WEB LIBRARY – Recommended E-books! [3rd Post] – Louis Althusser, Michel Serres, Mike Davis


MICHEL SERRESThe Natural Contract – Studies in Literature and Science. “Global environmental change, argues Michel Serres, has forced us to reconsider our relationship to nature. In this translation of his influential 1990 book Le Contrat Naturel, Serres calls for a natural contract to be negotiated between Earth and its inhabitants. World history is often referred to as the story of human conflict. Those struggles that are seen as our history must now include the uncontrolled violence that humanity perpetrates upon the earth, and the uncontrollable menace to human life posed by the earth in reaction to this violence. Just as a social contract once brought order to human relations, Serres believes that we must now sign a “natural contract” with the earth to bring balance and reciprocity to our relations with the planet that gives us life. Our survival depends on the extent to which humans join together and act globally, on an earth now conceived as an entity.

Tracing the ancient beginnings of modernity, Serres examines the origins and possibilities of a natural contract through an extended meditation on the contractual foundations of law and science. By invoking a nonhuman, physical world, Serres asserts, science frees us from the oppressive confines of a purely social existence, but threatens to become a totalitarian order in its own right. The new legislator of the natural contract must bring science and law into balance.

Serres ends his meditation by retelling the story of the natural contract as a series of parables. He sees humanity as a spacecraft that with the help of science and technology has cast off from familiar moorings. In place of the ties that modernity and analytic reason have severed, we find a network of relations both stranger and stronger than any we once knew, binding us to one another and to the world. The philosopher’s harrowing and joyous task, Serres tells us, is that of comprehending and experiencing the bonds of violence and love that unite us in our spacewalk on the spaceship Mother Earth.”


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AlthusserLOUIS ALTHUSSER. On The Reproduction Of Capitalism: Ideology And Ideological State Apparatuses. Louis Althusser’s renowned short text ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’ radically transformed the concept of the subject, the understanding of the state and even the very frameworks of cultural, political and literary theory. The text has influenced thinkers such as Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Zizek. The piece is, in fact, an extract from a much longer book, On the Reproduction of Capitalism, until now unavailable in English. Its publication makes possible a reappraisal of seminal Althusserian texts already available in English, their place in Althusser’s oeuvre and the relevance of his ideas for contemporary theory.

On the Reproduction of Capitalism develops Althusser’s conception of historical materialism, outlining the conditions of reproduction in capitalist society and the revolutionary struggle for its overthrow. Written in the afterglow of May 1968, the text addresses a question that continues to haunt us today: in a society that proclaims its attachment to the ideals of liberty and equality, why do we witness the ever-renewed reproduction of relations of domination? Both a conceptually innovative text and a key theoretical tool for activists, On the Reproduction of Capitalism is an essential addition to the corpus of the twentieth-century Left.


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slUMSMIKE DAVIS, Planet of Slums. Celebrated urban theorist lifts the lid on the effects of a global explosion of disenfranchised slum-dwellers. According to the United Nations, more than one billion people now live in the slums of the cities of the South. In this brilliant and ambitious book, Mike Davis explores the future of a radically unequal and explosively unstable urban world. From the sprawling barricadas of Lima to the garbage hills of Manila, urbanization has been disconnected from industrialization, even economic growth. Davis portrays a vast humanity warehoused in shantytowns and exiled from the formal world economy.

He argues that the rise of this informal urban proletariat is a wholly original development unforeseen by either classical Marxism or neoliberal theory. Are the great slums, as a terrified Victorian middle class once imagined, volcanoes waiting to erupt? Davis provides the first global overview of the diverse religious, ethnic, and political movements competing for the souls of the new urban poor. He surveys Hindu fundamentalism in Bombay, the Islamist resistance in Casablanca and Cairo, street gangs in Cape Town and San Salvador, Pentecostalism in Kinshasa and Rio de Janeiro, and revolutionary populism in Caracas and La Paz. Planet of Slums ends with a provocative meditation on the “war on terrorism” as an incipient world war between the American empire and the new slum poor.


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Other e-books previously shared at Awestruck Wanderer:




By Hasana Sharp (1)

To think in terms of affect is necessarily to think in terms of “transindividuality”, such that forms of individuality are necessarily incomplete and variable in response to other beings.

Understanding human expression in terms of natural forces and affective determination urges us to conceive of speech as something that emerges by virtue of a complex play of contact and contiguity with other beings, human and nonhuman.

When defining human action, Spinoza’s target and antagonist is most obviously Descartes. André Gombay notes that there is something shocking and even abhorrent to most people about the Cartesian dictum “I think therefore I am”. (2) Aren’t we also embodied, feeling beings who relish the experience of awe before natural beauty and artistic expression?

With Spinoza’s theory of affect, we have a comprehensive redefinition of human agency. More than an affirmation of our corporeality, Spinoza’s theory of affect gives rise to a notion of agency that is in no way exclusively human.

The limitless possibilities ascribed to mind and body include not only those we call human but also the ideal and corporeal powers of beasts, computers, and collectivities.

“Affect” names those changes in power that belong to finite existence by virtue of being connected necessarily to other beings, immersed in a field of powers and counterpowers…

It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of affect in Spinoza’s philosophy as a whole. “Affectus” is the first word of the Political Treatise and remains a protagonist throughout the text. The Theological-Political Treatise begins with a vivid portrait of the misery provoked by hope and fear, the affects that nourish the superstition and despotism that are the treatise’s objects of critique.

Affect refers to a universal power to affect and be affected, to the fact that finite beings enhance or diminish one another’s power necessarily, by virtue of their inescapable interdependency. An affect is an encounter between bodies that involves a change in one’s power, for better or for worse, together with the idea of that change:

“By affect [affectum] I understand affections [affectiones] of the body by which the body’s power of acting is increased or diminished, aided or restrained, and at the same time, the ideas of these affections.” (3)

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“Spinozean desire exists within a relational field and is fully actualized only with favorable relations. (…) The striving to persevere in being is the “essence” or “nature” of each and every singular thing. “Each thing, as far as it can by its own power, strives to persevere in its being.” (4)

Conatus names the singularity of beings, a force of existence unique to each thing, which accounts for the infinite diversity of finite things in nature. Conatus names a power of self-organization, self-maintenance, and striving to preserve one’s distinctness amidst infinetely other singular beings.

Nevertheless, within Spinoza’s relational ontology, the singularity of each essence does not entail that the conatus is the exclusive cause of a being’s perseverance. To remain this table or this body, one must maintain a constant flow of exchanges with myriad ambient beings. One must perpetually mutate in order to remain what one is. (…) Our most fundamental power to be cannot ultimately be separated from the concurrent forces of other beings. It is for this reason that the concept of “transindividuality” is particularly apt for Spinoza.” (5)


(1) Sharp, H. Spinoza and the Politics of Renaturalization. Chicago, 2011, pg. 24-26.

(2) Gombay. Descartes, IX.

(3) Spinoza, B. Ethics. III. Definition 3.

(4) Idem. Ethics.  III. Proposition 6.

(5) Sharp, H. Op cit. P. 132-33.

NIETZSCHE AND THE SHADOWS OF GOD – By Y. Yovel in “Dark Riddle: Hegel, Nietzsche and the Jews” (1998)


“Metaphysical fictions are involved in the central concepts and values of Western culture, which dominate and distort every individual’s life. (…) The whole network of epistemological and moral concepts in which we live expresses, in this respect, a psychology of escape and repression. In Nietzsche’s terms it is a fear of facing the truth, the cowardice of the person retreating before the abyss. Further, the system of rational fictions we project on the world enables us, the weak, to dominate the world in an imaginary way and thus express our will to power in a rather devious manner. In subjecting, as it were, the world to a network of rules and laws of our own invention, we establish our alleged superiority over it and subject the universe itself to our metaphysical illusions.

The Christian religion, even more than rationalistic science and morality, produces and offers a veil of mystification which serves human weakness, meekness, and the negation of life. Images of a transcendent god and a next world make real earthly life appear null and worthless; and by means of moral images of punishment and reward, divine Providence, a moral world order, conscience, repentance, and guilt feelings, men and women interiorize their hatred of life and become self-oppressed.

Though Nietzsche was called a nihilist, he himself regarded nihilism as his number one enemy. Genuine nihilism, he claims, resides in Christianity, whose essence is to deny life’s value, to opress life, and to fight against it. The ascetic ideal – the summit of spirituality in Christian eyes (and also in the eyes of the atheist Schopenhauer) – is to Nietzsche the greatest distortion of the spirit which Christianity propagates.” (pg. 108)

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the_gay_science_by_nietzsche_book_cover_v2_by_ruckenfigur-d5kx81y“This attempt at a radical critique, both in its roots and in its scope, is dramatically expressed in Nietzsche’s dictum about the death of God, and even more in his less well-known but more accurate exclamation in The Gay Science: ‘When will all these shadows of God cease to darken our minds? When will we complete our de-deification (*) of nature?’ (GS, 125)

(*) entogöttilicht, literally “freed of God”

Even after God’s death, his shadows still dominate the world. Hence the true role of philosophical criticism is to purge the world of the shadows of the dead God (GS, 108). These shadows are the vestiges of belief in a rational world, a cosmos ruled by a logos, the validity of the natural sciences, of the ‘pure’ laws of logic, the dominion of causality, and the cogency of the concepts of substance and identity. Modern natural science pretended to have banned God from the picture of nature, but has reinstated God’s shadows through the back door.

Philosophical rationalism and the belief in science are disguised versions of the old religious notion of a moral world order, and are likewise based on anthropomorphism – the projection of man’s wishes, needs, customs, and aspirations on the structure of the universe. (…) In contrast to Spinoza, for whom the world was saturated (because identical) with God, for Nietzsche the demand to grasp nature as ‘clear of God’ is the precondition for man to ‘become nature again’: that is, to be cured of decadence.” (pg. 112)

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“Life’s meaning is not something ready-made, by its mere existence, but is shaped through a process of self-overcoming. A precondition for this is the recognition that there are no objective meanings and values out there in the world, that the world is disrobed of God and his shadows. Therefore the test of the noble person – the “overman” which Nietzsche pretends to announce – lies in the question: ‘How much truth can be bear?’

Child Dionysus riding a tigress (Museum El Djem)

Child Dionysus riding a tigress (Museum El Djem)

Tearing away as many of his protective masks as he or she can, the Dionysian person is supposed to face a universe stripped of rational meaning and of all support by permanent values, and to be capable of converting this terrifying recognition into a new source of life’s power and even a new kind of joy. (‘Joyous knowing’ is, I think, a better rendering of Nietzsche’s famous ‘La Gaya Scienza’).

But what kind of knowing is this? It is certainly not merely a cognitive disposition; it is equally a self-commitment, a passion, a form of willing. It is a mode of recognition and realization, two words which imply taking a stand, performing an act, placing oneself in some firm position. The Dionysian person’s knowing is not the affirmation of a statement, nor even a simple disillusionment, but an act of the whole person which affirms a whole existentical ‘fate’ and accepts a certain way of living, which others would consider miserable, as a basis for joy and creativity.

The psychology of ordinary people is different. When facing hard truths, such people are liable to react by negating life, plunging into despair and nihilism, or running back to the consoling lap of illusion. Weak persons opt for optimism because they cannot overcome pessimism, whereas for the kind of person Nietzsche foresees, a “pessimist” view of existence is merely the starting point to be overcome, an introduction to the affirmation of life and the acceptance of difficulty and suffering, by which to gain new sources of power and joy.

This dialectical overcoming of the temptation of nihilism (and also of superficial optimism) is Nietzsche’s main message; it is the crux of his Dionysian stance, the essence of tragedy and the tragic way of life. The Dionysian person neither shuns suffering (mental and physical) and the recognition of chaos, nor lets them drag him into the abyss of despair. Rather, by saying ‘YES’ to life with all its contingent, absurd, and horrible aspects, he converts this recognition into a source of existential power.”

Dark Riddle: Hegel, Nietzsche and the Jews
(1998, Pennsylvania State University, Pgs. 107 -114)

Yovel is Professor of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
and Hans Jonas Professor at the New School for Social Research in New York.
He also wrote Spinoza and Other Heretics and Kant and the Philosophy of History,

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You might also enjoy:

BBC’s doc Human All Too Human

WEB LIBRARY: Great books for download… sharing the knowledge! (Marx, Vaneigem, Bakunin, Sahlins…)

Karl Marx
, “Dispatches for the New York Tribune: selected journalism of Karl Marx”

Karl Marx is arguably the most famous political philosopher of all time, but he was also one of the great foreign correspondents of the nineteenth century. Drawing on his eleven-year tenure at the New York Tribune (which began in 1852), this completely new collection presents Marx’s writings on an abundance of topics, from issues of class and state to world affairs. Particularly moving pieces highlight social inequality and starvation in Britain, while others explore his groundbreaking views on the slave and opium trades. Throughout, Marx’s fresh perspective on nineteenth-century events reveals a social consciousness that remains inspiring to this day.


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SahlinsMarshall Sahlins, “Stone Age Economics”

Stone Age Economics is a classic study of anthropological economics, first published in 1974. As Marshall Sahlinsstated in the first edition, “It has been inspired by the possibility of ‘anthropological economics,’ a perspective indebted rather to the nature of the primitive economies than to the categories of a bourgeois science.” Ambitiously tackling the nature of economic life and how to study it comparatively, the book includes six studies which reflect the author’s ideas on revising traditional views of the hunter-gatherer and so-called primitive societies, revealing them to be the original affluent society. The book examines notions of production, distribution and exchange in early communities and examines the link between economics and cultural and social factors. It consists of a set of detailed and closely related studies of tribal economies, of domestic production for livelihood, and of the submission of domestic production to the material and political demands of society at large.


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Michael Bakunin, “Selected Writings”

A collection of writings from the champion of Anarchism, Mikhail Bakunin. Includes “God and the State”, “Marxism, Freedom and the State”, “The Policy of the International”, and “The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State”. Preface gives a brief biography. Qualitatively the best collection of Bakunin’s writings that currently exists, this selection presents the reader with some of Bakunin’s most important writings, and illustrates his development from being a close follower of Hegel to becoming the great adversary of Marx and Marxist socialism.


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Raoul Vaneigem, “The revolution of everyday life”

Raoul Vaneigem was one of the most important thinkers within the Situationist International as well as frequent editor of their journal Internationale Situationniste. The Revolution of Everyday Life, written in Vaneigem’s typically poetic style, is one of the most important of the Situationist texts, attacking the alienation of capitalist life not only at work but also in our ‘free’ time.