Not Radical (Affect Theory or the Material Logic of Late Capitalism)


Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Cynical perhaps, this piece by Jedediah Purdy, which you can read here in the New Republic, is not so much a refutation of the major claims advanced in Affect Theory, Vital Materialism, and Post-Humanism per se as much a critical pushback re: the politics with which these theories are invested. These associated literatures would reflect in an almost perfect way the flux and surge of neoliberal capital dynamics. Purdy’s little argument here represents a liberal reprise of the Marxist position staked out by Frederic Jameson in his now classic Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.

According to Purdy:

[The] portrayal of capitalism as sharing the spirit of a diverse, opaque, and not entirely rational nature is not the subversive surprise she seems to imagine. It is, rather, the mirror image of a dominant form of pro-market poetics. Tsing seems only slightly aware that her portraits of organic, spontaneous precarity would be entirely congenial to the professional celebrants of the current world economy.


Fans of markets no longer describe them as built from uniformity and standardization. When countercultural leftists were rejecting the regimentation of mid-century regulated capitalism, with its big companies, strong unions, and expectation of lifelong employment, the libertarian economist Friedrich Hayek was fomenting an intellectual rebellion against it. Hayek and his followers celebrated laissez-faire capitalism as an organic, spontaneous network of contingent assemblages, carrying diverse information across many heterogeneous settings and projects that no central planner or federal regulator could hope to encompass. The language of “natural capital” and “ecosystem services” that rules from law schools and environmental-policy programs to the Nature Conservancy and the “sustainability offices” of various corporations is totally congenial to Tsing’s picture, and vice-versa. The same Silicon Valley and business-school types who have turned “mindfulness” into a technique for raising productivity would love to celebrate precarity as a path to what Tsing calls “arts of noticing,” if they have not already.”

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
This entry was posted in uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Not Radical (Affect Theory or the Material Logic of Late Capitalism)

  1. dmf says:

    Reblogged this on synthetic zero.

Leave a Reply