My friend Scott sent me this piece by Karl Nesic. Nesic is one half of the radical publication Troploin, the other half being Gilles Dauvé. Nesic and Dauvé have just written two pieces about Troploin, assessing where the project is at. The preface to the piece, called “What Next?,” says the project “stands at a turning point,” and while it continues as a collaboration between the two writers, “they have preferred to assess the situation separately.” I like this, them saying basically “here’s my take, in a personal capacity” rather than waiting till they agree on a shared perspective. The piece by Dauvé is here. There’s a lot to these pieces but I want to just focus on one element of Nesic’s piece, because it helps me think about what we’ve been doing with Recomposition.

For one thing, I think the preference “to assess the situation separately” is something shared in Recomposition, or at least, that’s how we act. We agree on a lot, we disagree on a lot, we don’t wait to lay out clear lines and reach agreement before putting stuff out. We’re a collection of individuals, so to speak, and so our perspectives are multiple individuals’ perspectives, in the way that Nesic and Dauvé’s articles on Troploin are their own perspectives. Each of their perspectives in those two articles is a perspective in and on Troploin but neither is *the* perspective *of* Troploin. Likewise with Recomposition – our pieces are perspectives in Recomposition, but no pieces are perspectives *of* Recomposition as a group. (Though maybe at some point we might co-author articles or editorial. Who knows.)

I’ll also say, as a related aside, several of us who later started doing Recomp, earlier we co-wrote a discussion paper called Direct Unionism, along with some other friends. That was a collective project and product. I think we were all happy with the end product but not ecstatic, which is part of why it sat for a while before we put it out and part of why it wasn’t fully finished. That was a piece that we wrote with one voice and yet I think all of us or at least most of us felt that that resulting voice and its content was a compromise that didn’t reflect each person’s actual views. We were still a multiplicity of views, and only some of that multiplicity came through in the piece. To be clear, I’m not criticizing the piece or the process here. It was intensely thought provoking to work on and I’m really glad to have been part of it. I got a lot out of the exercise and I think more people should do collaborative political writing that way. (Part of why the piece didn’t fully reflect all of our views is that our views changed during and because of the collaboration, at least for several of us.) Again this isn’t to criticize the piece or collaborative writing. If anything, it’s to recommend collaborative writing, but it’s also to say that collaboratively written pieces signed by multiple people likely often are still composed of multiple individuals and the resulting piece only imperfectly reflects those individuals’ actual views. (And so on a practical note, having binding position papers that people are meant to agree with may be a problem or at least something overstated, as opposed to having thinking papers that reflect a process during their writing and an object to think with, and perhaps to think against, once they’re written. I feel like there’s a cliche to be said here, something about journeys and destinations but I’m too lazy to find and type it. I *would* be more cliched, if I was more ambitious and less apathetic. Ha.) Anyway – Recomp’s a collection of perspectives, not a perspective, and shared perspectives that are committed to write are likely the result of or the expression of a partial statement of a collective of perspectives as well.

I totally agree with Nesic’s criticism about the lack of concrete analysis in what (admittedly little) I’ve read of the communization current, Dauve,
etc. I think many of our pieces that people involved in Recomp have written are good examples of concrete analysis that we should be proud of. I suppose we could probably stand to do more theoretical writing (I think Scott has far and away led the charge here, though others of us have written stuff like that too), where we take on problems and try to advance a perspective or something. But I our concrete pieces are good stuff.

Nesic says that “there has been a split between our ability (or our will) to dialectically connect the critique of daily life with the critique of more fundamental themes like class composition, the crisis, communisation, etc. We have ended up dealing only with the second type of critique” in Troploin. This is the bit that made me think about Recomp in the first place. Until I read Nesic’s piece I hadn’t thought of it this way but I think our work stories and the pieces on work-related dreams and our general frequent impulse toward first person stories at Recomp could be called
‘critique of daily life.’ It’s also worth pointing out that ‘critique’ can take at least two forms – theoretical/abstract/macro and experiential/concrete/micro/narrative. The piece at Recomp on this tend to be written in an experiential register as much or more than a theoretical one much of the time. We run stories about (stories that try to convey and dramatize, to show rather than tell) how work and the rest of life suck in capitalist society, as much as or more than we have theories about this. Our work is definitely informed by those kinds of theories, to be sure, but we run more stories than theory about this stuff. I want to think more about that and I think we could probably stand to run more theory like this (if so it should reference and draw from the stories, to use the stories to shed light on further dynamics and also to theorize in a way that sheds more light on those stories). But I also want to say that our emphasis on stories here is a strength. I’m not sure it’s a mistake at all, but if it is it’s the opposite/mirror error to what Nesic says about Troploin.

I guess I’d also say that we don’t “dialetically connect the critique of daily life with the critique of more fundamental themes” so much as we have an oscillation between the sorts of pieces we run. This has only been imperfectly implemented and only planned out in a kind of rough and ready way – we try to run different sorts of pieces so there’s a rotation of types of writing and types of content and themes, to make the blog less repetitive seeming.

That seems to me an example of something that’s gone on a lot with our project. We do stuff based on short term goals and issues and interests, and we often do stuff in ways that are pretty intuitive and only partially thought out. Not everything works (the series on sleep and dreams was too long all in one go, for instance, and the posts came too fast, it probly should have been broken up into multiple short serieses) but some stuff does and it works pretty well. I think our willingness to proceed intuitively without needing perfect plans and clear answers is a strength. I also think it wouldn’t hurt us to plan more and have more clarity (though that would mean having more time, which I don’t have at the moment, and would mean running the site in a less efficient way – the site takes relatively little time for our output, in part because we spend so little time deliberating!).

I think it’d also be good to try to go over what we do and have done, and to lay out what our goals were (to the degree that they were clear), and what we’ve accomplished, to see if there are things to prioritize differently or do better. I know one thing we’ve made a priority of is cultivating newer writers and voices, both in work stories and more theoretical pieces. I’m probably the one who spent the most time on that and I’ve suspended that kind of stuff for now because of work and family time commitments. I miss that and look forward to getting back to it (part of why I spent so much time on it is that I found it personally gratifying). I think that’s partly just like a thing we do but I think it’s also a political thing – we are not a collective genius individuals who people should listen to (though I do think those of us involved do have things to say and questions to pose that should get heard), we are or at least should be a group who helps push others to put down thoughts and think together, whether on what Nesic calls ‘more fundamental themes’ or telling stories that express criticisms of life under capitalism. There’s also stuff we’ve layed out to talk about in terms of and because of the content, like for instance the direct unionism stuff, or the emerging conversations on reformi(ism). That’s good too.

(Incidentally here’s an older meandery blog post of me thinking out loud about some stuff about recomp, driven largely by metaphors.)