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Jodi Dean

Jodi Dean


With Jodi Dean, Mladen Dolar, Eric Santner, Marina Vishmidt, Samo Tomsic, Alexei Penzin

University of Amsterdam, June 4-5. PC Hoofthuis 104, Spuistraat 135.

Sponsors: ASCA, NICA, Sandberg Institute

Organizers: Joost de Bloois (, Robin Celikates (, Aaron Schuster (

Registration is free, please email: Joost de Bloois (

Since 2008, debt and speculation have emerged as key concepts for contemporary cultural and political theory. The global crisis has not only impacted the wider fields of politics and culture, but has equally shaken the critical vocabulary we use to scrutinize these. The Debt Drive explores the many sediments of ways in which ‘debt’ and ‘speculation’ have restructured contemporary theory. What drives debt? How do debt and speculation affect subjectivity? How does debt forge and undo (inter)subjective relationships? In all its ghostliness, is debt opposed to the real?

The Debt Drive gathers some of today’s major theorists on ‘debt’, ‘speculation’ and ‘drive’ and their political and cultural significance. The conference focuses on ‘the debt drive’ as a key instrument for contemporary governmentality and its cultural and the oretical ramifications.

The conference will address debt and speculation as a mode of production: as the drive behind cognitive capitalism, but equally as a mode of cultural production; the peculiar relationship between art and speculation; the minutiae of debt’s seeming hostility towards autonomy. Moreover, The Debt Drive investigates the crucial role played by debt’s affective dimension: is there such a thing as the debt drive? Can we speak of speculative desire? Can the debt drive be transformed into its antipode: communist desire? How does the debt drive relate to neoliberal affect, such as depression, anxiety and mania, and on which (affective) resources could a political response to it build?




June 4:

10-11hrs: Mladen DolarThe Quality of Mercy is Not Strained (University of Ljubljana, Jan van Eyck Academy)

11-12hrs Discussion


12-13hrs Lunch


13-14hrs: Samo Tomšič (Humboldt University Berlin): The Capitalist Discourse: from Marx to Lacan

14-15hrs Discussion


15-16hrs Eric Santner (University of Chicago): The Weight of All Flesh: On the Subject-Matter of Political Economy

16-17hrs Discussion


17-18hrs Round Table


June 5:

10-11hrs Jodi Dean (Hobart and William Smith Colleges) Debt and Subjectivity

11-12hrs Discussion


12-13hrs lunch


13.00-14 hrs Marina Vishmidt (Art Critic, London): ‘Less Than Nothing to Sell: From Living Labour to Living Currency to Default’

14-15hrs Discussion


15-16hrs Alexei Penzin (Russian Academy of Sciences Moscow, Chto Delat): When There’s No Time: An Ontological Hypothesis for 24/7 Capitalism

16-17hrs Discussion


17-18hrs Round Table




The Quality of Mercy is Not Strained

Mladen Dolar

The Merchant of Venice pits against each other two kinds of logic: on the one hand Shylock, the merciless usurer, the miser, the Jew, extorting a pound of flesh to collect his debt; on the other hand Portia, the harbinger of Christian charity and mercy. Shylock, a figure announcing capitalist modernity, would thus stand for the cruel and ruthless part of the budding capitalism, accumulation and exploitation, based on interests and extracting the pound of flesh – Marx often referred to him in this light. He is inscribed in the long line of misers, stretching back to Plautus and forth to Molière’s Harpagon, Balzac’s Gobsec and finally Dickens’s Scrooge, the last miser who miraculously converted to charity and mercy. Portia seems to stand for a pre-modern logic of mercy, a magnanimous free gift not expecting anything in return, yet a gift which opens up a debt that cannot be repaid. In a historical reversal Portia could be seen as the figure annou ncing the new stage of capitalism, the economy of endless debt, of being at the mercy of an unfathomable Other, constantly falling short, unable to acquit one’s debt, grateful for one’s means of survival. Maybe one could read Shakespeare’s parable as a two stage-scenario: first the economy of avarice conditioning accumulation and extortion, then the economy of mercy and infinite debt.


The Capitalist Discourse: From Marx to Lacan

Samo Tomšič

After May 68 Jacques Lacan systematically oriented his teaching toward Marx’s critique of political economy. This shift inaugurates his” second return to Freud”, in which Marx replaces Saussure and Jakobson, enabling Lacan to account for an insufficiency of classical structuralism, its incapacity to address the real consequences of discursive production. For Lacan, one such consequence is the subject of the unconscious, which, as Freud has already discovered, knows different determinations. Lacan’s reference to Marx – and its central idea that a strong homology operates in the fields opened up by Marx and Freud – confronts psychoanalysis with the contradictions, instabilities and critical reality that mark the capitalist mode of production. In my presentation I will focus on one specific aspect of this homology, the one that concerns the production of capitalist subjectivity, for which various thinkers, from Nietzsche to Lazzarato, assoc iate with the invention of “abstract debt” and the constitution of capitalist social relations on this abstraction. I will first discuss Marx’s analysis of “primitive accumulation”, where Marx tries to grasp the subjective and the social consequences of public debt. I will then pass over to Lacan’s formalisation of the capitalist discourse, in order to indicate where psychoanalysis essentially continues the Marxian critical project.


The Weight of All Flesh: On the Subject-Matter of Political Economy

Eric Santner

In recent work (The Royal Remains: The People’s Two Bodies and the Endgames of Sovereignty) I have argued that Ernst Kantorowicz’s elaboration of the doctrine of the King’s Two Bodies in late medieval and early modern Europe offers rich resources for an understanding of multiple features of modern politics, culture, and the arts. My guiding hypothesis in this work was that the complex symbolic and imaginary supports of the political theology of sovereignty described by Kantorowicz do not simply disappear from the space of politics once the body of the king is no longer available as the primary incarnation of the principle and functions of sovereignty; rather, these supports—along with their attendant paradoxes and impasses–“migrate” into a new location which thereby assumes a semiotic density previously concentrated in the “strange material and mythical pres ence” (Foucault), in the sublime flesh, of the monarch. A central problem for an ostensibly disenchanted, secular modernity is how to figure the remains of this royal double now dispersed among the sovereign people. The problem for cultural and political analysis becomes, in turn, that of tracking the vicissitudes of the People’s Two Bodies.

At the core of my argument is the claim that Freud’s elaboration of unconscious mental activity is an attempt to do just that; that the missing cause at the heart of the somatic symptoms plaguing his hysterical patients and intensifying their bodies must be thought in conjunction with the passage of the king’s “other body” into one now “enjoyed” by the people (thus properly understood as a Genossenschaft, a collective of enjoyment). My lecture will attempt to develop this line of thought further into the sphere of political economy. I will argue that what Marx referred to as the spectral materiality—the gespenstische Gegenständlichkeit—that constitutes the substance of value in capitalism can be thought of as another locus of the “people’s two bodies,” one managed and administered in the sphere of economic relations. In this way I hope to give further force to Freud’s concept of “libidinal economy” as well as to “flesh out” Giorgio Agamben’s analysis of the theology of glory (his own effort to shift from an analysis of sovereignty to one addressed to political economy).


Debt and Subjectivity
Jodi Dean
This paper has two parts. The first is a critique of Maurizio Lazzarato’s The Making of the Indebted Man. I focus on Lazzarato’s treatment of debt primarily in terms of the production of subjectivity. My argument is that not only does debt fail to produce the singular subject Lazzarato imagines but even if it did this would not be adequate as the subject of a communist politics. In the second part of the paper I draw from Badiou’s Theory of the Subject  to sketch a view of such a political subject at the point of overlap of crowd and party, anticipation and retroactive determination.


Less Than Nothing to Sell: From Living Labour to Living Currency to Default

Marina Vishmidt

I will present an itinerary of the ‘convertibility’ of negativity to revolutionary politics seen as a result of a position in the social relations of production.  From Marx’s positing and later post-workerist expansion of the category of value-producing living labour to contemporary iterations of ‘going on debt strike’, structural negativity seems to grow ever more hypothetical as an impetus to far-reaching change in an age of worsening living conditions and growing pessimism – in fact negativity seems entirely individualized whether or not it is theorized.  The politics of reproduction can be seen at work in the attempt to find a revolutionary subject in a financialised rather than productive relation to capital, i.e. the class character of debt, but this can also be prey to forms of conservatism and moralism as feminist critics such as Miranda Joseph has charged – the spiral of reproduction which keeps the system going, just like the structure of de bt.  Thinking along this critique and alongside Klossowski’s ‘living currency’ and certain instances of poetry (Ashbery and Boyer), I will try to bring the itinerary to a more-than-metaphorical close which can


When There’s No Time: An Ontological Hypothesis for 24/7 Capitalism

Alexei Penzin

The essential feature of the contemporary or “terminal” capitalism is uninterrupted or permanently “wakeful” continuity of production, exchange, consumption, indebting, communication and control. Taking as a point of departure recent theorizing of 24/7 and “no time” temporality, as well as my own theorizing of sleeplessness in modern and late capitalism, I would like to move at a more abstract level of discussing a possible ontology exposed by this terminal conjuncture. As Marx once said, only the late, ripe and developed social forms fully discover their origins, some “primitive” forms. A hypothesis I would like to suggest is that this monotonous continuum of power/capital can be considered as an immense symptom of an ontological dispositif of a continuous, violent and incessant forcing “to be”. Only one choice is allowed in this dispositif – just to continue endlessly in empty 24/7 temporalities or, as an “alternative”, to exit from the continuum without any possibility of return. The grip of this ontological “double bind” now is fully visible in devastating evidence of continual capitalism, and its possible deactivation is a question of a radical politics to come.


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