitalist context to allow for a socialist or communist future.
Kolozova herself doesn’t call this future utopian. Instead, it is situated in a return to our material conditions, away from abstract concepts that engulf reality that create a reality that is “more perfect than the real.” This calls us all for radicalize our fundamental self-estrangement that is created by capitalism, making the radical politics that Kolozova calls for situated and accomplishable in the real and material world.
It is possible that the radical spirit of Towards a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism comes from Kolozova’s earlier career in animal activism, or her recent activist work against authoritarian movements in her home country of Macedonia. Kolozova uses her platform as a professor of philosophy and gender studies at the Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities Research in Skopje, Macedonia to speak on greater issues in her home country and across Europe. In fact, she has recently published a report on “Solutions for the Macedonian Political Crisis after the Resignation of Ministers in the Cabinet,” and is currently leading a summer school on New Realisms with François Laruelle, Svetlana Slapšak, and Anne Françoise Schmid. I sat down with Kolozova over Skype to see exactly what was at stake in Towards a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism, and what it means for current political issues in Europe and America.
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Troy O’Neill: In response to your forthcoming book, Towards a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism, and the recent The Cut of the Real, is there a larger project that you are working towards?
Katerina Kolozova: I can’t know that. At the time when I was writing Cut of the Real I wasn’t able to predict or even imagine that I would be writing a book on Marx. I don’t think that I have some bigger project planned in which both books fit. I think that now Towards a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism came organically or naturally out of the metalogical questions that I asked in the Cut of the Real. Most of these questions were inspired by Laruelle himself through his juxtaposition of philosophy and science. At the same time, I discovered that Laruelle employs philosophy in a way that is very close to how Marx uses it. From this discovery, I worked from one issue to the other.
TO: What was the response that you got after writing Cut of the Real?
KK: I have received mostly constructive, and not negative response. Most of them have been from realist circles and nonphilosophers, or those involved in the study of Laruelle. Otherwise, I have gotten feedback from those working in other strands of realist and ontological realism inspired by continental philosophy, but not much from feminist academic circles. However, I have recently received response from certain centers of feminist study in Europe, particularly from the University of Utrecht and The Center for the Humanities run by Rosi Braidotti.
TO: I know that you had a fellowship under Judith Butler at UC Berkley? Has she read Cut of the Real or responded to it?
KK: Yes, she was my supervisor during my postdoctoral research there as a Fulbright scholar. I have had a lot of communication with her in the past as well. She has read a lot of what is in Cut of the Real in different forms while I was working on different projects, and it is my impression that her views have always been positive. But I have never heard her definitive and official view on book.
TO: In parallel with different kind of movements in realism and philosophy, have you seen Judith Butler’s position change?
KK: I haven’t seen her position change in relation to this movement, but I have noted in Cut of the Real that her philosophy could be read as a form of realism too. I have noticed a shift towards a focus on the theme of the real, and changes in the way that she deals with issue of realism until Undoing Gender she didn’t even use the term as hermeneutically relevant. It seems that to me that since then she has assigned a certain relevance to this notion of the Real.
TO: Would you consider speculative realism to be a movement?
KK: No. Well, most of those who many label as the founders do not endorse this label. For example, Ray Brassier rejects the label of speculative realism. Most of the critics of Laruelle link him to speculative realism, but Laruelle himself, and me as well, does not quite understand what that term is supposed to mean. However, I would not really reject it because it acts as a sort of common denominator, which helps people understand what we are generally talking about. What we are talking about is something called new realism. So, I do not quite endorse the term, but I would not completely reject it because it has already established its own operative position.
TO: It seemed like Towards a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism was a response to the end of Cut of the Real. Can you talk about feminist liberation in context with your conclusions of your earlier book?
KK: In relation to the conclusions of Towards a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism, I would not say that identity politics are irrelevant, or that the issue of identity is irrelevant. Quite on the contrary, I claim there that identity establishes a certain reality in its own right, regardless of the fact that the material of this reality is immaterial, like language. Analogous to this would be the Marxian term of the real abstraction. It has relevance and it constitutes a real in its own right—I acknowledge it—it is just that as far as the feminist project is concerned, we need a more materialism and Marxism. I move towards this conclusion in the forthcoming Towards a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism. I think that we need more grounding in women; we need more feminism than gender studies at the moment, because we need to focus on the material conditions of society in terms of its material substance. By this I mean that there is a percentage of the human population with certain physical characteristics that make them belong to the underprivileged class. For example, the bulldozing expansion of financial capitalism is causing women’s rights to deteriorate.
TO: How does your new book, Towards a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism, utilize this sort of materialism?
KK: There is a reading there of Marx’s materialism as a form of realism. It is an attempt to unravel realism in Marx’s text itself. There is ample reference to the concept of the real rather than the material. When Marx refers to the concept of the material, he also refers to the real in the sense of a distancing from the philosophical tradition of interpreting or constituting materialism itself. It is in the sense of this Marxian realism that I refer to those terms as minimally philosophical and as realistic as possible. I find it in Capital as well as in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, and I try to prove and bring evidence for it in the book.
TO: Is the democracy that you are talking about also minimally philosophical?
KK: Yes, it is almost practical. However, it is not something that I deal with a lot theoretically in the book. I believe that I hardly touch on that subject. I remember that in Cut of the Real I used to have a passage of a critique of democracy, aiming to be more radical and to go beyond democracy. And then I deleted it, because I realized we needed to salvage the minimum of democracy present in our societies. In Towards a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism I hardly talk about this subject. I will admit that I haven’t given it much theoretical elaboration. How I understand it as an activist and a feminist, as somebody that lives in Eastern Europe in a country that is in the process of integration into the European Union, where the minimum democracy is something that should be radicalized and preserved. Preserving democracy is the political minimum that we should struggle for and maintain. This is because democracy is being increasingly endangered, not only globally, but in Europe as well with the rise of the far right in Western Europe and the rise of authoritarianism in Eastern Europe.
TO: How do you see democracy being preserved in the context of your new book?
KK: Well, I am afraid that I will sound conservative now, but this should happen by preserving the model of democracy that we have at the moment. I know that I am beginning to sound like Zizek, whom I have criticized on precisely the issue of “Eurocentrism” for his advocating for a strategic focus on Europe and European integration as the way of preserving democracy. According to me, democracy does not go hand in hand with a free market economy or capitalism. These categories actually can be divorced. For example, Eastern Europe is not non-capitalist. It has its own form of capitalism, which is state capitalism run by an oligarchy. It is not socialism, it is not post-socialism, it is capitalism. So, of course in the book I critique capitalism and I find it necessary to overcome capitalism as a form of political and economic system, but, I do not think that excludes democracy. We have to invent a new political form for this post-capitalist society. In this new political form the concept of democracy should be reinvented. We should first be a little bit “conservative” in Europe and preserve democracy as we know it, then we can see how we can recreate the notion of democracy for the purpose of overcoming capitalism and reinventing a post-capitalist society where there is democracy. However, this is not something that I talk about in Towards a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism.
TO: What is the role of technology in this kind of socialist or democratic transformation?
KK: The argument in the book is that technological progress is a project that is conceived by patriarchal militaristic capitalism. Technological progress in its own right can’t be divorced or theoretically scrutinized in a fashion that is theoretically divorced from the political/economic backdrop against which it is being developed. So, technological processes that we’re currently witnessing globally are something that is developed within the framework of neoliberal capitalism. If we attempt to use it in a way in which is emancipatory for women or other underprivileged classes, its goals will fail. The question that we pose is a metaphysical one: This is where you are asking what for? There is a fetish in technological progress as a purpose per se. If you ask these questions, you ask them for political reasons, but if you go to the root of the problem you are actually opening a metaphysical discussion. It is more honest and accurate from a theoretical point of view to call this metaphysical. This is what I mean by radicalizing the metaphysics of socialism. Lets ask those questions and see from a radical point of view why we need technological progress and how can it serve the emancipation of the oppressed. I believe that technological progress, as it is set up know, if accelerated as it is, it can only serve capitalism. There should be socialist goals set up if it is supposed to serve as an emancipation for certain classes, which are in the last instance organically defined. In fact, liberating or emancipating women through technology happens through their bodies, so reconceptualizing the position and relevance of the body vis a vis technological progress is one of the most radically metaphysical questions that feminists should ask. I believe that this kind of questions resonate with Donna Haraway’s thesis on the cyborg.
TO: Can you explain how Haraway’s cyborg fits in with your theory of materiality and the body?
KK: Well, Haraway’s concept of the cyborg is a radicalization of the hybridity of humanity, established by the technological and the organic. I believe in the radical constructedness of humanity that is linguistically, culturally, technologically construed but also equally organic. I believe that language and technology should function to emancipate the subjugated or exploited constituent of the organic/technological binary. From this conclusion I introduce Marx in Towards a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism. Haraway’s project is similar to Marx’s argument insofar the goals of both projects are the emancipation of the human as the physical and sensuous. Haraway is trying to transcend the hierarchy between the technological and the organic. Transcending this hierarchy would also mean transcending the supposed superiority of the mind, and the Cartesianism there. If we go further, it is not just about transcending hierarchy as perception or axiology. It is also a question of exploitation. The organic is exploited by technology. So, we should reinvent technology for socialist and feminist use which should serve the emancipation of the exploited body.
TO: Could you also call the organic the human-in-human?
KK: No. The human in human would be more analogous to the cyborg because it is the real in the nonphilosophical sense. It is not the real in the material sense as it is also a philosophical construct. The real is the radical constructedness of the human, which is both something that is physical, but also something that is made of language. So the mediation of the physical and language is already a part of the human-in-human or the human (as the real). The fundamental gesture of alienation goes via the “Stranger,” which operates through language, and it is also a part of the human-in-human.
TO: Is the cyborg alienated by its technology?
KK: Alienation is unavoidable. There are two forms of alienation. There is alienation that is exploited and aggravated by capitalism. Thus it is also what enables capitalism to be capitalism and create surplus value. It becomes a pathological form of alienation. Even though it might sound strange, this is an alienation that is alienated from itself, an alienation that is not affirmed as alienation. This is an alienation that is masked by the hyperproduction of signification, which aims to fill the gap of nothingness behind it. This form of alienation is also what feeds capital and exploits the body. According to me, there is also a founding alienation of the subject, which is not something that you can avoid or try to transcend. It is something that you should actually affirm and claim ownership of. This alienation lies in the fact that we are all Strangers in the last instance; this Stranger is at the core of the human-in-human. The Stranger is a metaphor for the base of the dichotomy between the organic and language that we are all made of. The alienation at the heart of this is something that should be owned or recognized, not something that should be exploited. However, simply affirming this alienation isn’t the goal. I try to conceive of ways to mediate this alienation through social forms. I believe that society should exist for all of us to help each other as radically estranged, instead of exploiting that founding, infantile estrangement for creating and sustaining self-sufficient abstractions, among which the dominant one is the so-called “surplus value.”
TO: What stops this alienation from becoming a dominating auto-referential concept, that nonphilosophy would frown upon?
KK: Nonphilosophy is not against concepts. We have nothing but concepts to operate with. Nonphilosophy is a critique of philosophical sufficiency, where philosophy aims to substitute reality or act in its stead. This means that nonphilosophy is about the radicalization of the fact that there is irreconcilability between concepts or language and the real. The fact that thought cannot grasp the real in its totality is affirmed. Thought correlates with the effect of the real. This means that we operate with language and concepts. It would be naive to think that we can think beyond language and in terms of the real as such. .
TO: How does alienation of the real and the alienation of the financial economy (that you talk about in Towards a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism) relate?
KK: It is Marx’s claim that capitalism also works as a sort of fetishism where abstraction, which comes down to the surplus value represented through money, becomes what we think the material is made of. To go deeper into how these abstractions work: finance economy comes down to exchanges that have become an endless sequence of representation of a representation, of a representation (etc.). In the finance economy, because the dialectics of surplus value and use value isn’t valid anymore, surplus value is invested in the creation of more surplus value. This establishes the trajectory of capitalism that ends up in what Marx called a “credit system,” which is more or less what we are seeing right now. Finance capitalism is just a speculation of what something is worth in terms of surplus value or simply – value (an abstraction), which is increasingly divorced from the real economy, the real needs and the real (both “material” and “immaterial”) production. This makes the real economy inferior to the finance economy, and further makes the latter dictate the real economy. What happens is that real production is only considered relevant or important if it contributes to the growth or the logic of the finance economy. When companies like GM went bankrupt in 2008, it was not because of problems with the “real production”, but because of bad investments at the stock market.
TO: Do you think that this kind of speculative economy exists when things are digitally produced or immaterial?
KK: I don’t believe in a distinction between material and immaterial, including labor. I think that the immaterial is material in the last instance, or at least the exploitation takes place on the material and the physical level. For example, we exploit our bodies by getting tired and sick from working on the computer. Marx is very explicit about this as well: he says that any form of work, including intellectual work, insofar as it is exploited as wage labor, is an exploitation of nerves, muscles, and so on.
TO: Does automated technology masquerade as the real?
KK: I think that it is a real in its own right. Capitalism is something that is divorced from the real, not technology itself. Automatic technology as such, if employed in a different political and economic setup, would be something completely different.
TO: Then, is technology in the last instance metaphysical or political?
KK: It is both political and metaphysical. If we are serious about the political questions then we also have to treat them as metaphysical questions.
TO: Where do you current movements in New Realism moving? Are they focusing on particular issues or new directions?
KK: It is interesting that Marx is becoming increasingly relevant for all of the different projects circulating around New Realism. Brassier is currently working on Marx, I just finished a book on Marx. Srnicek’s accelerationism is also something that is linked to speculative realism. There are also a lot of people who have a certain background in realism, but are developing independent projects. I hope that something interesting and challenging will come out of them.
TO: After writing Towards a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism, what are your next or goals for your theoretical project?
KK: I have been thinking lately whether I would work more with Marx on politics, or whether I would go back to more classical feminist questions. I am really not sure at the moment. I know that in the last year I have personally been involved in activist movements that have been in resistance to authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe. Maybe I will be inspired by these recent experiences as an activist. Occasionally I think I should pursue theoretically what I am now pursuing as an activist. However, at the moment I feel very frustrated and tired as an activist. Maybe I should go back to working on Greek tragedy, which is my first philosophical love.