Thinking Transindividuality along the Spinoza-Marx
Encounter: A Conversation
Bram Wiggers and Jason Read
Critique, Marx, Spinoza, Transindividuality
Krisis 42 (1):93-107.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution 4.0 License International License (CC
BY 4.0). © 2022 The author(s).
Ever since the publication of Read’s The Politics of Transindividuality (2015), the academic
interest in transindividuality has steadily mounted. In this conversation, Bram Wiggers
and Jason Read discuss the current state of aairs around the concept of transindividu-
ality. The conversation begins with a denition of transindividuality and discusses what
sets the term apart from other philosophies of social individuation. Having dened the
concept of transindividuality, the conversation then engages with the question of how
transindividuality can be adopted as a means of social-political critique. First, Bram
and Jason discuss how transindividuality is evoked but not explicitly mentioned in the
social-political critiques of Spinoza and Marx. Secondly, the conversation takes up the
social-political critiques of Paolo Virno and Bernard Stiegler who make explicit use
of transindividuality. Central to the later parts of the conversation is the complicated
interrelation between the political and economic domains of individuation, as well as
the tendency of collective modes of representation to be eaced and obscured by (neo-
liberal) individualism and the post-Fordist conditions of labor. Overall, the conversation
highlights the relevance of transindividuality for social-political philosophical critique.
Thinking Transindividuality along the Spinoza-Marx
Encounter: A Conversation
Bram Wiggers and Jason Read
Gilbert Simondon’s concepts are “extremely important; their wealth and originality
are striking, when they’re not outright inspiring” (Deleuze 2004, 89). These are the
words of Gilles Deleuze, who, being no stranger to grand gestures, gives us a sense of
the relevance of Simondon’s philosophy. Of all the conceptual innovations Simondon
makes throughout his Individuation in Light of Notions of Form and Information1 (IL), it
is perhaps the concept of transindividuality that stands out the most. In the context of
his philosophy of individuation, the term transindividuality is meant to designate the
way in which any individual individuation always implies an amplication of its process
in terms of the individuation of the collective. Transindividuality, therefore, literally
comes to designate the mutually constitutive process of what Simondon aptly calls psy-
cho-social individuation. Outside the context of Simondon’s theory of individuation,
the concept of transindividuality has been invoked to overcome the duality between
the individual atomistic subject and the collective that, at least in political philosophy,
has resulted in the impasse between the individualist, contractarian school of thought,
and the holist schools of thought. In terms of critical philosophy, Simondon’s concept
has been appropriated by thinkers such as Étienne Balibar, Bernard Stiegler and Paolo
Virno as a tool to critically rethink Marx’s analysis of political economy.
In the following conversation – recorded via Zoom on January 6, 2022 – I
reect on these diverse philosophical topics surrounding the notion of transindivid-
uality with Dr. Jason Read, professor of philosophy at the University of Southern
Maine and author of The Politics of Transindividuality. Published in 2015, the latter work
provides, as Balibar states on the cover of the book, a “comprehensive discussion of
sources and creative contributions to a renewed Marxist interpretation. What makes
the work a remarkable read is that it does not merely proceed from Simondon’s original
formulation of transindividuality and its invocations in the work of Stiegler and Virno,
but also returns to philosophers such as Spinoza, Marx, and Hegel, who for obvious
reasons never mentioned the term transindividuality, but who did work around the
issue of individuation as well as the relation between the individual and the collective.
The result is a book that not only situates the current literature on transindividuality in
a systematic manner but also critically engages with the concept of transindividuality by
putting the various invocations of transindividuality in conversation with one another.
What Read aims to indicate by putting these various readings of transindividuality
together is that “the question of collectivity, of transindividuality, is not only simultane-
ously ontological, political and economic, encompassing the dierent senses in which
things, or people, can be said to be individuated, but it is so in a manner that cannot be
neatly, or hierarchically, organized” (2016, 19). Transindividuality as such indicates that
individuation is a complex spectacle crossing various domains.
The extensive and thorough nature of Read’s work has made the book some-
what of a focal point for any serious engagement with the concept of transindividuality.
For instance, Balibar, whose 1993 lecture Spinoza: From Individuality to Transindividuality
held in Rijnsburg (possibly) initiated the transindividual reading of Spinoza, refers to
Read in his recently published Spinoza the Transindividual (2020). In the domain of
feminist theory, Read’s work has been used by Chiari Bottici in her recent publica-
tion Anarchafeminism (2021) in which she expands upon the transindividual inter-
pretations of Spinoza provided by Read and Balibar to think through the question
“what is a woman?” in pluralist terms. John Robert’s Capitalism and the Limits of Desire
(2021), on the other hand, explicitly adopts Read’s Spinozist-Marxist approach to
the problem of how capitalism produces (individuates) joyfully submitted subjects.
The recent academic interest in transindividuality, however, is not merely conned to
critical theorists working roughly in the Spinozist-Marxist domain. With the recent
translation of Gilbert Simondon’s Individuation in Light of Notions of Form and Information
(2020) by Taylor Adkins the interest in Simondon’s theory of individuation, in general,
is on the rise.
Considering these developments, a critical reexamination of The Politics of
Transindividuality is warranted. In our conversation, we discuss the critical potential of
transindividuality, the specic transindividual philosophical practices of Spinoza and
Marx, the status of work in today’s (neoliberal) capitalist society, and the complicated
relation between the political and economic. Overall, our conversation once more
highlights the signicance of transindividuality as a philosophical tool to critically (re)
think political economy.
Bram Wiggers: The concept of transindividuality, especially in the non-French speak-
ing world, is relatively new. Simondon’s magnum opus, Individuation in Light of Notion of
Form and Information, was only recently translated into English (2020). Whenever I try to
explicate the notion of transindividuality to people who are unfamiliar with the term,
they attempt to connect it to other notions of (social)individuation such as Fanon’s
sociogenesis or Butler’s performativity. Indeed, both deal with problems of social indi-
viduation in which there seems to be a sort of two-way movement from the individual
toward the collective and the reverse. If we accept that these theories describe a similar
idea of transindividuation as Simondon does, then the concept of transindividuality is
perhaps not that much of a rupture in the way we think about individuation. What do
you think about that?
Jason Read: I think that transindividuality is a name for something that other people
have tried to think under dierent names; I mean the Fanon reference of sociogenesis
is certainly one. Whenever the concept is invoked – and as you mentioned it does have
a strange history outside of the Francophone world or at least in the Anglo American
world where some of the rst translated references show up in things like Marcuse’s
work, but where it really started to show up is in the work of people like Étienne
Balibar, Paolo Virno and Bernard Stiegler, etc. − it is often used as a way to avoid a kind
of dead-end way of thinking the relation between the individual and the collective
in terms of a zero-sum game. Right, the more individuated you are the more you are
separated from collective practices and processes, whereas if you are more integrated
into collective practices you are less of an individual. Transindividuality suggests the
mutual constitution of the two [individual and collective].
But the escape from this kind of binary of the individual and the collective,
like other binaries that we are caught up in – e.g. mind-body, etc. − is often easier said
than done. It takes more than just invoking it, it takes a sort of really working through.
Often, theories of social relations that attempt to escape the binary end up invoking
an intersubjective way of thinking. Intersubjectivity is a relation between constituted
subjects that relate to each other through their own individual tastes, desires, aects,
etc. Transindividuality, on the other hand, is a relationship between the constitutive
elements of individuation, which means that things can be individuated based on a
shared transindividual basis but that they can individuate in dierent ways with respect
to that. For example, a pervasive feeling of economic instability or anxiety could be a
transindividual condition that can be individuated in dierent ways; it can be individu-
ated in a right-wing version, a left-wing version, you can stress the nation, one’s sense of
belonging or you could see it in terms of the worker and globalization. So you see that
the same constitutive element can become the basis for dierent individuations. This is
dierent from intersubjectivity which suggests that there’s ultimately a relationship of
recognition between already constituted subjects underlying individuation.
BW: Connected to the binary of individual and collective, one of the charges I often
get when attempting to explicate the notion of transindividuality is that it appears to
be just another theory of compatibilism. We can see how this idea is able to emerge.
As you pointed out, there seems to be on the one hand a sort of individuation on the
part of the individual that would suggest a form of autonomy, but on the other hand,
the individual individuation is equally guided, perhaps even determined, by collective
constitutive elements. How would you respond to this charge against transindividuality?
JR: Really, I think that along the lines you mentioned, transindividuality is a dierent
way of engaging with determinism. This comes up quite strongly in Étienne Balibar’s
pamphlet on transindividuality,2 in which Balibar stresses that the underlying ontology
and physics of transindividuality in the Spinozist sense is one that tries to break from
a causality understood in linear terms. Rather, we have to think in terms of multiple
intersecting causes. This comes out in a dierent way in Simondon, who is constantly
trying to unpack the various levels and layers of individuation from the physical to the
natural,3 to the psychic, and so on, in order to understand how each level of individua-
tion sets the conditions, in terms of a problematic, for further stages of individuation. As
human beings, for instance, shaped by thousands of years of evolution, the incorporation
of new habits and desires into our existence continuously sets the problems for further
progressive individuations. The tricky thing then is, and this comes up in some of the
other Spinoza scholars, especially in that of Chantal Jaquet (2014), that even deviations
from ascribed cultural values and norms have to be understood as being determined by
the complexity of the collective values and norms from which they deviate.
The Simondonian term for this is metastability. Metastability is a term used to
describe the fact that determination (by our economy or culture, etc.) is never linear,
but rather that the determination of processes of individuation is made up of multiple
intersecting factors and relations that are each individuated in dierent ways. So on
an ontological level, transindividuality is the attempt to think of a kind of complexity
through determination, or rather a determination that is less linear and more about
multiple overlapping levels of determination.
BW: Recently, I encountered an article on the notion of the problem in Simondon and
Deleuze by Daniela Voss (2020) in which she explicates this complex, transindividual
determination by means of the concept of chrono-topology, which describes the idea
that the (psychic) individual is a topological structure with a history. This, I believe, is an
elegant way to describe Simondon’s idea that individuation is the constant reassessment
of problems into new solutions – i.e., new (topological) structures. In your book The
Politics of Transindividuality, you reect on this complex determination by arguing that
each individuation is both produced and producing, constituted and constitutive – i.e.,
each individual is a solution to a problem but also poses new problems. Transindividuality
allows us to think about how the individual is the result of these complex relations of
determination and determining.
Moving on to my next question. I think it is striking that the philosophy of indi-
viduation of Simondon, which as you point out is mostly an ontological examination of
the constitutive elements of various beings, is taken up by thinkers such as Stiegler, Virno,
Balibar, and yourself in terms of a critical theory that engages with political economy.
Certainly, Simondon does on occasion refer to Spinoza or Marx, but the passage toward
a critical theory is not apparent. How do you think this passage was initiated?
JR: I think it connects to two things that I have already briey mentioned. One is, as
you mentioned, that I think that there is a tendency with all new concepts or approaches
to maybe overstress the dierence with everything that has come before. Simondon
denitely does that. The interesting thing about Balibar’s approach is that he stresses
that once we have this concept, we can see the way in which other philosophers were
thinking towards transindividuality without articulating it. As such, we could investigate
to what extent there is an unnamed transindividual dimension in, for instance, Spinoza
and Marx. On the other hand, and this is the second point, I think that the individual
can be understood as both a problem and a solution to problems. In a similar sense, I
think that a philosophical concept is both a problem and a solution to a problem. The
question of how to connect the ontology of transindividuality to socio-political and
economic individuation is a problem that Simondon’s thought poses but does not resolve.
As a result, you see thinkers such as Balibar, Virno, and Stiegler who, from very dierent
philosophical backgrounds, invoke the concept of transindividuality by each formulating
very dierent responses to the same problem. For them, the problem is to investigate to
what extent the concept lends itself, or poses a problem for how we think about politics
and economics today.
BW: Can we then understand your The Politics of Transindividuality as an attempt to
provide a more systematic overview of the various transindividual thoughts?
JR: Yes, in some sense to try to think through the various intersections of these dierent
invocations of transindividuality and to see how they connect as well as what their lim-
itations are. However, I denitely do not consider transindividuality a school of thought
in the strong sense, but more a study of a set of interconnected problems and questions.
BW: Let us then turn to the transindividual interpretations of Spinoza and Marx. The
way I see it is that when you read transindividuality back into the philosophies of
Spinoza and Marx, transindividuality almost seems to become a method rather than a
theory of individuation as it had been for Simondon. In a dierent paper on Spinoza
and Marx you call their respective philosophical practices of transindividuality as pro-
ceeding on the basis of a preemptive strike. Both Spinoza and Marx take the idea of the
free, autonomous individual to be the spontaneous philosophy of man4 and critically
dissect that spontaneous idea by way of transindividuality (Read, 2021). The preemptive
strike, therefore, initiates almost something like a genealogy, investigating the conditions
under which individuals come to understand themselves (perhaps falsely) as free, auton-
omous individuals.
JR: Yes, in the sense that I think that it is not enough to simply say that the transin-
dividual is correct and people who think in terms of already constituted individuals
[intersubjectivity] are wrong and juxtapose the true to the false. It rather consists in
trying to show how individuals come to understand themselves in a particular manner
due to the underlying conditions of individuation. This is eectively the project of the
German Ideology. Marx does not merely aim to indicate why the idealist account of
history as a history of dierent competing and contesting ideas criticizing each other is
wrong, he wants to show how the material conditions have led people to misrecognize,
in a sort of camera obscura inverted world, and think ideas drive history rather than
material conditions. In a related but dierent sense – Marx is more socio-historical and
Spinoza more anthropological – Spinoza wants to understand why we, as individuals,
see ourselves as a Kingdom within a Kingdom, why we believe that we are the cause of
our desires and why we do not see the relations that constitute our aects and desires.
The shared critical dimension of Spinoza’s and Marx’s transindividuality thus consists in
the fact that both attempt to indicate how the perspective of the isolated, autonomous
individual is generated from the very transindividual social relations that exist but that
are in some sense eaced by the individualist conceptions that they give rise to.
The idea of preemptive strike emerged from the fact that one of the things that
I nd very interesting is that both Marx’s Capital and Spinoza’s Ethics contain possibly
the two most famous short texts; the “Commodity Fetishism” chapter in Capital and the
“Appendix to Part One” of the Ethics. These are incredibly important critical texts that
have been turned to again and again for theories of ideology, fetishism, reication, and
so on. But the other interesting thing about both texts, and this is where the preemptive
comes up, is that both Spinoza and Marx are basically saying to their reader: “I know
you do not agree with me because I know that you are still thinking in terms of”,
whether it be in the case of Spinoza the idea of an individual as freely determining a
Kingdom within a Kingdom, or in the case of Marx where it is the idea that commod-
ities inherently possess value. And so both Spinoza and Marx need to write these very
polemical and ahead-of-themselves texts, for neither Spinoza nor Marx at that point
of the texts have worked out either their anthropology or the historical conceptions
necessary for their theories. It is their shared materialism through which they recognize
that our ways of thinking are shaped by our ways of living and that because our ways of
living are such that they in some ways compel us to recognize ourselves as individuals,
that has to be dealt with critically before they can even go on to write the rest of what
it is they are going to write.
BW: One of the ways in which Spinoza and Marx, however, dier is that Marx
is very much bound to a Hegelian teleological understanding of history. Marx at
times appears to be saying that as soon as the material conditions that prevent us
from seeing our true transindividual condition change, we would acquire, in the
form of communism, a recognition of our true transindividual self. Spinoza does
not have this teleological move toward recognition. Balibar argues, for instance,
that Spinoza develops what he refers to as the double constitution of the state,
which is always marked by a certain polarity between reason and imagination.
We can extend this idea of a double constitution to the singular individual.
The constant polarity between reason and the imagination, which is so per-
vasive in our everyday life, blocks any recognition of our true transindividual
condition. Connecting Spinoza to Marx, as you do throughout The Politics of
Transindividuality, would therefore be necessary to overcome a teleological reading
of Marx’s transindividuality.
JR: Yes, I think you are correct, and in some sense Marx struggled with that teleological
element. On the one hand, Marx was optimistic about the revolutionary movements
happening in Europe at the time, which at times seemed to have made him think that
these illusions would simply dissipate, allowing us to see through them and recognize
our real collective existence. On the other hand, Marx often argues in the opposite
direction, and the commodity fetishism chapter in Capital is part of this category, stating
that there is no outside of commodity fetishism. In the Grundrisse, for instance, Marx
seems to think that the capitalist society is organized in such a way that we come to see
ourselves as autonomous individuals because the things that we rely on to make our
autonomous existence possible – e.g., the labor of others − are eaced for we simply
see the commodities and not the labor of individuals that produces them. Before we
began, we were talking about how things are going with COVID and I think one of
the things that COVID has done with the ensuing supply chain issues is that people are
beginning to realize that for them to get the products they want on the shelves, they are
dependent upon other people to make that happen. Marx’s point is precisely this, that
capitalist relations of exchange guided by the principle of “Freedom, Equality, Property
and Bentham,5 this sort of spontaneous philosophy that emerges from capitalist society,
is one in which we do not see our relations with others but only see the products that
are produced through those relations.
This is also why in the book I tried to make a passage from Marx to Simondon
to say that the relations of capitalism should be understood as an alienation from the
pre-individual and as an exploitation of the transindividual. We are alienated from the
pre-individual when we are incapable of grasping the very constitutive elements of our
own aects, desires, etc. In relation to capitalism, for instance, we do not recognize how
much of our aects and desires are produced for us to desire more products, which is
Stiegler’s point. The transindividual is exploited in that we are collective not merely
because the things that we consume are produced by others, but also in that our labor
usually depends upon the existence of others, present or not present, to have any kind of
impact or be meaningful at all. But that aspect of production is exploited and, I would
also argue with Marx, in some sense eaced at the same time.
BW: I think that Balibar, in the nal chapter of Spinoza the Transindividual (2020) in
which he turns to the transindividual nature of the philosophy of Marx, has a very
interesting approach to Marx’s understanding of the transindividual relations of capital-
ism that reect some of the things we have just discussed. Balibar suggests that Marx is
not so much interested in showing how individuals are alienated from social relations
due to the capitalist mode of production, but rather that Marx traces how alienation
itself can exist as constitutive relations. In this sense, commodity fetishism is an alienated
form of relation that is constitutive of a particular way of living and acting in the world.
In your article on the Preemptive Strikes (2021), you describe a similar idea. For Spinoza,
the prejudice which states that we are conscious of our appetites but ignorant of the
causes of things causes a superstitious belief in God, which in its turn becomes the
cause of our collective and individual lives by way of dictating certain norms, habits,
and beliefs that are in line with our initially mistaken, superstitious understanding of
the world. Marx almost describes a reverse process in which the fetishized relations of
capitalism become the cause of a particular self-understanding, namely the idea of the
individual laborer as a commodity, which reenters the world of social relations, namely
those of consumption and production, as a thing to be bought and sold reifying the
appearance of commodity fetishism.
The Spinoza-Marx encounter seems very promising in the way that both,
from dierent philosophical positions, describe the way in which alienated relations
can themselves be constitutive of a particular transindividual reality. Nonetheless, it
seems to me that Spinoza and Marx do not share a similar understanding of alienation.
Marx seems to suggest that alienation implies the total loss of self into something else.
Spinoza, who refers to conatus as the very essence of man, on the contrary, does not
talk of alienation in terms of a total loss of self, but rather in terms of a variation in the
capacity to act, in terms of variations in the degree of power.
JR: Right, you know there is a lot of debate within the community who are interested
in the Spinoza-Marx intersection as to whether alienation is one of those concepts that
survives the Spinoza-Marx encounter. One of the reasons is that in terms of Spinoza’s
ontology in which everything is dened by its striving to preserve itself, the idea of a
loss of self does not really make any sense. Then there is another, almost reverse way
of looking at it, which is the approach taken by Frédéric Lordon. Lordon argues that
if alienation is understood as a loss of autonomy then alienation is itself universal and
even constitutive because there is no true autonomy, no kingdom within a kingdom,
given that we are ultimately always aected by our relations with others. There is also
the perspective taken by Franck Fischbach (2015) who states that read together, Spinoza
and Marx suggest that alienation is not, as is often conventionally understood, a loss of
subjectivity to an object, but rather the reversal of that, a loss of objectivity into pure
subjectivity. Fischbach’s point is that Marx’s interest in alienation originates primarily
in the (capitalist) transformations of human beings who lived in a particular commu-
nity, interacted with that community, and reproduced themselves in and through social
relations toward a capitalist subject who is dened rst and foremost as a possessor of
labor power and nothing else. As a capitalist worker, you have no way of reproducing
your existence other than selling your labor power. Fischbach connects this to the
Spinozist idea that the more we see ourselves as a Kingdom within a Kingdom, the
more we come to see ourselves as subjects disconnected from the world. For many
philosophers, this in fact might be considered the basis of autonomy, but Spinoza sees it
as the basis of our subjection. In order to become more active and powerful, it is not a
matter of arming our pure subjectivity, but rather recognizing that our subjectivity is
conditioned by our relations with others, the natural world, and so on. In this sense, it
is pure subjectivity that is in fact alienation.
Similar to Marx, Bernard Stiegler argues that contemporary capitalism is
transforming people from individuals with certain cultural habits and norms into pure
consumer power. For Stiegler, just like Marx’s laborer who is reduced to pure labor
power, the abstract consumer is alienated from social relations and ‘know-how’ that
are the conditions for autonomous individuation. The fundamental dierence between
contemporary capitalist production/consumption from that which came before can be
illustrated by means of an example. Take something relatively simple like learning a song
or a (video)game. Before the capitalist era of production and consumption, learning a
song was also a condition for being able to produce it. There is a certain passivity and
activity, internalization and externalization involved in which the consumer is also a
producer – i.e., the individual is sort of two sides of the same relation. However, with
the capitalist era of consumption and production, especially with the creation of mass
media and so on, we get the transformation where the subject becomes passive and
subjective capacities are reduced to pure combined power, that is, pure buying power
and pure desires. Just as the reduction of the subject to pure labor power is a form of
alienation from the subject’s capacities through the isolation and separation from the
conditions which produce them, so too the creation of a subject as pure buying power
is also an alienation in the realm of non-working life.
BW: It seems to me that a sort of interesting contradiction emerges between the
accounts of Marx and Stiegler and it is one that I think we can also nd in Simondon.
On the one hand, both Spinoza and Marx seem to suggest − which I think is a move
that we see recurring in the modern philosophies of nature of, for instance, Haraway
and Latour − that by placing the subject back into social relations, fostering a moment
of recognition with the reality of one’s social and interconnected existence, alienation
can be overcome and the subject regains autonomy. On the other hand, and this is I
think the sort of position that Stiegler and Virno take, there might be a moment where
the tremendous amount of relations, aects, and forces at play in modern capitalism
overload the subject and turn it into a passive receiver. I think it is this sense of overde-
termination that you referred to previously as being alienated from the pre-individual.
The power of the relations of capitalism to make one desire certain things and not others
results in an alienation from the pre-individual capacity to individuate in a dierent
(non-economic) manner and one thus becomes subject to the forces of capitalism. How
is it that transindividuality as a concept allows for these rather diverse critical positions?
JR: I think that around the concept of transindividuality there are dierent ways of
understanding its critical potential. One of the ways would be simply to assert that −
and I do not want to attribute this to Simondon but he is often read in this way − we
are always-already transindividual, it is there in every possible relation, so that there is
not really anything to say critically or normatively about dierent social relations. Then
there is the opposite extreme of that, which is Stiegler’s idea, who is very adamant in
pointing out that we do not live in an atomistic society because we do not have the
necessary transindividual conditions to individuate ourselves. In the modern capitalist
consumer society, Stiegler argues, it is impossible to say ‘I’ or ‘We’. It is impossible
to say ‘I’ because the very things that make up one’s identity are manufactured and
marketed, and it is very dicult to say ‘We’ because there is not really a shared basis for
collectivity. One of my go-to examples to clarify this point is driving on the freeway.
Driving on the freeway is neither an individuated experience because it is so generic
as everyone is doing the same thing, nor is it a collective experience in the sense that
the other cars exist as obstacles to you. So on the freeway, there is no ‘We’ or ‘I’ and I
think that that is how Stiegler sees much of contemporary society. The perspective that
I take is neither the one that argues that everything is always-already transindividual nor
the sort of disindividuation that Stiegler is describing, but to rather think about this
rather paradoxical [Simondonian] idea that we are transindividuated in our own isola-
tion and separation.6
BW: This connects nicely to my next question. One of the things you criticize Stiegler
for is the way in which Stiegler’s understanding of individuation, or rather disindividu-
ation as you just mentioned, of the individual subject is entirely limited to the domain
of consumption and production. It thereby seems to be implicated in a reading of Marx
that argues that the material base entirely determines the superstructure. Individuation,
for Stiegler, is economic individuation and this form of individuation suppresses other
forms of individuation, such as the political. By use of Balibar’s reading of Spinoza’s
double constitution of the state you try to stress that the individual is not only individ-
uated in the economic sphere but also in the political domain, or perhaps even between
these two domains. You put forward the idea of a short circuit between the economic
and the political to clarify the fact that economic relations require political forms of
representation in order to be meaningful, and that political forms of individuation are
informed by, and inform, economic forms of individuation. Could you expand on the
relation between the economic and political as transindividuation?
JR: Yes, it is something that I have not been thinking about for a while, so I appreciate
that you bring it up. One of the things that Balibar does is to focus on proposition
IVp37 of the Ethics, where Spinoza argues that there are two dierent ways in which
we come into collective life. On the one hand, there is the aect-based way where I
want other people to like what I want so that my desires are, so to say, recognized.7
This is a fundamentally unstable way of constituting a collective because I do not really
want you to desire what I desire, because then we are in competition over the same
thing, but I also do not want you to not desire what I desire because I do not want to
be the only person who desires it. The aective constitution of the collective is thus
marked by constant, ambivalent social relations of attraction and repulsion. The other
side of collective life is grounded in Spinoza’s idea that “nothing is more useful to man
than man” (Spinoza 1996, IVp18schol), which informs the rational idea that our lives
are better when we live collectively. What Balibar stresses is that both the rational and
the aective constitution of the collective are always happening, in the sense that they
happen alongside each other in a mutually constitutive manner.
Coming back to your question. At times I think that Balibar wants to suggest
that, for instance, the nation is the site of imaginary [aective] identication which
is part of the reason why national identities are so xed. You see this best reected in
Balibar’s interest in immigration. Part of the issue with immigration is this weird sense
in which domestic inhabitants are getting frustrated by immigrants because they do
not love the national object of love in the same way that ‘locals’ love it, the immigrants
are perhaps loving it wrong, so that there is always this conict within the national
identity. Contrary to the nation as the site of imaginary identication, Balibar would
then argue that the economy is the domain of utility, of “nothing is more useful to a
man than man”. But then Balibar, as a Marxist, is confronted with the fact that we learn
from Marx that the economy is the domain of exploitation, which Spinoza as a less
sophisticated economic thinker, simply does not recognize.
I would therefore argue, which reects the idea of a short circuit that you men-
tioned, that rather than think that the nation is the domain of imaginary identication
and the economy of rational utility, both the nation and the economy have their imag-
inary and rational components. Balibar develops a similar idea with the gure of the
citizen. The citizen is a gure of a kind of equality and collective belonging framed in
terms of the nation, so that the citizen is the domain of rational utility and the nation
of imaginary identication. But added to that I would also argue that just as there is a
rational basis for our economic relations, there is also an imaginary identication in the
economy. You see this imaginary identication reected for instance in the idea of the
worker, who in politics is constantly split and divided between real worker and not-real
worker. Especially in contemporary ideology, the capitalist or CEO bizarrely present
themselves as the real worker, because they are responsible for innovations and creating
prots, whereas the ‘ordinary’ worker is reduced to the status of not-real worker. So in
that sense, we should extend upon Balibar’s imaginary/rational division between the
nation and the economy in order to think, in a Spinozist manner, of the relation between
the imagination and reason as the basis for all social relations, political and economic.
BW: Stressing, as you do, the relation between the economy and the political via the
idea of a short circuit seems to me to open up the possibility for political resistance
against economic exploitation. This would then oset an overly materialist reading of
Marx that argues that only a denitive change in the relations of production would
be able to overcome exploitation, eectively foreclosing the possibility of any political
resistance. I think such an intervention in Marx, stressing the interrelation between base
and superstructure, is very helpful. But if we then look at the cultural analysis of Stiegler,
but especially keep in our minds the thesis of Wendy Brown’s Undoing the Demos
(2015) which argues that neoliberalism is succeeding in its mission to replace homo
politicus with homo economicus, can we then still speak of political individuation that
could resist the forces of the economy? In other words, is the short circuit not cut short?
JR: Yes, coming back to what we just talked about. Just as Balibar sees political individ-
uation as split between the imaginary identication of the nation, with a certain shared
culture, language, and customs, etc., and the rational identication of the citizen, who is
a person with certain rights and duties attached to them, I would also argue that on the
ip side, the gure of homo economicus is also split between two modes of economic
life. There is, on the one hand, the homo economicus side in which we see ourselves in
terms of competition, individual investments, and where we strive to maximize utility.
But, on the other hand, there is also a collective, perhaps imaginative, dimension in any
and all work process. This is something that Marx stressed, namely that the capitalist does
not just exploit individual labor power, it exploits the fact that once you get multiple
people together their shared labor is always greater than the sum of their parts. He
refers to this combined labor power as Gattungsvermögen, or species-capacity. Marx is
not necessarily very concerned with where this species-capacity comes from, but rather
with the fact that there is something that happens when you bring people together that
exceeds the simple sum of all isolated workers working independently.
We can connect this to neoliberalism, which I think attempts to eace and
obscure the collective basis of labor itself and see it as a purely individual activity. Which
obviously is not correct, for it seems to me that most people when they start a new
job have this moment where co-workers will pull you aside saying; ‘look I know this
is what they are telling you to do, but we gured out this way of doing things which is
faster, it is going to be easier this way and you are not going to wear yourself out’. Such
informal knowledge sharing between co-workers is not at all a relation of competition,
because if we truly had been homo economicus the person who gured out a faster,
easier way to do something would hoard it and keep it to themselves. Yet, this collective
aspect of labor is exactly what neoliberalism is trying to eace. So Wendy Brown is right
to say that homo economicus is an attempt to obscure kinds of political belonging. But
homo economicus also has to be understood as an attempt to obscure certain aspects of
economic relations. So what is at stake in neoliberalism is not just an attempt to eace
the political byways of the economic, but to have eaced the economic understood
as the use of the powers of cooperation by really imposing the market side of the
economy on labor relations.
BW: The neoliberal attempt to isolate the individual worker by means of eacing and
obscuring the collective side of labor processes has in recent times obviously been aided
not merely by the globalization of labor processes and nancialization, but also by the
growing virtuality of work. When working online from the comfort of one’s own home
becomes the norm it becomes increasingly hard to recognize the collective processes of
labor in which one is involved.
JR: Yes, I think that is true. Marx really understood well that the subject of capital is split.
When subjects are in the sphere of exchange, where they are out in the world buying
things, subjects see themselves as an individual with their own individual tastes, desires,
and needs. But when workers then clock in at work they recognize that there are others
who are doing the same thing and so on. In other words, they see a dierent mode of
individuation with a dierent social existence. Contemporary working conditions have
tended to more and more obscure the collective nature of work, in the sense that, as you
point out in for instance the COVID pandemic, people are isolated, sitting in front of
their screens not seeing the extent to which their labor is dependent upon the labor of
others. Marx already saw this tension between two dierent domains of individuation
in capitalism, namely the individuation of the consumer market and the individuation
of the working place. I think that, especially in today’s capitalist relations, we see that
the tension between these two dierent domains of individuation has lent itself towards
one domain becoming predominant – that of the consumer market – whereas the
other – the working place − is more or less obscured.
Although, as we were talking about before, there is a sense in which, due to
Covid, we are forced to recognize our dependency on others. That obscured collective
individuation then suddenly comes to light and you get something like the great resig-
nation in the US, where people leave their jobs because they are getting to see the extent
to which they have been rendered disposable and interchangeable, but also because they
see the collective nature of work. Sharing stories such as a restaurant having to close
because all the workers just walked out one day, makes it more likely that someone else
in another place might resist in this way. So in a sense, the isolation and invisibility of
work have to some degree, paradoxically, given way to increased visibility and awareness
throughout the Covid pandemic.
BW: The nal question that I would like to turn to concerns the notion of colinear-
ization advanced by Frédéric Lordon (2014). The way I understand Lordon is that he
attempts to adapt Marx’s analysis of capital to the modern, neoliberal capitalist model by
confronting Marx with Spinoza’s anthropology. Marx’s notion of labor exploitation, at
least in much of the Western world that outsourced its production chains to African and
Asian countries, seems no longer to adequately describe the relation between laborer
and capitalist. A lot of workers really enjoy their work and nd fulllment in it. Lordon,
therefore, argues that the notion of exploitation has made way for passionate servitude.
Individual laborers’ desires are colinearized to that of the capitalist so that the laborer
nds joy in being put to work for the desires of the capitalist. Could you expand on this
notion of colinearization as a distinctively modern aspect of capitalism? And also, how
does the concept of colinearization relate to your notion of the short circuit as relation
between the economic and political, as once more there seems to be a threat of the
economic overtaking the political when all desires are capitalist desires?
JR: Yes, the notion of colinearization is certainly interesting. Lordon describes colinear-
ization as the moment where the gap between the striving (conatus) of individuals and
the striving of the capitalist enterprise is reduced to a minimum. Lordon then maps out
this history of colinearization, where the rst way that capital got people to do what it
wanted them to do was simply through the absence of alternatives, in the sense that you
either worked or starved. The second way is the sort of Fordist compromise in which
the pains of your labor were being oset by the ability to consume things. Then the
third way, which is the neoliberal way, is the sense in which you should realize yourself
in your labor. This is exemplied by the slogan “if you love what you do, you never have
to work a day in your life”.
What I think is odd is that Lordon does not seem to think of the economic
and political domain as two separate organizations of aects and striving, for him they
are kind of intertwined. However, Lordon does oer an interesting perspective on the
relation between the economy and politics by appropriating a Spinozist idea concern-
ing the aective nature of causation. Spinoza argues that we get more angry or happy
when someone does something that harms us or benets us which we understand as
freely undertaken, rather than if we understand them to be compelled by necessity.
For Spinoza, this idea is part of the way in which we can overcome the power of the
aects that dominate our lives. If I understand, for instance, that part of the reason why
someone I know is not as friendly and warm to me as I would like them to be is caused
by the fact that their parents are even colder, I am more likely to see the necessary
causes that determined that person to be that way and therefore less likely to be upset
about it. What Lordon does with that distinction is that the economy always presents
itself under the modality of necessity, in the sense that, when economic decisions are
made they are being made in terms of market statistics, the demands of competition,
innovation, etc., and no one is really truly responsible. Politics, on the contrary, is often
presented as freely determined. And this is why politicians are more prone to create
anger for us and economic gures hardly do so.
I think that this aective distinction between politics and economics is very
suggestive and interesting. Although I would add to that, perhaps through Marx, that
the economy, like the domain of politics, is a human institution so that we have to talk
about the perception of necessity and freedom rather than their actuality. But nonetheless,
I do think that this idea allows us to explain why people are more prone to get angry
at things that are perceived to have been freely chosen versus things that are perceived
to have been necessary. We can come back to a COVID-related example. For instance,
in the US you have this sort of reasoning that, even given the rise of new variants and
the increasing caseloads, the economy cannot withstand another lockdown, so that
we have to open up the economy. But the interesting thing of course is that − and
this goes back to the idea that our sense of necessity and contingency are themselves
shaped by social forces − recent evidence has shown that president Biden and others
are completely convinced that if they were to impose new lockdown measures they
would basically ruin themselves because these measures would be incredibly unpopular.
What is weird about this is that, on the one hand, what is seen to be necessary, namely
that the economy has to open, is itself contingent and that what is seen as contingent,
namely the imposition of new lockdown measures, is to some extent itself necessary. So
here we are talking about the perception of necessity or contingency that determines,
in a sense, the likelihood of people getting angry and prone to resistance. I think this
aective distinction is certainly an interesting way to think about the division between
politics and economics.
BW: I saw that you are publishing a book on Marx in the near future, what can we
expect from that?
JR: Yes, well the book is really a sort of collection of essays that I have written over
the past 20 years or so. There are some essays on Marx, some on Deleuze, Althusser and
others. But I also have a book coming out from Verso on work called The Double Shift:
Marx and Spinoza on the Ideology and Politics of Work which is my most comprehensive
attempt to synthesize a Marx-Spinoza critical perspective. That is going to be coming
out probably around late 2022 or early 2023.
1 Originally published posthumously in French
as L’Individuation à la lumière des notions de forme
et d’information in 2005 as a collection of the two
previously, separately published L’individu et sa genèse
physico-biologique (1964) and L’individuation psychique
et collective (1989).
2 Read refers to Balibar’s lecture Spinoza: From
Individuality to Transindividuality held in Rijnsburg
for the Spinoza Society in 1993. This lecture was
originally published for a small circle in 1997 but
has now been reprinted in Balibar’s Spinoza the
Transindividual (2020).
3 Simondon has various terms to describe the
individuation of simple, living organisms. He most
often refers to living, vital, or natural individuation.
4 The spontaneous philosophy refers almost
to a sort of common sense of individuals. It is not
necessarily a worked-out idea or ideology, but results
from the lived experiences of individuals.
5 This famous quote figures in Capital: Volume 1,
Part II “The Transformation of Money into Capital”,
chapter 6 “The Buying and Selling of Labour Power”.
6 In his account of psycho-social individuation,
Simondon argues that, because the individual cannot
possibly individuate the pre-individual entirely within
itself, it must amplify its individuation externally
in collective modes of representation. The passage
toward collective individuation is however not an
intersubjective phenomenon, but, and this is Read’s
point, something that the individual recognizes in
its failed endeavor to individuate the pre-individual
within itself – this attempt results in the state of
anxiety (angoisse) (2020, 282–85).
7 Spinoza refers to this affect whereby I want
others to want what I want as ambition (1996,
Balibar, Étienne. 2020. Spinoza the Transindividual.
Translated by Mark, G.E. Kelly. Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press.
Bottici, Chiara. 2021. Anarchafeminism. London, New
York: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Brown, Wendy. 2015. Undoing the Demos:
Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. New York:
Zone Books.
Deleuze, Gilles. 2004. “On Gilbert Simondon.
In Desert Island and Other Texts 1953-1974,
edited by David Lapoujade, translated by Mike
Taomina, 86-90. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).
Fischbach, Franck. 2005. La production des hommes:
Marx avec Spinoza. Paris: Presses Universitaires
de France.
Jaquet, Chantal. 2014. Les transclasses ou la non-
reproduction. Paris: Presses Universitaires de
Lordon, Frédéric. 2014. Willing Slaves of Capital:
Spinoza and Marx on Desire. Translated by
Gabriel Ash. London: Verso Books.
Read, Jason. 2015. The Politics of Transindividuality.
Leiden: Brill.
Read, Jason. 2021. “Preemptive Strikes (of a
Philosophical Variety): Marx and Spinoza.
Crisis & Critique 8 (1): 289–305.
Roberts, John. 2021. Capitalism and the Limits
of Desire. London, New York: Bloomsbury
Simondon, Gilbert. 2020. Individuation in Light of
Notions of Form and Information. Translated by
Taylor Adkins. Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press.
Spinoza, Benedictus. 1996. Ethics. Translated by
Edwin Curley. London: Penguin Books.
Voss, Daniela. 2020. “The Problem of Method:
Deleuze and Simondon. Deleuze and
Guattari Studies, 14 (1): 87-108. https://doi.
Bram Wiggers is a recent graduate of the Research
Master Philosophy at the UvA. His areas of interest
include social and political philosophy, the history
of philosophy, and critical theory. In his Master’s
thesis, titled Individuation in Light of Notions of
Power and Control: An Interdisciplinary Transindividual
Approach to post-Fordist Individuation, Bram adopts the
conceptual vocabulary of transindividuality to assess
the conditions of individuation under post-Fordist
capitalism using an interdisciplinary approach that
aims to connect the economics of post-Fordism to
the philosophy of transindividuality. Currently, Bram
is working to rewrite chapters of his MA thesis into
publishable articles.
Jason Read completed his Ph.D. at the State
University of New York at Binghamton in
2001, with a dissertation titledThe Production of
Subjectivity: Marx and Contemporary Continental
Thought. His most recently published book, The
Politics of Transindividuality (2015), engages with the
thought of transindividuality and develops its use
for social-political critique. His areas of scholarship
include social and political philosophy, 19thand
20thcentury continental philosophy, critical theory,
philosophy of history, and Spinoza studies. Currently,
Jason is working on two book publications, The
Double Shift: Marx and Spinoza on the Ideology and
Politics of Work (New York: Verso, 2023) and The
Production of Subjectivity: Marx and Philosophy (Leiden:
Brill 2022/Chicago: Haymarket, 2023).