In responding to Jon Beasley-Murray’s latest rejoinder ‘Missing a trick’ it is clear that a number of issues are starting to stack up. This is a shorter response than previously because, like him, my concern is that the debate is losing its central focus and the productive basis for dialogue, especially in relation to the issues raised in my last post, ‘The war on errorism’.
For Beasley-Murray “something always escapes” which is how he approaches Louis Althusser’s text Machiavelli and Us in wanting to highlight those elements that evade us, that are elusive, that escape our grasp of the text. My response is that the something that escapes in Beasley-Murray’s reading is the very dispositif configuring text and context. This is a direct engagement with his reading of Machiavelli and Us (despite his bellyaching) and his claim that “something always escapes”. But much more is escaping.
There is his inattentiveness to intellectual attribution in relation to the categories of interpretation, appropriation, and negotiation that escapes. There is the oversight of the broader issues in Gramsci studies about historical-philological issues that escapes, which is not simply about ‘gestures toward a mountain of secondary literature’ but a substantive wider link to debates going on elsewhere. There is the inaccurate claim that Gramsci was the first to think about hegemony that escapes. There is the focus on Gramsci’s dialectical development of concepts that escapes. There is the dissembling on the word length of the original responses that escapes. That is already quite a list of escapees.
Then there is my claim that ‘I find it difficult to conclude that Gramsci treated concepts in a primary/secondary relationship of hierarchy’, contained in ‘The war on errorism’. This was in response to Beasley-Murray’s statement that in relation to coercion/consent and ‘in any such couplet (including also the others . . . “state/civil society”, and so on) there’s always a fundamental dissymmetry: one of the pair is primary; the other appears to be supplementary’, contained in ‘Not nearly far enough’.
This is distinctly not about treating Gramsci or the text of any writer as ‘holy writ’, as Beasley-Murray claims on Territorial Masquerades. My simple question is where in Notebook 12, Note 1 (Q12§1) on the formation of the intellectuals is there reference to the couplet coercion/consent in such a way that, according to Beasley-Murray, Gramsci ‘sets up a hierarchical relationship between the two’? The passage that Beasley-Murray cites at length does nothing at all to deliver on the claim that concepts are dealt with hierarchically by Gramsci. In his comments on his blog site with Francesca Billiani – who also takes Beasley-Murray to task for his errors – he even states, ‘A clear hierarchy is established between coercion and consent’.
Where does Gramsci deliver the assessment in Q12§1 that coercion/consent are founded in a clear hierarchy? Gramsci does refer to them as ‘connective’, as argued by me previously. Gramsci does also state the following in a sentence or two in the same note, after the passage cited by Beasley-Murray, that (Q12§1):
The function of organising social hegemony and state domination certainly gives rise to a particular division of labour and therefore to a whole hierarchy of qualifications in some of which there is no apparent attribution of directive or organisational functions.
But the hierarchy is one of social function, specialisation, and class position of intellectuals in the ‘organisational and connective’ relations between hegemony/domination within modern states (in Italy, France, England, Germany, Russia, the United States, Latin America, Japan, India, and China) and not a hierarchy of conceptual distinction between coercion/consent.
Elsewhere Gramsci states that ‘To make a comparison between Marx and Ilich [i.e. Lenin] in order to create a hierarchy is stupid and useless. They express two phases: science and action, which are homogenous and heterogeneous at the same time’ (Q16§2).
One could say something similar about trying to create a hierarchy between coercion/consent, state/civil society, or hegemony/passive revolution which at the same time are held dialectically in identity-distinction (or homogeneity-heterogeneity).
The search for hierarchy in Gramsci is one more something that always escapes, another escapee, and the list is growing.