Re/Dematerializing Practice: Intersections of Desire, Repression, and Revolution.
Addressing “practice” directly by cataloguing a survey of philosophical frameworks and conceptions had not worked. The attempt to piecing together a rough approximation of what “practice” is (without even knowing what the question could be or whether there even was one) had led me to more walls. Gilles Delueze and Felix Guattari illustrate this in Capitalism and Schizophrenia:
"reach the wall and rebound against it, sometimes with an extreme violence. Then they become immobile, silent, they retreat to the body without organs, still a territoriality, but this time totally desert-like, where all desiring-production is arrested, or where it becomes rigid, feigning stoppage: psychosis." (1)
While it had been talked about as an intellectual/artistic/neurotic environment in which The question of practice was a question of navigating those walls. Time is in every way an element of practice that cannot be ignored or reduced. However it was not the durational directive that initiated the theory of practice, it was a materialization of activity/practice that led Karl Marx to his theory of alienation, historical materialism, and informed his revolutionary pursuits, and the first revolutionary theories on practice had not addressed it on the face of their theories. So for the time being, duration is situated in the materialist framework.
Suppose one started off investigating practice by ignoring the existing historical framework and only analyzing the linguistic versatility of the “practice”, the abstract, grammatical, and durational operations can be addressed through abstracts in this way. Although this direction in no way can lead to an understanding all facets of the concept, it does situate itself very nicely at the philosophical framework for the initial revolutionary doctrine.
“Practice” operates under a dual verb/noun function, which can either subjugate or objectify activity based on position. Subjecting the action to “practice” demonstrates the active present objective in “practice sewing,” the sewing existed only in the subjected objective of “practice,” and no longer exists without that subjugated objective. Alternatively when “practice” objectifies the action, it gets rendered an abstract object, like in “sewing practice,” the objective is not defined but the object is actively sustained, existing in both the previous and sustained engagement. The duration of “practice” is defined by the subjugated objective. Practice is operating only until the objective is realized, and has a defined duration. The duration of “a practice” is undefinable as long as the abstract “practice” object is sustained, and will exist indefinitely. While practice’s existence is abstract, both subjectively and objectively, the objective practice can be experienced indefinitely, only if conditionally sustained.
Karl Marx, in his “Theses on Feuerbach,” which was written in the spring of 1845, defines his critical position against the current materialist philosophy as well as the intellectually aligned Ludwig Feuerbach. This was not published within Marx’s lifetime however; after stylistic edits from his collaborator, Fredrich Engles, the theses were printed as an appendix to Engles’ Ludwig Feuerbach and The End of Classical German Philosophy (2). In Thesis I Marx’s position on the shortcomings of materialist philosophy are outlined:
"The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism - that of Feuerbach included - is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism -- which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such.
Feuerbach wants sensuous object, really distinct from the thought objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective activity. Hence, in The Essence of Christianity, he regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human attitude, while practice is conceived and fixed only in its dirty-judaical manifestation. Hence he does not grasp the significance of “revolutionary,” of “practical-critical, activity."(3)
Feuerbach’s limited view of human activity, and adjacent limited materialist conception is addressed from two different angles. Marx poses that reality simply cannot be understood if it “is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation,” The object described here is a concept introduced by Immanuel Kant called Thing-in-itself or “Ding an sich,”(4) and depended on the presupposition that objective reality is instead a connection of representations. This concept was an abstract solution to this perceived problem, in which the Thing-in-itself could operate as an abstract object of contemplation to reflect on reality. The issue Marx poses is that materialist philosophy considered an abstract thought object to reflect more on reality than human activity. Marx asks how could anyone objectively study material reality while ignoring that population of that reality and instead research an entirely abstract presupposition with the silhouette of an object. In the second paragraph Marx indicts Feuerbach for studying reality from an abstraction and consider that the only “genuinely human attitude” over human activity interpreting reality through objective perception. In this Thesis Marx is directly outlining the glaring contradictions that existing materialist philosophy has been operating under.
The years following Russia’s Communist Revolution, revolutionary organizations had begun to study Marx’s work and had begun laying down the groundwork for satellite revolutions. One such organization, based in China led by Mao Tse-tung was compelled to address a growing faction of dogmatic members belittling practice in favor of pursuing theory. In July of 1937, Mao Tse-tung had delivered his speech On Practice: On the Relation Between Knowledge and Practice, Between Knowing and Doing, addressing directly that faction at the Anti-Japanese Military and Political College, located in Yenan. This speech being less interested in engaging with philosophical developments was meant to address the followers directly:
If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself. If you want to know the structure and properties of the atom, you must make physical and chemical experiments to change the state of the atom. If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution. All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience. (5)
This excerpt directly addresses those dogmatic members, the line on revolution had two points that were being addressed. The first being that revolution is a practice, and functions in the production of knowledge. The second one being that the theory and methods of revolution could not be known without taking part in this practice. The Chinese Communist Party had emphasized practice in their pedagogical model for various reasons when compared to the revolution that had been completed in Russia. Topography, wealth distribution, and proximity to urbanized areas were the driving factors. In particular, the Chinese Communist Party had no proletariat class that had been nominated in Russia to be the revolutionary class. Instead peasantry was far more common, and with virtually no access to urban centers made access to formal education difficult, if not impossible. Theory was not to take precedence over the necessary practical knowledge needed to organize the revolution that was still to come in China.
In the 21st century practice was not infused with the same revolutionary ambitions that was boiling out of the eastern hemisphere in the early 20th century. In Michel De Certaeu’s “”Making Do”: Uses and Tactics,” the distinction between “strategies” and “tactics” were defined. The both of them being modes of practice utilized by two groups at odds with one another due to the structures of power and wealth access that had been available to only one of those groups. The two modes are explained:
"But what distinguishes them as the same time concerns the types of operations and the role of spaces: strategies are able to produce, tabulate, and impose these spaces, when those operations take place, whereas tactics can only use, manipulate, and divert these spaces."(6)
Both of these practices are interested in the same autonomy that was apparent with the revolutionary practices. In this case however the practice outlined, “strategies” is involved in the direct production of mutual repression. In terms of “tactics” it is summarized “In short, a tactic is an art for the weak”. In comparison, “The Promise of Practice” by Marcus Boon and Gabriel Levine a similar practice of “making due”:
"Art’s shift from work to practice also mirrors the economic transformations that began in the 1970s in Europe and North America and soon spread across the globe. Industries began to move offshore and out of the major cities in search of cheaper labour while simultaneously becoming increasingly automated; advanced economic sectors focused more on the provision of services - notably finance, culture industries and technological innovations. If ‘art practice’ sounds like a professional service, as some critics lament, this reflects the wider transition to a service economy, in which the grime and toil of production increasingly happens elsewhere, in special economic zones or in poor and poisoned communities. The practical turn reflects the increasing precarity of labour, in which artists living from gig to gig share the precarity state, if not the brutal conditions of pieceworks in global supply chains."(7)
The notion of practices, as first developed by Marx, has been expounded. In one end the utopian pedagogy of a practical materialism is still maintained, however as Michel De Certeau had addressed, a practice is not always the durational manifestation for objective activity, but is often the evolutionary synthesis of the tension between body and space. In both of these formulations time/duration becomes not just the identifying feature of practice, but the passive mechanism for its composition. Formulating practice as a Hegelian/ Dialectical process, which Ernst Bloch proposed in “Changing the world or Marx’s Eleven Theses on Feuerbach”:
“Hegel comes closest to a premonition of a practice-criterion, and in fact
characteristically on account of the relationship to work on phenomenology.”(8)
The synthesis is never actually formulated, or is always in flux, understood through the developed conception. Practice in the service of habits then is not an active objective, but an intellectual directive that is understood without conscious identification. In this way, the only possibility of abstaining from practice, is by doing nothing, or by unconscious repetition, while attempting to the process, or by allowing it to be improved for you. Through that framework no one can simply abstain from existing under specified practices.
1: Gilles Deleuze, and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus:Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 138-139.
2: Fredrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and The End of Classical German Philosophy, trans. Progress Publishers. marxist.org, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1886/ludwig-feuerbach/index.htm. accessed october 14 2019
3: Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach,” trans. W. Lough. marxist.org, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm. accessed September 10 2019
4: Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, trans. Gary Hatfield (Cambridge: The CU Press, 2004)
5: Mao Tse-tung, On Practice: On the Relation Between Knowledge and Practice, Between Knowing and Doing, trans. The Maoist Documentation Project, marxist.org, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-1/mswv1_16.htm accessed October 10 2019
6: Michel De Certeau, “”Making Do”: Uses and Tactics,” The Art of Everyday Life. trans. Steven Rendall, (Berkely, University of California Press 1984) 29-42.
7: Marcus Boon, Gabriel Levine, “The Promise of Practice” Practice, ed. Marcus Boon and Gary Levine (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press 2018), 12-23.
8: Ernst Bloch, “Changing The World or Marx’s Eleven Theses on Feuerbach” The Principal of Hope, trans. Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, and Paul Knight, (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press 1986), 1: 249-286.