Negatron’s put up a review of Alberto Toscano’s book on fanaticism. Check it out. In it, he quotes someone else who Toscano quoted, saying that “[t]he refusal of theory is the refusal of any project of radical transformation.” This reminded me of Andrew’s comments in the discussion here in the discussion about Tiqqun vs Monsieur Dupont, where he talked about what he considers to be anti-intellectualism.

As (both) readers of this blog will know, in the past few years I’ve moved a bit in my interests and have less patience with some of the theoretical work I used to read, and with certain trappings of that sort of thing. Among other things, I think there are often unexamined assumptions about theoretical work and about academic work and the relationships between the two, and with other things. I say this because I’m sometimes tempted by a certain “refusal of theory,” particularly as a provocation and/or as an expression of feeling exasperated. But really, the issue isn’t just theory as such, but certain theories, I think.

The quote could be read in various ways. One would be that refusing theory is an expression of some conservative impulse. Another would be that refusing theory is an activity that blocks radical transformation because radical transformation requires a sort of theory. The latter would imply some causal power to theory. Clearly this causal power does exist sometimes, or at least it’s possible, though over all I think a lot depends on what ‘theory’ refers to, and what particularly theories we’re talking about.

I’d like to suggest flipping the quote and reading it differently, as implying that where there is radical transformation or activity that points to it, there is theory present, in the sense that people involved in radical transformative activity have ideas and thoughts and also in the sense that we can find principles and logics implied in people’s actions that they may not be conscious of. I don’t mean to say that this different sense of theory is a better one, but I do think it’s an under-represented one. And I know that explicit theory of the sense of philosophical writing can have important effects sometimes, as I tried to say. I also think that in some cases theory in the sense of philosophical writing can sometimes serve a role in a refusal of theory in the other sense I suggested (and vice versa, of course) in that sometimes people engage with that in lieu of and/or in ignorance of theory in the sense I suggested here.