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Real Abstraction: The Conference--Day 1 Conrad Hamilton, Jaleh Mansoor, Alberto Toscano

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

Friday, August 6

11am EST: Conrad Hamilton

1:30pm EST: Jaleh Mansoor

4pm EST: Alberto Toscano

Webinar Link to all the sessions:


Link to Blog post for:



Conrad Hamilton- 11am EST:

Staying with Sohn-Rethel: On the Embryosis of Capital:

With Intellectual and Manual Labour, Alfred Sohn-Rethel--for the first time--furnished us a blueprint of how to set epistemology on a scientific footing. Yet in the decades since its publication, Sohn-Rethel’s signature work has been subjected to criticism--including by Moishe Postone, who charges it with overstating the importance of the commodity-form to pre-capitalist societies (which were characterized by, so we are told, commodity circulation as opposed to commodity production). There is a kernel of truth to this critique, in so far as Sohn-Rethel does not adequately define the relationship between the generalization of commodity production and what he calls “non-empirical abstraction.” But what it fails to fully recognize is how, in the words of Ernest Mandel, “embryonic forms of the 'law of value' can be discovered” in pre-capitalist, simple commodity-producing societies, “just as the

'elementary cell' of capital, the commodity, contains in an embryonic way all the inner qualities and contradictions of that social category.” It’s the historicity of these embryonic forms that--as surely as European philosophers relied and rely on the metaphysical scaffolding passed down to them from Ancient Greece--attest to the continued vitality of Sohn-Rethel’s historical analysis.

Suggested Materials:

Marxism: Science or Humanism – Conrad Hamilton, Matt McManus and Michael J. Ardoline

Karl Marx on Value


Jaleh Mansoor 1:30pm EST:

‘Universal Prostitution’ or Concrete Abstraction: Notes on Francis Picabia’s Diagnostic Dada Diagrams

In 1916-17 Francis Picabia made a mixed media drawing that he entitled Universal Prostitution. The phrase “universal prostitution” derives from a passage in Marx’s early writing, the Philosophic and Economic Manuscripts of 1844. In 1924, Marcel Duchamp gifted Universal Prostitution, Picabia’s drawing, to the Yale Art Museum. Against any referential understanding of the drawing as illustrative of anything in particular, Duchamp clearly recognized the drawing’s quiet revolutionary formal and structural import for art. Picabia replaces the traditional mimetic or expressive use of line with a diagrammatic idiom seemingly borrowed from the language of industry, science and engineering. I argue that Picabia, avant la lettre, offers an index of the impossible-to-figure much less represent open secret of real abstraction by reconfiguring the meaning of line from its origin in individual mastery to a schematic attempt at mapping of an ever expanding totality, a sketch of the ecosystemic (Harvey) nature of capital determinative of the [creative] subject. Within the real movement of capitalist expansion, the model of the subject is that of the prostitute insofar as the structural logic of market exchange configures subjectivity as such. While Picabia offers no fixed picture of the capitalist configured worker-subject or any productive processes of capitalist expansion, we might understand aspects of Sohn Rethel’s description of real abstraction as both social synthesis and as the market unconscious -- because it happens “behind the backs of men” -- of capitalist society through the operations of the diagram offered as a diagnostic device.

The “open secret of real abstraction” (Toscano, 2008) is a problem at the level of perception, or in materialist terms, the way in which economics and politics are mediated by normative perception, a problem of and for political aesthetics. Real abstraction is an ‘open secret’ because it saturates every aspect of every social relations across space and time within capital -- and impossible to represent. It’s a scandal at the level of perception because of the peculiar way in which historical processes successful in their domination are mistaken for ontology. In this it mirrors the commodity but is an entirely different operation, lodged in the un/consciousness matrix of the collective subject.

Suggested reading:


Alberto Toscano - 4pm EST:

"A Phantom with Limbs of Steel": Fascism and Real Abstraction

In their 1934 book La conscience mystifiée, the first part of a never-completed multi-volume work on the science of ideology, Norbert Guterman and Henri Lefebvre placed their analysis of a rising fascism in the much-larger arc of a theory of "real abstraction" (a formulation they employ, while not entirely conceptualising it) spanning early commodity production all the way to contemporary finance capital. At the heart of their argument is an analysis of two interlocking but heterogeneous modalities or levels of abstraction, the non-contemporaneous or anachronistic "survivals"that constitute ideology as an accretion or inventory of past abstraction and the specifically capitalist logics of abstractions that attach to value, money and finance. My talk will take its cue from Guterman and Lefebvre's view of fascism as a precarious but devastating "fix" of the stresses and strains of and between these registers of abstraction to explore further ways in which the theory of fascism can be articulated with an account of real abstraction, touching specifically on the place of the latter in both Sohn-Rethel's and the Frankfurt School's thinking about fascism, as well as on the development of Lefebvre's own theory of concrete abstraction in his postwar writing.

Suggested readings:


About the Panelists:

Conrad HamiltonConrad Hamilton is a doctoral graduate from Paris 8 University, whose thesis under the supervision of Catherine Malabou dealt with the relationship between the value-form and social agency in the mature economic writings of Karl Marx. He has published articles in Jacobin, Areo, The Philosophical Salon, &&&, and Merion West. He is also the co-author of Myth and Mayhem: A Leftist Critique of Jordan Peterson.


Jaleh Mansoor Jaleh Mansoor is an associate professor of Art History at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Mansoor’s current project entitled Universal Prostitution: A Counter History of Abstraction Crossing Modernism, 1888-2008 is scheduled to be published by Duke University Press in 2022. It traces the historical and structural entwinement of aesthetic and real (or concrete) abstraction -- defined as the extraction of labor power valorized by transactional exchange on the market—to offer a comprehensive account of the political economic forces that motivated 20th C aesthetic abstraction and the advent of post-humanism.

Mansoor’s first monographic book, Marshall Plan Modernism: Italian Postwar Abstraction and the Beginnings of Autonomia was published by Duke UP in 2016. She has written extensively for various journals and magazines and is the co-recipient of a SSHRC grant. She also co-edited an anthology of essays addressing Jacques Rancière’s articulations of politics and aesthetics entitled Communities of Sense: Rethinking Aesthetics and Politics(Duke UP, 2010).


Alberto ToscanoAlberto Toscano is Reader in Critical Theory in the Department of Sociology and Co-Director of the Centre for Philosophy and Critical Theory at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Visiting Associate Professor at the School of Communications at Simon Fraser University, where he is also a visiting scholar at the Digital Democracies Institute. He is the author of The Theatre of Production: Philosophy and Individuation Between Kant and Deleuze (Palgrave, 2006), Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea (Verso, 2010; 2017, 2nd ed.), Cartographies of the Absolute (with Jeff Kinkle, Zero Books, 2015), Una visión compleja. Hacía una estética de la economía (Meier Ramirez, 2021), La abstracción real. Filosofia, estética y capital (Palinodia, 2021), and the co-editor of The Italian Difference: Between Nihilism and Biopolitics (with Lorenzo Chiesa,, 2009), the 3-volume Handbook of Marxism (with Sara Farris, Bev Skeggs and Svenja Bromberg, SAGE, 2021), and Ruth Wilson Gilmore's Abolition Geography: Essays in Liberation (with Brenna Bhandar, Verso, 2022).


Hosted by: Foreign Objekt


Sepideh Majid (Foreign Objekt)

Conrad Hamilton (Kapital Komrades)

Paul Reynolds (Historical Materialism)


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