The Library of New Babylon


Just imagine we did all live in the future utopia that is Constant’s New Babylon. What would the library be like? I expect it would feature a greatest hits edition of the theory that helped us all get there. Here’s some notes towards it.

Sometimes to take three steps forward, you have to first take two steps back. I have been thinking that it might be worth stepping back into the archive of historical materialisms, critical theories and such, to see if there are neglected resources there. Perhaps we can’t just built on previous selections from it.

Perhaps we have to find new ways of reading even those texts that have become relentlessly canonic. New futures call for new pasts. So let’s find some! Here I have organized some working notes towards a revised resource guide to the past for this present.

So I have been digging around for neglected resources. In The Beach Beneath the Street and The Spectacle of Disintegration, I looked back over the Situationist International. That movement has the merit of highlighting questions of what critical thought and militant action might be in a mass-mediated age. Typically reduced to the work of Guy Debord, I think there’s at least equally useful resources to be found in the legacy of Constant Niewenhuys, Asger Jorn, Michèle Bernstein, Raoul Vaneigem, Alice Becker-Ho and others.

In Molecular Red, I look back to the work of Alexander Bogdanov and Andrey Platonov. Bogdanov more or less understood climate change a century ago, and had started work on a plan to reorganize knowledge and labor to get to work on the problem of social history’s problematic relation to natural history. Platonov I found to have offered a striking alternative history, from the bottom up, of what it is like to try – and fail – to build a new mode of production.

I have also been working through the ‘canon’ as I inherited it from my teachers, both academic and not. Here is a first attempt to map out from memory the resources that I have come in contact with over the last 30 years:

And here are my very incomplete and partial working notes toward such a rereading project, in more or less historical order, and heading towards a selection of contemporary writers who I feel have contact with some part of the twenty-first century elephant that theory now needs to find ways to describe:

Karl Marx (The ‘Fragment on Machines’)

Andrey Platonov

Joseph Needham

Jean-Paul Sartre

Raymond Williams

Louis Althusser

Stuart Hall

Guy Debord


Contemporary authors:

Franco Moretti

Fredric Jameson

Antonio Negri

Kojin Karatani

Paolo Virno

Slavoj Zizek

Quentin Meillassoux


Towards a #Marx21 agenda:

Kim Stanley Robinson

Yann Moulier Boutang

Tiziana Terranova

Paul Burkett

Keller Easterling

Béatriz Preciado

Benjamin Noys