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© 2010 Michael Vastola To my parents, Janis and Anthony Vastola, and to my wife, Jessica Livingston This would not be possible without their love and almost pathological generosity


This dissertation has benefited from the advice and guidance I have received throughout my time at the University of Florida. My dissertation director Sidney Dobrin consistently encouraged experimentation and even audacity in my writing. My committee members supplemented that license to experiment with some brutal lessons during my exams. John Leavey coached me into a deeper understanding of what was at stake in the differences between the theories I was then ham-handedly trying to compare. Raul Sanchez compelled me to clarify my ideas and to more rigorously articulate their relationship to existing scholarship in my field. Those difficult lessons, as well as the valuable encouragement of my outside reader, Robert Hatch, were instrumental in shaping the document I would ultimately defend.

The drafts of several of my chapters benefited significantly from the advice of my fellow traveler, Jeffry Ginger Rice, who was even more valuable in his capacity as a sounding board for my incessant complaining about academic conventions. But my wife, Jessica Livingston, was just as important an outlet for my frustrations. Without her encouragement and vocal insistence that I finish in a timely manner, this project would have surely stalled numerous times, and might have even been abandoned.

Lastly, none of this would have been conceivable without the support of my parents, Anthony and Janis Vastola. They never missed an opportunity to tell me that they were proud of me—even when the first two decades of my life provided a seemingly infinite number of reasons to feel differently.





Situating the Intervention

The Pedagogy of the Statement

Badiou and Derrida: Toward a Theoretical Framework

Derrida, Writing, and the Metaphysics of Novelty

Badiou, Ontology, and Politics

Lazarus and the Rarity of Thought

The Cultural Pedagogy of the Archive

On Naming, Subjectivity, and the Structure of the Dissertation (Notes Toward an Investigation)


Debs and the Road to Industrial Unionism

The Many Faces of the New Man

Man and Revolution


DeLeon: An American Marxist

The Party and Revolution

Unionism and Industrialism: Socialist Strategies

The manifesto genre: Vision, Division, Strategy

Democracy and the State: A Conclusion through Separation


The Founding Documents

A Textual Event?

The Anarchist Consciousness

Bill Haywood and IWW Theory

Histories of a Union

Industrial Unionism: A Unique Duration


The Regime of Things Provided

The Inexcusable Banality of Liberal Reason

Follow the Prescription: An Exercise in Sloganeering

Consequences, not Conclusions



–  –  –

Chair: Sidney I. Dobrin Major: English Signatures of the Possible: Writing and Political Rupture in the Archives of Industrial Unionism analyzes the archives of industrial unionism from the early twentieth century in order to demonstrate that they contain one of the United States‘ most inventive political ideas. This dissertation is particularly interested in what those archival documents tell us about the relationship between historical research and critical theory.

More specifically, it examines how historical narratives about industrial unionism can, and often do, subordinate the theoretical originality and significance of that politics to linear, progressive histories and to the authority of antithetical principles and ideas, without regard for the specificity of their object or the aptness of their comparisons.

Industrial unionism refers to industry-wide union organization and activism, which is contrasted with trade-specific unionism. The organizational form of the former emerged during the late nineteenth century in the U.S. Yet the theoretical underpinnings of that organizational ideal would find their most consequential and enduring expression in 1905, with the establishment of the Industrial Workers of the World. In order to comprehend the originality of the theories that led to the founding of the IWW, this dissertation begins with a broad framework meant to distance its analysis from the approaches of the major histories of industrial unionism.

After elaborating a framework for the analysis to follow, chapters two, three, and four forward a new history for the archival documents of industrial unionism—one that demonstrates the importance and sophistication of their ideas. The primary lessons of those ideas are distilled to four categories in the final chapter—namely, the role of political prescriptions, discipline, organization, and ―idea‖ of communism—which can help inform how we understand critical theory today. Ultimately, this dissertation is a critical theory project that is relevant to scholars interested in new ways of approaching labor history, archival research, composition studies, and political theory.

–  –  –

A certain kind of interdisciplinarity can still represent a scandalous approach to scholarship in the humanities. Though research that effectively traverses various academic discourses, borrowing something from each, is widely valued, some semblance of specialization remains productive for establishing the expertise of authors, so as to ensure even their most experimental projects address a definite conversation within their respective field. To step outside of such enclosures makes it difficult to evaluate the quality of an author‘s work, not mention its relevance to the institutional context from which it emerged. But the question of rigor is not central to interdisciplinarity‘s capacity to scandalize. That capacity rests in the question of to what extent (and even whether) we need discrete ―fields‖ of knowledge. In a New York Times op-ed that received scathing reviews from the academic blogosphere—in large part because of its opposition to tenure in favor of seven-year renewable contracts—Mark C.

Taylor writes that ―The division-of-labor model of separate departments is obsolete and

must be replaced with a curriculum structured like a web or complex adaptive network‖:

Unfortunately [the existing] mass-production university model has led to separation where there ought to be collaboration and to ever-increasing specialization … And as departments fragment, research and publication become more and more about less and less. Each academic becomes the trustee not of a branch of the sciences, but of limited knowledge that all too often is irrelevant for genuinely important problems. (Taylor) In Taylor‘s schema, the traditional department is to be replaced with ―problemfocused programs‖ that, like its employees‘ contracts, will be reevaluated every seven years to determine whether or not they are still valuable to their respective institutions (Taylor). Likewise, the ―traditional dissertation‖ must be fundamentally changed in order to face the harsh economic reality that ―there is no longer a market for books modeled on the medieval dissertation, with more footnotes than text‖ (ibid.). But perhaps the most significant claim in Taylor‘s ambitious editorial holds an inconspicuous place within the larger argument—namely, his claim that ―Responsible teaching and scholarship must become cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural‖ (ibid.).

Taylor‘s claim is subtle, but he seems to suggest discipline-specific teaching and scholarship are, in effect, irresponsible. Implicit is the claim that, because there is potentially a great deal at stake in academic work, to fail to pursue that work in a manner that earnestly addresses the complexity of our world is tantamount to shirking one‘s responsibilities in the name of a narrow, careerist scholasticism. Such a critique is surely vulnerable to the charge of instrumentalism, which is often the watchword of vulnerable English departments with little hope of demonstrating how anything new can be written about James Joyce or why anything at all should be written about highly sexualized Japanese comic books. In reality, English departments in research universities in the United States rarely lack ―cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural‖ teaching and scholarship. Despite that reality, it is hard to imagine that what Taylor means by ―genuinely important problems‖ and ―Responsible teaching and scholarship‖ would apply to even the more sophisticated interdisciplinary analyses of comic book erotica. Even if Taylor personally approved of scholarship of that kind, when one frames ―problems‖ in the discourse of instrumentalism—of what is actually useful—the immediate consequence is that many creative, rigorous intellectual experiments are potentially deemed useless by an institution‘s arbiters of taste.

Yet, there is another way in which the concept of responsibility can be understood in Taylor‘s argument. In this alternative conception, it is the responsibility of a scholar to pursue important ideas to their logical conclusions, irrespective of restrictive disciplinary standards and imperatives. This approach may answer, at least in part, Friedrich Nietzsche‘s prickly critiques of the scholarly imperative to cultivate and defend a small plot of knowledge at the expense of an uninhibited pursuit of wisdom (Untimely Meditations 170-1). In the spirit of that sort of pursuit, this dissertation began by asking two related questions: What is the relationship between writing and novelty? And how does/can novelty emerge through acts of writing? The goal was to locate moments of transformation in written production, in the misguidedly baroque hopes of steering discourses on writing away from preoccupation with the meanings attached to cultural differences and negotiated identities, and toward something unapologetically radicalized and indifferent to those concerns. The initial attempts proved too general and ornamental; their lack of grounding in specific constructions of historical rupture—ironic, given the emphasis—meant the endeavor amounted to little more than a contemporized politicization of hermeneutics, without exactly shattering the classical Marxist mold.

The closest the early plan came to associating its vague references to ―the New‖ with something like historical rupture was in its considerations of the archival documents of Eugene V. Debs, which offered a privileged window into the formation of industrywide unionism as a political ideal. As this approach evolved, the early treatment of industrial unionism became more central to the exploration of the relationship between writing and novelty as such—which was ultimately divorced from the ontological presumptions of the ―as such.‖ Given that the question was now directed away from deliberation on an inherent nature, the major documents of industrial unionism, because they represent a specific historical construction pregnant with the possibilities of political rupture, forcefully ground the concepts of newness and writing in the specificity of a context out of which intellectually rich and varied statements emerged and developed their unique characters.

Before the transition to a fuller treatment of industrial unionism, the concerns that initiated this project were framed by the disciplinary interests of a loosely-defined disciplinary subcategory often referred to as ―writing studies.‖ Over time, the questions that guided my investigation benefited less and less from the original framing, until it became intellectually ―irresponsible‖ (in Taylor‘s usage) to deter its trajectory by halfheartedly imposing discipline-specific sources on an argument that did not require them.

Instead, I elaborated a theoretical framework largely informed by the work of Alain Badiou, Jacques Derrida, and Sylvain Lazarus, and deployed specific, sometimes opposing elements of their work in my analysis of written artifacts. But it was the archives and their aging texts—set against the problem of referring a composition back to the faded trace of a meaning that was never unequivocal—that ultimately furnished the theoretical approach, not the other way around. In other words, the theoretical framework expounded in the first chapter proceeds from a specific archival content— namely, the letters, speeches and other literature of industrial unionism. Different writings from Different archives would surely benefit from very different frameworks.

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