Jodi Dean’s critique of Wendy Brown’s “Resisting Left Melancholy” piece sent me scurrying back to the original. Here are some of the nicest lines…
…left melancholy is Benjamin’s unambivalent epithet for the revolutionary hack who is, finally, attached more to a particular political analysis or ideal-even to the failure of that ideal-than to seizing possibilities for radical change in the present (p. 20).
We come to love our left passions and reasons, our left analyses and convictions, more than we love the existing world that we presumably seek to alter…(p. 21)
If the contemporary Left often clings to the formations and formulations of another epoch. one in which the notion of unified movements, social totalities, and class-based politics appeared to be viable categories of political and theoretical analysis, this means that it literally renders itself a conservative force in hlstory-one that not only misreads the present but installs traditionalism in the very heart of its praxis, in the place where commitment to risk and upheaval belongs (p. 25).
…it is a Left that has become more attached to its impossibility than to its potential fruitfulness, a Left that is most at home dwelling not in hopefulness but in its own marginality and failure, a Left that is thus caught in a structure of melancholic attachment to a certain strain of its own dead past, whose spirit is ghostly, whose structure of desire is backward looking and punishing (p. 26).
It is a left, I would add, that is pretty hegemonic in geography and urban studies (we can see its melacholy on full display in the emerging attention to “planetary urbanism”). Brown concludes that this left is badly in need of reinvigoration by “a radical…critical and visionary spirit” (p. 26), in need of “a radical transformation in the very foundation of our love” (p. 22).
For me, it is precisely in the Italians (e.g. Negri, Virno, Berardi, Agamben, Russo, Lazzarato, Toscano, Vattimo, Pasquinelli, et al.) that I find a relentless attention to this “potential fruitfulness” that we have lost. (It is a habit, it should be said, they tend to take directly from Deleuze & Guattari (who themselves get it from Nietzsche, Marx, Spinoza, et al.).
OK, so, Wendy Brown. Not so bad. Actually pretty good. Especially that part in yellow.