Inside the Industry of the Senses: on Carlos Casanova’s Estética y Producción en Karl Marx. (Gerardo Muñoz)

casanova-marxCarlos Casanova’s short book Estética y Producción en Karl Marx (ediciones metales pesados, 2016), a condensed version of his important and much longer doctoral thesis, advances a thorough examination of Marx’s thought, and unambiguously offers new ways for thinking the author of Das Kapital and beyond. Although the title could raise false expectations of yet another volume on ‘Marxism and Aesthetics’, or, more specifically, a hermeneutical reconstruction of a lost ‘aesthetics’ in Marx, these are neither the concerns nor aims of Casanova’s book. Instead, he does not hesitate to claim that there are no aesthetics in Marx’s thought derivative from German theories of romantic idealism, conceptions of the beautiful, or the faculty of judgment in the Kantian theory of the subject and critique.

Forcefully, Casanova situates his intervention apart from two well-known strands of thought: those that have sought to extract an aesthetics in Marx (of which Rose’s classic Marx’s lost aesthetic is perhaps a paradigmatic example), and those who have wanted to produce ‘a Marxist’ social theory for art (Lukacs and Eagleton, but also De Duve or Jameson). Casanova argues that Marx’s aesthetic can be located in a modality of thinking through an anthropological conception of man and the human (although, as we will see, perhaps ‘anthropogenic event’ is more accurate, than the claim for an anthropology). The anthropogenic event in the early Marx of the Manuscripts of 1844 is closely examined in light of the concept of praxis displacing the problem to the economy of potentiality and actuality inherited from the Aristotelean tradition. According to Casanova, this informs Marx’s concept of “exteriorization” understood as the capacity of use in the human. In Casanova’s conceptualization ‘use’ refers to potentiality, and not to a compensatory measurement of ‘value’, as it appears, for instance, in Bolivar Echevarria’s culturalist reading of the status of accumulation in Marxist theory. Challenging the Althusserian structuralism, which authorized the reduction of a heterogeneous corpus into two phases relative to the epistemological break; Casanova suggests that the early Marx inhabits the threshold of thinking the potentiality of Humanism as always producing the disruption of the apparatus of property and the person. What is at stake in Marx is an ‘industry of the senses’ in the constitution of the singular. Hence, Casanova writes early in the book:

“Vale decir: lo que hay en Marx es un pensamiento del limite, no del fin del humanismo, sino de un pensamiento de lo humano que consiste en un pasaje al límite del humanismo donde este se vera menos suprimido que suspenso, desfondo en su “raíz”. Digamos que, utilizan una expresión de Esposito y de Nancy, lo que hay en el pensamiento de Marx es más bien una “división/interrupción” del mito del humanismo” (Casanova 16).

Marx’s ‘aesthetic industry’ crashes the humanist onto-theological machine, which opens the inoperativity of man’s praxis as irreducible to the concrete and abstract extraction of value and production. This displacement pushes Marx away from the humanist machine of universality or particularity as the two poles of a locational dispute of the “subject”. Further, what follows from this claim, are two ways of liberating Marx from the constraints of the Marxist principial tradition and the opposition ‘structuralism vs. the subject’ towards a new use of man’s praxis. In the first part of the book, Casanova takes up the inoperativity of Marx’s humanism (“Humanismo del hombre sin obra”), and in the second section (“Tecnologías de la producción”), the analysis shifts towards a polemical scrutiny of the question of technê against the theorizations of telecratic instrumentality, but also from the phenomenological interpretations that have understood Marx’s thought as the consummation of the epochal technological enframing. Of course, Casanova’s book, and his own reflection on Marx, is situated in the wake of a reconsideration of the technology of the sensible, that allows him to read Marx beyond the humanist onto-theology as a messianic principle that propels the Hegelian philosophy of history as stasis for mastering the logic of revolution.

Casanova’s Marx is an-archic or aprincipial in Reiner Schürmann’s sense, as it avoids the substantialization of a ‘marxist politics’ to assert a stable ground for action over thinking. The Marx endowed in Estética y Producción is also an-anarchic in yet another sense: it offers no productive horizon of philosophical knowability as a new vanguard of intelligence, a technology of critique, or even a practice of restitution. Casanova makes no concessions to epochal nihilism, and there is no attempt in crafting Marx as an archē for militant hegemony or the invariant procedure of truth. His intervention is situated at the crossroads between Agamben’s archeology of potentiality, J.L. Nancy’s deconstruction, and more esoterically, a Chilean critical constellation, which includes, although is not limited to Pablo Oyarzun’s Anestética del ready-made (2000), Miguel Valderrama’s La aparición paulatina de la desaparición del arte (2008), Federico Galende’s Modos de Producción (2011), and Willy Thayer’s Tecnologías de la crítica (2010). This list could go on, and although none of these names are directly confronted, it would be interesting to read his intervention as a radical conceptual abandonment of the “aesthetic” in this specific cultural field.

In the first section “Humanismo del hombre sin obra”, Casanova complicates the early Marx of the Manuscripts by suggesting that the notion of the “generic being” takes place in a double-bind as part of the historicity of the human’s sensible organs that are both conditions and products of a “sensible activity” of the exteriorization of abilities. If both idealism and alienation are the forgetting of the material forms of production, Casanova is quick to underline that it is not just a mere extraction and division from a point of view of ‘functional socialization’, in terms of Alfred Sohn Rethel (although this is not explicitly thematized in the book), but an activity that is the very ‘mediality’ of life as the potentiality in which man can exercise a direct and unmediated relation with nature. In a crucial passage, Casanova writes:

“Los órganos humanos son las capacidades desarrolladas, esto es, el poder ser actual de los individuos al igual que los medios o instrumentos a través de los cuales esas mismas facultades se ejercen. Al mismo tiempo, ellos son los productos, el mundo objetivo del trabajo de toda una historia pasada: son los sentidos de una actividad productiva, entendida como “la relación historia real de la naturaleza (el “mundo sensible”) con el hombre. Son, en suma, los órganos de la industria del hombre” (Casanova 31).

What capitalism stages in the figure of the proletariat, as a result, is a series of divisions that obfuscate the taking place of a praxis constitutive of the industry of man; that is, of the life of the generic without work. In this intersection, Casanova is very much dependent on the Aristotelian’s definition of man’s essence as an-argos, or without work [1]. Hence, Marx’s “real humanism” entails necessary praxis of the industry of the senses, which capitalist humanism divides and codifies in terms of exploitation, alienation, rule of law, and private property. However, and more importantly for Casanova, is the privatization of the sensible transformed into an aesthetic apparatus that governs over life (Casanova 44-45).

The modes of production are in this way already a semblance and reduction of the overflowing of the senses in the praxis of man, which necessarily posits poesis as what cannot amount to work through the unlimited process of accumulation. The labor of the proletarian, understood as the industry of the generic being, enacts an undefined potentiality, in which action and thought, singularity and commonality, sensing and reason, collapse in a heterochronic plane of immanence with no remainder.

The becoming of man corresponds to the becoming of the world beyond the principle of equivalence as the structural circuit through which global spatialization of capital replaces the possibility of ‘earth’. Marx’s humanism without work is situated against this ruinous and fallen world confined to the logic of exchange and appropriation. The proletariat stands here less than a subject for and in history, as the site where an excess to productivity and equivalence is latent as a multiplicity of singular potentialities: “Ya no hay nada que apropiar mas que lo inapropiable – el libro uso de común de las fuerzas de producción – de una apropiación no capitalizable, es decir, excesiva respecto del marco económico politico de productividad, por ende no mensurable de acuerdo a la medida del valor, es decir, no gobernable bajo el principio o ley universal de la equivalencialidad” (Casanova 53).

To appropriate the inappropriable is the stamp of Marx’s industry of the forms of life as the turn towards what is an excess to equivalence. But Casanova’s Marx as the thinker of the inappropriable cannot escape the function of appropriation in the event of a modality of work, which constitutes, perhaps to the very end, the aporia’s of Marx’s thinking [2]. The function of positive appropriation of force in Marx is still tied to “esta producción multiforme del globo entero” (Schöpfungen der Menschen)” (Casanova 52).

Casanova forces Marx to say that a relation always implies the production with its own potentiality. But is not appropriation of production haunted by the unproductivity that is deposed in every praxis? That is, only because praxis is use, there is no longer an appropriation of wealth, which remains on the side of vitalism as a productive entelechy disposable for work. However, Casanova affirms that Marx’s communism was perhaps the first (sic) in taking into account how labor and property are economic categories of policing and subjecting the organization of life. In fact, all subjectivization is already a movement capture of immanence as a regime of equivalence in both the apparatus of modern sovereignty and in the capitalist form of exchange of the commodity. Marx’s communism is thus not a movement that trends towards the transformation of the actual state of things, but a deposition of a self-relation of one’s potentiality.

The mediality exposed in humanism without work is juxtaposed and analytically enlarged in the second part of the book when thinking the question of technology as originary technê, which Casanova also calls ‘co-constitutive’ of the generic being. Challenging Kostas Axelos’ standard reading of Marx as an epochal product of the complete exposure of the age of technology, he polemically advances a production of technology that is never reduced to instrumentalization, nor to the clarity of the concept in philosophy as a secondary tier of appropriation. Following Nancy, Marx’s thought is registered as one of finitude, as it opens to the mundane and profane dimension of the material conditions of sensibility:

“Un pensamiento de las condiciones denominadas “materiales” de existe es un pensamiento que necesariamente vincula, como cuestión ineludible la deconstrucción de la metafísica de la presencia con la pregunta por la condición material, económica, y social de los hombres. Un pensamiento así es, por otra parte, un pensamiento que se piensa en “la ausencia de presencia como imposibilidad de clausura del sentido o de acabada presentación de un sentido en verdad” (Casanova, 79).
Marx’s critique of political economy appears as a translation of his critique of religion as the deconstruction of the onto-theology of capital and the subject as coterminous with the principle of general equivalence. Equivalence is what renders abstract the industry of sense, capturing every singularity in a regimen of equality in exchange value and the commodity form. As such, the technology of capital equivalence is what separates and articulates for “work” the co-constitutive modal ontology of originary technê. More importantly, the originary technê allows for the emergence of politics in Marx that Casanova does not shy away to call “politics of presence” (política de la presencia) as the force that un-works the labour apparatus of labour. But, even in its appropriative force, is not production what thrusts the ‘absolute movement’ towards non-work?

Casanova is aware of this aporia when at the very end of his book he asks: “¿Continúan siendo las fuerzas en este movimiento metamórfico, fuerzas dispuestas dentro del marco de la productividad? ¿Siguen siendo las fuerzas del hombre fuerza de trabajo, o más bien, se transforman en fuerzas humanas en cuanto tales…” (Casanova, 118)? Could the limit of Marx’s thought be inscribed in the way in which concrete industriousness in the essence of man, only dispenses what is proper and productive in the anthropogenic event? Why is the status of “force” in the becoming of the sensible of the singular?

At the very end of the seminar Heidegger: The Question of Being and History (U Chicago, 2016), Jacques Derrida posits the existential analytic as what precedes anthropogenic event based on labor and its force of the negative [3]. But this is only the Hegelian telling of the ‘story’. Casanova grapples to make Marx a thinker of the originary technê in a metamorphic movement that brings to a zone of indistinction thought and action, whose appropriation is always that of the excess of the proper. Could this entail that communism in Marx rejects the notion of “equipementality” (verlässlichkeit) for a program of emancipation in the movement of appropriation of work? If so, then the labor of stasis at the heart of the sensible industry fails at being formalized into a ‘politics of presence’.

What opens up is an infra-political relation, a necessary fissure within any articulation of the common in the event of appropriation. In repositioning Marx to the improper site of desouvrament and the ungovernable, Casanova stops short of offering a Marxist ‘politics’. But perhaps no such thing is needed: the task of freedom is to abandon any metaphoricity as a new nomos of the senses. Bresson captured this freedom in a remark on Cezanne: “Equality of all things. Cezanne painted with the same eye, a fruit dish, his son, and Mt. Sainte-Victoroire” [4]. The ‘grandeur of Marx’ resides in that the sensible machine is never ontology of art; in the same way that hegemony never constitutes a phenomenology of the political. At the heart of Marx’s industry there lays, always and necessarily, a life without “work”, something other than politics.


1. This pertains to the passage from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (1098 a7) in which the philosopher argues that the musician has a particular function that defines his work, but the human to the extent that he is human, is born without work.

2. This is what Agamben detects in Use of Bodies (Stanford University, 2016), as the insufficiency of Marx’s oeuvre in terms of the fixity to the modes of production: “One-sidedly focused on the analysis of forms of production, Marx neglected the analysis of the forms of inoperativity, and this lack is certainly at the bottom of some of the aporias of his thought, in particular as concerns the definition of human activity in the classless society. From this perspective, a phenomenology of forms of life and of inoperativity that proceeded in step with an analysis of the corresponding forms of production would be essential. In inoperativity, the classless society is already present in capitalist society, just as, according to Benjamin, shards of messianic time are present in history in possibly infamous and risible forms.” 94.

3. Jacques Derrida. Heidegger: The Question of Being & History (U Chicago, 2016), p.194-96.

4. Robert Bresson. Notes On The Cinematographer. New York: NYRB, 2016.

A note on ‘class’. (Gerardo Muñoz)

I think that a discussion on class and exploitation brings important points for a fundamental disagreement. In so far as thought solicits perpetual interlocution, this exchange seems necessary and timely. Since I alluded in passing to Daniel Zamora’s article on exploitation in a previous note, I would like to recall the way in which he brings to bear the analytical stakes in pursuing the question of ‘exploitation’ against that of ‘inequality’. (Let’s leave for a moment the oppositional form of the debate, that is, between inequality and/or exploitation, which I do not think exhausts the discussion of work in any sense). Zamora writes at the very end of his article:

“Today, more than ever, the success or failure of the struggles to come depend on the capacity of political and class organization (e.g: unions) to draw attention to the socioeconomic stakes represented by the “surplus population”, and to convince the so-called “stable” working class that their fates are intertwined. Indeed, at the very dawn of the industrial era, Marx had already posited that a decisive stage in the development of the class struggle would be the moment when workers “discover that the degree of intensity of the competition among themselves depends wholly on the pressure of the relative surplus population” and thus on their being able to “organize a regular co-peration between employed and unemployed in order to destroy or to weaken the ruinous effects of this natural law of capitalist production on their class” [1].

I do not intend to gloss Zamora’s article, rather I want to use it to introduce at least two intertwined elements of analysis. First, I would agree with Zamora that exploitation has not disappeared from our contemporary world. On the contrary, everything is labour and everyone is exploited insofar as we are in the post-epochal stage dominated by the principle of general equivalence. What disappears is the semblance and unity of the very category of class as articulated in Marx’s thought. In the 1990s, this aporia underlying the “theory of the working class” was posed with immense clarity by the Chilean philosopher Willy Thayer as follows:

“Escasa la teoria porque esta ha caido en el territorio de la fenomenolidad. Lo que equivale a decir que el conflicto o la divison del trabajo entre teoria y fenomenolidad ya no rigen estrictamente mas. La efectividad ha subsumido esa posibilidad” [2].

So, the end of work does not mean the end of exploitation as such, but a turbulence between the categorial sphere and the phenomenal sphere. As Willy Thayer observed, the totalization of real subsumption of capital leaves only capitalism and gets rid off the potential for revolution (Thayer 139). So, if we only account for labor in the way that Zamora (or even Hatfield at the end of his book) seems to do, then, how can the role of finance, derivative models, the phenomenon of debt, and the pure means of speculative capital where nothing is produced except value itself be thought? It is general knowledge that for Marxism the model solicits a necessary mediation between money, commodity, and surplus value. However, in the ‘financial turn’, as Joseph Vogl discusses at length in his Specter of capital (Stanford 2013), work is reduced to mere re-production of value for value’s sake. For Vogl this is linked to bad faith and guilt. Today, it seems that the attractiveness of the category of class in the new the sociological revival of Marxism is solely discursive, since it cannot say anything about these transformations.

More important is the fact that, by retaining the category of class, the sociological critic secures his place as a vanguard of his time, leaving untouched the constitutive productionism at the heart of Marxian critique of capitalist labour. This is, after all, the philosophy of history working both against existence (wanting to “convince” specific subjects, whether in motley or unified social determination), while voicing a messianic promise for an emancipation to come. Of course, this does not mean that the idea of class could not be reworked as to grasp something else beyond Marx, as Andrea Cavalletti has demonstrated [3]. But the positive horizon that posits class against inequality does not do the work as an analytical tool to understand the global predicament. In fact, it seems to restitute as a sort of violence implicit in political drives.

When Zamora speaks of the “intention to convince the stable working class”, he reveals an old desire of the Left. (And it should not come as surprise that his book on Foucault and Neoliberalism comes endorsed by the Marxist sociologist Vivek Chibber). However, this is a legitimate political position, which actually exited last century under the name of guerrilla warfare. What is the guerrilla if not a process of subjectivization that pushes to link or “convince” the unemployed or the lumpen (whoever inhabits the outside of the “stable working class”) with class, or vice versa (those outside with the stable proletariat)?

It is very interesting that those who stand for full fleshed theory of such a strict political action do not push (at least explicitly) for guerrilla warfare. But it is the guerrilla form what seems to haunt the very horizon of thought that demands revolutionary alliance. Guerrilla is the unsaid of ‘obligatory’ class as a sort of universal military conscription or duty [4]. Against voluntarism or this kind of brute force, the task is to imagine other ways of thinking labor as an exigency for our times. Infrapolitical exodus – exemplified by the sabbath (see Kelso 2016) – seems to me a space beyond this productionism and the recurring promise of emancipation of life through work.




*Image: Yto Barrada. “Camp de Calamocarro, Sebta”, (Cprint, 1999/2011).

1, Daniel Zamora. “When inequality replaces exploitation: the condition of surplus-populition under neoliberalism “. Non-site, Issue 10, September 2013.

2, Willy Thayer. “Tercer Espacio e ilimitacion capitalista” (1999). But also see his “Fin del trabajo intelectual”, in Fragmento repetido (ediciones/metales pesados, 2006)

3, Andrea Cavalletti. Clase: el despertar de la multitud. Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo, 2013.

4, I owe this insight to a fruitful conversation with Sam Steinberg, Pablo Dominguez Galbraith, Maria Pape, and Sebastian Figueroa.