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Alberto Toscano

"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:

Alberto 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).

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