Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Marx Reloaded in the US - DVD Release 1 May

Icarus Films is planning to release Marx Reloaded on DVD in the US on May 1. You can order the film here

Speaking as its writer-director, when I watched the film a few nights ago, for the first time in a good few years, it was surprising to see how current it felt, albeit slightly depressing on realizing how little the economic "crisis" under discussion had changed. The fate of Greece, where back in 2010 Alexis Tspiras was still considered a socialist, is perhaps the only sequence that felt in need of a coda. Although by no means a Marxist film, it still offers some fascinating insights from a diverse range of political and philosophical perspectives.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Marx Returns: Novel to be Published in 2018

Marx Returns will finally be published as a novel in the early part of 2018 by John Hunt Publishing. Based in London the story covers the period from 1849 to 1871 and is a fictionalized account of Karl Marx's struggle to write his major work of political economy Das Kapital

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Marginal Thinking: A Forum on Louis Althusser

This special blog forum on Louis Althusser comprises essays on art, social economics, politics, the law, philosophy, and subjectivity, and also includes an exclusive extract from Althusser’s 1972 lecture course on Rousseau.

Edited by Jason Barker, contributors include: Althusser, Barker, Dariush M. Doust, Nina Power, Richard Seymour, Greg Sharzer, and Caroline Williams. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Marginal Thinking: Althusser Special Forum

Coming next week May 16 to the Los Angeles Review of Books a Special Forum dedicated to Louis Althusser edited by Jason Barker.


Extract from Cours sur Rousseau, translated by G. M. Goshgarian 
Louis Althusser 

Althusser's Philosophical Disorder
Jason Barker

Marxist Underground
Richard Seymour

The Cop, The Law and the Subject
Nina Power

The Ideology of Localism
Greg Sharzer

Rain in the Gallery
Dariush M. Doust

Reinventing the Subject
Caroline Williams

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Other Althussers - Coming in January 2016


From the Editors: Other Althussers
Jason Barker and G. M. Goshgarian

Excerpts from Être marxiste en philosophie and Initiation à la philosophie pour les non-philosophes
Louis Althusser

A Marxist in Philosophy
G. M. Goshgarian

Althusser’s Lenin
Warren Montag

The Detour of Abstraction
Alberto Toscano

Are We (Still) Living in a Computer Simulation? Althusser and Turing
Jason Barker

Resisting Ideology: On Butler’s Critique of Althusser
Matthew Lampert

Guillaume Lebelle

Thursday, April 16, 2015

What Is Love? A Review of Salah el Moncef's The Offering

The Offering
Author: Salah el Moncef
Publisher: Penelope Books
Publication: 31.05.2015
pp. 432
Tags: Fiction

“To write a diary every day,” Enoch Powell once said, “is like returning to one’s own vomit.” A harsh but fair assessment of the writer’s motivation. Only writers keep diaries. This is their “material,” from which the poetically inclined regurgitate their “stories.” In French the story, or histoire, in colloquial usage means “tale,” one you tell your children to send them to sleep, for instance. Unless one is taking cours d’histoire in order to better understand the past, one shouldn’t raconter des histories, or “tell fibs.” Which brings us to the story of Tariq Abbassi, the Tunisian poet and central protagonist of Salah el Moncef’s highly disturbing and richly tantalising novel The Offering.

We encounter Tariq for the first time in Paris in late summer 2007, where he’s embroiled with his German ex-wife, Regina, in a bitter custody battle for their two young sons, Shams and Haroon. Tariq, it’s fair to say, is some kind of neurotic. He tells his story – or rather it is told for him – through a labyrinthine mise en abyme: a story lodged deep in the belly of the whale of partial recollections, or set beneath a metanarrative of scattered secondary reflections and free associations. This narrative framing device is not destined to throw much light on “the truth” he (apparently) seeks. Indeed, the protagonist’s diary-cum-novel almost immediately becomes mired in psychological obfuscation. Regina’s voice is never given the opportunity to emerge through the din of self-analysis and the working-through of the protagonist’s own trauma. ‘“First, you need to spend many, many months listening to your pain – the loss of your relationship with Regina,” his close friend and confidant Zoe advises him. In other words this is a story all about “you,” Tariq, in which your wife’s “duplicity” must vie with the poet’s legendary narcissism.

The poet is forever in search of events. He is the one most attuned to tragedy. “That was the beginning: Regina’s letter and I running through the streets of Bordeaux at two o’clock in the morning, all the way to the Riverside precinct,” in order to report an “abduction.” Needless to say it is not within the purview of the French justice system to be able to address the protagonist’s sense of existential dislocation – “an unmoored atom drifting in vacuity.” Nor indeed is it able to treat Regina’s decision to leave him as anything more than an acte manqué: a message for the protagonist to decipher, rather than a genuine action expressing genuine emotions. For the protagonist “Regina” is a mere symptom or sign of his own misguided behaviour. As he observes on returning to their empty apartment, “I… tried to figure out her motives, her fears, what she wanted to tell me through this.” Such is Tariq’s obsession which – by the very nature of obsession – is an unrealizable desire, an objet petit a that will keep him turning in circles. 

The curse of the poet resides in his only being attuned to the here and now, which “was like a wave endlessly crashing.” (The subtitle of Zoe’s doctoral dissertation on Deleuze – “A Poetic Machine” – is meant to underscore for us the curse of repetition). Time can ordinarily create the sense of perspective, or distance from trauma, which is needed to go on living. But the poet experiences time differently wherein the monumentality of the event never fully recedes in to the past. Instead it takes on a new direction or assumes new form. It isn’t long before Tariq admits to his self-serving manipulation of Regina’s feelings – albeit at the price of a lingering “intellectual subterfuge.” Where such obsessive-compulsive recollections lead, or what phantasmagorical form they might adopt next, is the central conundrum of el Moncef’s novel – the very puzzle from which Tariq’s story is tantalisingly woven.

In the initial stages of the divorce proceedings two loyal friends offer themselves as character witnesses: Zoe and Sami Mamlouk, Tariq’s assistant chef at his Tunisian restaurant. Sami’s testimony goes beyond loyalty: “His digression and the world of suppressed suffering … suddenly generated a new common reality (a sharing) between us… Something had to be done somehow – a symbolic gesture; and the fact that I was still in the dark as to how that gesture would play out in our workaday relationship did not make thinking about the new situation any easier.”

One is reminded of the “duplicity” of love when both Zoe and Sami’s witness testimonies are dismissed by Tariq’s solicitor as a “liability.” Its duplicity will return to haunt the protagonist later on. What is the intensity of these emotional attachments hiding? These love-hate relationships with friends whose words are beyond reproach? 

In a moment of dubious (rev)elation Tariq takes his boys to “The South” and his family home in Tunisia: “Through an act of imaginary projection in which loss and hope converged,” the protagonist assumes that “by going down to Tunisia in the summer I would allow myself to work my way up the stream of time with ease – travelling back to the days when my life was still a blank page and I had all the power to fill it as freely and as beautifully as I wished.” But the page is far from blank and is criss-crossed with the failures and disappointments of adolescence. What of the protagonist’s “pro-democracy activism” alluded to at several points during his stay? This is never treated as anything more than a footnote in a closed book, at best as a self-pitying reflection on “how little I had to show for my toil.” So much for his vacation of self-re-discovery, of being an “unmoored atom drifting in vacuity.” (Let us add that for Deleuzian philosopher-poets inertia is often a recurring fantaisie). So much for the “agnosticism” that Kareem, his sanctimonious and devoutly religious brother castigates him for.

Atoms don’t “drift.” Matter is directed in an ever-expanding universe. The material reality of Tariq’s lamentable separation from Regina is hammered home to him as he is shuttled between family gatherings. There at the centre of it all is “Mother,” the gravitational force and ethico-moral justification for all things: the Janus face of transitions; but also the anchor of an inescapable past, the barrier against memory and reinvention. Could this mercurial woman nonetheless hold the key to unlocking a new life for the protagonist? Is there some lesson to be had from her endurance of an unhappy marriage?  

Tariq’s return to France puts his own “endurance” to the test. He embarks on an unlikely yet liberating relationship with the much younger Annaelle. It’s at this point that el Moncef’s novel takes on the scintillating form of a psychological thriller, the dissociation of the protagonist recalling the best of J. G. Ballard’s fiction (Super-Cannes is the obvious comparison). The Left Bank with its distorted perspectives, hidden courtyards and tropical gardens becomes the phantasmagorical setting for a miraculous, masochistic and all-consuming love affair: what turns out to be a last tango in Paris, since the sublime and mesmerizing Annaelle is also a bad omen: “you mustn’t think of me as – Joan of Arc or something,” she warns her lover. This is hardly the transition the protagonist has been striving for. When the relationship ends catastrophically with the mysterious death of his two sons we are confronted once again with the power of the protagonist’s projections. (Recall that, for Lacan, transference is an act of love.) But who is the subject here? Who is speaking? Or, rather, is a subject ever destined to emerge from the analysis, or in Tariq’s case from “The Community,” the psychiatric institution in which he finds himself stranded, and from where he has to put back together, through “the labor of recollection,” the events leading up to his sons’ deaths – the events of a vanished life? 

Salah el Moncef’s novel is an exquisitely drawn character study, not so much of a psychologically disturbed individual as of a collective trauma in the making. Provocative and intelligent, this is a beguiling story of the twin enigmas of love and sacrifice.  

Read more about The Offering at the Los Angeles Review of Books

Order the book on Amazon 

Visit the author's website


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Machiavelli on the Korean Peninsula

Jason Barker
(This article was originally published in the March issue of Le Monde Diplomatique (Korea), p. 27. Available online here:

The disturbing report that Kim Jong-Un's uncle was “executed” by being fed to a pack of hungry dogs was, we now know, a satirical story originating in the Hong Kong tabloid Wen Wei Po. However, for human rights commentators in the West this fact is of little consequence. According to such commentators North Korea remains, despite everything, a country under the thumb of a crazed and inhumane dictator in the mould of Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot.

In an article written for The Guardian in October last year, Ian Birrell suggests  - apparently without irony - that the North Korean regime should now be indicted at the International Criminal Court for the murder and incarceration of thousands of its own people.

Quite what such a spectacular show trial might achieve - assuming it were somehow possible to kidnap Kim and his government from Pyongyang (clearly a mission for James Bond) - either for the prisoners or for the North Korean population as a whole, Birrell doesn't say. But then such grandiloquent rhetoric typifies the current lack of political imagination in relation to Korea, not to mention the almost total disrepute into which the liberal humanitarian discourse of human rights has descended in recent years.

Admittedly Kim’s “family feud” inside North Korea’s ruling party apparatus is more reminiscent of The Sopranos or The Godfather than the liberal diplomacy that characterizes South Korean politics. Then again, we should be careful not to draw too stark a distinction between North and South.

Clearly there are enormous constitutional differences between the two countries. North Korea is a one party state. There is no room for human rights under Juche, a political religion geared toward the veneration and preservation of a supreme leadership (although of course Kim Il-sung always insisted that Juche was a “people first” philosophy). However, before dismissing Kim's regime as a bunch of crazed psychopaths, one would do well to accept a basic home truth. Namely, that the behaviour of the North Korean leadership reflects well-established geopolitical tensions on the Korean peninsula; a region which is still technically in a state of war.

In the grand Machiavellian scheme of things Kim Jong-un’s ruthless statecraft is thoroughly consistent with the way in which all politics works. If one reads Niccolò Machiavelli, that 15th century political genius so allegedly admired by career politicians, one will search in vain for any mention of a social contract between the government and the people.

For Machiavelli, the idea that the most morally virtuous leader makes the most effective one is an illusion. For Machiavelli one might say that Gordon Gekko, the insatiable ego from Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, would be preferable as a political leader to any honest philanthropist. But who was Niccolò Machiavelli?

Born in Florence, Italy in 1469, much of Machiavelli’s early life is a mystery. For a man of his talents born during the Italian Renaissance one may assume he studied at The University of Florence. At the time of the overthrow of the city’s ruling Medici family in 1494 (the Medici were bankers and dominated the city’s political life) he had risen to become the Second Chancellor of the Republic of Florence. This position enabled him to refine his skills as a diplomat and political strategist as he travelled to and fro between the rival centres of Italian power.

In 1512, the Medici family reconquered Florence and dissolved its republican government. Machiavelli initially suffered the fate of so many republicans who are unfortunate enough to end up on the losing side in a war. Wrongly accused of conspiring against the Medici, he was imprisoned and tortured. Following his release he retired to the countryside, where he would dedicate his life to elaborating his political ideas based on his diplomatic experience.

Machiavelli’s view of human nature might be described as somewhat pessimistic. But it speaks volumes about the political world we inhabit today and our fascination for ruthless dictators and the political abuses of power.

All human beings, Machiavelli believed, are evil. However, rather than making a moral issue out of this and finding ways to address it - for example, through introducing social reforms - Machiavelli tells us that any leader wishing to rule for any length of time should accept this fact and act accordingly. This doesn’t simply mean rulers should feel free to act ruthlessly when the situation demands it (although Machiavelli admits that they are quite justified in doing so). Instead, it means that evil deeds should enter into all political thinking, and be actively used as a strategy for governance.

But surely with its flagrant disregard for human rights, let alone political legitimacy, North Korea is a different case altogether; a “rouge state” whose strategy of government and of keeping the population in check is diametrically opposed to the humane liberal constitutions we benefit from in South Korea and the West?

Not according to Machiavelli’s view of politics. For him, the difference is one of degree, not of kind. In other words, politics is always a matter of finding the correct balance between naked aggression or physical coercion on one hand, and the art of more gentle forms of persuasion on the other.

In English, one often talks of the “carrot and stick approach”: when the donkey can’t be bribed with the carrot, one employs the stick. Likewise, in the case of North Korea, the reliance on extreme forms of torture and repression is not to be read according to the deranged or malevolent psychology of its leadership. Instead, its resort to the stick over the carrot can be read as a symptom of a total lack of popular consent for its government.

“All armed prophets succeed,” Machiavelli informs us, “whereas unarmed ones fail.” What distinguishes North Korea’s government as a dictatorship is clearly the naked aggression of its coercive apparatus - its apparent readiness for war - compared to the largely ideological or “soft” rule of its southern neighbour. President Park does not see fit to legitimize her constitutional power through military parades. But then of course she doesn’t need to. Furthermore, the active consent of the people of South Korea for democracy makes any such strategy wholly inconceivable.
Today, South Korea is overwhelmingly a country of the carrot, not the stick. However, for Machiavelli coercion and its role in maintaining in power those who wield it is always the principal consideration in all politics, whether it be politics of the democratic or the dictatorial variety (and of course the arrest of the three Korail union leaders in the wake of the longest ever Korean railway strike clearly demonstrates that Park’s government has no qualms about using the stick approach when its power is threatened).

But perhaps Machiavelli’s most valuable insight relates to the question of freedom, since today we are constantly reminded by our democratic leaders and political elites that where a government is forced into taking extreme measures against political rivals or “extremists”, it does so only in defence of the common good; namely, our civil liberties.

Machiavelli’s assessment is rather interesting on the question of freedom. One might say that, for Machiavelli, freedom is overrated. Most people, he tells us, generally don’t want freedom at all; they only want to live in security, and will support any leader who can provide it for them. As for the small minority of people who genuinely desire freedom, they desire it only in rivalry with those in power. In other words, freedom is a means for attaining political power and domination, rather than a natural good or end in itself.

This is a strange, even perverse way of looking at the world. Aren’t we brought up to believe that freedom is the noblest of human qualities, and the universal ideal that all peoples should aspire to? The fact that this may not be the case would seem to reveal something very “Machiavellian” about the motivations of those politicians who trumpet the cause of freedom. If a people does not naturally desire freedom, should they still be forced to be free? Should a people be free not to be free?

One could cite numerous historical and contemporary examples of this dilemma. The dilemma is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. But it arguably is the case that there are enough recent examples of populations being forced to be free which give us reason to be extremely sceptical of the idea that freedom is a universal ideal to be implemented at all costs. To pretend otherwise is to risk bringing about the very tyranny or dictatorship that any self-declared democrat should be determined to avoid.

Jason Barker is Professor of Cultural Studies at Kyung Hee University, Korea. He is the author of a monograph on the French philosopher Alain Badiou and a filmmaker, having written, directed and co-produced the Arte/ZDF documentary Marx Reloaded starring Slavoj Žižek.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Idea of Communism in Seoul w/ Badiou and Zizek

Now in its fourth installment with further chapters planned for Bolivia and South Africa, The Idea of Communism (surely now a "communist party" in its own right) left its impression on Seoul last month, with lectures and roundtables spanning four venues between 24 September and 2 October.
Speakers at this event included Marx Reloaded director (and now professor at Kyung Hee University in Seoul) Jason Barker, Wang Hui, Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek (all pictured above) as well as Alessandro Russo, former Badiou student Yong Soon Seo, and Alex Taek-Gwang Lee. As is also usual the event was international in perspective, drawing together researchers from Asia (China, India, Japan and Korea) and Europe. 

Although the subject of intense scrutiny in the Korean media (the word "communism" was absent from the conference's Korean title) what these communist gatherings (including an “occupy with poems” event) would have meant to the wider Korean public is less clear. The simultaneous translations were limited to Slavoj Zizek's talk to a crowd of around 3000 people at Kyung Hee University (the event's host), at Platoon Kuntshalle (above), and to Badiou’s lecture on art at Seoul City Hall. Neither of the volumes from the London or Berlin conferences, both published by Verso, have been translated into Korean so far, while the only comprehensive introduction to the Idea of Communism for Korean audiences is the Korean-language edition of Marx Reloaded: Interviews on Capitalism and Communism, published by Nanjang Press last month.

However, interpellations aside, the conference included decent talks by Zizek on “Capitalism and Psychoanalysis”, Badiou on “Affirmative Dialectics”, the latter's former student Yong Soon Seo on the Gwangju massacre, and Alex Taek-Gwang Lee on “Communism and the Void”. Congratulations to Kyung Hee University and especially Taek-Gwang Lee and Yong Soon Seo for their energy, dedication and intiative in putting on this staggeringly popular event.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

<맑스 재장전>이 9월에 책으로 출간됩니다

여덟 명의 정치철학자가 다시 장전하는
맑스주의라는 비판의 무기!

21세기 초반 전 세계를 강타한 사상 초유의 경제•금융 위기는 과연 자본주의의 종말을 예고하는 것일까? 아니면 세계의 종말을 상상하는 것이 자본주의의 종말을 상상하는 것보다 정녕 더 쉬운 일일까?

계급투쟁, 착취, 상품물신주의, 비물질노동, 공통적인 것, 코뮤니즘이라는 이념 등 오늘날의 자본주의를 이해하는 데 없어서는 안 될 개념들의 향연을 통해 자본주의의 위기와 코뮤니즘의 전망을 진단한다.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Cinema at European Graduate School, Saas Fee

This week students at the European Graduate School in Saas Fee, Switzerland have been taking classes in The Cinema of Anti-capitalism with Marx Reloaded writer-director and co-producer Jason Barker. (Other seminars comprising the graduate programme this summer have been given by Judith Butler, Jacques Rancière, Avital Ronell, Jeffrey Eugenides, Giorgio Agamben, Elie During, Boris Groys, Graham Harman and Michael Schmidt). 

Jason's seminars explored Marxist-materialist, metaphysical and post-metaphysical cinema theory and practice, and included film screenings and discussions of films by Cronenberg, Mulvey and Wollen, Gidal, Godard, Vertov, Sekula and Burch, Dojo Cinéma, among others (including a special screening of Marx Reloaded). 

The seminars (12 in total) generated fascinating and stimulating discussions - thanks in large part to a superb and highly-motivated class of MA and PhD students - around questions and problems of pursuing a revolutionary cinema practice in a capitalist film industry. Today, in a world of 3D Hollywood triumphalism, is a "cinema of anti-capitalism" conceivable? What films might be described as "anti-capitalist"? Under what practical and institutional conditions can and should anti-capitalist films be made? How might a revolutionary cinema practice be conducted? According to what principles, ideologies, theories?         

Jason's cinema courses are aimed at students, artists, teachers, theoreticians, film-makers, practitioners and other workers of all persuasions and professional backgrounds, and will continue to evolve at the European Graduate School (and elsewhere) over the coming years.  

For more information about attending future courses and for PhD supervision enquiries email Prof. Dr. Jason Barker at: 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Cinema of Anti-Capitalism at EGS - Latest News

Here are some final notifications relating to Jason Barker's forthcoming lectures on the Cinema of Anti-Capitalism at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. For those due to attend the three day course, beginning on Tuesday 20 August, please note that students will be asked to present a short seminar paper on the second day, either individually or in pairs. A more detailed brief will be given in the lectures, but students should supplement existing reading for lectures 4 and 5 with the following article: 

The following film will be crucial to the aforementioned seminar paper and discussion, so students should endeavour to watch it prior to the start of the course:

Cronenberg, D. Cosmopolis. 2012. 109 min. 

Students are advised to check back here over the coming days for further minor course alterations. Thanks. - JB, 6 August 2013         

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Mao Reloaded in Shanghai and Wuhan, China

From 6th-8th April Marx Reloaded director Jason Barker will be making an "intervention" at The Third Sino-British Bilateral Forum on Marxist Aesthetics. This forum is to be held in Shanghai, at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The title of the forum is "Marxism and the Future".

We have no information at this time regarding the details of Jason's intervention, other than it will be accompanied by a screening of Marx Reloaded. However, while in China Jason will also be speaking at The Second International Conference on Chinese Form of Marxist Literary Criticism at Central China Normal University, Wuhan. Comrades will know that Wuhan was the location of Mao's summer "retreat" during the Cultural Revolution, which he affectionately named "Home of the White Clouds and Yellow Cranes". 

We understand the (ideologically correct) title for Jason's speech in Wuhan will be "Master Signifier: Mao Tse-tung in French Theory". We trust that comrades will greet Comrade Barker's ideas with the correct degree of enthusiasm.  

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Marx Reloaded DVD en Español

Marx Reloaded es un documental cultural que examina de qué modo las ideas del filósofo y socialista alemán Karl Marx pueden ayudarnos a entender la crisis económica y financiera global del 2008-2009. Dicha crisis provocó la recesión global más profunda que se había visto en setenta años e hizo que el gobierno de los Estados Unidos invirtiera más de un trillón de dólares en salvar del colapso a su sistema bancario. Todavía hoy no sabemos hasta dónde llegarán las consecuencias de esta crisis en Europa y en el resto del mundo. Pero, ¿debemos aceptar esta crisis como un desafortunado efecto secundario del libre mercado? O ¿existe otra explicación de por qué sucedió lo que sucedió y de cuáles serán sus posibles efectos en nuestra sociedad, nuestra economía y nuestra forma de vida?

El DVD de Marx Reloaded (con subtítulos en español y nuevo material hasta ahora inédito) está ya a la venta para bibliotecas universitarias en la siguiente dirección:

Friday, March 22, 2013

Anticapitalist Cinema at European Graduate School

Marx Reloaded director Jason Barker will be giving an intensive summer course on "The Cinema of Anti-Capitalism" this coming August at the European Graduate School, Saas-Fee, Switzerland. Past and present EGS professors include Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Judith Butler, Simon Critchley, Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Peter Greenaway, Jean-Luc Nancy, plus a handful of the contributors to Marx Reloaded, including Slavoj Zizek.

The outline at the EGS website describes the course as an exploration of "cinematic representation and crisis capitalism through mutual relations of time, space, subjectivity and revolution". Planned screenings include films by Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker, Noel Burch and Allan Sekula, and Alexander Kluge, whose formidable News from Ideological Antiquity is cited in Marx Reloaded.