ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Snow Scene and Its Plastic Flakes

The Power at the End of the Economy by Brian Massumi, Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2015; pp 136, $21.95.

Criticisms of neo-liberalism tend to be dismissed as nostalgia for either the bourgeois humanist subject or homo faber and the two types of society associated with them. There is an element of truth in this, but critics are also returning to the past because a coherent ideology that opposes neo-liberalism has not really emerged, while the doctrine—and its practice—should be opposed because it has serious faults. In London, perhaps the archetypal Western neo-liberal city, there is an ever-widening gulf between rich and poor, cutting back of government services, extensive redevelopment that homogenises neighbourhoods and a general commodification of culture, in spite of the daily trumpeting of its virtues in the Evening Standard. For India, rapidly becoming the archetypal non-Western neo-liberal country since Narendra Modi’s election, one has only to read the intellectually-sophisticated and richly-documented articles in this journal that regularly attack neo-liberal policies. In spite of triumphalist talk of expansion, creativity and opportunity, there is real social injustice, exclusion and an underlying conformist hegemonic impulse, while economics has subsumed all aspects of life and individual greed is seen as good because the market coordinates all greed for the good of all, including even the exploited.

The relationship of neo-liberalism to the great French philosophic texts from the late 1960s and early 1970s is very complex. Radical philosophies of difference, complexified identity, immanence and contestations of universals and absolutes emerged in these texts, often in exciting dialogue with each other. It is hard though to be precise about exactly what kind of world these texts envisaged. They combined abstract, technical argument with complicated and sometimes ambiguous literary styles and had cultural and social historical references that were not meant to be illustrative. One almost has to intuit the philosophy across and between these elements. They also deliberately resisted the programmatic, seeking a middle voice in the classical Greek sense: neither an active forging of one’s way nor a passive going with the vibes. This middle voice is very hard to pin down—not that pinning down is enough—and can easily be confused with the many fag ends of postmodern rhetoric that float around in the neo-liberal world.

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