Brian Massumi’s Anti-Utopian Hopes

Brian Massumi’s Anti-Utopian Hopes

Interview by Mary Zournazi, thanks to Yukiko for sharing this with us:

Brian Massumi: From my own point of view, the way that a concept like hope can be made useful is when it is not connected to an expected success – when it starts to be something different from optimism – because when you start trying to think ahead into the future from the present point, rationally there really isn’t much room for hope. Globally it’s a very pessimistic affair, with economic inequalities increasing year by year, with health and sanitation levels steadily decreasing in many regions, with the global effects of environmental deterioration already being felt, with conflicts among nations and peoples apparently only getting more intractable, leading to mass displacements of workers and refugees … It seems such a mess that I think it can be paralysing. If hope is the opposite of pessimism, then there’s precious little to be had. On the other hand, if hope is separated from concepts of optimism and pessimism, from a wishful projection of success or even some kind of a rational calculation of outcomes, then I think it starts to be interesting – because it places it in the present.

20 responses to “Brian Massumi’s Anti-Utopian Hopes

    • there is certainly a call to serious (but not humorless!) humility at work in these thinkers who want us to start where we are, with Trungpa’s school is there much thought given to social justice issues?

      • I’m familiar with CT’s writings, but not with the current approach of the centers etc he founded. My impression is that the path to social justice, an enlightened society, is through the enlightened activity of individuals. This seems to be a matter of practicing say the Six Perfections in a larger social context. My sense is that dealing skillfully with aggression is a key component. So identifying specific issues might not be the path as much as dealing skillfully with the aggressiveness one finds in one’s path.

        As I said, this is a bit speculative, so I welcome the thoughts of anyone with more specific knowledge.

    To get clear about philosophical pro-
    blems, it is useful to become conscious
    of the apparently unimportant details
    of the particular situation in which we
    are inclined to make a certain metaphy-
    sical assertion. Thus we may be tempted
    to say ‘Only this is really seen’ when we stare at unchanging surroundings,whereas we may not at all be tempted
    to say this when we look about us while walking.

  2. This interview was first published in Mary Zournazi’s 2002 book ‘Hope: new philosophies for change’ under the title “Navigating Movements. A conversation with Brian Massumi” (pp. 210-242)

  3. Couldn’t a hope that is not optimism and which has been decoupled from expectations be better called “faith”?

      • Faith simply denotes this kind of belief without expectation (isn’t that the point of the story of doubting Thomas? “blessed our those who believe and yet do not see”; you don’t need the resurrected corpse before you to believe in it; just so, you don’t need the arrival of the hoped for object in order to have hope).

        Animal faith is an interesting idea…I came across it in John Lasch’s Stoic Pragmatism (heavy on pragmatism, light on stoicism). It seems to chime quite nicely with Merleau-Ponty’s criticism of Decartes: you can doubt everything you want intellectually, but just try to get around without ‘perceptual faith’ and see how far it gets you. This percpetual/animal faith is the condition of skepticism: there must be something before it can be suspended.

      • well here in the States religious/christian “faith” may be without (visible/secular) evidence but is loaded with expectations of all sorts of promised deliveries/gifts to be cashed out, and I think that’s pretty standard worldwide.

      • yes there are many developmental stages, think for example of coming to have a grasp of object-permanence or coming to embody response-abilties like forms of empathy, but in more or less fully-formed adults I think that it/we functions something like what Alva Noe lays out in that recent video I posted earlier on concepts/know-how. For me the kinds of imagined skepticisms of everything/existence may be good fodder for scifi plots but as philosophical-anthropology are flyjar traps, the bodily abilities at work that allow a body to get caught up in these buggy glitches make such speculations non-sense. I have been around folks out of their heads on PCP and others in the midst of florid psychotic episodes and their bodies still know the world of walking and all. So the live (not dead-end) question for me how to cultivate new ways, new assemblages that build off of our old kluged neuro/eco-systems that might make it possible to do more than just survive (as bios/il y a ) under the severe conditions/stressors we are increasingly coming under?

    • all those terms have very obscure grammars, for me. but in the greek/latin and as a theological virtue hope seems more closely related to desire, and to suffering.

      • hard for me to imagine folks, especially religious folks, without hope for/in what they would say they have faith in, even in Massumi’s case here there is a degree not just of breathing room but of change worth living for and frankly I’m not sure that in the long run he isn’t being too optimistic.

      • yes, i gather that has to do with their linkage as the theological virtues, both having to do with the salvation of the one who hopes and has faith, and both due somehow to god’s grace. i’m not really familiar with any working-out of the details, but i think the faith pertains more to belief in the ultimate agency of one’s salvation (god, via christ) than it does to its future occurrence? whereas hope pertains more to oneself, or one’s condition, or the human condition more generally, via-a-vis the present (possibly tempting only despair) and the possibility of holding out before salvation? (thus the linkage with suffering and desire.)

        or, maybe this gets somewhere: faith ~ trust, hope ~ not giving up / going on.

      • good,for rhetorical/therapeutic reasons I think that we need to have some sense of the living/contemporary/habitual resonances of terms (not sure how much this can be done in general as opposed to a case by case mode of experimentation) if we are trying to generate aspect-dawning/differences (perspicuous-re-minders/intuition-pumps) and like this Massumi mix of description and a bit of Kierkegaardian indirect-communication, slight of hand hitting the old gestalt-switch if you will.
        So this is akin to studies in reader-response theories and not the archive-fever dreams of tapping into root (as in trees, über not tuber) meanings or recovering some deep or higher meaning/consciousness, as I’m framing it. I still like Dick Rorty’s kuhnian reading of Donald Davidson’s living (and dead) metaphors which I take as being akin to perspicuous-reminders, not so much those with eyes to see as to see-anew, stop and look!

  4. Pingback: Hope and Struggle | Struggle Forever!·

  5. I’m still a bit baffled by the hostility to the term faith. I appreciate the American situation is different to here in the UK, but the term doesn’t imply anything necessarily Christian in content to me (esp. thinking of it as after the death of God). Faith doesn’t have to have anything to do with redemption, salvation, or so on… I’m always against the idea of abandoning concepts/tools to the “other side” just because the other side have monopolised them. I think I first started getting interested in the figure of faith when I saw Badiou talk regarding the communist hypothesis. To me, that seemed like a total non-religious admission of faith, and faith in quite a Kierkegaardian sense too.

    As to the rest…I also tend to think we’re akin to the Alva Noe way of describing it, but then I’m a fan of Merleau-Ponty. In your connection to the PCP people, you might like the work of people like Thomas Fuchs on the embodied experience of psychosis- esp. where he draws on neurophenomenology.

    • hey AJ, no hostility to the term was just reacting to the suggestion that it was “better”, more correct/accurate than, Massumi’s use of hope, and as I said to j I think that they are most often tied-in together.
      I actually interacted with a lot of religious folks while I lived in London and the associations really weren’t any different there in the broad sense (of course there always individual idiosyncrasies) or anywhere else that i have traveled.
      To tie this back in with neuro/enviro-psyches these terms have to be part of livedworlds to be significant/resonant have to be in some concrete sense immanent even if they are grammatically evoking future/possible/transcendent states, our use of them is to effect/affect co-operations here and now. Not ceding the terms (which only have meanings in our uses of them) to anyone, any time, but as I tried to suggest above (these fragmented threads are dreadful for longer exchanges) I’m interested in how these prototypes words/images/sounds/etc play out in different assemblages and not in trying to author-ize the one true Arche-grammar to rule them all.

  6. There is a notion of faith that isn’t predicated on God or any stand in. This is captured in Gianni Vattimo’s enigmatic formulation “I believe that I believe”- it hasn’t anything to do with an ultimate ground, horizon or promise…it is, paradoxically, only possible when these things have been withdrawn.

    • we will always have some priorities/interests that trump others. This is why Rorty was wrong when he initially singled out religious-faith as The conversation stopper, there are many faith-commitments that we can’t will ourselves to doubt even tho we might intellectually understand that they are contingent and not Given (Stanley Fish was right do diagnose Rorty and others as suffering from antifoundationalist theory hope). Freud was wrong to think that there was a literal difference between acting-out (bad) and acting (good) and pace CGJung&co. we cannot withdraw all our project-ions, we are, as many are now mapping out, extended-mind-ings thru and thru.
      So yes human-animal-faith-commitments are many and not just One or the haunting shadow of One.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s