On the train ride home from Connecticut this weekend, I was finally able to put some time in and finish reading Isabelle Stenger’s Capitalist Sorcery: Breaking the Spell. I was going to write a whole synopsis of the book with commentary, but Adam Robbert has posted a link to a review that does that work for me. For the sake of novelty, I’ll quote a different passage than Adam:
The strategically non-linear development of their argument allows Pignarre and Stengers to draw a rather “heteroclite crowd” in support of their thesis. Various parts of the text thus discuss the relevance of Afro-American spirituality (the concept/affect of “yearning”), the pragmatic inventiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous (aware “of the impossibility of getting free alone”), organisations such as the Association Française contre les Mypathies (involving the parents of sick children in its budget allocation process) or the role of the mutual societies for working class communities in 19th-century France. The last chapter of the book is dedicated to an extensive discussion of the neo-pagan witch movement, whose attractiveness for Pignarre and Stengers (in line with Stengers’ own radical constructivism) lies in the fabricated yet realnature of its rituals. The red threat that connects these otherwise highly heterogeneous collectivities is that they all develop techniques of empowerment, a veritable “culture of recipes” to counter capitalism’s universal designs and the “psychosocial techniques of adherence” subtending them. The pragmatic “successes” of these collective interventions lies in the fact that they are always local, interstitial, “defined neither against nor in relation to the bloc to which [they] nonetheless belong.” (110)
This quote highlights what was to me the most captivating (dare I say “spell-binding”) aspect of the book – the many concepts Stengers and Pignarre introduce that help us “think through the middle” and find alternative paths in the interstices. They introduce the idea of “minions” in order to distinguish between those who fully support Capitalism and those who are merely captured. Ideology-based approaches don’t allow for such a distinction – to them we are all equally guilty because we are all equally deluded. The review points out another, which is “yearning” – a way of desiring alternatives without knowing a priori what form they will take. Another is “recipes” and “relaying” – an approach to transmitting success without becoming hegemonic or majoritarian to use their term. Many of these concepts are drawn from other sources – Deleuze and Guattari, of course, Starhawk, feminists, etc. – but Stengers and Pignarre create an experimental, and pragmatic combination that draws us towards a speculative future.
Another thing I wanted to say – and the reviewer also mentions this briefly – is that the book has a lot in common with J.K. Gibson-Graham’s work. In particular the need to resist reifying Captialism, and Ideology as totalizing forces for which there is no outside. Instead we have to learn to work through the interstices – crafting alternatives in those spaces where Capitalism is unable to fully penetrate. Stengers and Pignarre add to that conversation the need to create protective spaces – casting the circle – in order to keep capitalist sorcery at bay.