Poetics & Theory 2015 Conference

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In 1969, Louis Althusser advanced the thesis that, in the analysis of a given mode of production, it is the relations of production that, “on the basis of existing productive forces and within the limits they set, […] play the determinant role.” Because, however, “a mode of production subsists only insofar as the reproduction of the conditions of production is ensured,” it is more specifically “the reproduction of the relations of production” that, in the maintenance of a given mode of production, “plays the determinant role.” Consequently, “in order to understand the facts of the class struggle,” he wrote, it is necessary “to adopt ‘the standpoint of reproduction.’ “

Althusser’s thesis, formulated in response to a specific historical conjuncture, was no doubt also meant to inaugurate an extensive revision of the basic coordinates of Marxist (or Marxist-Leninist) philosophy: a revision that, under the heading of the “standpoint of reproduction,” would have implications for the analysis, not only of economic production, but also of discursive, or theoretical, production—in other words, for the analysis not only of relations of production but of the conceptual relations constitutive of theoretical discourse as well.

What, we ask, is “reproduction”? What is it today, that is, nearly fifty years after Althusser’s tight provocation?  The mediations to which the concept has been subjected are numerous, and of extraordinary importance: “reproduction” changes with the dramatic shifts in technology of the past decades; with the prevalence of finance capitalism; with the consolidation of women’s rights and redefinitions of the “family” in other than heteronormative terms due to queer and feminist theoretical interventions; with shifts in the technologies of assisted reproduction, and with the configuration of the scene of biological reproduction according to economistic, non-, and anti-economistic paradigms. To speak of reproduction, and a fortiori to seek to adopt its “standpoint,” requires both an interrogation of the relations governing the reproduction of material bodies as well as an investigation of the relationship between “social,” “technical” and “natural” modes of reproduction. What are the mechanisms, social, technical, organic, ideological, mediating the reproduction of material bodies (with regard both to labor-power and to affective labor)? And in what way do they shape the said relationship between “social” and “natural” modes of reproduction?

But the matter of reproduction also raises questions of a more general, philosophical scope. Reproduction, according to Althusser, is a necessary function of social formations and at the same time that which has, not only to ensure, but in the first place to make possible, their existence. Its function and its effect are, in a sense, one and the same—or, to adopt the Althusserian idiom, the function of reproduction is, always already, an effect of its effect. To give precedence to reproduction in the analysis of—“material” as well as “discursive”—production in effect raises decisive questions related to the specific mode of causation and the particular temporality that its primacy would imply. In turn, such questions, “abstract” though they may be, presumably would have altogether concrete implications for historical and sociopolitical analysis. In that vein, it might be asked, for instance, in what ways and to what extent might the analysis of reproduction in its specific manifestations—infor example, ethical, aesthetic, biopolitical, or juridical practices—contribute to the conceptualization of “the standpoint of reproduction” as a theoretical paradigm? And, more broadly, to what extent, or under what specific circumstances, might the dynamics of reproduction, whether in crisis or in stasis, entail not only the replication of the same but also the production of new and different relations?

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Introduction and Opening Remarks*


The Articulation of Ideology and the Unconscious in Althusser
Vittorio Morfino, University of Milan-Bicocca

Reproduction and the Abstract Real
Charles Gelman, New York University

On the Reproduction of the Organism
Emanuela Bianchi, New York University


From the “Reproduction of the Same” to “New Forms/Figures of the Thinkable”:
Reflections on Contemporary Critical Materialist Thought
Linda M. G. Zerilli, University of Chicago

Two Times of Capital, Logical and Historical
Siarhei Biareishyk, New York University


The Value Forms of Capitalist Reproduction
Gopal Balakrishnan, UC Santa Cruz

Reproduction by the Numbers (or, How to Count on Stalin’s Fingers)
Jacques Lezra, New York University

6:00-7:00 P.M.

Scattered Remarks on the History of “Reproduction”
Étienne Balibar, Columbia University

*coffee and a light breakfast will be provided

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Gopal Balakrishnan is Professor in the History of Consciousness Department at UC Santa Cruz. A regular contributor to the New Left Review, Balakrishnan is also the author of The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt (Verso, 2000) and Antagonistics: Capitalism and Power in an Age of War (Verso, 2009), in addition to which he has edited two volumes, Debating Empire (Verso, 2003) and, with Benedict Anderson, Mapping the Nation (Verso, 1995). Currently, he is completing a two-volume study on the writings of Marx from his dissertation to Capital.

Étienne Balibar is Professor Emeritus of Moral and Political Philosophy at the Université de Paris X – Nanterre, Distinguished Professor of Humanities at UC Irvine, and currently Visiting Professor in the Department of French and Romance Philology at Columbia University. Among his many publications are Lire le Capital (with Louis Althusser et al.; P.U.F., 1965), Cinq études du matérialisme historique (Maspero, 1974), Spinoza et la politique (P.U.F., 1984), Race, Nation, Classe (with Immanuel Wallerstein; La Découverte, 1988), and, most recently, Citoyen sujet et autres essaies d’anthropologie philosophique (P.U.F., 2011) and Saeculum: Culture, religion, idéologie (Galilée, 2012).

Emanuela Bianchi is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at New York University. In addition to numerous articles, which have appeared in journals such as Epochê, Hypatia, and Continental Philosophy Review, Bianchi is the author of The Feminine Symptom: Aleatory Matter in the Aristotelian Cosmos (Fordham University Press, 2014) and the editor of Is Feminist Philosophy Philosophy? (Northwestern University Press, 1999).

Siarhei Biareishyk is a doctoral candidate in the Comparative Literature Department, New York University. Working in the materialist tradition of Lucretius, Spinoza, and Marx, his dissertation Missed Encounters: Spinoza, Political Romanticism, Soviet Formalism articulates the politics of German Romanticism (e.g., Novalis, Kleist) and Russian Formalism (e.g., Tynyanov, Shklovsky), on the one hand, and seeks to develop the aesthetics of materialism, on the other. Biareishyk has published on Hegel-Kojève and Stalinism; psychoanalysis and the avant-garde; and Spinoza’s politics. 

Charles Gelman is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature, New York University. His dissertation, provisionally titled Materialism and the Inassimilable Experience of Modernity: Walter Benjamin and Charles Baudelaire (in progress), is intended to be the first comprehensive historical and theoretical study of Benjamin’s writings on Baudelaire. His translation (with an introduction) of Jacques Derrida’s “Admiration de Nelson Mandela, ou Les lois de la réflexion” appeared in Law & Literature, vol. xxvi, no. 1 (Spring 2014).

Jacques Lezra is Professor of Comparative Literature and Spanish at New York University. The author of Unspeakable Subjects: The Genealogy of the Event in Early Modern Europe (Stanford University Press, 1997), Wild Materialism: The Ethic of Terror and the Modern Republic (Fordham University Press, 2010), and Contra los fueros de la muerte: El suceso cervantino (Polifemo, 2015), he is currently completing a fourth book, On the Nature of Marx’s Things. In addition, Lezra has published articles on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, contemporary and early modern translation theories and practices, Freud, Althusser, and Woolf, among other subjects. He is the co-translator of the Spanish edition of Paul de Man’s Blindness and Insight and, with Emily Apter and Michael Wood, co-editor of the Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon, the English translation of the Vocabulaire européen des philosophies (Barbara Cassin, ed.; Seuil, 2004).

Vittorio Morfino is Senior Researcher in the History of Philosophy at the Università di Milano-Bicocca. He is the author of numerous books, including Il Tempo e l’occasione (LED Edizioni Universitarie, 2002), Incursioni spinoziste: Causa, tempo, relazione (Mimesis, 2002), Spinoza e il non contemporaneo (Ombre Corte, 2009), Il tempo della moltitudine: Materialismo e politica prima e dopo Spinoza (Manifestolibri, 2005), and, most recently, Plural Temporalities: Transindividuality and the Aleatory between Spinoza and Althusser (Haymarket, 2015).

Linda M. G. Zerilli is the Charles E. Merriam Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, where she is also Faculty Director of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality. Zerilli is the author of Signifying Woman (Cornell University Press, 1994), Feminism and the Abyss of Freedom (University of Chicago Press, 2005), A Democratic Theory of Judgment (University of Chicago Press, 2016), and articles on subjects ranging across feminist thought, the politics of language, aesthetics, democratic theory, and continental philosophy.

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Jurow Hall is located on the first floor of the Silver Center for Arts & Science. Enter at 24 Waverly Place, across the street from the north side of Washington Square Park. Jurow Hall will be on your right, across from the reception desk.

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The Program in Poetics and Theory  ∙  Department of Comparative Literature  ∙  New York University  ∙  19 University Place, Rm. 303  ∙  New York, NY 10003