This interview was conducted in Paris on 29 August 2002.
Peter Hallward: One of your constant concerns has been to analyse and condemn any posture of mastery, particularly theoretical, pedagogical, “academic” mastery. So may I ask why you started teaching? How did you first get involved with education?
Jacques Rancière: I became involved almost unwittingly, when I went through the École Normale Supérieure (ENS), which was set up to train teachers. I am, in the first instance, a student. I am one of those people who is a perpetual student and whose professional fate, as a consequence, is to teach others. “Teaching” obviously implies a certain position of mastery, “researcher” implies in some way a position of knowledge, “teacher-researcher” implies the idea of the teacher adapting a position of institutional mastery to one of mastery based on knowledge.
At the outset, I was immersed in an Althusserian milieu, and consequently marked by its idea of forms of authority linked specifically to knowledge. But I was also caught up in the whole period of 1968, which threw into question the connection between positions of mastery and knowledge. I went through it all with the mentality of a researcher: I thought of myself, above all, as someone who did research and let others know about his research. Which meant, for example, that as a teacher I always resisted divisions into levels (advanced, intermediate, etc.). At the University of Paris VIII, where I have taught for most of my career, there were no levels in the philosophy department and I have always tried hard to maintain this lack of division into levels. In my courses I often have people of all different levels, in the belief that each student does what he or she can do and wants to do with what I say.
P.H.: I suppose you must have made your initial decision to take up teaching and research path at about the age of fifteen or sixteen: did you grow up in a milieu where this option was encouraged?
J.R.: As a child, I wanted to go to the ENS because I wanted to be an archaeologist. But by the time I got into the ENS I’d lost that sense of vocation. It has to be said, too, that this was a time when, for people like me, there wasn’t really much of a choice: you were good in either arts or sciences. And if you were good in arts, you aimed for what was considered the best in the field, which is to say, the ENS. That, rather than any vocation to teach, is how I ended up there.
P.H.: And your initial collaboration with Althusser, was it a true conversion or the result of a theoretical interest? What happened at that point?
J.R.: Several things happened. First, there was my interest in Marxism, which was not at all part of the world I’d been brought up in. For people like me, our interest in Marxism before Althusser had to follow some slightly unorthodox paths. The people who had written books on Marx, the authorities on Marx at the time, were priests like Father Calvez, who had written a hefty book on Marx’s thought, or people like Sartre. So, I arrived at Marxism with a sort of Marxian corpus which was hardly that of someone from the communist tradition, but which did provide access to Marx at a time when he didn’t have a university presence and when theory was not very developed within the French Communist Party.
In relation to all that, Althusser represented a break. People told me about him when I first entered the ENS: they said he was brilliant. He really did offer a way of breaking with the Marxist humanist milieu in which we had been learning about Marx at the time. So, of course, I was enthusiastic, because Althusser was seductive, and I was working against myself in a way, because following Althusser’s thinking meant breaking with the sort of Marxism that I had known, that I was getting to know, and with those forms of thought that did not share its sort of theoretical engagement.
P.H.: Would it be too simple to say that Althusser was a teacher, whereas Sartre was something else – not a researcher or a teacher, but a writer or an intellectual, I guess?
J.R.: I don’t know if you can say “teacher.” In the end, Althusser taught relatively little. His words seduced us, but they were those of certain written texts as much as anything oral. He was like the priest of a religion of Marxist rigour, or of the return to the text. It wasn’t really the rigour of his teaching that appealed so much as an enthusiasm for his declaration that there was virgin ground to be opened up. His project to read Capital was a little like that: the completely naive idea that we were pioneers, that no one had really read Marx before and that we were going to start to read him. So there were two sides to our relation with Althusser. There was, first of all, a sense of going off on an adventure: for the seminar on Capital, I was supposed to talk, to explain to people the rationality of Capital, when I still hadn’t read the book. So I rushed about, rushed to start reading the various volumes of Capital, in order to be able to talk to others about them. There was this adventurous side, but there was something else as well: our roles as pioneers put us in a position of authority, it gave us the authority of those who know, and it instituted a sort of authority of theory, of those who have knowledge, in the midst of a political eclecticism. Thus, there was an adventurous side and a dogmatic side to it all, and they came together: the adventure in theory was at the same time dogmatism in theory.
P.H.: It’s the role of the pioneer you’ve held on to. Did your break with Althusser take place during the events of May 1968? What happened exactly?
J.R.: For me, the key moment wasn’t the events of May 1968, which I watched from a certain distance, but rather the creation of Paris VIII. With the creation of a philosophy department full of Althusserians, we had to decide what we were going to do. It was then I realised that Althusser stood for a certain power of the professor, the professor of Marxism who was so distant from what we had seen taking place in the student and other social movements it was almost laughable. At the time, what really made me react was a programme for the department put together by Etienne Balibar, a programme to teach people theoretical practice as it should be taught. I came out rather violently against this programme, and from that point began a whole retrospective reflection on the dogmatism of theory and on the position of scholarly knowledge we had adopted.
That’s more or less how things started for me, not with the shock of 1968 but with the aftershock. Which is to say, with the creation of an institution, an institution where we were, in one sense, the masters. It was a matter of knowing what we were going to do with it, how we were going to manage this institutional mastery, if we were going to identify it with the transmission of science or not.
P.H.: How did that work at Paris VIII? How did you bring the rather anarchic side of egalitarian teaching together with the institutional necessity of granting degrees, verifying qualifications, etc.?
J.R.: At the time, I had thought very little about an alternative pedagogical practice. I had more or less given up on philosophy, the teaching of philosophy, and academic practice. What seemed important was direct political practice, so for a time I stopped reflecting on and thinking of myself as creating a new pedagogical practice or a new type of knowledge. This was linked to the fact that the diploma in philosophy at Paris VIII was quickly invalidated. We no longer gave national diplomas, so we were no longer bound by the criteria needed to award them. For a good while, then, I was absolutely uninterested in rethinking pedagogy: I was thinking, first, of militant practice and then, when that was thrown into question, of my practice as a researcher. For years my main activity was consulting archives and going to the Bibliothèque Nationale. My investment in the practice of teaching was fairly limited.
P.H.: Did your courses continue more or less as usual, that is, as lectures?
J.R.: Not entirely. It varied: there were lectures, but there were also courses which took the form of conversations and interventions.
P.H.: La Leçon d’Althusser  insists on the urgency of the time, a time full of possibilities, when it was still possible to present Marxism as a way of thinking an imminent victory. When you started to work on the nineteenth century and on proletarian thinking in the 1830s and 1840s, was that partly to compensate for philosophical defeat in the present?
J.R.: I don’t think so. In the beginning, mine was a fairly naive approach: to try to understand what the words “workers’ movement,” “class consciousness,” “workers’ thought,” and so on really meant, and what they concealed. Basically, it was clear that the Marxism we had learned at school and had seen practised by Marxist organisations was a long way from the reality of forms of struggle and forms of consciousness. I wanted to construct a genealogy of that difference.
P.H.: A difference that begins in the moment just before Marx?
J.R.: What I wanted to do, starting out from the present, from 1968 (and from what had been proved inappropriate not only by Althusserianism and the Communist Party but also by the movements of the Left more generally), was to rewrite the genealogy of the previous century and a half. In particular, I wanted to return to the moment of Marxism’s birth to try to mark the difference between Marxism and what could have been an alternative workers’ tradition. This project soon swerved off course. Initially it was a matter of searching for genuine forms of workers’ thinking, a genuine workers’ movement. In relation to Marxism, then, mine was a rather identitarian perspective. But the more I worked the more I realised that what was at issue was precisely a form of movement that broke with the very idea of an identitarian movement. Being a “worker” wasn’t in the first instance a condition reflected in forms of consciousness or action; it was a form of symbolisation, the arrangement of a certain set of statements or utterances. I became interested in reconstituting the world that made these utterances [énonciations] possible.
P.H.: Many of your contemporaries abandoned Marxism rather quickly, having come to the conclusion that the proletariat – as the universal subject of an eventually singular history, the class that incarnates the dissolution of class – seemed to lead more or less directly to the Gulag. You, on the other hand, continued to reflect on the proletariat in its singularity, but by resituating it in an historical sequence that seemed better able to anticipate the risks of dogmatism and dictatorship. It was still a question of a universal singularity, but a singularity in some sense absent from itself, a deferred, differentiated singularity.
J.R.: In the end, what interested me was a double movement, the movement of singularisation and its opposite. On the one hand, there was a movement away from the properties that characterised the worker’s being and the forms of statement that were supposed to go along with that condition. On the other hand, this withdrawal itself created forms of universalisation, forms of symbolisation which also constituted the positivity of a figure. What interested me was always this play between negativation and positivation. I was interested in thinking it through as an impossible identification, since the intellectual revolution in question here was, in the first instance, a work of disidentification. The proletarians of the 1830s were people seeking to constitute themselves as speaking beings, as thinking beings in their own right. But this effort to break down the barrier between those who think and those who don’t came to constitute a sort of shared symbolic system, a system forever threatened by new positivation. As a result, you could no longer say that there had been an authentic workers’ movement somewhere, one that had managed to escape all forms of positivation and deterioration.
I wanted to show that these forms of subjectivation or disidentification were always at risk of falling into an identitarian positivation, whether that was a corporative conception of class or the glorious body of a community of producers. It wasn’t a matter of opposing a true proletariat to some corporatist degeneration or to the Marxists’ proletariat; rather, I wanted to show how the figure of subjectivation itself was constantly unstable, constantly caught between the work of symbolic disincorporation and the constitution of new bodies.
P.H.: Sometimes you present political practice as a sort of ex nihilo innovation, almost like the constitution of a new world, even if the world in question is extremely fragile, uncertain, ephemeral. Don’t you need to consider political innovation alongside the development of its conditions of possibility? I mean, for instance, on the political side of things, the role played by civic institutions and state organisations, the public space opened up, in Athens, in France, by the invention of democratic institutions (that is, the sort of factors you generally relegate to the sphere of the police, as opposed to the sphere of politics). And on the linguistic side of things, I’m thinking of some sort of preliminary equality of competences, a basic sharing of the symbolic domain. Such might be the objection of someone working in the Habermasian tradition. In short, which comes first: the people or the citizen?
J.R.: I don’t know if you can say that one of those comes before the other, because so many of these things work retroactively. There is an inscription of citizenship because there is a movement which forces this inscription, but this movement to force inscription almost always refers back to some sort of pre-inscription. Men who are free and equal in their rights are always supposed already to exist in order that their existence can be proclaimed and their legal inscription enforced. I would say, though, that this equality or legal freedom produces nothing in itself. It exists only in so far as it defines a possibility, in so far as there is an effective movement which can grasp it and bring it into existence retroactively. For me the question of a return to origins is hopeless. If we take modern democracy, it is clear it works by recourse to an earlier inscription. There is always an earlier inscription, be it 1789, the American or English Revolution, Christianity, or the ancient city-state; as a result, the question of origins doesn’t really come up. As to the origin of origins, you can conceive it in different ways: it could be an originary anthropology of the political, but I know I don’t have the means or tools to think of it this way. It could be a transcendental condition, but, for me, this transcendental condition can work only as a process of retroactive demonstration. I don’t have any answers as to real, actual origins, and I don’t think you can set out something like a transcendental condition for there being people in general.
P.H.: Nonetheless, you insist on an equality that exists once people speak, once they say to themselves they are equal as people who speak. Doesn’t this equality, however, establish at the very same time the conditions of an inequality between people who speak more or less well? An abstract equality between players taking part in the same game and following the same rules always exists, but obviously that doesn’t stop there being winners and losers. Is it a matter of a real equality or some sort of inclusion presupposed by participation in the game (which, in the end, is less a matter of equality than of formal similarity)?
J.R.: It isn’t a formal similarity. Rather, it is the necessity of some minimal equality of competence in order for the game to be playable. As I said when I went back to Joseph Jacotot [discussed in detail in The Ignorant Schoolmaster (1987)] in Disagreement (1995): for an order to be transmitted and executed there has to be a minimal level of linguistic equality. This is the problem that troubles Aristotle: slaves need to understand what they are told. Aristotle gets around it by saying that the slave participates in language by understanding it but not possessing it. He discerns a kind of hard kernel in the possession of language, which he opposes to its simple use. But what is this possession, this hexis, which he opposes to the simple fact of understanding? He never explains it.
I don’t have an irenic understanding of language as some sort of common patrimony which allows everyone to be equal. I’m just saying that language games, and especially language games that institute forms of dependence, presume a minimal equality of competence in order that inequality itself can operate. That’s all I’m saying. And I say this not to ground equality but to show, rather, how this equality only ever functions polemically. If it is a transcendental category, its only substance lies in the acts which make manifest its effectiveness.
P.H.: Isn’t there a quasi-transcendental or at least transhistorical aspect to your idea that the political actor, the universal actor, is always to be found on the side of those who aren’t accounted for in the organisation of society? Politics as you conceive it always concerns the mobilisation of those who aren’t included in the social totality, who constitute a part of society which groups those who belong to no identifiable social part (or who have no particular share [part] of society) and who thus establish themselves as the incarnation of the universal interest. The examples you give (Athenian democracy, 1789, proletarian singularity, etc.), are they thus examples of a more general rule: that politics only happens when the excluded are able to affirm themselves in universal terms? What leads you to believe that this remains the rule in today’s and tomorrow’s political conflicts? It’s difficult to imagine a genuine conception of the universal in the USA today, for example, when people are so caught up in the conflict between the abstract power of the market and various communitarian and identitarian movements.
J.R.: It isn’t a question of belief so much as of defining the political. There are clearly all sorts of government and many different modes of domination and management. If “politics” has a meaning, and a meaning that applies to everything we seek to elaborate as specifically political, for me its meaning is just this: there is a whole that constitutes itself other than as a collection of existing parts. For me, this is the only condition under which we can speak of politics. Which doesn’t stop there being states, communities, and collectivities, all of which operate according to their different logics. But we must distinguish this very specific form, where the capacity for power is attributed to those who have no particular ability to exercise it, where the accounting of the whole is dissociated from any organic conception, from the generality of forms of assembly, government, and domination.
I think that the USA is indeed a barely political community. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t conflicts. But there is a whole structured system of being together which is not only thought but also massively practised in terms of belonging or membership (perhaps founded on sub-memberships), in terms of properties and rights attached to memberships, and so on. For me, all this defines an ethical rather than a political conception of community. This conception doesn’t necessarily have disastrous consequences, even though it seems to in the USA today. I see it as a question of definition: a community is political when it authorises forms of subjectivation for the uncounted, for those unaccounted for. This needn’t imply a visible category which identifies itself as “the excluded” and which wants to identify the community with itself – in that case we’d be back in ethics. I am simply saying that when there is a properly political symbolising of the community, then this, in the last instance, is where it lies. Inequality first takes effect as a miscounting or misaccounting, an inequality of the community to itself.
Now as to the question: is politics still possible today? I would say that politics is always possible, there is no reason for it to be impossible. But is politics actually imminent? Here, obviously, I share your sadness, if not your pessimism, about the current state of public affairs.
P.H.: There has often been, for instance, in the anti-colonial struggles, in the struggle for civil rights in the USA, a universalist moment, as you conceive it. This moment rarely lasts, however, and many Americans might say that under the circumstances there were good reasons to replace Martin Luther King with Malcolm X – in short, that in the reality of the struggle a choice had to be made: to adopt some sort of militant particularism or accept the effective end of the struggle.
J.R.: I wouldn’t claim to advise American political movements, especially those that took place in the past. I think that we are always ambiguously placed, at constant risk of being coercively pinned down. Either you are taken in by a universal that is someone else’s, that is, you trust some idea of citizenship and equality as it operates in a society that in fact denies you these things, or you feel you must radically denounce the gap between idea and fact, usually by recourse to some identitarian logic. At this point, though, whatever you manage to achieve comes because you show yourself to belong to this identity. It’s very difficult, but I think that politics consists of refusing this dilemma and putting the universal under stress. Politics involves pushing both others’ universal and one’s own particularity to the point where each comes to contradict itself. It turns on the possibility of connecting the symbolic violence of a separation with a reclaiming of universality. The double risk of what goes by the name of liberalism still remains: on the one hand, submission to the universal as formulated by those who dominate; on the other hand, confinement within an identitarian perspective in those instances where the functioning of this universal is interrupted. No movement has really managed to avoid both risks altogether.
P.H.: Does your idea of democracy presuppose democracy as it is supposed to have existed for several centuries, that is, where the place of power is in principle empty, such that it might be occupied, at least occasionally, by exceptional figures of universal interest?
J.R.: I don’t think the place of power is empty. Unlike Claude Lefort, I don’t tie democracy to the theme of an empty place of power. Democracy is first and foremost neither a form of power nor a form of the emptiness of power, that is, a form of symbolising political power.
For me, democracy isn’t a form of power but the very existence of the political (in so far as politics is distinct from knowing who has the right to occupy power or how power should be occupied), precisely because it defines a paradoxical power – one that doesn’t allow anyone legitimately to claim a place on the basis of his or her competences. Democracy is, first of all, a practice, which means that the very same institutions of power may or may not be accompanied by a democratic life. The same forms of parliamentary powers, the same institutional frameworks can either give rise to a democratic life, that is, a subjectivation of the gap between two ways of counting or accounting for the community, or operate simply as instruments for the reproduction of an oligarchic power.
P.H.: It isn’t first and foremost a question of power? This is Slavoj Zizek’s objection, when he reads you (briefly) in his The Ticklish Subject : that you posit unrealistic, impossibly ideal conditions for political practice, and as a result end up just keeping your hands clean. How might we organise a true popular mobilisation without recourse to power, the party, authority, etc.?
J.R.: I’m not saying you need absolutely no power. I’m not preaching spontaneity as against organisation. Forms of organisation and relations of authority are always being set up. The fact that I don’t much care for the practices of power and the forms of thought they engender is a secondary, personal concern. The central problem is theoretical. Politics may well have to do with powers and their implementation, but that doesn’t mean that politics and power are one and the same. The essential point is that politics cannot be defined simply as the organisation of a community. Nor can it be defined as the occupation of the place of government, which isn’t to say that this place doesn’t exist or doesn’t have to be occupied. It is the peculiar tendency of what I call the police to confuse these things. Politics is always an alternative to any police order, regardless of both the forms of power the former must develop and the latter’s organisation, form or value.
P.H.: But, leaving aside the business of government, how are we to think the organisation of political authority in this sense? What sorts of organisation enable the insurrection of the excluded or the militant mobilisation of universal interest? It’s obvious you’re not a party thinker. But how are we to pursue a politics without party which will, nevertheless, remain a militant politics? Is this something that needs to be reinvented within each political episode?
J.R.: I don’t think there are rules for good militant organisation. If there were, we’d already have applied them and we’d certainly be further along than we are at the moment. All I can define are forms of perception, forms of utterance. As to how these are then taken up by organisations, I must admit that I’ve never been able to endure any one of them for very long, but I know I have nothing better to propose.
P.H.: Towards the end of Disagreement, I think, you say there was a genuine political movement in France at the time of the Algerian war, a subversive movement, that was clearly different from the movements of generalised “sympathy” which developed around the recent conflicts in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Timor. Can you see the beginnings of a new movement of this type, against the aggressor, in some currents of antiAmerican and anti-globalisation thinking?
J.R.: That is difficult to define today. It’s easy to see that people are inspired by the dream of a political movement that would define itself in opposition to the domination of international capitalism. In reality, though, no political movement has yet defined itself against international capital. To this point they have been defined within national frameworks, or as relations between distinct peoples and their national states, or possibly as three-way relations, as was the case with Algeria and with the anti-imperialist struggles more generally. In such cases the national stage split on the international stage and allowed the uncounted to be accounted for. This threeway game, this political cause of the other, seems impossible today. The anti-globalisation movements want to take on capital as world government directly. But capital is precisely a government that isn’t one: it isn’t a state, and it doesn’t recognise any “people” inside or outside it who might serve as its point of reference or offer themselves for subjectivation.
The idea of the multitude proposed by Negri and Hardt is a direct response to this absence of points at which political subjectivation might take hold. In the end, their idea rests on the transposition of a Marxian economic schema by which the forces of production break through the external framework of the relations of production. Capital escapes all political holds. The vast demonstrations of recent years have, in fact, sought to force it onto the political stage through the institutional or policing instruments by which it operates. The idea of a direct relation between the multitude and empire seems to me to bypass the problem of constituting a global political stage. I’m not sure that we will ever attain a directly political form of anti-capitalist struggle. I don’t think there can be an anti-imperialist politics which isn’t mediated by relations to states, bringing into play an inside and an outside. It’s easy to sense the difficulties that the anti-globalisation movements and their theorists have when it comes to current forms of imperialism – for example, with American politics after 11 September. It’s clear that the rules of the game are being mixed up today. At the time of the big anti-imperialist movements against the Vietnam War, for instance, we had a clear sense of who was the aggressor and who was under attack; we could play on the obvious contradiction between internal democratic discourse and external imperialist aggression. Again, when the USA supported such and such a dictatorship in the name of the struggle against communism, we could demonstrate the discrepancy between the declared struggle for democracy and the reality of supporting dictatorships. What has characterised the whole period after 11 September, however, has been the erasure of these signs of contradiction. The war in Afghanistan was presented directly as a war of good against evil. The contradictions between inside and outside, like those between words and deeds, have disappeared in favour of a general moralising of political life. The global reign of the economy is accompanied by a global reign of morality, in which it is harder for political action to find its stakes.
P.H.: So, for you, national mediation remains essential and effective for the moment?
J.R.: I think national mediation remains effective, yes, because it’s there that the relation between a structure of inclusion and what it excludes plays itself out. If lots of things are happening around those “without” – particularly around immigrants “without papers [sanspapiers]” – it is because the example of those without papers exposes the contradiction between affirming free circulation in a world without borders and the practices of keeping borders under surveillance and defining groups of people who cannot cross them. So, I think there are specific scenes of contradiction in confining some people while allowing others to circulate freely, but not one great nomadic movement of the multitude against empire or one overarching relation between the system and its peripheries.
P.H.: A last question on politics. You say that “the essential work of politics is the configuration of its own space. It is to get the world of its subjects and its operations to be seen.” 2 You want to distinguish all political action – every instance of dissensus – from what you call the domain of the police, the domain of social coordination, the government, etc. But don’t we have to think of politics in relation to all the various ways that social inequality is structured, in relation, for example, to education, the organisation of urban life, conditions of employment, economic power, etc.?
J.R.: There I think you’re attributing to me an idea that isn’t mine but Badiou’s. I think that it is indeed possible to define what is specific to politics, and in such a way as to separate political practice and the ideas of political community from all forms of negotiation between the interests of social groups. That’s why I say that the political isn’t the social. But I’d also say that the “social” as an historical configuration isn’t some sort of shameful empirical magma – situational,state-controlled, and so on (rather as Badiou imagines it) – which the political act would escape from. On the contrary, I think that the social is a complex domain, that what we call the social is a sort of mixture where the policing logics which determine how things are to be distributed or shared out among social groups encounter the various ways of configuring the common space which throw these same distributions into question. What we call “social benefits” are not only forms of redistributing national income; they are always also ways of reconfiguring what is shared or common. In the end, everything in politics turns on the distribution of spaces. What are these places? How do they function? Why are they there? Who can occupy them? For me, political action always acts upon the social as the litigious distribution of places and roles. It is always a matter of knowing who is qualified to say what a particular place is and what is done in it.
So, I think that politics constantly emerges from questions traditionally thought of as social, that politics runs through labour movements and strikes, as well as around educational questions. You could say that the great political movements in France over the last twenty years have been connected with social questions, those of school and university, the status of employees, the sanspapiers or the unemployed – all fundamentally questions we might call social. But what does social mean? It means that what is at stake in institutional problems relating to school or nationality, or in problems arising around the distribution of work and wealth (employment or social benefits), is really the configuring of what is shared or common. I’m thinking, for example, of the movements in France that grew up around university selection in 1986, or around pensions and social benefits in the autumn of 1995. The battle over selection reminded us that the school and university system is not simply an instrument of “training” or “reproduction”; it is also the institution by which a society signifies to itself the meaning of the community that institutes it. In the same way, questions relating to pensions, health, and social security not only concern what are referred to as employees’ privileges and rights but also engage with the idea of the configuration of the common sphere. Whether healthcare and pensions operate by a system of redistribution and solidarity, or through individual private insurance, doesn’t just concern the privileges that employees may have acquired at any historical moment: it touches on the configuring of the common sphere. Within any so-called social negotiation there is always negotiation over what the community holds as common.
P.H.: You quote Hannah Arendt from time to time: do you feel close to her conception of politics, politics as a place of negotiation, a place of performances and appearances (rather than timeless essences), of the vita activa valued above the pretensions of theory, philosophy, and the vita contemplativa?
J.R.: Let’s say there’s some ground for agreement, coupled with a very strong disagreement (a disagreement which is also a reaction against the dominant uses and interpretations of her work today). The basis of agreement is that politics is a matter of appearance [apparence], a matter of constituting a common stage or acting out common scenes rather than governing common interests. That said, in Hannah Arendt this fundamental affirmation is linked to the idea that the political stage is blurred or cluttered by the claims of the social – I’m thinking of what she has to say about the French Revolution and the role of pity, where compassion for the “needy” clouds the purity of the political scene. To my mind this just returns us to some of the most traditional preconceptions about there being two distinct sorts of life: one able to play the political game of appearance and the other supposedly devoted to the sole reality of reproducing life. Her conception of political appearance simply mirrors the traditional (that is, Platonic) opposition, which reserves the legitimate use of appearance for one form of life alone. For me, by contrast, the appearance of the demos shatters any division between those who are deemed able and those who are not. Her opposition between the political and the social returns us to the old oppositions in Greek philosophy between men of leisure and men of necessity, the latter being men whose needs exclude them from the domain of appearance and, hence, from politics.
A significant part of what I’ve managed to write about politics is a response to Hannah Arendt’s use, in On Revolution, of John Adams’s little phrase, that the misfortune of the poor lies in their being unseen. She says that such an idea could only have occurred to someone who was already a participant in the distinction of political life, that it cannot be shared by the poor in question, because they do not realise they are not seen – so a demand for visibility has no meaning for them. However, all my work on workers’ emancipation showed that the most prominent of the claims put forward by the workers and the poor was precisely the claim to visibility, a will to enter the political realm of appearance, the affirmation of a capacity for appearance. Hannah Arendt remains a prisoner of the tautology by which those who “cannot” think a thing do not think it. As I understand it, though, politics begins exactly when those who “cannot” do something show that in fact they can. That is the theoretical differend. As for practice, Arendt’s distinction between the political and the social has been widely used (during the events of December 1995 to justify governmental policies, for example). “Liberals” and “republicans” keep on reciting their Hannah Arendt to show that politics – which is to say, the state and the government – is above social pettiness, a realm of common collective interests that transcends corporate egoisms.
P.H.: Michelet figures prominently in your The Names of History . Did his conception of history as the history of collective liberty, of a people becoming conscious of itself, the story of a hitherto silent people’s entry into speech, inspire you in one way or another? And what is Michelet’s relation, say, to the egalitarian thought of a Jacotot (as you describe it in The Ignorant Schoolmaster)?
J.R.: I wanted, above all, to show how Michelet had invented a new form of mastery, one based on anonymous collective speech. It’s the Romantic thesis of a speech that is supposed to come from below in opposition to the dominant, noisy voices of the day. But Michelet never lets this speech from below actually be spoken, in its own terms. He converts the speech of revolutionary assemblies into a kind of discourse of the earth: a discourse of the fields or the city, of rural harvests or the mud in the streets, the silent word of truth as opposed to the actual words of speakers. What I tried to explain was the constitution of this paradigm of the silent masses (as distinct from the noisy people), the poetico-political paradigm of a great anonymous, unconscious thought expressing itself not through people’s words but through their silence, which then becomes a scientific paradigm in history and sociology. This wordless speech is something completely different from Jacotot and his affirmation of the capacity to speak of those who “don’t know how,” that is, his presupposition and verification of the equality of intelligences.
There are two ways of thinking equality. It can be thought in terms of intellectual emancipation founded on the idea of man as a “literary animal” – an idea of equality as a capacity to be verified by anybody. Or it can be thought in terms of the indifferentiation of a collective speech, a great anonymous voice – the idea that speech is everywhere, that there is speech written on things, some voice of reality itself which speaks better than any uttered word. This second idea begins in literature, in Victor Hugo’s speech of the sewer that says everything, and in Michelet’s voice of the mud or the harvest. Later, this poetic paradigm becomes a scientific one.
The obvious problem is that these two paradigms, these two ways of thinking the equality of the nameless, which are opposed in theory, keep mixing in practice, so that discourses of emancipation continually interweave the ability to speak demonstrated by anyone at all together with the silent power of the collective.
P.H.: This is perhaps a good moment to move on to questions of aesthetics. Your book on Mallarmé came out in 1996, followed by La Parole muette in 1998. Since then you seem to have been working mainly on topics relating to art, literature, and aesthetics. Why the shift in interest? Was it something foreseen, something you had been anticipating?
J.R.: I’ve never had a programme for the future, have never programmed my future projects. So, I’ve never imagined my work developing from politics to aesthetics, especially since it has always sought to blur boundaries. What I wanted to show when I wrote Nights of Labor  was that a so-called political and social movement was also an intellectual and aesthetic one, a way of reconfiguring the frameworks of the visible and the thinkable. In the same way, in Disagreement I tried to show how politics is an aesthetic matter, a reconfiguration of the way we share out or divide places and times, speech and silence, the visible and the invisible. My personal interests have most often drawn me to literature and cinema, certainly more than to questions of socalled political science, which in themselves have never interested me very much. And if I was able to write on workers’ history it was because I always had in mind a whole play of literary references, because I saw workers’ texts through a number of models offered by literature, and because I developed a mode of writing and composition that allowed me to break, in practice, with the politics implicit in the traditional way of treating “workers’ speech,” as the expression of a condition. For me, the elaboration of a philosophical discourse or a theoretical scene is always also the putting into practice of a certain poetics.
So, for me, there has never been a move from politics to aesthetics. Take the Mallarmé book, for example: what was the core of my interest in Mallarmé? Something like a community of scene [de scène]. The two prose poems in which Mallarmé stages the poet’s relation to the proletarian interested me initially because they replayed in a new way scenes that had already been acted out between proletarians and utopians. Even the relation between day and night in Mallarmé (which is generally understood through the themes of nocturnal anxiety and purity) reminded me strongly of why I had spoken of the nights of labour – not on account of workers’ misfortune, but in recognition of the fact that they annex the night, the time of rest, and thereby break the order of time which keeps them confined to a certain place. All this has always been absolutely connected for me,whether I take it as the aesthetics inherent in politics or the politics inherent in writing. Before Mallarmé, before La Parole muette, even before Disagreement, I led a seminar over several years on the politics of writing – that is, not on “how to write politics” but on “what is properly political in writing.” The work on Michelet was about the birth of a certain way of writing history. Does writing translate properties and transmit knowledge, or does it itself constitute an act, a way of configuring and dividing the shared domain of the sensible? These questions have continued to interest me.
This politics of writing is, then, something completely different from the questions of representation by which politics and aesthetics are generally linked. Knowing how writers represent women, workers, and foreigners has never really interested me. My interest has always been in writing as a way of cutting up the universal singular. I’m thinking, for example, of Flaubert’s declarations, such as “I am interested less in the ragged than in the lice who feed on them,” which suppose a whole idea of the relation between the population of a novel and a social population (or the people in a political sense), and which posit a literary “equality” on a level that is no longer the one used to debate political equality. In its own way, literature too introduces a dissensus and a miscounting which are not those of political action. I am interested in the relation between the two, rather than, say, the various forms of “bias” in the representation of social categories in Flaubert. I began to reflect on these things via the question of writing history, and this reflection grew into the work on the politics of literature.
Then, on account of my work on history and the writing of history, I happened to be asked by people in the arts to apply my analyses to their fields and problems – both in cinema, in which I’ve always had a personal interest (my first substantial text on cinema, for example, dealt with the relation between the “aesthetic” and the “social” in Rossellini’s Europe 51), and in other, less familiar fields (I was asked to speak, for example, “in my own way” about history for the exhibition Face à l’histoire organised by the Centre Pompidou in 1997). This last invitation gave me the opportunity to work on the question of contemporary art, a topic that had not interested me up to then.
So there is a constant aesthetic core in everything I do, even if I only began to speak of literature explicitly at a particular moment, having addressed it until then through questions of history and what one might call the forms of workers’ literary appropriations. Then came requests for me to speak on topics about which I had no real competence. After what I had done, people thought I should have things to say about contemporary art, for example. I didn’t know a lot about it, but I wanted to respond to the challenge, because it was a chance to learn something new, and to learn how to talk about it.
P.H.: Is there a conceptual parallel between the status of literature as you describe it in the wake of the Romantic revolution – on the one hand, the writing of everything, a systematic, encyclopaedic, even geological, literature in the manner of Cuvier and Balzac, and, on the other hand, a literature of nothing, a writing which ultimately refers only to itself – and the status of politics? As if they were both efforts to connect everything and nothing, exclusion and the universal?
J.R.: There is no direct link between the two, but they both refer back to the same kernel of meaning. It is the ancient fictional or dramatic “plot,” the same organic, Aristotelian idea of the work that bursts either from a profusion of things and signs or from the rarefaction of events and senses. Broadly, literature as a regime of writing defines itself in the period after the Revolution not simply as another way of writing, another way of conceiving of the art of writing, but also as a whole mode of interpreting society and the place of speech in it. Literature defines itself around an idea of speech that somehow exceeds the simple figure of the speaker. It defines itself around the idea that there is speech [ parole] everywhere, and that what speaks in a poem is not necessarily what any speaking intention has put into it. This is all the legacy of Vico. Either that or there is language [langage] everywhere, which is Balzac’s position. There is something like a vast poem everywhere, which is the poem that society itself writes by both uttering and hiding itself in a multitude of signs.
Or, if you take the Flaubertian perspective, the “book about nothing” comes to replace the lost totality. In fact, this is still Schiller’s idea of “naive” (as opposed to “sentimental”) poetry as the poem of a world (an idea with colossal force whose effects are still with us), an unconscious or “involuntary” poem for which we must produce an equivalent in the inverse form of a work that relates only to itself. The lost totality rediscovers itself on the side of nothing, but we must look at what this nothing means. Flaubert invents a sort of atomic micrology which is supposed to pulverise the democratic population. At the same time, he contributes to what we could call an aesthetic of equal intensities – opposed to the hierarchies of the representative tradition – which is the aesthetic he addresses to Madame Bovary even as he condemns her. There is a conflictual complicity between the fictional population and the social world that this literature addresses. Flaubert writes “against” Madame Bovary and the “democratic” confusion of art and life, but, at the same time, he writes from the “democratic” point of view which affirms the equality of subjects and intensities. It is this tension that interests me. Literature invents itself as another way of talking about the things politicians talk about.
P.H.: For some time now, most aesthetic thinkers have emphasised the importance of modernism and the avant-garde. Among your contemporaries, you are one of the few to pay more attention to Romanticism and to the nineteenth century more generally. For you, the answers to many of the questions that aesthetics asks are still to be found in Schiller, Kant, and Balzac. What is the key to what you call the “aesthetic revolution”? 4 And how do you understand modernism?
J.R.: What is the kernel of the aesthetic revolution? First of all, negatively, it means the ruin of any art defined as a set of systematisable practices with clear rules. It means the ruin of any art where art’s dignity is defined by the dignity of its subjects – in the end, the ruin of the whole hierarchical conception of art which places tragedy above comedy and history painting above genre painting, etc. To begin with, then, the aesthetic revolution is the idea that everything is material for art, so that art is no longer governed by its subject, by what it speaks of: art can show and speak of everything in the same manner. In this sense, the aesthetic revolution is an extension to infinity of the realm of language, of poetry.
It is the affirmation that poems are everywhere, that paintings are everywhere. So, it is also the development of a whole series of forms of perception which allow us to see the beautiful everywhere. This implies a great anonymisation of the beautiful (Mallarmé’s “ordinary” splendour). I think this is the real kernel: the idea of equality and anonymity. At this point, the ideal of art becomes the conjunction of artistic will and the beauty or poeticity that is in some sense immanent in everything, or that can be uncovered everywhere.
That is what you find all through the fiction of the nineteenth century, but it’s at work in the poetry too. For example, it’s what Benjamin isolated in Baudelaire, but it’s something much broader than that too. It implies a sort of exploding of genre and, in particular, that great mixing of literature and painting which dominates both literature and painting in the nineteenth century. It is this blending of literature and painting, pure and applied art, art for art’s sake and art within life, which will later be opposed by the whole modernist doxa that asserts the growing autonomy of the various arts.
The entire modernist ideology is constructed on the completely simplistic image of a great anti-representational rupture: at a certain moment, supposedly, nobody represents any more, nobody copies models, art applies its own efforts to its own materials, and in the process each form of art becomes autonomous. Obviously all this falls apart in the 1960s and 1970s, in what some will see as the betrayal of modernism. I think, though, that modernism is an ideology of art elaborated completely retrospectively. “Modernists” are always trying to think Mallarmé and the pure poem, abstract painting, pure painting, or Schoenberg and a music that would no longer be expressive, etc. But if you look at how this came about, you realise that all the so-called movements to define a pure art were in fact completely mixed up with all sorts of other preoccupations – architectural, social, religious, political, and so on. The whole paradox of an aesthetic regime of art is that art defines itself by its very identity with non-art. You cannot understand people like Malevich, Mondrian or Schoenberg if you don’t remember that their “pure” art is inscribed in the midst of questions regarding synaesthesia, the construction of an individual or collective setting for life, utopias of community, new forms of spirituality, etc. The modernist doxa is constructed exactly at the point when the slightly confused mixture of political and artistic rationalities begins to come apart.
Remarkably, modernism – that is, the conception of modern art as the art of autonomy – was largely invented by Marxists. Why? Because it was a case of proving that, even if the social revolution had been confiscated, in art the purity of a rupture had been maintained, and with it the promise of emancipation. I’m racing through all this, but I do think that this is what lies behind Adorno or Greenberg: a way of defining art’s radicality by the radicality of its separation, that is, a way of separating art radically from politics in order to preserve its political potential. Afterwards, this complicated dialectic is effaced in the simplistic dogma of modern art as the art of autonomy. Obviously, this dogma does not survive for very long in the face of the reality of artistic practices, and when it collapses, people start saying “Modernity is falling apart.” But it hasn’t: what has fallen apart is just a very partial and belated interpretation of what I call the aesthetic mode of art.
P.H.: For you, then, is it a matter of maintaining the contradictory relations of the aesthetic regime, of continuing in the difficult dialectic of whole and nothing, of the controlled inscription of a generalised speech (an anonymous beauty, as you put it) and the vacillation of an ultimately silent discourse which affirms its own unconsciousness and lack of identity? You seek to continue in that tradition, rather than swing in the opposite direction, towards the postmodern, for example, or the post-whatever?
J.R.: I don’t really believe in any great historical break between the modern and the postmodern. There aren’t many solid identifying features of an art that would be postmodern. How exactly are you going to define postmodernism? By the return of figuration? But that is only a part of it. By the mixing of genres? But that is much older. For me, if you want to think about breaks, it’s important first of all to understand the continuities – to understand, for example, that modern art was not born, as we still believe, in a simple and radical break with the realist tradition. The categories which allow us to think modern art were entirely elaborated in the modes of focusing perception that were first imposed by the realist novel: indifference to subject, closeups, the primacy of detail and tone. It was often novelists – like the Goncourts, for example – who as art critics reconfigured the logic of visibility in the field of painting (which was still very much figurative), valorising the pictorial material over its subject. Painting was seen in a new way, one that abstracted its subject, before painters themselves abandoned figuration.
To take another example: installation is one of the central forms of contemporary art. But you will find an extraordinary passage in Zola’s Le Ventre de Paris – a completely mad book from 1874, a great hymn to poetry, and to great modern poetry in particular. Now, what is this great modern poetry? And what is the great monument of the nineteenth century? Les Halles [the central markets] in Paris. Zola installs his painter, Claude Lantier – the impressionist painter as he sees him, a painter in search of modern beauty – in this monument of modernity. At one point, Lantier explains that his most beautiful work wasn’t a painting. Rather, he created his masterpiece the day he redid his cousin the butcher’s window display. He describes this display, how he arranged the blood sausages, dried sausages, turkeys, and hams. Still with Zola, in Au Bonheur des dames you also have the department store as a work of modern art, with the capitalist, Octave Mouret, as the great poet of modernity, the poet of commodity installation. At that time, then, no one made installations, but an indecision between the art of the canvas and the art of display can already be marked. An art that has only developed in the last twenty or thirty years had, in some sense, already found its thought and its visibility. The “modern” solitude of art has always also been its non-solitude.
P.H.: But what if you take a hard modernist like Rothko, whose last paintings revolve around blackness, the absence of all figuration, all “application”?
J.R.: Sure, but that was an idea of modernism, and, in any case, we know that it wasn’t an idea of pure painting, since at the time Rothko was becoming more and more mystical. Of course, you can cite painters who fit into the exemplary configuration of modernism as it was constructed, most notably, by Greenberg. But, in the end, what is this configuration? A short sequence of abstract art done at a particular moment by artists with roots in other traditions, notably surrealism. You absolutely cannot reduce modern art to this short sequence of abstract painting. Modern art is also constructivism, surrealism, Dadaism, or what have you – all forms of art with roots in Romantic thinking about the relation between art and life. I do not like modernism as a concept, because it seeks to identify an entire regime of art with a few particular manifestations that it presents as exemplary, interprets in an extraordinarily restrictive way, and links to an absolutely uncritical idea of historical time.
P.H.: Moving on now to my last questions, which are mostly about the immediate intellectual context of your work. I was struck by your reading of Freud, or rather your literary recontextualising of Freud’s work in L’Inconscient esthétique . Can you generalise your position a little, to incorporate Lacan, for example – Lacan as a thinker who insists on the primacy of speech, precisely, on the equality and essential anonymity of all speech phenomena, on the importance of listening to speech qua speech, etc.?
J.R.: I won’t say very much about Lacan, because I still really don’t know what to think of him or, rather, what to do with his thought. For me, the problem with Lacan is that he seemed to hover between several rationalities. When my generation got to know him, it was the time of the primacy of the signifier, the great structuralist moment, which in my view had no important consequences at the level of aesthetics. What became visible in Lacan’s subsequent work, though, was a whole other legacy, the surrealist legacy of Bataille and all those movements in the 1930s which wanted in their own way to rethink relations between aesthetics and politics – a whole way of thinking the obscure rationality of thought that was not dependent on the Freudian logic of the symptom (itself still linked to an Aristotelian poetics of history as causal agency). Lacan, in this sense, is a lot closer to Romantic poetics than Freud is. Where Freud deciphers, Lacan turns to the silent words that remain silent, those ultimate blocks of nonsense which can either become emblems of an absolute freedom (à la Breton) or embody the accursed share, the opaque residue impenetrable to sense (à la Bataille). For me, that is ultimately the difference Lacan brings.
This difference shows up clearly in the uses Freud and Lacan make of Sophocles. Freud obviously constructs everything around the figure of Oedipus, around the link between incestuous desire as an object and an Enlightenment notion of rationality (the path of interpretation reconstituting the causal chain). Lacan, on the other hand, turns more and more to Antigone, whose desire does not lend itself to interpretation, who wants only to maintain a stubborn fidelity to the powers below, who, in short, wants only death. I’m thinking here of Lacan taking up Antigone at the time of the Baader-Meinhof gang, to show that she has nothing to do with the icon of “human rights in the face of power” that she is always made out to be, but is in fact closer to Ulrike Meinhof and the radicality of those German terrorists. The regime of signification in which Lacan constructs Antigone is a lot closer to what one might call aesthetic reason than the one Freud uses. The latter reconstitutes classical causalities, where Antigone as Lacan reconstructs her is closer to those half-obscure figures of the Romantic and realist periods.
P.H.: Is there a risk that your idea of silent speech might lead eventually to silence pure and simple? Were you ever tempted by the mystical tendency that runs through the work of Bataille, precisely, and to some extent in the writings of Blanchot, Foucault and Deleuze, for example?
J.R.: I’ve never been very receptive to either Blanchot and Bataille or to what the following generation – Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze – made of them. It all struck me as very opaque. Rather, I became sensitive to the question through the whole problematic of the will in the nineteenth century. In nineteenth-century literature, let’s say from Balzac to Zola – not forgetting Strindberg, Ibsen, and what happens in Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy – there is a long train of thought that either challenges the will or carries it on to some final disaster. Thinking through the death drive begins not just with stories of the will exacerbated (as with Vautrin) or annihilated (as with Oblomov) but also with the very logic of the regime of writing proper to literature, its way of untying the representative knot connecting action, will, and meaning. At the heart of the aesthetic regime of art there is an idea that the highest effort of the will is to identify itself with the highest point of its abdication. So, there is something like a race towards nothingness, which is always represented either as the hero’s experience or identified as the force which runs through writing itself. I have found the theme of the self-destructive will, which is generally thought to belong to Schopenhauer and nihilism in the strict sense, throughout the literature of the nineteenth century. And I have been rereading Freud’s texts in this light, telling myself that it is really this he is measuring himself against. I myself have no inclination towards a mysticism of silence, but I do feel very deeply the link between a whole regime of writing and the desertion of a certain idea of meaning, between the privilege of “silent speech” and the dramaturgy of a self-annihilating will.
P.H.: Your own writing is often heavily ironic, motivated by a sort of dynamic indignation, as if the weight of history and silence has forced you into a constant movement. Is this part of your resistance to that nihilism?
J.R.: I’d say that, broadly speaking, it is less a specific resistance to the death drive than part of a strategy of writing which tries to put uncertainty back into statements. On the one hand, it’s a matter of introducing some give or play into dogmatic statements. On the other, you can only contest the assurance of people with knowledge by undoing the way they construct their other: the one who does not know, the ignorant or naive one. That is why I wanted to give the discourse of workers’ emancipation its share of play, of doubt about what it says. I wanted to shatter the image of the naive believer in a land of milk and honey, to show that workers’ utopian discourse always also knows at a certain point that it is an illusory and ironic discourse, which does not entirely believe what it says. The problem is to challenge the distribution of roles. And that concerns the status of my own assertions as well. I have tried to offer them as probable assertions, to avoid a certain affirmative, categorical style which I know is elsewhere encouraged in philosophy, but which I have never been able to assimilate.
P.H.: How do you situate yourself in terms of your contemporaries? Your interest in writing and the deferral of certainties seems to align you, up to a point, with Derrida; on the other hand, your interest in axiomatic equality and exceptional configurations of universality reminds me of Badiou. But it’s hard to imagine two more different conceptions of thought!
J.R.: Those are not quite the markers by which I would define myself. I have read Derrida with interest but from a certain distance, from a slightly out-of-kilter perspective. (If I too, in my own way, have tried to reread the Phaedrus, it has been in order to find at work in that text not the pharmakon or dissemination but a sharing out of the modes of speech homologous to the sharing out of the destinies of souls and bodies – in short, a politics of writing.) If, among the thinkers of my generation, there was one I was quite close to at one point, it was Foucault. Something of Foucault’s archaeological project – the will to think the conditions of possibility of such and such a form of statement or such and such an object’s constitution – has stuck with me. As to Badiou, there are doubtless certain similarities: a shared fidelity to a common history, a similar way of thinking politics by separating it from state practice, the question of power, and the tradition of political philosophy. But there is also in Badiou this affirmative posture oriented towards eternity which I absolutely cannot identify with. His idea of absolute disconnection or unrelation, his idea of an event that stands out sharply against the situation, his idea of the quasi-miraculous force of the evental statement – these are ideas I absolutely cannot share.
P.H.: To close, what are you working on now? What are your plans for the future?
J.R.: I have no great project. I’m still working on questions around the aesthetic regime of art, the relation between aesthetics and politics, what you could call the politics of literature. I’ve now accumulated masses of material on the topic which I don’t quite know what to do with. I have enough material for a five-volume summa on the aesthetic regime of art, but no desire to write it. So I am trying to find forms of writing that allow me to make a few points about what is at stake in thinking the aesthetic regime of art – forms that, through significant objects and angles, allow me to say as much as possible in as little space as possible. I suppose my idea of research is indissociable from the invention of a way of writing.
Peter Hallward French Department King’s College London The Strand London WC2R 2LS UK
Jacques Rancière c/o Éditions Galilée 9, rue Linné 75005 Paris France
ANGELAKI journal of the theoretical humanities
volume 8 number 2 august 2003
by Gilles Deleuze
What constitutes the unity of In Search of Lost Time? We know, at least, what does not. It is not recollection, memory, even involuntary memory. What is essential to the Search is not in the madeleine or the cobblestones. On the one band, the Search is not simply an effort of recall, an exploration of memory: search, recherche, is to be taken in the strong sense of the term, as we say "the search for truth." On the other hand, Lost Time is not simply "time past"; it is also time wasted, lost track of. Consequently, memory intervenes as a means of search, of investigation, but not the most profound means; and time past intervenes as a structure of time, but not the most profound structure. In Proust, the steeples of Martinville and Vinteuil's little phrase, which cause no memory, no resurrection of the past to intervene, will always prevail over the madeleine and the cobblestones of Venice, which depend on memory and thereby still refer to a "material explanation" (IIT, 3 7 5).
What is involved is not an exposition of involuntary memory, but the narrative of an apprenticeship: more precisely, the apprenticeship of a man of letters. (III, 907). The Meseglise Way and the Guermantes Way are not so much the sources of memory as the raw materials, the lines 0f an apprenticeship. They are the two ways of a "formation." Proust constantly insists on this: at one moment or another, the hero does not yet know this or that; he will learn it later on. He is under a certain illusion, which he will ultimately discard. Whence the movement of disappointtments and revelations, which imparts its rhythm to the Search as a whole. One might invoke Proust's Platonism: to learn is still to remember. But however important its role, memory intervenes only as the means of an apprenticeship that transcends recollection both by its goals and by its principles. The Search is oriented to the future, not to the past.
Learning is essentially concerned with signs. Signs are the object of a temporal apprenticeship, not of an abstract knowledge. To learn is first of all to consider a substance, an object, a being as if it emitted signs to be deciphered, interpreted. There is no apprentice who is not "the Egyptologist" of something. One becomes a carpenter only by becoming sensitive to the signs of wood, a physician by becoming sensitive to the signs of disease. Vocation is always predestination with regard to signs. Everything that teaches us something emits signs; every act of learning is an interpretation of signs or hieroglyphs. Proust's work is based not on the exposition of memory, but on the apprenticeship to signs.
From them it derives its unity and also its astonishing pluralism. The word sign, signe, is one of the most frequent in the work, notably in the final systematization that constitutes Time Regained (Le Temps Retrouve). The Search is presented as the exploration of different worlds of signs that are organized in circles and intersect at certain points, for the signs are specific and constitute the substance of one world or another. We see this at once in the secondary characters: Norpois and the diplomatic code, Saint-Loup and the signs of strategy, Cottard and medical symptoms. A man can be skillful at deciphering the signs of one realm but remain a fool in every other case: thus Cottard, a great clinician. Further, in a shared realm, the worlds are partitioned off: the Verdurin signs have no currency among the Guermantes; conversely Swann's style or Charlus's hieroglyphs do not pass among the Verdurins. The worlds are unified by their formation of sign systems emitted by persons, objects, substances; we discover no truth, we learn nothing except by deciphering and interpreting. But the plurality of worlds is such that these signs are not of the same kind, do not have the same way of appearing, do not allow themselves to be deciphered in the same manner, do not have an identical relation with their meaning. The hypothesis that the signs form both the unity and the plurality of the Search must be verified by considering the worlds in which the hero participates directly.
The first world of the Search is the world of, precisely, worldliness. There is no milieu that emits and concentrates so many signs, in such reduced space, at so great a rate. It is true that these signs themselves are not homogeneous. At one and the same moment they are differentiated, not only according to classes but according to even more fundamental "families of mind." From one moment to the next, they evolve, crystallize, or give way to other signs. Thus the apprentice's task is to understand why someone is "received" in a certain world, why someone leases to be so, what signs do the worlds obey, which signs are legislators, and which high priests. In Proust's work, Charlus is the most prodigious emitter of signs, by his worldly power, his pride, his sense of theater, his face, and his voice. But Charlus, driven by love, is nothing at the Verdurins', and even in his own world he will end by being nothing when its implicit laws have changed. What then is the unity of the worldly signs? A greeting from the Due de Guennantes is to be interpreted, and the risk of error are as great in such an interpretation as in a diagnosis. The same is true of a gesture of Mme Verdurin.
The worldly sign appears as the replacement of an action or a thought. It stands for action and for thought. It is, therefore, a sign that does not refer to something else, to a transcendent signification or to an ideal content, but has usurped the supposed value of its meaning. This is why worldliness, judged from the viewpoint of actions, appears to be disappointing and cruel, and from the viewpoint of thought, it appears stupid. One does not think and one does not act, but one makes signs. Nothing funny il said at the Verdurins', and Mme Verdurin does not laugh, but Cottard makes a sign that be is saying something funny, Mme Verdurin makes a sign that she is laughing, and her sign is so perfectly emitted that M. Verdurin, not to be outdone, seeks in his turn for an appropriate mimicry. Mme de Guermantes has a heart that is often hard, a mind that is often weak, but she always has charming signs. She does not act for her friends, she does not think with them, she makes signs to them. The worldly sign does not refer to something, it "stands for" it, claims to be equivalent to its meaning. It anticipates action as it does thought, annuls thought as it does action, and declares itself adequate: whence its stereotyped aspect and its vacuity. We must not thereby conclude that such signs are negligible. The apprenticeship would be imperfect and even impossible if it did not pass through them. These signs are empty, but this emptiness confers upon them a ritual perfection, a kind of formalism we do not encounter elsewhere. The worldly signs are the only ones capable of causing a kind of nervous exaltation, expressing the effect upon us of the persons who are capable of producing them (ll, 547- 52).
The second circle is that of love. The Charlus-Jupien encounter makes the reader a party to the most prodigious exchange of signs. To fall in love is to individualize someone by the signs he bears or emits. It is to become sensitive to these signs, to undergo an apprenticeship to them (thus the slow individualization of Albertine in the group of young girls). It may be that friendship is nourished on observation and conversation, bot love is born from and nourished on silent interpretation. The beloved appears as a sign, a "soul"; the beloved expresses a possible world unknown to us, implying, enveloping, imprisoning a world that must be deciphered, that is, interpreted. What is involved, here, is a plurality of worlds; the pluralism of love does not concern only the multiplicity of loved beings, but the multiplicity of souls or worlds in each of them. To love its to try to explicate, to develop these unknown worlds that remain enveloped within the beloved. This is why it ts 50 easy for us to fall in love with women who are not of our "world" nor even our type. It is also why the loved Women are often linked to landscapes that we know sufficiently to long for their reflection in a woman's eyes but are then reflected from a viewpoint so mysterious that they become virtually inaccessible, unknown landscapes: Albertine envelops, incorporates, amalgamates "the beach and the breaking waves." How can we gain access to a landscape that is no longer the one we see, but on the contrary the one in which we are seen? "If she had seen me, what could I have meant to her? From what universe did she select me?"
There is, then, a contradiction of love. We cannot interpret the signs of a loved person without proceeding into worlds that have not waited for us in order to take form, that formed themselves with other persons, and in which we are at first only an object among the rest. The lover wants his beloved to devote to him her preferences, gestures, her caresses. But the beloved's gestures, at the very moment they are addressed to us, still express unknown world that excludes us. The beloved gives signs of preference; but because these signs are the same as those that express worlds to which we do not belong, each preference by which we profit draws the image of the possible world in which others might be or are preferred. "All at once his jealousy, as if it were the shadows of his love, was completed by the double of this new smile that she had given him that very evening and that, conversely now, mocked Swann and was filled with love for someone else ... So he came to regret each pleasure be enjoyed with her, each caress they devised whose delight he had been so indiscreet as to reveal to her, each grace be discerned in her, for he knew that a moment later they would constitute new instruments of his torment" (I, 276). The contradiction of love consists of this: the means -we count on to preserve us from jealousy are the very means that develop that jealousy, giving it a kind of autonomy, of independence with regard to our love.
The first law of love is subjective: subjectively, jealousy is deeper than love, it contains love's truth. This is because jealousy goes further in the apprehension and interpretation of signs. It is the destination of love, its finality. Indeed, it is inevitable that the signs of a loved person, once we "explicate" them, should be revealed as deceptive: addressed to us, applied to us, they nonetheless express worlds that exclude us and that the beloved will not and cannot make us know. Not by virtue of any particular ill will on the beloved's part, but of a deeper contradiction, which inheres in the nature of love and in the general situation of the beloved. Love's signs are not like the signs of worldliness; they are not empty signs, standing for thought and action. They are deceptive signs that can be addressed to us only by concealing what they express: the origin of unknown worlds, of unknown actions and thoughts that give them a meaning. They do not excite a superficial, nervous exaltation, but the suffering of a deeper exploration. The beloved's lies are the hieroglyphics of love. The interpreter of love's signs is necessarily the interpreter of lies. His fate is expressed in the motto To love without being loved.
What does the lie conceal in love's signs? All the deceptive signs emitted by a loved woman converge upon the same secret world: the world of Gomorrah which itself no longer depends on this or that woman (though one Woman can incarnate it better than another) but is the feminine possibility par excellence, a kind of a priori that jealousy discovers. This is because the world expressed by the loved woman is always a world that excludes us, even when she gives us a mark of preference. But, of all the worlds, which one is the most excluding, the most exclusive? "It was a terrible terra incognita on which I had just landed, a new phase of unsuspected sufferings that was ginning. And yet this deluge of reality that submerges us, if it is real in relation to our timid presuppositions, was nonetheless anticipated by them ... The rival was not lib me, the rival's weapons were different; I could not join battle on the same terrain, give Albertine the same pleasures, nor even conceive just what they might be" (IT, Ill 20). We interpret all the signs of the loved woman, but at the end of this painful decipherment, we come up against the sign of Gomorrah as though against the deepest expression of an original feminine reality.
The second law of Proustian love is linked with the first: objectively, heterosexual loves are less profound than homosexual ones; they find their truth in homosexuality. For if it is true that the loved woman's secret is the secret of Gomorrah, the lover's secret is that of Sodom. In analogous circumstances, the hero of the Search surprises Vinteuil and surprises Charlus (II, 608). But Mile Vinteuil explicates all loved women, as Charlus implicates all lovers. At the infinity of our loves, there is the original Hermaphrodite. But the Hermaphrodite is not a being capable of reproducing itself. Far from uniting the sexes. it separates them, it is the source from which there continually proceed the two divergent homosexual series, that of Sodom and that of Gomorrah. It is the Hermaphrodite that possesses the key to Samson's prophecy: "The two sexes shall die, each in a place apart" (II, 616). To the point where heterosexual loves are merely the appearance that covers the destination of each sex, concealing the accursed depth where everything is elaborated. And if the two homosexual series are the most profound, it is still in terms of signs. The characters of Sodom, the characters of Gomorrah compensate by the intensity of the sign for the secret to which they are bound. Of a woman looking at Albertine, Proust writes: "One would have said that she was making signs to her as though with a beacon" (II,851). The entire world of love extends from the signs revealing deception to the concealed signs of Sodom and of Gomorrah.
The third world is that of sensuous impressions or qualities. It may happen that a sensuous quality gives us a strange joy at the same time that it transmits a kind of imperative. Thus experienced, the quality no longer appears as a property of the object that now possesses it, hut as the sign of an altogether different object that we must try to decipher, at the cost of an effort that always risks failure. It is as if the quality enveloped, imprisoned the soul of an object other than the one it now designates. We develop "this quality, this sensuous impression, like a tiny Japanese paper that opens under water and releases the captive form (I, 47). Examples of this kind are the most famous in the Search and accelerate at its end (the final revelation of "time regained" is announced by a multiplication of signs). But whatever the examples-madeleine, steeples, trees, cobblestones, napkin, noise of a spoon or pipe- we witness the same procedure. First a prodigious joy, so that these signs are already distinguished from the preceding ones by their immediate effect. Further, a kind of obligation is felt, the necessity of a mental effort to seek the sign's meaning (yet we may evade this imperative, out of laziness, or else our investigations may fail out of impotence or bad luck, as in the case of the trees). Then, the sign's meaning appears, yielding to us the concealed object-Combray for the madeleine, young girls for the steeples, Venice for the cobblestones ...
It is doubtful that the effort of interpretation end there. For it remaips to be explained why, by the solicitation of the madeleine, Combray is not content to rise up again as it was once present (simple association of ideas) but rises up absolutely, in a form that was never experienced, in its "essence" or its eternity. Or, what amounts to the same thing, it remains to be explained why we experience so intense and so particular a joy. In an important text, Proust cites the madeleine as a case of failure "I had then postponed seeking the profound causes" (III 867). Yet, the madeleine looked like a real success, from a certain viewpoint: the interpreter had found its meaning, not without difficulty, in the unconscious memory of Combray. The three trees, on the contrary, are a real failure because their meaning is not elucidated. We must then assume that in choosing the madeleine as an example of inadequacy, Proust is aiming at a new stage of interpretation, an ultimate stage.
This is because of the sensuous qualities or impressions, even properly interpreted, are not yet in themselves adequate signs. But they are no longer empty signs, giving us a factitious exaltation like the worldly signs. They are no longer deceptive signs that make us suffer, like the signs of love whose real meaning prepares an ever greater pain. These are true signs that immediately give us an extraordinary joy, signs that are fulfilled, affirmative, and joyous. But they are material signs. Not simply by their sensuous origin. But their meaning, as it is developed, signifies Combray, young girls, Venice, or Balbec. It is not only their origin, it is their explanation, their development that remains material (Ill, 3 7 5). We feel that this Balbec, that this Venice ... do not rise up as the product of an association of ideas, but in person and in their essence. Yet we are not ready to understand what this ideal essence is, nor why we feel so much joy. "The taste of the little madeleine had reminded me of Combray. But why had the images of Combray and of Venice, at the one moment and at the other, given such a certainty of joy, adequate, with no further proofs, to make death itself a matter of indifference to me?" (III, 867).
At the end of the Search, the interpreter understands what had escaped him in the case of the madeleine or even of the steeples: that the material meaning is nothing without an ideal essence that it incarnates. The mistake is to suppose that the hieroglyphs represent "only material objects" (III, 878). But what now pertnits the interpreter to go further is that meanwhile the problem of art has been raised and has received a solution. Now the world of art is the ultimate world of signs, and these signs, as though dematerialized, find their meaning in an ideal essence. Henceforth, the world revealed by art reacts on all the others and notably on the sensuous signs; it integrates them, colors them with an aesthetic meaning, and imbues what was still opaque about them. Then we understand that the sensuous signs already referred to an ideal essence that was incarnated in their material meaning. But without art we should not have understood this, nor transcended the law of interpretation that corresponded to the analysis of the madeleine. This is why all the signs converge upon art; and apprenticeships, by the most diverse paths, are already unconscious apprenticeships to art itself. At the deepest level, the essential is in the signs of art.
We have not yet defined them. We ask only the reader's concurrence that Proust's problem is the problem of signs in general and that the signs constitute diferent worlds, worldly signs, empty signs, deceptive signs of love, sensuous material signs, and lastly the essential signs of art (which transform all the others).
Gilles Deleuze/ Proust and Signs/ Part I. The Signs/ The Types of Signs
Translated by Richard Howard
University of Minnesota Press Minneapolis
Gilles Deleuze in conversation with Antonio Negri
Negri: The problem of politics seems to have always been present in your intellectual life. Your involvement in various movements (prisoners, homosexuals, Italian autonomists, Palestinians), on the one hand, and the constant problematizing of institutions, on the other, follow on from one another and interact with one another in your work, from the book on Hume through to the one on Foucault. What are the roots of this sustained concern with the question of politics, and how has it remained so persistent within your developing work? Why is the relation between movement and institution always problematic?
Deleuze: What I've been interested in are collective creations rather than representations. There's a whole order of movement in "institutions" that's independent of both laws and contracts. What I found in Hume was a very creative conception of institutions and law. I was initially more interested in law than politics. Even with Masoch and Sade what I liked was the thoroughly twisted conception of contracts in Masoch, and of institutions in Sade, as these come out in relation to sexuality. And in the present day, I see Francois Ewald's work to reestablish a philosophy of law as quite fundamental. What interests me isn't the law or laws (the former being an empty notion, the latter uncritical notions), nor even law or rights, but jurisprudence. It's jurisprudence, ultimately, that creates law, and we mustn't go on leaving this to judges. Writers ought to read law reports rather than the Civil Code. People are already thinking about establishing a system of law for modern biology; but everything in modern biology and the new situations it creates, the new courses of events it makes possible, is a matter for jurisprudence. We don't need an ethical committee of supposedly well-qualified wise men, but user-groups. This is where we move from law into politics. I, for my own part, made a sort of move into politics around May 68, as I came into contact with specific problems, through Guattari, through Foucault, through Elie Sambar. Anti-Oedipus was from beginning to end a book of political philosophy.
Negri: You took the events of '68 to be the triumph of the Untimely, the dawn of counteractualization.2 Already in the years leading up to '68, in your work on Nietzsche and a bit later in Coldness and Cruelty, you 'd given a new meaning to politics—as possibility, event, singularity. You 'd found short-circuits where the future breaks through into the present, modifying institutions in its wake. But then after '68 you take a slightly different approach: nomadic thought always takes the temporal form of instantaneous counteractualization, while spatially only "minority becoming is universal." How should we understand this universality of the untimely?
Deleuze: The thing is, I became more and more aware of the possibility of distinguishing between becoming and history. It was Nietzsche who said that nothing important is ever free from a "nonhistorical cloud." This isn't to oppose eternal and historical, or contemplation and action: Nietzsche is talking about the way things happen, about events themselves or becoming. What history grasps in an event is the way it's actualized in particular circumstances; the event's becoming is beyond the scope of history. History isn't experimental,3 it's just the set of more or less negative preconditions that make it possible to experiment with something beyond history. Without history the experimentation would remain indeterminate, lacking any initial conditions, but experimentation isn't historical. In a major philosophical work, Clio, Peguy explained that there are two ways of considering events, one being to follow the course of the event, gathering how it comes about historically, how it's prepared and then decomposes in history, while the other way is to go back into the event, to take one's place in it as in a becoming, to grow both young and old in it at once, going through all its components or singularities. Becoming isn't part of history; history amounts only the set of preconditions, however recent, that one leaves behind in order to "become," that is, to create something new. This is precisely what Nietzsche calls the Untimely. May 68 was a demonstration, an irruption, of a becoming in its pure state. It's fashionable these days to condemn the horrors of revolution. It's nothing new; English Romanticism is permeated by reflections on Cromwell very similar to present-day reflections on Stalin. They say revolutions turn out badly. But they're constantly confusing two different things, the way revolutions turn out historically and people's revolutionary becoming. These relate to two different sets of people. Men's only hope lies in a revolutionary becoming: the only way of casting off their shame or responding to what is intolerable.
Negri: A Thousand Plateaus, which I regard as a major philosophical work, seems to me at the same time a catalogue of unsolved problems, most particularly in the field of political philosophy. Its pairs of contrasting terms—process and project, singularity and subject, composition and organization, lines of flight and apparatuses/strategies, micro and macro, and so on—all this not only remains forever open but it's constantly being reopened, through an amazing will to theorize, and with a violence reminiscent of heretical proclamations. I've nothing against such subversion, quite the reverse . . . But I seem sometimes to hear a tragic note, at points where it's not clear where the "war-machine" is going.
Deleuze: I'm moved by what you say. I think Felix Guattari and I have remained Marxists, in our two different ways, perhaps, but both of us. You see, we think any political philosophy must turn on the analysis of capitalism and the ways it has developed. What we find most interesting in Marx is his analysis of capitalism as an immanent system that's constantly overcoming its own limitations, and then coming up against them once more in a broader form, because its fundamental limit is Capital itself. A Thousand Plateaus sets out in many different directions, but these are the three main ones: first, we think any society is defined not so much by its contradictions as by its lines of flight, it flees all over the place, and it's very interesting to try and follow the lines of flight taking shape at some particular moment or other. Look at Europe now, for instance: western politicians have spent a great deal of effort setting it all up, the technocrats have spent a lot of effort getting uniform administration and rules, but then on the one hand there may be surprises in store in the form of upsurges of young people, of women, that become possible simply because certain restrictions are removed (with "untechnocratizable" consequences); and on the other hand it's rather comic when one considers that this Europe has already been completely superseded before being inaugurated, superseded by movements coming from the East. These are major lines of flight. There's another direction in A Thousand Plateaus, which amounts to considering not just lines of flight rather than contradictions, but minorities rather than classes. Then finally, a third direction, which amounts to finding a characterization of "war machines" that's nothing to do with war but to do with a particular way of occupying, taking up, space-time, or inventing new space-times: revolutionary movements (people don't take enough account, for instance, of how the PLO has had to invent a space-time in the Arab world), but artistic movements too, are war-machines in this sense.
You say there's a certain tragic or melancholic tone in all this. I think I can see why. I was very struck by all the passages in Primo Levi where he explains that Nazi camps have given us "a shame at being human." Not, he says, that we're all responsible for Nazism, as some would have us believe, but that we've all been tainted by it: even the survivors of the camps had to make compromises with it, if only to survive. There's the shame of there being men who became Nazis; the shame of being unable, not seeing how, to stop it; the shame of having compromised with it; there's the whole of what Primo Levi calls this "gray area." And we can feel shame at being human in utterly trivial situations, too: in the face of too great a vulgarization of thinking, in the face of TV entertainment, of a ministerial speech, of "jolly people" gossiping. This is one of the most powerful incentives toward philosophy, and it's what makes all philosophy political. In capitalism only one thing is universal, the market. There's no universal state, precisely because there's a universal market of which states are the centers, the trading floors. But the market's not universalizing, homogenizing, it's an extraordinary generator of both wealth and misery. A concern for human rights shouldn't lead us to extol the "joys" of the liberal capitalism of which they're an integral part. There's no democratic state that's not compromised to the very core by its part in generating human misery. What's so shameful is that we've no sure way of maintaining becomings, or still more of arousing them, even within ourselves. How any group will turn out, how it will fall back into history, presents a constant "concern." There's no longer any image of proletarians around of which it's just a matter of becoming conscious.
Negri: How can minority becoming be powerful? How can resistance become an insurrection ? Reading you, I'm never sure how to answer such questions, even though I always find in your works an impetus that forces me to reformulate the questions theoretically and practically. And yet when I read what you 've written about the imagination, or on common notions in Spinoza, or when I follow your description in The Time-Image of the rise of revolutionary cinema in third-world countries, and with you grasp the passage from image into fabulation, into political praxis, I almost feel I've found an answer. . . Or am I mistaken ? Is there then, some way for the resistance of the oppressed to become effective, and for what's intolerable to be definitively removed? Is there some way for the mass of singularities and atoms that we all are to come forward as a constitutive power, or must we rather accept the juridical paradox that constitutive power can be defined only by constituted power?
Deleuze: The difference between minorities and majorities isn't their size. A minority may be bigger than a majority. What defines the majority is a model you have to conform to: the average European adult male city-dweller, for example ... A minority, on the other hand, has no model, it's a becoming, a process. One might say the majority is nobody. Everybody's caught, one way or another, in a minority becoming that would lead them info unknown paths if they opted to follow it through. When a 'minority creates models for itself, it's because it wants to become a majority, and probably has to, to survive or prosper (to have a state, be recognized, establish its rights, for example). But its power comes from what it's managed to create, which to some extent goes into the model, but doesn't depend on it. A people is always a creative minority, and remains one even when it acquires a majority^ it can be both at once because the two things aren't lived out on the same plane. It's the greatest artists (rather than populist artists) who invoke a people, and find they "lack a people": Mallarme, Rimbaud, Klee, Berg. The Straubs in cinema. Artists can only invoke a people, their need for one goes to the very heart of what they're doing, it's not their job to create one, and they can't. Art is resistance: it resists death, slavery, infamy, shame. But a people can't worry about art. How is a people created, through what terrible suffering? When a people's created, it's through its own resources, but in away that links up with something in art (Garrel says there's a mass of terrible suffering in the Louvre, too) or links up art to what it lacked. Utopia isn't the right concept: it's more a question of a "tabulation" in which a people and art both share. We ought to take up Bergson's notion of tabulation and give it a political meaning.
Negri: In your book on Foucault, and then again in your TV interview at INA, you suggest we should look in more detail at three kinds of power: sovereign power, disciplinary power, and above all the control of "communication " that's on the way to becoming hegemonic. On the one hand this third scenario relates to the most perfect form of domination, extending even to speech and imagination, but on the other hand any man, any minority, any singularity, is more than ever before potentially able to speak out and thereby recover a greater degree of freedom. In the Marxist Utopia of the Grundrisse, communism takes precisely the form of a transversal organization of free individuals built on a technology that makes it possible. Is communism still a viable option? Maybe in a communication society it's less Utopian than it used to be?
Deleuze: We're definitely moving toward "control" societies that are no longer exactly disciplinary. Foucault's often taken as the theorist of disciplinary societies and of their principal technology, confinement (not just in hospitals and prisons, but in schools, factories, and barracks). But he was actually one of the first to say that we're moving away from disciplinary societies, we've already left them behind. We're moving toward control societies that no longer operate by confining people but through continuous control and instant communication. Burroughs was the first to address this. People are of course constantly talking about prisons, schools, hospitals: the institutions are breaking down. But they're breaking down because they're fighting a losing battle. New kinds of punishment, education, health care are being stealthily introduced. Open hospitals and teams providing home care have been around for some time. One can envisage education becoming less and less a closed site differentiated from the workspace as another closed site, but both disappearing and giving way to frightful continual training, to continual monitoring of worker-school kids or bureaucrat students. They try to present this as a reform of the school system, but it's really its dismantling. In a control-based system nothing's left alone for long. You yourself long ago suggested how work in Italy was being transformed by forms of part-time work done at home, which have spread since you wrote (and by new forms of circulation and distribution of products). One can of course see how each kind of society corresponds to a particular kind of machine—with simple mechanical machines corresponding to sovereign societies, thermo-dynamic machines to disciplinary societies, cybernetic machines and computers to control societies. But the machines don't explain anything, you have to analyze the collective arrangements of which the machines are just one component. Compared with the approaching forms of ceaseless control in open sites, we may come to see the harshest confinement as part of a wonderful happy past. The quest for "uni-versals of communication" ought to make us shudder. It's true that, even before control societies are fully in place, forms of delinquency or resistance (two different things) are also appearing. Computer piracy and viruses, for example, will replace strikes and what the nineteenth century called "sabotage" ("clogging" the machinery). You ask whether control or communication societies will lead to forms of resistance that might reopen the way for a communism understood as the "transversal organization of free individuals." Maybe, I don't know. But it would be nothing to do with minorities speaking out. Maybe speech and communication have been corrupted. They're thoroughly permeated by money—and not by accident but by their very nature. We've got to hijack speech. Creating has always been something different from communicating. The key thing may be to create vacuoles of noncommunication, circuit breakers, so we can elude control.
Negri: In Foucault and in The Fold, processes of subjectification seem to be studied more closely than in some of your other works. The subject's the boundary of a continuous movement between an inside and outside. What are the political consequences of this conception of the subject^ If the subject can't be reduced to an externalized citizenship, can it invest citizenship with force and life? Can it make possible a new militant pragmatism, at once a pietas toward the world and a very radical construct. What politics can carry into history the splendor of events and subjectivity. How can we conceive a community that has real force but no base, that isn't a totality but is, as in Spinoza, absolute?
Deleuze: It definitely makes sense to look at the various ways individuals and groups constitute themselves as subjects through processes of subjectification: what counts in such processes is the extent to which, as they take shape, they elude both established forms of knowledge and the dominant forms of power. Even if they in turn engender new forms of power or become assimilated into new forms of knowledge. For a while, though, they have a real rebellious spontaneity. This is nothing to do with going back to "the subject," that is, to something invested with duties, power, and knowledge. One might equally well speak of new kinds of event, rather than processes of subjectification: events that can't be explained by the situations that give rise to them, or into which they lead. They appear for a moment, and it's that moment that matters, it's the chance we must seize. Or we can simply talk about the brain: the brain's precisely this boundary of a continuous two-way movement between an Inside and Outside, this membrane between them. New cerebral pathways, new ways of thinking, aren't explicable in terms of microsurgery; it's for science, rather, to try and discover what might have happened in the brain for one to start thinking this way or that. I think subjectification, events, and brains are more or less the same thing. What we most lack is a belief in the world, we've quite lost the world, it's been taken from us. If you believe in the world you precipitate events, however inconspicuous, that elude control, you engender new space-times, however small their surface or volume. It's what you call pietas. Our ability to resist control, or our submission to it, has to be assessed at the level of our every move. We need both creativity and a people.
Gilles Deleuze in conversation with Toni Negri / Futur Anterieur (Spring 1990), /translated by Martin Joughin.
Interview with Friedrich Kittler
Speed, war and politics
PV: At the moment, are we not witnessing a tremendous hype around the Internet, cyberspace and the virtualization of everyday life? Concepts such as ‘tele-shopping’, for example, mean that people will no longer meet face to face, as in the city centres of old, but, instead, stay at home and shop from there. How do you respond to such developments? For me, as an urbanist, it is all profoundly disturbing.
FK: Such developments look like the outcome of a very remarkable and hidden strategy, one that is only now coming to fruition, after having been in the preparation stage for well over fifteen years. 1982, for example, saw the distribution of the first personal computers. That was their name even then. ‘Lonesome cowboys’ you’d put on an office table. However, they could do only one thing: write text. I emphasize the latter because somehow these devices have become better and better over the past few years and now they’re going to swallow up all other media: the telephone, the telegraph, the fax, and, before long, images, sound and CDs too. And on top of that, you can wire them all together, worldwide, thanks to those wonderful networks. Thus, that very modest investment that sits on every third desk in the developed countries metamorphoses in a flash into a global information network. That’s a really big spider and scares all other media to death.
PV: But doesn’t the emergence of global information networks also mean that we have reached, in all possible senses, the frontier velocity of electromagnetic waves?
By this I mean that we have not only achieved the escape velocity that enables us to shoot satellites and people into orbit but also that we have hit the wall of acceleration. This means that world history, which has constantly accelerated from the age of the cavalry to the age of the railway, and from the age of the telephone to the age of radio and television, is now hitting the wall that stands at the limit of acceleration. The question is what happens to a society that stands at the limit point of acceleration? In past societies, for example, progress was predicated on the nature and development of their acceleration. Acceleration was not only related to speeds of memory and calculus, but also of action.
Today, though, one can no longer speak only of ‘tele-vision.’ One must also speak of ‘tele-action’. To be ‘interactive’ means to be here, but to act somewhere else at the same time. And yet, I doubt whether the questions I am concerned with are being raised at all today. How many people, for instance, realise that a global historical accident has been triggered as consequence of this situation? For every time a new type of velocity is invented a new type of specific accident occurs. I’m always stating that when the railway was invented, derailment was invented too. Ships, like the Titanic, sink on a given day at a given place. However, since the invention of ‘real time’, we have created the accident of accidents, to speak with Epicurus. That means that historical time itself triggers the accident, as it reaches the frontier of the speed of light.
My impression is that what is being bandied about as the progress of communication is in fact merely a step backward, an unbelievable archaism. To reduce the world to one unique time, to one unique situation, because it has exhausted the possibility to devise new systems of acceleration, is an accident without precedent, a historical accident the like of which has never occurred before. Indeed, this is what Einstein called, very judiciously, ‘the second bomb’. The first bomb was the atomic bomb, the second one is the information bomb, that is, the bomb that throws us into ‘real time’. I believe that what people say about the performance of computing also applies to the faculty of looking at the world, to the faculty of shaping the world, of steering it, but also of living in it.
FK: Then probably the two dangers described by Einstein go hand in hand, historically and systematically. For instance, one of the trendy ideologies at the present time is that the new information technologies like the Internet are good for fast, efficient and global communication. But the truth is that both computers and atomic bombs are an outcome of the Second World War. Nobody ordered them. It was the strategic and military situation of the Second World War that brought them into being. Hence, they were not devised as communication tools but as a means of planning and conducting total war. And yet, none of this is currently admitted by the cyberspace ideologists in the USA, Europe, or Japan.
Even so, unlike you, I do not believe that the limit of acceleration has already been reached. For me, the catastrophe, so to speak, lies in the fact that while the current speeds of transmission and calculation cannot be upped much further, it is still possible to extract strategic and economic advantage from the possession of a system that is faster than one’s competitor’s. There is still a difference between secret machines and the machines sold on the market, and this difference is about performance and velocity. And it is still unclear where things are headed. The speed of light is indeed an absolute limit. But that is in a vacuum. However, in real existing technologies, electricity goes much slower than in a vacuum. Consequently, there still lie huge battles ahead in the realm of acceleration, with optical circuits replacing silicon and so on. These developments are going to mean acceleration with a factor of millions. Hence, I have some difficulty in seeing the accident develop already.
Yet I do believe that time as a relevant input is indeed eluding some people. To me, the urgent question is: how are culture and politics going to react to the slow demotion of their power? For both are predicated upon everyday speech and the normal human nervous system, which are both slow. However, neither speech nor the nervous system can be handled any more without machines preparing, assisting, and, in the end, even assuming some of their decision-making processes. How does one react to these developments, as a philosopher, as a politician?
Interactivity, information Chernobyl and imperialism
PV: You are totally right in pointing out that the origin of these technologies lies in the Second World War. Indeed, one must state that with the invention of the atomic bomb, something completely different got invented too, something that is presently in crisis by the way, and that is nuclear deterrence. Should we not say the same today in connection with the information bomb? Should we not say that interactivity is in some way a form of radioactivity? This is not a mere metaphor; it is a very concrete thing. Should we therefore consider a different form of deterrence for the next century? I don’t mean military deterrence, which was about preventing the use of the atomic bomb, but social deterrence, which would be about preventing the damage caused by the progress of interactivity. Why? Because, for me, a global society founded on ‘real time’ is simply unthinkable …
And yet, isn’t interactivity already happening, so far as our working and home environments are concerned? Should we not attempt to prevent the consequences of this immediacy of action and information exchange? How will it affect the poor and the weak? Is a social deterrence of the global information society conceivable? For me, such developments carry the same risks as a Chernobyl-like catastrophe, with damaging consequences for people’s way of life and for social relations. Aren’t there signs already today of social disintegration? For instance, isn’t structural unemployment an effect, or a type of fall-out following the explosion, of the information bomb? And this is only the beginning. What is your opinion on these social dimensions of the information bomb?
FK: Sure, the present mass unemployment is caused by the automation of production. I just have this vague feeling that sociologists and politicians are also to blame for the fact there is so much unemployment. For example, information technology is the only technology I know of that is radically reprogrammable. That is, it can constantly turn out new things, as opposed to the assembly line Henry Ford erected in Detroit, where one single make of automobile passed through for dozens of years. Thus, with this basic technology, which was really invented for the purpose of innovation, one could invent all the rest. However, our current conceptions of society and education mean that many people are systematically denied access to this technology. There is, then, an endemic computer illiteracy being created in society, through propaganda, advertising, and marketing strategies, and these prevent many people getting access to the technology. I am sure that today’s hackers would not be able to find a job.
But that is an incomplete answer to your question. As far as an information-Chernobyl is concerned, it might already have happened once, in a primitive version, with the crash of the stock market in 1987. For such crashes show what the consequences are of the fact that, today, business takes place on a world-wide information network. To counter such developments measures are, of course, being taken. But what all this means is that the good old days when everybody could do whatever they wanted with their own computers are now firmly behind us.
We are all being controlled through our machines, and the more networked these machines become, the stricter the mechanisms of control and the safeguards will get. And this also holds true for the bureaucracies that are built into that system. At best, the Internet will remain a space of freedom for a year or two, but, within a few years, it will most probably have fallen into the hands of big capital, and then the controls will be put in place. The other danger is that, along with the control mechanisms, the informational bureaucracies – precisely in order to avoid an information Chernobyl – will also expand. Thus, together, big capital and the informational bureaucracies may well simply scuttle the liberalization of information. In other words, it is highly likely that a new hierarchy will be set up as counter to the danger of system collapse, and it will be structurally the same as the one that currently exists between the computer literate and the computer illiterate. Consequently, on one side there will be those who understand the codes, like the cryptographers and cryptologists in the Second World War. But, on the other side, there will be the masses in their billions who are shut out for security reasons.
PV: Of course, and every time technologies have been made speedier, economic accumulation and concentration have also taken place. Today, for example, we are witnessing a conglomerate gigantism, whether it is in the form of Time Warner or Bill Gates. We see monopolies arising from the demise of anti-trust legislation, and all these developments contribute to the centralization of command. At the very moment we are being told that the Internet is bringing us freedom in terms of place and time, we see that by sheer coincidence information trusts are emerging, world-wide conglomerates, which, incidentally, are no longer simple multinational corporations.
I am also wondering whether it is not the case that through this illusion of information-induced freedom a new uniformity is being implanted in a masked form. Something that, thanks to its multiformity, its way of thinking, and its culture, is implanted very easily. We know, for instance, how the medium, in whatever circumstances, devalues the information in the transfer from written text to screen text. We also know that the computer is making us poorer in spirit. For example, whether we want it to or not, the computer synthesizes information. Now, anyone who uses a synthesizer in music – let us say as a stand-in for a violin – knows very well that a real violin has a completely different sound from that of a synthesized violin. And yet, the computer is nothing but an information synthesizer. The content of information is being semantically reduced, something cognitivists know very well, by the way, and this, it seems to me, is something we should take note of. Unfortunately, these things pass unnoticed.
As usual, everything negative remains untold, yet it is, interestingly enough, always there, in an embryonic form. How is it possible to state that technologies are being developed, without any attempt being made at learning about the very specific accidents that go with them? And while this obviously holds true for the television, it holds true for multimedia technologies too.
FK: Probably one should act as Bill Gates does and sell things as if they were not what they are. You sell computers, but you tell people that they are desks, or desktops, or you tell them that they are television sets, the television sets of the future. That way, you can throw a thick mist around these devices and their system-specific shortcomings, and sell many of them. This is very much an American marketing strategy, and one may surmise from it that the drive towards trusts and conglomerates is possibly the last historic chance available for the Americans to maintain Pax Americana on the technological road. For example, after it had looked as if the technological advantage had moved to Japan in the 1970s, America succeeded in the early 1990s. But only by virtue of its edge in electronics and computers, and most prominently in its efforts to define the standards under which we are now communicating over the Internet and with other networked machines. The question is: are these standards the best in a human or a mathematical sense? These are two very important aspects. For example, standardization and unification are absolutely in tune with globalization, and it is quite baffling that nobody in Europe – no expert, no industry – is attempting, even in a small way, to question these new standards which are coming the way they do, and as they are, over the big pond.
Territory, time and technology
PV: For me, the new technologies make space disappear into a void, in its extent and in its time. This is a profound loss, whether one acknowledges it or not. There is also a pollution of the distances and time stretches that hitherto allowed one to live in one place and to have relationships with other people via face-to-face contact, and not through mediation in the form of tele-conferencing or on-line shopping. What is your opinion about this profound loss? Are we not calling an end to ourselves and to the spatial and temporal dimensions of the world this way?
FK: There is indeed a loss of space, because everything now takes place in the diminutive spaces of electronic circuits. But the ironic thing about all this is that I still have difficulty in realizing it, the fact that time has definitely contracted. One of my favourite games is to play with computer graphics. I take a small piece of the world, a very simple central perspective, write a program, and let it run. One picture, which takes a photographer the famous one-thirtieth of a second, will take 5 or 6 minutes of computation time on a very advanced computer. That is, it’s only after those few minutes that the next picture will appear. The simulation, or synthesis of the images of the world is still not taking place in ‘real time’ at all. Look at the problems facing people who produce computer-generated films: they need 20 hours of computation time for one dinosaur, and then the thing walks across the screen for a measly 3 seconds. Here time is still very much a problem, and the historic moment, where the time of the world will really have been overtaken lies far, far ahead. That’s what all these controversies are about.
As for the loss of proximity, I could live with that, in time. Let’s take an example from real life again. It’s no fun to spend your life with just three commands under the MS-DOS operating system, so you open directories, move them around and delete them. But as soon as you’re under UNIX, from the start you’re merely one person amidst 300 programs, of which you know ten at best. So during the first few months you get to know twenty programs, then forty, finally 100. You then discover that you’re not alone any more. Rather, you live with 100 programs, of which you only need twenty, and then you also find that there are two or three programs you never needed to learn, because they’re running in the background. These programs are called ‘daemons’, by the way, and they have a very bizarre proximity to the user. You never see them, and yet they’re constantly doing something for you, like the angel in the mediaeval Angelo Loci. Indeed, I have this feeling that we should slowly let go of that old dream of sociologists, the one that says that society is by nature made up only of human beings. Today – and tomorrow – the term ‘society’ should include people and programs. There are, I think, already possibilities of proximity. Programs are not stupid. After all, it’s why they were written in the first place. They are often more intelligent than your neighbour around the corner.
PV: Yes, but every new technical advance involves a loss of something. For example, the loss of social bonds is linked to the demise of the proximate human being. That is, someone who has a material existence, someone who might even smell bad, who might even be a boring nuisance. Now, though, one can simply zap such people away. The loss of proximity is one of the causes of the current crises in our cities. And yet there is always an actual place where one lives. But, today, it is not what is near that is privileged but what is far away. Indeed, it seems that the person on the computer screen is preferred to the person who is close at hand. This even extends to marriage. In so-called ‘living apart together’ relationships, for instance, men and women live in separate houses, as if they were already divorced. And the children get to learn, as a kind of aside, how to commute constantly between their mother and father. And that is only the beginning. Through ‘cybersex’ one can now have intercourse at a distance too. But aren’t all these examples metaphors of decay? Are these not already an effect of the information bomb? This is how it seems to me, even if I am exaggerating. But who wouldn’t exaggerate when faced with such developments? I am convinced that, as with pointillism and divisionism in the arts of the nineteenth century, nuclear physics, the decay of matter, and, of course, fractal geometry have social consequences. That is, the decay of matter not only affects the social structure of the individual but also the reflexive relationship of the couple, the latter of which is the true basis of the evolution of human history. Why? Because demography is the founding element of history. This is significant, isn’t it? I do not object to computer programs, but I wish the programmers would speak more of men and women. What is your opinion?
FK: Fractal geometry was invented with the aim of making Euclidean geometry somewhat more complex. Suddenly, we have a world that is no longer made up exclusively of straight lines and circles, but one consisting of curvatures and clouds. And all these beautiful things are very similar to human flesh, unlike, for example, the angular buildings of Le Corbusier or the somewhat complicated lines drawn by Phidias of Athens. However, although fractal geometry has always existed in principle, it only became calculable after the invention of the computer. Nevertheless, its complexity is nearer to human beings than Euclidean geometry.
Euclid’s ideas resemble the process described by Foucault and yourself, in which young recruits were drilled and formed into battle lines in the eighteenth century. However, the new mathematics of chaos might very well turn out not to be a model that will necessarily break up couples but, rather, attend to the complexities of the individual. Similarly, the feedback theory could, potentially, attend to the relations within couples. Put bluntly, it seems to me that Freud’s theory about the relationship between men and women is sillier than the theory Bateson elaborated on the grounds of feedback-chains. To be able to show that a two-way conversation is infinitely malleable seems to me to be a considerably more sophisticated description of social linkages than a description that relies on internalized images involving an incessant and lifelong struggle. Thus Bateson’s feedback-based description of informational relations is evidently grounded in the techniques of message dispatching. And, when it was first advanced, it could not be derived from psychology.
The models that are available nowadays to describe complexity are better than the previous models. But why people – and I include myself here – would rather sit in front of a computer than do other things such as have a conversation is difficult to explain. Perhaps it is a fascination with power? For example, in earlier times, some people directed their love away from their wives and families and directed it instead towards an image of Jesus or Mary. Today some people direct their love toward new technologies. But whether it is the technology itself that sucks away our Eros, our libido, or whether it is the handiwork of the people who market it I am not so sure.
Technological fundamentalism, integration and social cybernetics
PV: I believe that a caste of ‘technology monks’ is being created in our times, and that there exist monasteries of sorts whose goal it is to pave the way for a new kind of ‘civilization’; one that has nothing to do with civilization as we remember it. The work of these technology monks is not carried out in the way that it was in the Middle Ages. Rather, it is carried out through the revaluation of knowledge, like that achieved for Antiquity. The contribution of monks to the rediscovery of Antiquity is well known. But what is not well known is that we now have technology monks, not mystics, but monks who are busy constructing a society without any points of reference. Indeed, we are confronted with what I call ‘technological fundamentalism’. That is, fundamentalism in the sense of a monotheism of information. No longer the monotheism of the Written Word, of the Koran, of the Bible, of the New Testament, but a monotheism of information in the widest sense of the term. And this information monotheism has come into being not simply in a totally independent manner but also free from any controversy. It is the outcome of an intelligence without reflection or past. And with information monotheism comes what I think of as the greatest danger of all, the slide into a future without humanity. I believe that violence, and even a kind of ‘hyper violence’, springs out of technological fundamentalism.
For example, at present, there is a lot of talk about the problems posed by the resurgence of militant Muslim fundamentalism. Bombs are planted and so on. But I believe that at the same time almost as much work is going into the development of the information bomb; a bomb that will have the same destructive effects on society’s capacity to remember its past, a past that has a structure of its own and shapes the present. We are merely the product of what was. And whoever forgets the past is condemned to live it anew, as the saying goes. And yet this is exactly what is happening with new information and communications technologies. That said, I am not at all inimical to information. It is simply that there is not enough debate about the totalitarian dimensions of information. On the other hand, I do not think that it is appropriate to blame the technology monks for the sins of technological fundamentalism just because no one else takes responsibility for them. The technology monks do not always know about these sins. What’s your opinion on the fundamentalist dimension of information?
FK: I totally agree. Of course, the people who are programming the whole thing are blissfully forgetful of the history of Europe, and the invention of printing and modern calculus which made it all possible. Both came more or less contemporaneously into being around 1450–1500. Book printing made it possible to copy and disseminate everything, and algebra made it possible to calculate everything. But these two things did not happen together. What was written still had the need of police action or the force of love to compel people to do what was described. But when you program, a real kind of ‘integrism’ appears. One does not simply write: what one writes, the program performs – period. And the final coming together of the promises of the printing press and those of modern mathematics, after 500 years of latency, represents infinite power: a true kind of integration in that all previously separated technologies – metallurgy, semiconductors and electricity – now merge together. It is difficult to say whether there is a limit to these developments. Indeed, I think this is the burning question of the moment.
Basically, there are but a few far-seeing scientists who say that the principle of digitization in itself is quite wonderful, but that there are inherent limits to its performance, which, therefore, gives the lie to all the marketing hype. These limits consist in the unremarkable fact that nature is not a computer, and that, therefore, a number of highly complex human phenomena, by their very nature, fall outside the scope of the current processing paradigms. This is, in fact, the only rational hope I have that we have not arrived at the end of history. Because if the digital calculators did not have a kind of internal limitation, they would truly bring world history to an end, in all the aspects that you have mentioned: time would no longer be human time, space would no longer be human space, but merely a corridor within the circuits of these wonderful little machines. But if these little miracles themselves have constraints, then we can envisage without difficulty a twenty-second and a twenty-third century in which the principles of digital machines would not be discarded, but would instead be complemented by some sort of new – yet to be invented – principle.
PV: Isn’t it time for those who build these machines, and who praise their merits, to get together and examine the damaging effects of information monotheism? For example, in 1888, the inventors of the European railway system met in Brussels. Why? Because the development of steam engines was progressing apace, and because the performance of locomotives was increasing rapidly, and the engineers were building more and more fantastic tunnels and more and more stable metallic bridges. But there was a problem: the train dispatching system could not keep pace with the increasing performances of the machines. That’s why they met in Brussels and also why they created what is nowadays called controlled traffic management. The so-called ‘block system’ was devised there. Thus, if the TGV [high-speed train] runs smoothly nowadays, it is because there is an automatic block system and because the position of the signals is repeated in the train driver’s cab. This means that there are hardly any train accidents any more. The starting point of the discussions in Brussels was on the negative, on what did not function. Contact switches and signals were devised, and these became the basis of a very sophisticated form of data management. But why are there no conferences nowadays on the damaging consequences of unemployment? On the wrong turns taken by urbanism? On the obverse side of technical progress? Why don’t we busy ourselves today, just like the engineers of the nineteenth century did, with the specific accidental risks of the railways, that is, the derailment. Why don’t we busy ourselves with the specific – albeit, I admit, immaterial – danger posed by the data networks and the arrival of social cybernetics? If I am not mistaken, I think that both Alan Turing and Norbert Wiener feared the application of cybernetics on society? And now we are being told by politicians like Ross Perrot that social cybernetics is not only progress but the apex of democracy!
It seems to me that it is about time that the people who are working on those programs start implementing a counter-program also, in order to put a limit to these sorts of developments. Why, for example, don’t they apply their intelligence to the negative aspects of technological development? Why do they always conceal the original sins of these techniques, whereas shipbuilding was furthered by making ships waterproof, and the aeronautic industry was furthered by making engines and the monitoring of air space more reliable. Why don’t we have such people in the realm of digitization?
FK: I have only one answer and it is a totally idiosyncratic one. As is often revealed when accidents take place, many firms are made up of one-half engineers and one-half non-technical sales people, such as marketing executives and lawyers. The spokespersons for such firms are always attorneys, with a smattering of MIT professors every now and then. I do not know of any large company where things are in the hands of the people who devise the computer program. Thus the people who devise the program, and who also know what is wrong with computer systems, are basically treated as program slaves. I am sorry to use this term but that is what they are called in the industry itself. However, the people who are in charge of corporate propaganda, the people who actually own the firms, like Bill Gates at Microsoft, have written maybe five pages in the last twenty years, and that is it. This social division precludes discussions about negativity. The people whom you quoted earlier are in fact free academics. They think like physicists but they don’t work for the computer industry. Nevertheless, it is very important to discuss these matters with the people who plan, build and operate computer systems.
Information, catastrophe and violence
PV: Why not discuss them in Brussels then? After all, the block system conference took place in Brussels. I think that you have put your finger on what this is all about: commercial enterprise. But information cannot be allowed to become a commercial enterprise. It is the stuff the world is made of. For example, what we are doing right now has nothing to do with entrepreneurship; it is a dialogue, a conversation. How can one possibly limit the question of information to the realm of the commercial enterprise? Worse still, to enterprises that are evolving into absolute monopolies? We are facing the tyranny of real-time information. But information should be a product of everyday usage, like electricity. We are a phenomenon of matter, of its mass and energy. That is, we constitute, sui generis, history and existence. To be is to speak. Is not the Latin word for infant ‘the one who does not speak’? Now, information is being turned into a product of global enterprises. It is a tragedy that is being sold to us as progress. It makes me angry, especially when I think that Europe is not taking any action on these issues at the moment. For instance, when those who are responsible for the licensing of new computer products met in Brussels in 1994 they were totally enthusiastic for the new systems and products. And those who went there in order to plead for a more sceptical approach were treated as if they were a nuisance. And that happens in the place where European information policies are supposed to be created and implemented.
FK: That is the catastrophe. For are we not talking about the amalgamation of an old definition of copyright, dating from the times of Goethe, with the property rights of intellectual products which have arrived with the invention of the new digital machines? In fact, this most recent definition of copyright not only does away with any kind of author’s right but also with any form of ‘spiritual’ property. Why? Because the new machines can imitate any other machine, and that includes us, in so far as they can imitate our thinking. Thinking machines were of course a gift from England and invented shortly before the war by Turing. His ideas were then imported into the United States, and the big question there was: how can we make a profitable proposition out of this? Well, it looks like they have been tremendously successful over the past fifty or sixty years.
The most scandalous piece of news that has reached me recently is that it has become possible in the US to patent mathematical equations. For 2,000 years such acts were prohibited. Indeed, mathematics was the freest of all sciences and fell outside the scope of patents. But if American concerns succeed in having the European ‘author’s right’ modified to suit their own ends, then exactly the opposite will have been achieved than what was intended by people like Turing. This is a real menace. Information cannot be allowed to be privatized. However, I do not believe that the privatization strategy will hold out in the long run. This is because the machines are proliferating out of control. Consequently, the software cannot, in the end, be protected by patents. And nor should it be in the long run. So far as the hardware is concerned, the machines as such, well, everybody knows that the manufacturing costs are going down all the time. The result of this will be that, in ten years time, what are now the absolute top-notch machines will be had for almost nothing. In short, we may not get informational democracy right away, but we may get zero-cost property soon.
PV: Perhaps, then, instead of looking at these issues from a pessimistic standpoint, we should conclude our conversation by looking at them from a more optimistic one? But this is difficult. For have we not attempted, amidst all the current enthusiasm for tele-technologies, to formulate our critical thinking about their future? However, let us not focus here on the future of the marketization of these products, or on the future of information monopolies, but, rather, on the future development of the machine. Why? Because its development does not run parallel with the sale of computers but with the evolution of its own Live\Virilio.vp Thursday, July 19, 2001 11:55:16 AM Color profile: Disabled Composite Default screen performance. And the evolution of machine performance, as you said, is predicated upon the recognition of the damaging effects of negativity. We should therefore warn people against the archaic instincts of those who pretend to create a global realm of information without bothering to analyse to what extent the reduction of content has destructive consequences. Of course, these consequences not only impact upon small firms and on the millions of people who remain unemployed. They impact upon the actual creation and historical development of human beings themselves, not to mention the development of social thought. And therein lies the key regulative element. For the human memory is not merely the dead memory of the computer hard drive but the living memory of human beings. And without living human memory there is only the violence revealed by the explosion of the information bomb …
from the book: VIRILIO LIVE: Selected Interviews
by Ron Roberts
UNCLE AL AND UNCLE BILL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
This chapter will construct a relationship between the figures of William S. Burroughs, the ‘High Priest’ of beatnik and punk culture, and Aleister Crowley, the ‘Great Beast’ of black magic. There is a sense in which the work of both authors connects into a larger, more occult network of thought than that which influences popular culture, resulting in a ‘feedback loop’, reprocessing certain aspects of their work and influencing everything from musical projects to contemporary retellings of major superhero stories. The start and end point of this loop is Burroughs’s treatment of magic(k)al practice, particularly in The Place of Dead Roads, and its relationship to Crowley’s esoteric writings.
William S. Burroughs and Aleister Crowley can be seen as dual influences in a number of late twentieth-century movements, both artistic and political. Artistically, the most famous of these is probably Genesis P-Orridge’s Temple ov Psychick Youth [sic] of the 1970s and 1980s, who were heavily influenced by, and worked with, Burroughs. They applied his processes to music, video and writing, while at the same time reading and absorbing the work of Crowley the magician. In a similar vein, Scottish comic-book writer Grant Morrison—called in to overhaul ailing marquee titles such as The Justice League of America (1997–2000), The X-Men (2001–2003) and The Flash (1997–98)—wrote a Burroughsian-influenced conspiracy theory title, The Invisibles (1994–2000). Morrison’s websites are hotbeds of debate concerning magical technique, Burroughs, Crowley, drugs, the Beats and related topics. Toward the end of The Invisibles’s (flagging) run, Morrison provided his readers with a page that was itself a mystical focus (or sigil) asking them to perform Crowleyian VIIIth Degree magic over it (a concept that we shall investigate later in this chapter), so that the comic might continue to be published.
It is not just in the realm of art and comic books that the presence of Burroughs and Crowley can be felt. Musically, Burroughs collaborated with figures as diverse as Kurt Cobain and The Disposable Heroes of HipHoprisy, while Crowley’s influence on bands such as Led Zeppelin is well known (see Davis 1985). Finally, while neither Burroughs nor Crowley developed a strongly self-conscious political stance, elements of their politics can be identified within the poppolitical movement of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, particularly in the anti-globalization movement associated with such figures as Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Douglas Rushkoff and Howard Zinn. It can be observed that the majority of work produced by these artists and theorists responds, from the vantage point of various interrelated perspectives on the complexities of Western civilization, to what is rapidly coalescing into a ‘Westernized’ global order.
BURROUGHS AND THE GLOBAL ORDER
An entry point into a salient discussion of the ‘global order’ through the work of both Burroughs and Crowley must consider that their respective writings on the emergence of a consolidated global political and economic system seem to move in different directions: one emphasizing technocratic restrictions, the other delivering a cryptofascist attack on permissiveness and purposelessness. In Naked Lunch (1959), Doctor Benway is one of the ciphers through which Burroughs foretells the development of post-World War II Western society:
Benway is a manipulator and co-ordinator of symbol systems, an expert on all phases of interrogation, brainwashing and control […] ‘I deplore brutality’, he said. ‘It’s not efficient. On the other hand, prolonged mistreatment, short of physical violence, gives rise, when skillfully applied, to anxiety and a feeling of special guilt. A few rules or rather guiding principles are to be borne in mind. The subject must not realize that the mistreatment is a deliberate attack of an anti-human enemy on his personal identity. He must be made to feel that he deserves any treatment he receives because there is something (never specified) horribly wrong with him. The naked need of the control addicts must be decently covered by an arbitrary and intricate bureaucracy so that the subject cannot contact his enemy direct.’ (NL 20–1)
It could be said that something akin to these ‘control addicts’— variously identified in Burroughs’s fictions as ‘Nova criminals’, alien beings from Minraud and ‘vegetable people’—today administer and propagate a global sociopolitical hegemony. Like the ‘technocracy’ of Theodore Roszak and Herbert Marcuse, Burroughs sees a highly scientific and efficient anti-human impulse in twentieth-century society that stands as the crowning achievement of the Enlightenment process. ‘Under the technocracy’, writes Roszak, ‘we become the most scientific of societies; yet, like Kafka’s [protagonist in The Castle] K., men throughout the “developed world” become more and more the bewildered dependents of inaccessible castles wherein inscrutable technicians conjure with their fate’ (1969:13).
In The Place of Dead Roads, the order outlined in Naked Lunch has come to fruition; the later novel’s primary concern is with the main character’s struggle against the forces of a ‘global order’ that seeks to limit human potential and homogenize the human race. The novel chronicles the battle between the Johnson family (a term lifted from Jack Black’s 1926 vagrancy classic You Can’t Win describing those vagrants who abided by the rules of ‘tramp chivalry’), and the ‘shits’— the forces of ‘truth’, ‘justice’ and ‘moral order’. The Johnsons are a gang in the sense of the Old West, although with a conspiracy-theory spin that transforms them from honorable tramps into a global network of anti-establishment operatives, struggling against the depredations of the ‘powers that be’ (led in the novel by the bounty hunter Mike Chase). The villains in Burroughs’s novels often perform a double function, rapidly shifting from innocuous lowlifes to enemies of humanity, depending on the scene. In The Place of Dead Roads, this trope is noticeable in the shift from western to sci-fi story. It is telling that after a scene in which Kim and his friends invoke a major demon (PDR 92–4)—described with a careful eye to accuracy that draws from both the style of Crowley’s rituals and the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft—the narrative focus becomes more surreally ‘globalized’. Kim’s enemies cease to be homophobic cowboys, upstart gunslingers and lawmen; instead, a stranger and more insidious enemy is theorized: the body-snatching alien invaders of Nova Express. Old Man Bickford and his cronies operate as typical western villains, but their conflict with the Utopian program of Kim Carsons and his Johnson family betrays their identity as the ‘alien’ influence Burroughs sees as responsible for the propagation of Western capitalism and the denial of human potential. It is these ‘aliens’—alien in the sense that they seek to limit individual freedom through control mechanisms and an enforcement of ignorance—who constitute a new global order. For Burroughs, it is this anti-humanitarian impulse (typified by those who vehemently enforce laws surrounding ‘victimless crime’, and those whose nefarious schemes affect governments and nation states) that represents the greatest evil of the post-World War II order. Thus, the global order could constitute everything from a local group opposing a gay bar or hash café, through to the IMF or World Bank controlling the ‘development’ of a nation.
Writing in the first half of the last century, Crowley never formulated a picture of the modern industrial order in as much detail as Burroughs. However, in a preface to his cryptic The Book of the Law, he states:
Observe for yourselves the decay of the sense of sin, the growth of innocence and irresponsibility, the strange modifications of the reproductive instinct with a tendency to become bi-sexual or epicene, the childlike confidence in progress combined with nightmare fear of catastrophe, against which we are yet half unwilling to take precautions. Consider the outcrop of dictatorships […] and the prevalence of infantile cults like Communism, Fascism, Pacifism, Health Crazes, Occultism in nearly all its forms, religions sentimentalized to the point of practical extinction. Consider the popularity of the cinema, the wireless, the football pools and guessing competitions, all devices for soothing fractious children, no seed of purpose in them. Consider sport, the babyish enthusiasms and rages which it excites, whole nations disturbed by disputes between boys. Consider war, the atrocities which occur daily and leave us unmoved and hardly worried. We are children. (1938:13)
It is not too difficult to connect Burroughs’s ‘control addicts’ with the various mechanisms of control (or placation) that Crowley lists above. While Burroughs posits a class of controllers, Crowley tends to see humanity’s regression as a self-inflicted condition. Crowley posits a future Age of Aquarius, or ‘Aeon of Horus’, in which humanity will reach a stage of adolescence. At that time (some point in the twentieth century), decisions would be made affecting the evolution of the species over the next 2,000 years (the standard length of an astrological age); Crowley argues that without the widespread adoption of his Law of Thelema, ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law’, a combination of infantilism and dictatorial control will result in the stultification of the human race.
This theme of progressive human evolution is also evident in Burroughs’s fiction: his work prophesies a time when human culture will advance, becoming truly post-human, capable of transcending temporal restrictions and making the great leap into space. The first stage in such an evolution is the dissolution of boundaries: geographical, psychic and physical. This doctrine is at one with Crowley’s generalized transgressive maxim: ‘But exceed! Exceed!’ (1938:37).
Significantly, these boundaries are located both within the self and imposed upon us by ‘control addicts’ like Doctor Benway. These boundaries, then, fulfill a role not unlike that of ideology, ‘fixing’ the identity of the individual through a combination of internal and external factors. And both Burroughs and Crowley suggest various strategies for the reshaping of the external world through the destruction of internal restriction; that is, the destruction of, or escape from, ‘ideology’ as a negative force. Common to both writers is a belief in the ‘magical’ power of language. Burroughs’s most famous dictum, of language as a virus, echoes Crowley’s maxim that the Will (or Word) of the magician can cause measurable changes in external reality, offering the possibility that the ‘language virus’, this ‘muttering sickness’, may be capable of transforming, rather than simply destroying, its host.
Early in Burroughs’s The Place of Dead Roads comes a sequence that distills a few centuries’ worth of cryptic alchemical and magical texts into a page or so of wild west science fiction:
Once he made sex magic against Judge Farris, who said Kim was rotten clear through and smelled like a polecat. He nailed a full-length picture of the Judge to the wall, taken from the society page, and masturbated.
in front of it while he intoned a jingle he had learned from a Welsh nanny:
Slip and stumble (lips peel back from his teeth) Trip and fall (his eyes light up inside) Down the stairs And hit the walllllllllllllllll!
His hair stands up on end. He whines and whimpers and howls the word out and shoots all over the Judge’s leg. And Judge Farris actually did fall downstairs a few days later, and fractured his shoulder bone. (PDR 19–20)
Kim Carsons, the novel’s time- and dimension-traveling assassin protagonist, ‘knew that he had succeeded in projecting a thought form. But he was not overly impressed […] Magic seemed to Kim a hit-and-miss operation, and to tell the truth, a bit silly. Guns and knives were more reliable’ (PDR 20).
Silliness aside, the above extract reflects the VIIIth Degree teachings of the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), an order of Knights Templar that, allegedly, brought back the secrets of Tantric Yoga (sexual yoga, where the object of intercourse is not ‘mere’ orgasm, but the ritual unification of participants as the male/female—Shiva/Shakti—principles of the universe) from India. At the invitation of the German leaders of the order (who due to the nature of the young Englishman’s knowledge initially believed him to have stolen their secrets), Crowley took over and restructured the British OTO in 1912, incorporating his own magical symbolism and interest in homosexual sex magic. Initiates were taught to project their sexual energy in a ritual context employing trappings such as mantras, incenses and visualizations to focus the energy and use it as fuel for the Will. Esoteric sex and masturbation becomes, then, ‘the Science and Art of causing change to occur in conformity with the Will’ (1929:xii). Sex as an instrument allowing ‘action at a distance’ is commonplace in Burroughs’s fiction, while the human Will is conceived of not as individual agency, but as part of a larger network. As Burroughs explains: ‘I think what we think of as ourselves is a very unimportant, a very small part of our actual potential […] We should talk about the most mysterious subject of all—sex. Sex is an electromagnetic phenomenon’ (Bockris 1981:60). (There are clear parallels between this conception of sexual energy and Wilhelm Reich’s theories of Orgone power—a topic of great interest to Burroughs—and Michael Bertiaux’s work with the sexual radioactivity he terms ‘Ojas’.
The ‘electromagnetic’—or otherwise mysterious, occult—force generated during sex, and sexual magic in particular, is an important weapon in the fight against the ‘shits’ on the side of order and repression. While Kim rejects magic as a means of performing relatively prosaic acts such as revenge, The Place of Dead Roads later advocates magic as a means for large-scale transformation of the human Will; indeed, in this novel Burroughs considers it necessary for the transformation of the human species. Using the example of the medieval assassins, a quasi-mythical sect led by the fabled Old Man of the Mountain, Hassan i Sabbah, Burroughs outlines the ways in which magical knowledge—especially the nourishment and cultivation of this electromagnetic sexual power—can be used to transform the consciousness into a new order of being. It is this new being that is capable of resisting control, placation and suppression: the homogenizing tools of the ‘control addicts’.
Hassan i Sabbah, a recurring figure in Burroughs’s fiction, acts as a Guardian Angel to Kim, his dictum ‘Nothing is true. Everything is permitted’ an early version of Crowley’s famous Law of Thelema: ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law’ (see Bockris 1981:116). In The Place of Dead Roads, the Assassins serve as an example of the next step in human evolution, while in earlier novels such as Nova Express (1964) it is the disembodied voice and shadowy presence of Sabbah that stands in opposition to the forces of the ‘control addicts’. The ‘Slave Gods’ of Western civilization demand nothing but servitude; Burroughs makes this clear in an eight-point description of the ‘objectives and characteristics’ of the Slave Gods and their alien followers (PDR 97). Primarily they must ensure that the human race remains earthbound; at all costs, mankind must be prevented from reaching higher realms of existence:
So the Old Man set up his own station, the Garden of Alamut. But the Garden is not at the end of the line. It might be seen as a rest camp and mutation center. Free from harassment, the human artifact [sic] can evolve into an organism suited for space conditions and space travel.
.There is a clear link between the figures of the assassins and comments made elsewhere by Burroughs concerning his beliefs for the future of mankind. When asked if he sees ‘Outer Space as the solution to this cop-ridden planet’, Burroughs replied, ‘Yeah, it’s the only place to go! If we ever get out alive … if we’re lucky’ (Vale and Juno 1982:21). Later in the same interview, Burroughs cites Dion Fortune’s Psychic Self Defence (1952) and David Conway’s Magic: An Occult Primer (1973) as essential texts for those wishing to resist the technocracy’s less obvious control mechanisms.
According to Burroughs, the transformative powers of the assassins came from the homosexual act—an act that does not depend upon dualism and rejects the creative principles of copulation. As we have already seen, the VIIIth Degree of OTO sex magic, with its emphasis on the projection of an outward manifestation of the Will, was rejected by Burroughs as too ‘hit-and-miss’. However, the homosexual act constitutes the XIth Degree of sex magic, almost universally acknowledged in occult circles as the most powerful form of Tantric energy manipulation. Modern magician and Voudon houngan Michael Bertiaux agrees: ‘Those who possess the technical knowledge admit that psychic ability is increased so that all of the forms of low mediumship and crude psychic powers are made perfect, while the higher psychic powers are fully manifested’ (Bertiaux 1988:44).
Crowley gives the theoretical formula of the XIth Degree in his Magick in Theory and Practice. He notes that
[s]uch an operation makes creation impossible […] Its effect is to consecrate the Magicians who perform it in a very special way […] The great merits of this formula are that it avoids contact with the inferior planes, that it is self-sufficient, that it involves no responsibilities, and that it leaves its masters not only stronger in themselves, but wholly free to fulfill their essential Natures. Its abuse is an abomination. (1929:27)
The homophobic stance adopted in the last sentence is clearly a statement Burroughs would have disagreed with; it is an example of the bisexual Crowley making his writing more ‘palatable’ to a wide audience. However, it suggests the same special power Burroughs attributes to the non-dualistic or non-reproductive use of sex magic.
To return to the magical universe explicated in The Place of Dead Roads, it becomes obvious that magic—especially sex magic—is an important weapon in the arsenal of resistance. Burroughs returns to the VIIIth Degree episode quoted earlier in this chapter, commenting that linear narrative itself is a trope used by any global order as an instrument of control. The Slave Gods and their minions, the control addicts, administrate the reality ‘film’ much as a person with a remote control has power over the progression of a videotaped movie. It is the role of the enlightened resistor to ‘cut up’ this straightforward A-B-C conception of time:
Take a segment of film:
This is a time segment. You can run it backward and forward, you can speed it up, slow it down, you can randomize it do anything you want with your film. You are God for that film segment. So ‘God’, then, has precisely that power with the human film. The only thing not prerecorded in a prerecorded universe is the prerecordings themselves: the master film. The unforgivable sin is to tamper with the prerecordings. Exactly what Kim is doing. (PDR 218)
Burroughs then explicitly links the transcendental powers of sex magic (specifically the episode discussed earlier) with this ‘tampering’ process—a means to resisting and transcending the global order of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Despite specific differences that these sex magics maintain in their philosophy, each system proffers sex as a transformative ‘force’ capable of producing a potentially ‘resistant’ state of subjectivity. The vehicle for such change is the development of a ‘hidden’ body that coexists with the physical shell, a ‘ghost in the machine’, or Body of Light.
BURROUGHS AND THE BODY OF LIGHT
In his book Queer Burroughs (2001), Jamie Russell draws attention to Burroughs’s use of Crowley’s term ‘Body of Light’. Crowley’s term (there are many others, such as the Voudon ‘Gwos Bon Anj’) describes the astral (or etheric) body that coexists alongside/in the normal, physical self. It is this astral form that possesses the capacity for magical acts and makes contact with other astral entities. Therefore, cultivation of the astral self, this ‘Body of Light’, is essential for acts of magical resistance.
Burroughs had a great interest in ‘other beings’, specifically those termed succubae and incubi, or ‘sexual vampires’. He theorized that these ‘sexual vampires’ are not necessarily negative in their relationships with human beings. In The Place of Dead Roads, Kim Carsons encounters such an entity, and finds the experience both pleasurable and rewarding. Toby, his incubus companion, is a ghostly figure that merges wholly with Kim as they make love: ‘Afterward the boy would slowly separate and lie beside him in the bed, almost transparent but with enough substance to indent the bedding’ (PDR 169). However, sexual contact with disembodied entities brings more than just physical pleasure—the relationship can lead to the accumulation of powerful allies in the fight against those forces seeking to replicate a restrictive form of global order—for example, those working to limit the potential of human evolution, keeping us ignorant and earthbound, or stuck in Crowley’s state of infantilism. Kim Carson finds himself surrounded by a small team of astral sex partners, each of whom brings a special talent to the fight against the enemies of the Johnson family (electronics work, demolition, causing accidents). These sexual familiars can be cultivated using the VIIIth and XIth Degree OTO ritual work: ‘He should make a point of organizing a staff of such spirits to suit various occasions. These should be “familiar” spirits, in the strict sense; members of his family’ (Crowley 1929:169).
Burroughs posits a more extreme use for such beings: as helpers and catalysts in the transformation from earthbound human to space-traveling post-human. Or, perhaps more radically, as potential allies in the conflict on earth:
BURROUGHS: We can only speculate as to what further relations with these beings might lead to, my dear. You see, the bodies of incubi and succubi are much less dense than the human body, and this is greatly to their advantage in space travel. Don’t forget, it is our bodies which must be weightless to go into space. Now, we make the connections with incubi and succubi in some sort of dream state. So I postulate that dreams may be a form of preparation, and in fact training, for travel in space […]
BOCKRIS: Are you suggesting that we collaborate with them in some way which would in fact benefit the future of our travel in space?
BURROUGHS: Well, I simply believe that we should pay a great deal of attention to, and develop a much better understanding of, our relations with incubi and succubi. We can hardly afford to ignore their possible danger or use. If we reject a relationship with them, we may be placing our chances of survival in jeopardy. If we don’t dream, we may die. (Bockris 1981:189)
Burroughs’s conception of using these astral forms as aids to enlightenment/evolution is paralleled in Crowley’s work. The invocation of minor spirits from medieval grimoires aside, the central aim of Crowley’s magical practice was the ‘Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel’ (HGA).9 This HGA is quite distinct from any notion of a Christian angel, representing instead that part of the Self that transcends the wheel of karma, or analogously, Burroughs’s ‘prerecorded film’. This perfected self exists beyond the physical boundaries of our shared reality, yet remains a part of the individual. To have the HGA ‘on side’, as it were, advances the Self toward what Crowley terms ‘disincarnation’. This disincarnation is a process of ‘removing […] impurities, of finding in [the] true self an immortal intelligence to whom matter is no more than the means of manifestation’ (1929:185). Thus, with the help of alien intelligences, or perhaps just a more rarefied form of our own mind made alien by its perfection, it may be possible to escape this ‘cop-ridden’ planet once and for all.
There is also a relationship between Burroughs’s ‘some sort of a dream state’ and the astral traveling of Crowley’s system of magic. Just as Kim Carsons seems to fold in and out of various dimensions cognizant with, yet not identical to, our own (from the haunted ‘wild west’ to a twentieth-century United Kingdom on the brink of revolution to futuristic bio-warfare tests in the Middle East), so Crowley tells us of various ‘planes’ of existence coterminous with our own. These planes can be accessed through dream, meditation and the techniques of sex magic discussed earlier. Once there, the magician can begin to master the various forces of the astral plane, meeting and recruiting the sorts of strange beings with which Burroughs populates his novels.
GUNS AND KNIVES ARE MORE RELIABLE
Crowley’s system of magic was intended solely for self-improvement. He eschewed the use of magic for ‘petty’ or mundane affairs; when your child is drowning, he stated, one does not attempt to summon water elementals. You must instead dive in. Similarly, in The Place of Dead Roads, Kim Carsons expresses a preference for direct methods, such as guns and knives, over magical manipulations. A sequence in the novel finds Kim working as an agent of the English Republican Party, a fictitious organization intent on removing the monarchy. In The Revised Boy Scout Manual (1970), a novel in the form of three onehour cassettes, Burroughs cheekily provides the blueprint for an armed insurrection and revolution, including random assassinations, biological warfare and the use of Reich’s concept of ‘Deadly Orgone Radiation’. However, the key to any successful revolution, according to this text, is the use of a right wing, crypto-fascist regime to wrestle power from the ‘democratic’ governance of the hegemonic ‘shits’:
Riots and demonstrations by street gangs are stepped up. Start random assassination. Five citizens every day in London but never a police officer or serviceman. Patrols in the street shooting the wrong people. Curfews. England is rapidly drifting towards anarchy. […] We send out our best agents to contact army officers and organize a rightist coup. We put rightist gangs into it like the Royal Crowns and the Royal Cavaliers in the street. 1. Time for ERP [English Republican Party]! 2. Come out in The Open! (1970:10)
Then the revolution changes tack, just as the reign of terror starts to turn into a Fourth Reich. Burroughs continues:
Why make the usual stupid scene kicking in liquor stores grabbing anything in sight? You wake up with a hangover in an alley, your prick tore from fucking dry cunts and assholes, eye gouged out by a broken beer bottle when you and your buddy wanted the same one—no fun in that. Why not leave it like it is? […]
So we lay it on the line. ‘There’s no cause for alarm, folks, proceed about your daily tasks. But one thing is clearly understood—your lives, your bodies, your properties belong to us whenever and wherever we choose to take them.’ So, we weed out the undesirables and turn the place into a paradise … gettin’ it steady year after year … (1970:11)
In his blackly humorous way, Burroughs turns the military-industrial complex on itself, appropriating the methods of chemical warfare, guerilla fighting and urban pacification from their creators. Magic, mind control and meditation might be all well and good, but there is a voice in Burroughs’s fiction that calls out for physical, as well as psychic, resistance.
In a similar sense, The Book of the Law suggests the use of force as the only real means of removing the mechanisms of a technocratic global technocracy. While he did not share Burroughs’s passion for all things militaristic, the third chapter of the ‘Holy Book of Thelema’ issues the decree of Ra-Hoor-Khuit, the Egyptian god of war and vengeance. In his commentary, from The Law is For All, Crowley states, somewhat provocatively:
An end to the humanitarian mawkishness which is destroying the human race by the deliberate artificial protection of the unfit.
What has been the net result of our fine ‘Christian’ phrases? […]
The unfit crowded and contaminated the fit, until Earth herself grew nauseated with the mess. We had not only a war which killed some eight million men, in the flower of their age, picked men at that, in four years, but a pestilence which killed six million in six months.
Are we going to repeat the insanity? Should we not rather breed humanity for quality by killing off any tainted stock, as we do with other cattle, and exterminating the vermin which infect it? (1996:157)
The suspicious, crypto-fascist tenor of this passage undermines Crowley’s call to brotherly arms, though its rhetoric may suit the style of an ancient war god. Crowley had a complicated relationship with Fascism, admiring both Hitler and Mussolini, though it was the Italian dictator’s Fascist regime that was responsible for Crowley’s ejection from Sicily in 1923. Crowley also considered his Thelemic teachings to be the missing religious component of National Socialism, and tried to persuade German friends to open a direct channel of communication between himself and the German Chancellor. This relationship was tempered by his round rejection of Nazism’s racialist policies (fuel for a permanent Race War, Crowley surmised), although not, as is clear from the above quotation, their eugenics.
Both writers, then, play with rightist ideas—militarism, eugenics and genocide—as necessary steps in establishing an alternative future: that is, a society free of shits and control freaks and based on a respect for individual freedoms.
Of course, a tolerant society is required for what might be the greatest passion that the two figures had in common: the use of drugs. Burroughs’s relationship with pharmacopoeia hardly needs emphasizing; Naked Lunch was famously written under the effects of majoun, a fudge made from powerful hashish. He continued the use of various narcotics throughout his life. Works such as Junky, The Yage Letters and the Appendix to Naked Lunch outline his encounters with, and attitudes toward, various drugs.
Crowley was also well aware of the effects of illegal substances, going so far as to draw up a table of Kabbalistic correspondences detailing which drug to take to contact a particular god. His Diary of a Drug Fiend (1922a), made popular by a reprint in the 1990s, is a thinly disguised autobiographical account of his heroin and cocaine addiction. However, a text more analogous with Burroughs’s body of work is The Fountain of Hyacinth (1922b), a rare diary that details with candor his attempts to wean himself off cocaine and heroin.
The lives of both men present parallel obsessions with drugs, weird sex, weird philosophy, the writing of fiction and a rage against the order established by ‘the shits’. Both struggled with the various mechanisms of social control that were ranged against them, and provided ‘blueprints’ for those activists, adepts, agents and Johnsons seeking to continue the fight. Some points of convergence in these programs of resistance, such as developing the ‘Astral Body’ and the use of ritual magic, may seem outlandish, but they tap into that part of the human psyche that both wishes to believe in such things, and is capable of making such activities fruitful practice. Even so, from a twenty-first century viewpoint, this part of their blueprint may be dismissed as part of the New Age movement, laudable in intent, perhaps, but of no real practical consequence. However, their insistence on the same ‘last resort’—actual armed insurrection and extermination of the agents of global ideology—raises disturbing questions from our post-9/11 perspective. Abstract psychic dabbling is juxtaposed alongside rhetoric that seems to encourage a terroristic approach to anti-global protest and demonstration. That the writing and philosophy of both men still hold a fascination for activists wary of the West’s imperialist imperative—though no countercultural figure has yet to advocate armed resistance on anything like the same scale—stands as testament to the continuing importance of their outrageous lives and works.
Retaking the Universe (William S.Burroughs in the Age of Globalization)
Part 3: Alternatives: Realities and Resistance/The High Priest and the Great Beast at The Place Of Dead Roads /Edited by Davis Schneiderman and Philip Walsh
First published 2004 by Pluto Press 345 Archway Road, London N6 5AA 22883 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, VA 20166–2012, USA
This, then, is the way we must begin, with the secret intelligence of - the secret insight into - duality and reversibility, with speaking evil as in a mental Theatre of Cruelty.
Above all, we must not confuse the idea of evil with some kind of objective existence of evil. That has no more meaning than an objective existence of the Real; it is merely the moral and metaphysical illusion of Manichaeism that it is possible to will evil, to do evil, or, alternatively, to denounce it and combat it.
Evil has no objective reality.
Quite the contrary, it consists in the diverting of things from their 'objective' existence, in their reversal, their 'return' (I wonder if we might not even interpret Nietzsche's 'Eternal Return' in this sense - not as an endless cycle, not as a repetition, but as a turning about, as a reversible form of becoming - die ewige Umkehr).
In this sense, in precisely the same way as Canetti conceives vengeance, evil too is automatic.
You cannot will it. That is an illusion and a misconception. The evil you can will, the evil you can do and which, most of the time, merges with violence, suffering and death, has nothing to do with this reversible form of evil. We might even say that those who deliberately practise evil certainly have no insight into it, since their act supposes the intentionality of a subject, whereas this reversibility of evil is the reversibility of a form.
And it is, at bottom, the form itself that is intelligent, insightful: with evil it is not a question of an object to be understood; we are dealing with a fonn that understands us.
In the 'intelligence of evil' we have to understand that it is evil that is intelligent, that it is it which thinks us in the sense that it is implied automatically in every one of our acts.
For it is not possible for any act whatever or any kind of talk not to have two sides to it; not to have a reverse side, and hence a dual existence. And this contrary to any finality or objective determination.
This dual fonn is irreducible, indissociable from all existence. It is therefore pointless to wish to localize it and even more so to wish to denounce it. The denunciation of evil is still of the order of morality, of a moral evaluation.
Now, evil is immoral, not in the way a crime is immoral, but in the way a form is. And the intelligence of evil itself is immoral - it does not aspire to any value judgement, it does not do evil, it speaks it.
The idea of evil as a malign force, a maleficent agency, a deliberate perversion of the order of the world, is a deep-rooted superstition.
It is echoed at the world level in the phantasmic projection of the Axis of Evil, and in the Manichaean struggle against that power.
This is all part of the same imaginary.
Hence the principle of the prevention, the forestalling, the prophylaxis, of evil; rather than morality or metaphysics, what we have today is an infection, a microbial epidemic, the corruption of a world whose predestined end is presumed to lie in good.
A more subtle misconception is that of a hypostasis of evil as indestructible reality, a kind of primal scene, a sort of substratum of accumulated death-drive.
The radicality of evil is seen as that of a naturally inevitable force, associated always with violence, suffering and death.
Hence Sloterdijk's hypothesis that 'the reality of reality is the eternal return of violence'. To which he opposes a 'pacifism that is in keeping with our most advanced theoretical intuitions, a deep-level pacifism, based on a radical analysis of the circularity of violence, deciphering the forces that determine its eternal return'.
A radical analysis, then, to remedy the radical evil.
But can a 'radical' analysis have a finality of whatever kind?
Is it not itself part of the process of evil?
However that may be, duality and evil are not the same as violence.
The dual form, the agon, is a symbolic form and, as such, it might be said to be much nearer to seduction and challenge than to violence. Closer to metamorphosis and becoming than to force and violence.
If there were a force of evil, a reality of evil, a source and an origin of evil, one could confront it strategically with all the forces of good.
But if evil is a form, and most of the time a form that is deeply buried, one can only bring out that form and come to an understanding with it [etre en intelligence avec elle].
This is how it is, for example, with the Theatre of Cruelty: in that gestural and scenic externalization of all the 'perverse' possibilities of the human spirit, within the framework of an exploration of the roots of evil, there is never any question of tragic catharsis. The point, rather, is to play out fully these perverse possibilities and make drama out of them, but without sublimating or resolving them.
'To speak evil' is to speak this fateful, paradoxical situation that is the reversible concatenation of good and evil. That is to say that the irresistible pursuit of good, the movement of Integral Reality - for this is what good is: it is the movement towards integrality, towards an integral order of the world - is immoral. The eschatological perspective of a better world is in itself immoral. For the reason that our technical mastery of the world, our technical approach to good, having become an automatic and irresistible mechanism, none of this is any longer of the order of morality or of any kind of finality. Nor is to speak and read evil the same thing as vulgar nihilism, the nihilism of a denunciation of all values, that of the prophets of doom. To denounce the reality contract or the reality 'conspiracy' is not at all nihilistic. It is not in any sense to deny an obvious fact, in the style of 'All is sign, nothing is real - nothing is true, everything is simulacrum' - an absurd proposition since it is also a realist one!
It is one thing to note the vanishing of the real into the Virtual, another to deny it so as to pass beyond the real and the Virtual.
It is one thing to reject morality in the name of a vulgar immoralism, another to do so, like Nietzsche so as to pass beyond good and evil.
To be 'nihilistic' is to deny things at their greatest degree of intensity, not in their lowest versions. Now, existence and self-evidence have always been the lowest forms.
If there is nihilism, then, it is not a nihilism of value, but a nihilism of form. It is to speak the world in its radicality, in its dual, reversible form, and this has never meant banking on catastrophe, any more than on violence.
No finality, either positive or negative, is ever the last word in the story.
And the Apocalypse itself is a facile solution.
To speak evil is to say that in every process of domination and conflict is forged a secret complicity, and in every process of consensus and balance, a secret antagonism.
'Voluntary servitude' and the 'involuntary', suicidal failing of the power systems - two phenomena that are every bit as strange as each other, on the fringes of which we can make out all the ambivalence of political forms. This is to say that:
- immigration, the social question of immigration in our societies, is merely the most visible and crudest illustration of the internal exile of the European in his own society.
- terrorism can be interpreted as the expression of the internal dislocation of a power that has become all-powerful a global violence immanent in the world-system itself. Hence the attempt to extirpate it as an objective evil is delusional given that, in its very absurdity, it is the expression of the condemnation that power pronounces on itself.
That, as Brecht said of fascism (that it was made up of both fascism and antifascism), terrorism is made up of terrorism and anti-terrorism together. And that, if it is the incarnation of fanaticism and violence, it is the incarnation of the violence of those who denounce it at the same time as of their impotence, and of the absurdity of combating it frontally without having understood anything of this diabolical complicity and this reversibility of terror.
The violence you mete out is always the mirror of the violence you inflict on yourself. The violence you inflict on yourself is always the mirror of the violence you mete out.
This is the intelligence of evil.
If terrorism is evil - and it certainly is in its form, and not at all in the sense in which George W. Bush understands it then it is this intelligence of Evil we need; the intelligence of, the insight into, this internal convulsion of the world order, of which terrorism is both the event moment and the image feedback.
excerpt from the book: The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact /'The Intelligence of Evil' by Jean Baudrillard
Lecture given at the Philosophical Congress in Bologna, April 10th, 1911
Is it possible for us to recapture this intuition itself? We have just two means of expression, concept and image. It is in concepts that the system develops; it is into an image that it contracts when it is driven back to the intuition from which it comes: so that, if one wishes to go beyond the image by rising above it, one necessarily falls back on concepts, and on concepts more vague, even more general than those from which one started in search of the image and the intuition. Reduced to this form, bottled as it were the moment it comes from the spring, the original intuition will then become superlatively insipid and uninteresting: it will be banal in the extreme. If we were to say for example that Berkeley considers the human soul as partially united with God and partly independent, that it is conscious of itself at every moment as of an imperfect activity which would join a higher activity if there were not, interposed between the two, something which is absolutely passive, we should be expressing all of the original intuition of Berkeley that can be directly translated into concepts, and still we should have something so abstract as to be almost empty. Let us stick to these formulas since we cannot find better ones, but let us try to put a little life into them. Let us take all that the philosopher has written, let us bring back these scattered ideas to the image from which they had descended; and let us raise them enclosed now in the image, up to the abstract formula enlarged by its absorption of the image and ideas, let us now attach ourselves to this formula and watch it, simple as it is, grow simpler still, all the more' simple for our having pushed into it a greater number of things: finally let us rise with it, go up to the point where everything that was given extended in the doctrine contracts in tension: we shall picture to ourselves this time how from this centre of force, which is moreover inaccessible, there springs the impulse which gives the impetus, that is to say the intuition itself. It is from this that the four theses of Berkeley came, because this movement met on its way the ideas and problems the contemporaries of Berkeley were raising. In other times Berkeley would doubtless have formulated other theses; but, the movement being the same, these theses would have been situated in the same way with regard to one another; they would have had the same relationship to one another, like new words of a new sentence through which runs the thread of an old meaning: and it would have been the same philosophy.
The relation of a philosophy to earlier and contemporary philosophies is not, then, what a certain conception of the history of systems would lead us to assume. The philosopher does not take pre-existing ideas in order to recast them into a superior synthesis or combine them with a new idea. One might as well believe that in order to speak we go hunting for words that we string together afterwards by means of a thought. The truth is that above the word and above the sentence there is something much more simple than a sentence or even a word: the meaning, which is less a thing thought than a movement of thought, less a movement than a direction. And just as the impulsion given to the embryonic life determines the division of an original cell into cells which in turn divide until the complete organism is formed, so the characteristic movement of each act of thought leads this thought, by an increasing sub-division of itself, to spread out more and more over the successive planes of the mind until it reaches that of speech. Once there it expresses itself by means of a sentence, that is, by a group of preexisting elements; but it can almost arbitrarily choose the first elements of the group provided that the others are complementary to them; the same thought is translated just as well into diverse sentences composed of entirely different words, provided these words have the same connection between them. Such is the process of speech. And such also is the operation by which a philosophy is constituted. The philosopher does not start with preexisting ideas; at most one can say that he arrives at them. And when he gets there the idea thus caught up into the movement of his mind, being animated with a new life like the word which receives its meaning from the sentence, is no longer what it was outside the vortex.
One would find the same kind of relationship between a philosophical system and the whole body of scientific knowledge of the epoch in which the philosopher lived. There is a certain conception of philosophy which requires that all the effort of the philosopher should be to embrace in one large synthesis the results of the particular sciences. Indeed, the philosopher, for a long time, was he who possessed universal knowledge; and today even, when the multiplicity of particular sciences, the diversity and complexity of methods, the enormous mass of facts collected make the accumulation of all human knowledge in a single mind impossible, the philosopher remains the man of universal knowledge, in this sense, that if he can no longer know everything, there is nothing that he should not have put himself in a position to learn. But does it necessarily follow, that his task is to take possession of existing science to bring it to increasing degrees of generality, and to proceed, from condensation to condensation, to what has been called the unification of knowledge? May I be pardoned if I consider it strange that this conception of philosophy is proposed to us in the name of science, out of respect for science: I know of no conception more offensive to science or more injurious to the scientist. Here, if you like, is a man who, over a long period of time, has followed a certain scientific method and laboriously gained his results, who says to us: "Experience, with the help of reasoning, leads to this point; scientific knowledge begins here, it ends there; such are my conclusions"; and the philosopher would have the right to answer: "Very well, leave it to me, and I'll show you what I can do with it! The knowledge you bring me unfinished, I shall complete. What you put before me in bits I shall put together. With the same materials, since it is understood that I shall keep to the facts, which you have observed, with the same kind of work, since I must restrict myself as you did to induction and deduction, I shall do more and better than you have done." Truly a very strange pretention! How could the profession of philosopher confer upon him who exercises it the power of advancing farther than science in the same direction as science? That certain scientists are more inclined than others to forge ahead and to generalize their results, more inclined also to turn back and to criticize their methods, that in this particular meaning of the word they should be dubbed philosophers, moreover that each science can and should have its own philosophy thus understood, I am the first to admit. But that particular philosophy is still science, and he who practises it is still a scientist. It is no longer a question, as it was a moment ago, of setting up philosophy as a synthesis of the positive sciences and of claiming, in virtue of the philosopher's mind alone, to raise oneself above science in the generalization of the same facts.
Such a conception of the role of the philosopher would be unfair to science. But how much more unfair to, philosophy! Is it not evident that if the scientist stops at a certain point along the road of generalization and synthesis it is because beyond that point objective experience and sure reasoning do not permit us to advance? And hence in claiming to go further in the same direction, should we not be placing ourselves systematically in the arbitrary or at least the hypothetical? To make of philosophy an ensemble of generalities which goes beyond scientific generalization, is to insist that the philosopher be content with the plausible and that probability be sufficient for him. I am perfectly well aware that for most of those who follow our discussions from a distance, our domain is in fact that of the simple possible, at most that of the probable; they would be very much inclined to say that philosophy begins where certitude leaves off. But who among us would like philosophy to be in such a situation? Doubtless everything is not equally verified or verifiable in what a philosophy brings us, and it is the essence of the philosophical method to demand that at many moments, on many points, the mind should take risks. But the philosopher runs these risks only because he has insured himself and because there are things of which be feels himself unshakeably certain. He will make us certain in our turn to the extent that he is able to communicate to us the intuition from whence he draws his strength.
The truth is that philosophy is not a synthesis of particular sciences, and that if it often places itself on the terrain of science, if it sometimes embraces in a simpler vision the objects of science, it is not by intensifying science, it is not by carrying the results of science to a higher degree of generality. There would not be place for two ways of knowing, philosophy and science, if experience did not present itself to us under two different aspects; on the one hand in the form of facts side by side with other facts, which repeat themselves more or less, which can to a certain extent be measured, and which in fact open out in the direction of distinct multiplicity and spatiality; on the other hand in the form of a reciprocal penetration which is pure duration, refractory to law and measurement. In both cases, experience signifies consciousness; but in the first case, consciousness unfolds outward and externalizes itself in relation to itself in the exact measure to which it perceives things as external to one another; in the second, it turns back within itself, it takes possession of itself and develops in depth. In thus probing its own depth does it penetrate more deeply into the interior of matter, of life, or reality in general? One could dispute this if consciousness had been superadded to matter as an accident; but I believe I have shown that such a hypothesis, according to the way in which it is generally taken, is absurd or false, self-contradictory or contradicted by the facts. One might still dispute it, if human consciousness, although related to a higher and vaster consciousness, had been put aside, as if man had to stand in a corner of nature like a child being punished. But no! the matter and life which fill the world are equally within us; the forces which work in all things we feel within ourselves; whatever may be the inner essence of what is and what is done, we are of that essence. Let us then go down into our own inner selves: the deeper the point we touch, the stronger will be the thrust which sends us back to the surface. Philosophical intuition is this contact, philosophy is this impetus. Brought back to the surface by an impulsion from the depth, we shall regain contact with science as our thought opens out and disperses. Philosophy then must be able to model itself upon science, and an idea of so-called intuitive origin which could not manage, by dividing itself and subdividing its divisions, to cover the facts observed outwardly and the laws by which science joins them to each other, which would not be capable even of correcting certain generalizations and of rectifying certain observations, would be pure fantasy; it would have nothing in common with intuition. But on the other hand the idea which succeeds in fitting perfectly this dispersion of itself upon the facts and laws, was not obtained by a unification of external experience; for the philosopher did not arrive at unity, he started from it. I am speaking, naturally, of a unity which is at once restricted and relative, like the unity which marks off a living being from the rest of the universe. The process by which philosophy seems to assimilate the results of positive science, like the operation in the course of which a philosophy appears to re-assemble in itself the fragments of earlier philosophies, is not a synthesis but an analysis.
Science is the auxiliary of action. And action aims at a result. The scientific intelligence asks itself therefore what will have to be done in order that a certain desired result be attained, or more generally, what conditions should obtain in order that a certain phenomenon take place. It goes from an arrangement of things to a rearrangement, from a simultaneity to a simultaneity. Of necessity it neglects what happens in the interval; or if it does concern itself with it, it is in order to consider other arrangements in it, still more simultaneities. With methods meant to seize the ready-made, it cannot in general enter into what is being done, it cannot follow the moving reality, adopt the becoming which is the life of things. This last task belongs to philosophy. While the scientist, obliged to take immobile views of movement and to gather repetitions along a path where nothing is repeated, intent also upon dividing reality conveniently on successive planes where it is deployed in order to submit it to the action of man, is obliged to use craft with nature, to adopt toward it the wary attitude of an adversary, the philosopher treats nature as a comrade. The rule of science is the one posited by Bacon: obey in order to command. The philosopher neither obeys nor commands; he seeks to be at one with nature. From this point of view, moreover, the essence of philosophy is the spirit of simplicity. Whether we contemplate the philosophical spirit in itself or in its works, whether we compare philosophy to science or one philosophy with other philosophies, we always find that any complication is superficial, that the construction is a mere accessory, synthesis a semblance: the act of philosophising is a simple one.
The more we become imbued with this truth, the more we shall be inclined to take philosophy out of the school and bring it into closer contact with life. No doubt the attitude of common-sense, as it results from the structure of the senses, of intelligence and of language, is nearer to the attitude of science than to that of philosophy. By that I do not mean only that the general categories of our thought are the very categories of science, that the highways traced by our senses across the continuity of the real are those along which science will travel, that perception is a science in the process of being born, science an adult perception, and that ordinary knowledge and scientific knowledge, both destined to prepare our action upon things, are necessarily two visions of a kind, although of unequal precision and range; what I wish particularly to say, is that ordinary knowledge is forced, like scientific knowledge and for the same reasons, to take things in a time broken up into an infinity of particles, pulverised so to speak, where an instant which does not endure follows another equally without duration. Movement is for it a series of positions, change a series of qualities, and becoming, generally, a series of states. It starts from immobility (as though immobility could be anything but an appearance, comparable to the special effect that one moving body produces upon another when both move at the same rate in the same direction), and by an ingenious arrangement of immobilities it recomposes an imitation of movement which it substitutes for movement itself: an operation which is convenient from a practical standpoint but is theoretically absurd, pregnant with all the contradictions, all the pseudo-problems that Metaphysics and Criticism find before them.
But precisely because it is right there that common sense turns its back upon philosophy, all we shall have to do is to have it make a volte-face on that point in order to head it again in the direction of philosophical thought. Intuition doubtless admits of many degrees of intensity, and philosophy many degrees of depth; but the mind once brought back to real duration will already be alive with intuitive life and its knowledge of things will already be philosophy. Instead of a discontinuity of moments replacing one another in an infinitely divided time, it will perceive the continuous fluidity of real time which flows along, indivisible. Instead of surface states covering, successively some neutral stuff and maintaining with it a mysterious relationship of phenomenon to substance, it will seize upon one identical change which keeps ever lengthening as in a melody where everything is becoming but where the becoming, being itself substantial, has no need of support. No more inert states, no more dead things; nothing but the mobility of which the stability of life is made. A vision of this kind, where reality appears as continuous and indivisible, is on the road which leads to philosophical intuition.
For, in order to reach intuition it is not necessary to transport ourselves outside the domain of the senses and of consciousness. Kant's error was to believe that it was. After having proved by decisive arguments that no dialectical effort will ever introduce us into the beyond and that an effective metaphysics would necessarily be an intuitive metaphysics, he added that we lack this intuition and that this metaphysics is impossible. It would in fact be so if there were no other time or change than those which Kant perceived and which, moreover, we too must reckon with; for our usual perception cannot get but of time nor grasp anything else than change. But the time in which we are naturally placed, the change we habitually have before us, are a time and change that our senses and our consciousness have reduced to dust in order to facilitate our action upon things. Undo what they have done, bring our perception back to its origins, and we shall have a new kind of knowledge without having been obliged to have recourse to new faculties.
If this knowledge is generalized, speculation will not be the only thing to profit by jt. Everyday life can be nourished and illuminated by it. For the world into which our senses and consciousness habitually introduce us is no more than the shadow of itself: and it is as cold as death. Everything in it is arranged for our maximum convenience, but in it, everything is in a present which seems constantly to be starting afresh; and we ourselves, fashioned artificially in the image of a no less artificial universe, see ourselves in the instantaneous, speak of the past as of something done away with, and see in memory a fact strange or in any case foreign to us, an aid given to mind by matter. Let us on the contrary grasp ourselves afresh as we are, in a present which is thick, and furthermore, elastic, which we can stretch indefinitely backward by pushing the screen which masks us from ourselves farther and farther away; let us grasp afresh the external world as it really is, not superficially, in the present, but in depth, with the immediate past crowding upon it and imprinting upon it its impetus; let us in a word become accustomed to see all things sub specie durationis: immediately in our galvanized perception what is taut becomes relaxed, what is dormant awakens, what is dead comes to life again. Satisfactions which art will never give save to those favoured by nature and fortune, and only then upon rare occasions, philosophy thus understood will offer to all of us, at all times, by breathing life once again into the phantoms which surround us and by revivifying us. In so doing philosophy will become complementary to science in practice as well as in speculation. With its applications which aim only at the convenience of existence, science gives us the promise of well-being, or at most, of pleasure. But philosophy could already give us joy.
Henri Bergson/The Creative Mind/Philosophical Intuition
Translated by Mabelle L. Andison
1946 Philosophical Library New York
Lecture given at the Philosophical Congress in Bologna, April 10th, 1911
I should like to submit to you some reflections on the philosophical mind. It seems to me, and more than one report presented at this Congress bears witness to the fact, that metaphysics at present is tending to become more simplified, to draw closer to life. I think this tendency is a correct one, and that it is along this line we should work. But in so doing we shall be doing nothing revolutionary; we shall merely be giving the most appropriate form to what is the foundation of all philosophy, I mean of any philosophy which is fully conscious of its function and destination. For the complication of the letter must not allow the simplicity of the spirit to be lost to view. If we confine ourselves entirely to doctrines already formulated, to the synthesis in which they then appear to embrace the conclusions of earlier philosophies and all the forms of acquired knowledge, we run the risk of underestimating the essentially spontaneous aspect of philosophical thought.
There is a remark that those of us who teach the history of philosophy might make, those who frequently have occasion to come back to the study of the same doctrines and to go ever more deeply into them. A philosophical system seems at first to appear as a complete edifice, expertly designed, where arrangements have been made for the commodious lodging of all problems. In contemplating it in that form we experience an aesthetic joy intensified by a professional satisfaction. Not only, in fact, do we find here order in complexity (an order to which we sometimes like to add our little word as we describe it), but we also have the satisfaction of telling ourselves that we know from whence come the materials and how the building is done. In the problems the philosopher has stated we recognize the questions that were being discussed around him. In the solutions he gives to them we think we recognize, arranged or disarranged, but only slightly modified, the elements of previous or contemporary philosophies. Such a view must have been given to him by this one, another has been suggested by someone else. With what we read, heard and learned we could doubtless reproduce most of what he did. We therefore set to work, we go back to the sources, we weigh the influences, we extract the similitudes, and in the end we distinctly see in the doctrine what we were looking for: a more or less original synthesis of the ideas among which the philosopher lived.
But if we go on constantly renewing contact with the philosopher's thought, we can, by a gradual impregnation, be brought to an entirely different view. I do not say that the work of comparison undertaken at the outset was time lost: without this preliminary effort to recompose a philosophy out of what is other than itself, and to link it up to the conditions which surrounded it, we should perhaps never succeed in grasping what it actually is; for the human mind is so constructed that it cannot begin to understand the new until it has done everything in its power to relate it to the old. But, as we seek to penetrate more fully the philosopher's thought instead of circling around its exterior, his doctrine is transformed for us. In the first place its complication diminishes. Then the various parts fit into one another. Finally the, whole is brought together into a single point, which we feel could be ever more closely approached even though there is no hope of reaching it completely.
In this point is something simple, infinitely simple, so extraordinarily simple that the philosopher has never succeeded in saying it. And that is why he went on talking all his life. He could not formulate what he had in mind without feeling himself obliged to correct his formula, then to correct his correction: thus, from theory to theory, correcting when he thought he was completing, what he has accomplished, by a complication which provoked more complication, by developments heaped upon developments, has been to convey with an increasing approximation the simplicity of his original intuition. All the complexity of his doctrine, which would go on ad infinitum, is therefore only the incommensurability between his simple intuition and the means at his disposal for expressing it.
What is this intuition? If the philosopher has not been able to give the formula for it, we certainly are not able to do so. But what we shall manage to recapture and to hold is a certain intermediary image between the simplicity of the concrete intuition and the complexity of the abstractions which translate it, a receding and vanishing image, which haunts, unperceived perhaps, the mind of the philosopher, which follows him like his shadow through the ins and outs of his thought and which, if it is not the intuition itself, approaches it much more closely than the conceptual expression, of necessity symbolical, to which the intuition must have recourse in order to furnish "explanation". Let us look closely at this shadow: by doing so we shall divine the attitude of the body which projects it. And if we try to imitate this attitude, or better still to assume it ourselves, we shall see as far as it is possible what the philosopher saw.
What first of all characterizes this image is the power of negation it possesses. You recall how the demon of Socrates proceeded: it checked the philosopher's will at a given moment and prevented him from acting rather than prescribing what he should do. It seems to me that intuition often behaves in speculative matters like the demon of Socrates in practical life; it is at least in this form that it begins, in this form also that it continues to give the most clear-cut manifestations: it forbids. Faced with currently-accepted ideas, theses which seemed evident, affirmations which had up to that time passed as scientific, it whispers into the philosopher's ear the word: Impossible! Impossible, even though the facts and the reasons appeared to invite you to think it possible and real and certain. Impossible, because a certain experience, confused perhaps but decisive, speaks to you through my voice, because it is incompatible with the facts cited and the reasons given, and because hence these facts must have been badly observed, these reasonings false. What a strange force this intuitive power of negation is! How is it that the historians of philosophy have not been more greatly struck by it? Is it not obvious that the first step the philosopher takes, when his thought is still faltering and there is nothing definite in his doctrine, is to reject certain things definitively? Later he will be able to make changes in what he affirms; he will vary only slightly what he denies. And if he varies in his affirmations, it will still be in virtue of the power of negation immanent in intuition or in its image. He will have allowed himself lazily to deduce consequences according to the rules of a rectilinear logic; and then suddenly, in the face of his own affirmation he has the same feeling of impossibility that he had in the first place in considering the affirmations of others. Having in fact left the curve of his thought, to follow straight along a tangent, he has become exterior to himself. He returns to himself when he gets back to intuition. Of these departures toward an affirmation and these returns to the primary intuition are constituted the zigzaggings of a doctrine which "develops," that is to say which loses itself, finds itself again, and endlessly corrects itself.
Let us get rid of this complication and get back to the simple intuition, or at least to the image which translates it: in so doing we see the doctrine freed of those conditions of time and place upon which it seemed to depend. Doubtless the problems which the philosopher worked upon were the problems which presented themselves in his day; the science he used or criticized was the science of his time; in the theories he expounds one might even find, by looking for them, the ideas of his contemporaries and his predecessors. How could it be otherwise? Iii order to have the new understood, it must be expressed in terms of the old; and the problems already stated, the solutions provided, the philosophy and science of the times in which he lived, all these have been for each great thinker the material he was obliged to use to give a concrete form to his thought. Not to mention that it has been traditional, from ancient times, to present all philosophy as a complete system, which includes everything one knows. But it would be a strange mistake to take for a constitutive element of doctrine what was only the means of expressing it. Such is the first error to which we are exposed, as I was just saying, when we undertake the study of a system. So many partial resemblances strike us, so many parallels seem to be indicated, so many pressing appeals to our ingenuity and erudition are sent out from all directions, that we are tempted to recompose the philosopher's thought with fragments of ideas gathered here and there, praising him afterwards, of course, for having been able -- as we have just shown ourselves to be - to execute a pretty piece of mosaic. But the illusion does not last long, for we soon perceive that in the very places where the philosopher seems to be repeating things already said, he is thinking them in his own way. We then abandon the idea of recomposing; but in so doing we tumble more often than not into another illusion, less serious perhaps but more tenacious than the first. We are inclined to imagine the doctrine - even though it be that of a master--as growing out of earlier philosophies and representing "a moment of an evolution." This time, to be sure, we are not completely wrong, for a philosophy resembles an organism rather than an assemblage, and it is still better to speak of evolution in this case than of composition. But this new comparison, in addition to the fact that it attributes more continuity to the history of thought than is really in it, has the disadvantage of keeping our attention fixed upon the external complication of the system and upon what its superficial form allows us to foresee, instead of inviting us to put our finger on the novelty and simplicity of the inner content. A philosopher worthy of the name has never said more than a single thing: and even then it is something he has tried to say, rather than actually said. And he has said only one thing because he has seen only one point: and at that it was not so much a vision as a contact: this contact has furnished an impulse, this impulse a movement, and if this movement, which is as it were a kind of swirling of dust taking a particular form, becomes visible to our eyes only through what it has collected along its way, it is no less true that other bits of dust might as well have been raised and that it would still have been the same whirlwind. Thus a thought which brings something new into the world is of course obliged to manifest itself through the ready-made ideas it comes across and draws into its movement; it seems thus, as it were, relative to the epoch in which the philosopher lived; but that is frequently merely an appearance. The philosopher might have come several centuries earlier; he would have had to deal with another philosophy and another science; he would have given himself other problems; he would have expressed himself by other formulas; not one chapter perhaps of the books he wrote would have been what it is; and nevertheless he would have said the same thing.
Let me take an example. I have appealed to your professional memories: with your permission I am going to recall some of my own. As professor in the Collège de France I devote one of my courses each year to the history of philosophy. In that way I have been able, during several consecutive years, to practice at length upon Berkeley and Spinoza the experiment I have just described. I shall not discuss Spinoza; he would take us too far afield. Nevertheless I know of nothing more instructive than the contrast between the form and the matter of a book like the Ethics: on the one hand those tremendous things called Substance, Attribute and Mode, and the formidable array of theorems with the close network of definitions, corollaries and scholia, and that complication of machinery, that power to crush which causes the beginner, in the presence of the Ethics, to be struck with admiration and terror as though he were before a battleship of the Dreadnaught class;- on the other hand, something subtle, very light and almost airy, which flees at one's approach, but which one cannot look at, even from afar, without becoming incapable of attaching oneself to any part whatever of the remainder, even to what is considered essential, even to the distinction between Substance and Attribute, even to the duality of Thought and Extension. What we have behind the heavy mass of concepts of Cartesian and Aristotelian parentage, is that intuition which was Spinoza's, an intuition which no formula, no matter how simple, can be simple enough to express. Let us say, to be content with an approximation, that it is the feeling of a coincidence between the act by which our mind knows truth perfectly, and the operation by which God engenders it; the idea that the "conversion" of the Alexandrians, when it becomes complete, is indistinguishable from their "procession," that when man, sprung from divinity, succeeds in returning to it, he perceives that what he had at first taken to be two opposed movements of coming and going are in fact a single movement - moral experience in this case undertaking to resolve a logical contradiction and to fuse, by an abrupt suppression of Time, the movement of coming with that of going. The closer we get to this original intuition the better we understand that if Spinoza had lived before Descartes he would doubtless have written something other than what he wrote, but that given Spinoza living and writing, we were certain to have Spinozism in any case.
I come to Berkeley, and since it is he whom I take as example you will not think it amiss that I analyze him in detail: brevity here could only be at the expense of a strict examination of the subject. A mere glance over the work of Berkeley is enough to see that, as if of itself, it resolves into four fundamental theses. The first, which defines a certain idealism and to which is linked up the new theory of vision (although the philosopher had judged it wise to present the latter as independent) the first, I say, would be formulated thus: "Matter is a cluster of ideas." The second consists in the claim that abstract and general ideas are merely words: that is nominalism. The third thesis affirms the reality of minds and characterizes them by the will: let us say that it is spiritualism and voluntarism. The last, which we might call theism, posits the existence of God, basing itself principally on the consideration of matter. Now, nothing would be easier than to find these four theses, formulated in practically the same terms, among the contemporaries or predecessors of Berkeley. The fourth is found among the theologians. The third was in Duns Scotus; Descartes said somewhat the same thing. The second fed the controversies of the Middle Ages before becoming an integral part of the philosophy of Hobbes. As to the first, it greatly resembles the "occasionalism" of Malebranche, the idea and even the formula of which we should already discover in certain texts of Descartes; nor, for that matter had Descartes been the first to point out that dreams have every appearance of reality and that there is nothing in any of our perceptions taken separately which guarantees us the existence of a thing outside us. Thus, with the philosophers of already distant times or even, if we do not care to go back too far, with Descartes and Hobbes to whom Locke might be added, we shall have the elements necessary for the external reconstitution of Berkeley's philosophy: we shall at most leave him his theory of vision, which would then constitute his own individual work and whose originality, reflected through the rest, would give to the doctrine as a whole its original aspect. Let us then take these slices of ancient and modern philosophy, put them in the same bowl, add by way of vinegar and oil a certain aggressive impatience with regard to mathematical dogmatism and the desire, natural in a philosopher bishop, to reconcile reason with faith, mix well and turn it over and over conscientiously, and sprinkle over the whole, like so many savoury herbs, a certain number of aphorisms culled from among the NeoPlatonists: we shall have - if I may be pardoned the expression - a salad which, at a distance, will have certain resemblance to what Berkeley accomplished.
Well, anyone who went about it in this way would be incapable of penetrating Berkeley's thought. I am not speaking of the difficulties and impossibilities which he would come up against in explaining the details: a strange sort of "nominalism" that was, which ended by raising a number of general ideas to the dignity of eternal essences, immanent in the divine Intelligence! a strange negation of the reality of bodies that which is expressed by a positive theory of the nature of matter, a fertile theory, as far removed as possible from the sterile idealism which tries to assimilate perception to dreaming! What I mean to say is that it is impossible for us to examine Berkeley's philosophy carefully without seeing the four theses we have discovered in it first approach, then penetrate one another, in such a way that each of them seems to become pregnant with the other three, to take on breadth and depth, and become radically distinguished from the earlier or contemporary theories with which one could superficially identify it. Perhaps this second point of view from which the doctrine appears as an organism and not as a mere assemblage, is still not the definitive point of view. It is at least closer to the truth. I cannot go into all the details; but nevertheless I must indicate for at least one or two of the four theses, how any of the others could be extracted from them.
Let us take idealism. It does not consist merely in saying that bodies are ideas. What good would that do? We should indeed be obliged to continue to affirm everything about these ideas that experience has led us to affirm about bodies, and we should simply have substituted one word for another; for Berkeley surely does not think that matter will cease to exist when he has stopped living. What Berkeley's idealism signifies is that matter is coextensive with our representation of it; that it has no interior, no underneath; that it hides nothing, contains nothing; that it possesses neither power nor virtuality of any kind; that it is spread out as mere surface and that it is no more than what it presents to us at any given moment. The word "idea" ordinarily indicates an existence of this kind, I mean to say a completely realized existence, whose being is indistinguishable from its seeming, while the word "thing" makes us think of a reality which would be at the same time a reservoir of possibilities; that is why Berkeley prefers to call bodies ideas rather than things. But if we look upon his "idealism" in that light, we see that it coincides with his nominalism"; for the more clearly this second thesis takes shape in the philosopher's mind, the more evidently it is restricted to the, negation of general abstract ideas,abstracted, that is, extracted from matter: it is clear in fact that one cannot extract something from what contains nothing, nor consequently make a perception yield something other than the perception itself. Color being but color, resistance being only resistance, you will never find anything in common between resistance and color, you will never discover in visual data any element shared by the data of touch. If you claim to abstract from the data of either something which will be common to all, you will perceive in examining that something that you are dealing with a word: therein lies the nominalism of Berkeley; but there also, at the same time, is the "new theory of vision." If an extension which would be at once visual and tactile is only a word, it is all the more so with an extension which would involve all the senses at once: there again is nominalism, but there too is the refutation of the Cartesian theory of matter. Let us not even talk any more about extension; let us simply note that in view of the structure of language the two expressions "I have this perception" and "this perception exists" are synonymous, but that the second, introducing the same word "existence" into the description of totally different perceptions, invites us to believe that they have something in common between them and to imagine that their diversity conceals a fundamental unity, the unity of a "substance" which is, in reality, only the word existence hypostasized: there you have the whole idealism of Berkely; and this idealism, as I was saying, is identical with his nominalism.--Let us go on now, with your permission, to the theory of God and the theory of minds. If a body is made of "ideas" or, in other words, if it is entirely passive and determinate, having neither power nor virtuality, it cannot act on other bodies; and consequently the movements of bodies must be the effect of an active power, which has produced these bodies themselves and which, because of the order which the universe reveals, can only be an intelligent cause. If we are mistaken when under the name of general ideas we set up as realities the names that we have given to groups of objects or perceptions more or less artificially constituted by us on the plane of matter, such is not the case when we think we discover, behind this plane, the divine intentions: the general idea which exists only on the surface and which links body to body is no doubt only a word, but the general idea which exists in depth, relating bodies to God or rather descending from God to bodies, is a reality; and thus the nominalism of Berkeley quite naturally calls for this development of the doctrine as found in the Siris, and which has wrongly been considered a Neo-Platonic fantasy; in other words, the idealism of Berkeley is only one aspect of the theory which places God behind all the manifestations of matter. Finally, if God imprints in each one of us perceptions, or as Berkeley says, "ideas," the being which gathers up these perceptions, or rather which goes to meet them, is quite the reverse of an idea: it is a will, though one which is constantly limited by divine will. The meeting-place of these two wills is precisely what we call matter. If the percipi is pure passivity the percipere is pure activity. Human mind, matter, divine mind therefore become terms which we can express only in terms of one another. And the spiritualism of Berkeley is itself found to be only an aspect of any one of the other three theses.
Thus the various parts of the system interpenetrate, as in a living being. But, as I was saying at the beginning, the spectacle of this reciprocal penetration doubtless gives us a more precise idea of the body of the doctrine; it still does not enable us to reach the soul.
We shall get closer to it, if we can reach the mediating image referred to above,- an image which is almost matter in that it still allows itself to be seen, and almost mind in that it no longer allows itself to be touched,- a phantom which haunts us while we turn about the doctrine and to which we must go in order to obtain the decisive signal, the indication of the attitude to take and of the point from which to look. Did the mediating image which takes shape in the mind of the interpreter, as he progresses in his study of the work, exist originally in the same form in the master's thought? If it was not that particular one, it was another, which could belong to a different order of perceptions and have no material resemblance whatsoever to it, but which nevertheless would equal it in value as two translations of the same work in different languages equal one another. Perhaps these two images, perhaps even other images, still equivalent, were present all at once, following the philosopher step by step in procession through the evolutions of his thought. Or perhaps he did not perceive any one of them clearly, being content only at rare intervals to make contact directly with that still more subtle thing, intuition itself; but then we are indeed forced, as interpreters, to re-establish the intermediary image, unless we are prepared to speak of the "original intuition" as a vague thought and of the "spirit of the doctrine" as an abstraction, whereas this spirit is as concrete and this intuition as precise as anything in the system.
In Berkeley's case, I think I see two different images and the one which strikes me most is not the one whose complete indication we find in Berkeley himself. It seems to me that Berkeley perceives matter as a thin transparent film situated between man and God. It remains transparent as long as the philosophers leave it alone, and in that case God reveals Himself through it. But let the metaphysicians meddle with it, or even common sense in so far as it deals in metaphysics: immediately the film becomes dull, thick and opaque, and forms a screen because such words as Substance, Force, abstract Extension, etc. slip behind it, settle there like a layer of dust, and hinder us from seeing God through the transparency. The image is scarcely indicated by Berkeley himself though he has said in so many words "that we first raise a dust and then complain we cannot see." But there is another comparison, often evoked by the philosopher, which is only the auditory transposition of the visual image I have just described: according to this, matter is a language which God speaks to us. That being so, the metaphysics of matter thickening each one of the syllables, marking it off, setting it up as an independent entity, turns our attention away from the meaning to the sound and hinders us from following the divine word. But, whether we attach ourselves to the one or to the other, in either case we are dealing with a simple image that we must keep in view, because if it is not the intuition generating the doctrine, it is immediately derived from it, and approximates it more than any of the theses taken individually, more even than the combination of all of them.
Henri Bergson/The Creative Mind/Philosophical intuition
Translated by Mabelle L. Andison
1946 Philosophical Library New York
The hypothesis of objective reality exerts such a hold on our minds only because it is by far the easiest solution.
Lichtenberg: 'That a false hypothesis is sometimes preferable to an exact one is proven in the doctrine of human freedom. Man is, without a doubt, unfree. But it takes profound philosophical study for a man not to be led astray by such an insight. Barely one in a thousand has the necessary time and patience for such study, and of these hundreds, barely one has the necessary intelligence. This is why freedom is the most convenient conception and will, in the future, remain the most common, so much do appearances favour it.'
The exact hypothesis is that man is born unfree, that the world is born untrue, non-objective, non-rational. But this radical hypothesis is definitively beyond proof, unverifiable and, in a sense, unbearable. Hence the success of the opposite hypo thesis, of the easiest hypothesis.
Subjective illusion: that of freedom.
Objective illusion: that of reality.
Just as belief in freedom is merely the illusion of being the cause of one's own acts, so the belief in objective reality is the illusion of finding an original cause for phenomena and hence of inserting the world into the order of truth and reason.
Despairing of confronting otherness, seduction, the dual relation and destiny, we invent the easiest solution: freedom. First, the ideal concept of a subject wrestling with his own freedom. Then, de facto liberation, unconditional liberation - the highest stage of freedom.
We pass from the right to freedom to the categorical imperative of liberation.
But to this stage, too, there is the same violent abreaction: we rid ourselves of freedom in every way possible, even going so far as to invent new servitudes.
Despairing of confronting uncertainty and radical illusion, we invent the easiest solution: reality.
First, objective reality, then Integral Reality - the highest stage of reality.
To this highest stage there corresponds the equally radical disavowal of that same reality. Violent abreaction to Integral Reality - negative counter-transference.
Despairing of an aim, salvation or an ideal, we invent for ourselves the easiest solution: happiness.
Here again we begin with utopia - the ideal of happiness - and end in achieved happiness, the highest stage of happiness. The same abreaction to integral happiness as to integral reality or freedom: these are all unbearable.
In the end, it is the opposite form of misfortune, the victim ideology, that triumphs.
Being incapable of accepting thought (the idea that the world thinks us, the intelligence of evil), we invent the easiest solution, the technical solution: Artificial Intelligence.
The highest stage of intelligence: integral knowledge.
This time the rejection will arise perhaps from a resistance on the part of things themselves to their digital transparency or from a failure of the system in the form of a major accident.
Against all the sovereign hypotheses are ranged the easiest solutions.
And all the easiest solutions lead to catastrophe.
Against the hypothesis of uncertainty: the illusion of truth and reality.
Against the hypothesis of destiny: the illusion of freedom.
Against the hypothesis of evil [Mal]: the illusion of misfortune [malheur].
Against the hypothesis of thought, the illusion of Artificial Intelligence.
Against the hypothesis of the event: the illusion of information.
Against the hypothesis of becoming: the illusion of change.
Every easy solution, pushed to its extreme - Integral Reality, integral freedom, integral happiness, integral information (the highest stage of intelligence, the highest stage of reality, the highest stage of freedom, the highest stage of happiness) - finds a response in a violent abreaction: disavowal of reality, disavowal of freedom, disavowal of happiness, viruses and dysfunctions, spectrality of real time, mental resistance; all the forms of secret repulsion in respect of this ideal normalization of existence.
Which proves that there still exists everywhere, in each of us, resisting the universal beatification, an intelligence of evil.
Do You Want to be Free ?
Freedom? A dream!
Everyone aspires to it, or at least gives the impression of aspiring fervently to it.
If it is an illusion, it has become a vital illusion.
In morality, mores and mentalities, this movement, which seems to well up from the depths of history, is towards irrevocable emancipation.
And if some aspects may seem excessive or contradictory, we still experience the dizzying thrill of this emancipation.
Better: the whole of our system turns this liberation into a duty, a moral obligation - to the point where it is difficult to distinguish this liberation compulsion from a 'natural' aspiration towards, a 'natural' demand for, freedom.
Now, it is clear that, where all forms of servitude are concerned, everyone wants to throw them off; where all forms of constraint are concerned - physical constraints or constraints of law - everyone wishes to be free of them. This is such a vital reaction that there is barely, in the end, any need of an idea of freedom to express it.
Things become problematic when the prospect arises for the subject of being answerable solely for him/herself in an undifferentiated universe. For this symbolic disobligation is accompanied by a general deregulation. And it is in this universe of free electrons - free to become anything whatever in a system of generalized exchange - that we see growing, simultaneously, a contrary impulse, a resistance to this availability of everyone and everything that is every bit as deep as the desire for freedom. A passion for rules of whatever kind that is equal to the passion for deregulation.
In the anthropological depths of the species, the demand for rules is as fundamental as the demand to be free of them.
No one can say which is the more basic.
What we can see, after a long period of ascendancy for the process of liberation, is the resurrection of all those movements that are more and more steadfastly resistant to boundless emancipation and total immunity.
A desire for rules that has nothing to do with submission to the law. It might even be said to run directly counter to it, since, whereas the law is abstract and universal, the rule, for its part, is a two-way obligation. And it is neither of the order of law, nor of duty, nor of moral and psychological law.
Regarded everywhere as an absolute advance of the human race, and with the seal set on it by human rights, liberation starts out from the idea of a natural predestination to be free: being 'liberated' absolves the human being of an original evil, restores a happy purpose and a natural vocation to him. It is our salvation, the true baptismal sacrament of modern, democratic man.
Now, this is a utopia.
This impulse to resolve the ambivalence of good and evil and jump over one's shadow into absolute positivity is a utopia.
The ambivalence is definitive, and the things liberated are liberated in total ambivalence.
You cannot liberate good without liberating evil. Sometimes evil even quicker than good, as part of the same movement.
At any rate, what we have here is a deregulation of both.
Liberation opens up a limitless growth and acceleration.
It is once this critical threshold has been crossed (this phase transition, much as in the physical world) that things begin to float - time, money, sex, production - in a vertiginous raising of the stakes, such as we are experiencing today, which brings an uncontrollable eruption of all autonomies, all differences, in a movement that is at once uncertain, fluctuating and exponential.
At this poin t freedom is already far behind, overtaken and outdistanced by liberation.
What is forming before us is a freedom of circulation of each autonomized human particle under the banner of total information and integration. Each one realizing itself fully in the technical extension of all its possibilities: all stakeholders and partners in a general interaction. Only the God of the Market will recognize his own, and the 'Invisible Hand' is now the weightless ascendancy of software and networks in the name of Universal Free Exchange - the highest stage of deregulation.
A logical, fateful consquence of a dynamic that seems to be at work from the origin of historical societies - the dynamic of a progressive, universal deregulation of all human relations.
From feudalism to capital and beyond, what we see is, above all, an immense advance in the freedom of exchange, in the free circulation of goods, flows, persons and capital.
The movement is irreversible, not in terms of human progress but in terms of the market, of the progressive advance of an inescapable globalization.
This is the last stage liberalism passes through in its unremitting advance towards generalized exchange, a process of which capital, with its conflicts, contradictions, violent history - simply with its 'history' - is ultimately just the prehistory.
However, we see resistance to this second 'revolution' springing up on all sides - forms of resistance even more intense than those aroused by the advent of the Enlightenment: all these movements of re-involution (the opposite of revolution), whether religious, sectarian or corporatist, new fundamentalisms or new feudalisms, which simply seem to be trying to rid themselves everywhere of this unconditional freedom and find new forms of oversight, protection and vassalage, to counter an unbearable disaffiliation with an archaic fidelity.
To counter deregulation with a new set of rules.
It may even be that the only refuge from the global, from a total exposure to the laws of the market, will once again be the condition of wage -earner, the 'social' with its institutional protection.
In other words, a defence of the good old 'alienated' condition, though protected by its very alienation, as it were, from overexposure to the laws of flows and networks alone. With this 'voluntary' alienation possibly extending as far as an even more archaic regression to any kind of protective transcendence that offers preservation from this scattering about the networks, this dispersion and dissemination into the void.
Only now do we realize we shall never be done with this paradox of freedom. For this irreversible movement of emancipation can be seen either as progress on the part of the species (it is, at any rate, this emancipation that ensures the superiority of the human species over all others) or, in a quite opposite way, as an anthropological catastrophe, an unbinding, a dizzying deregulation, whose ultimate goal we cannot grasp but which seems to be developing towards an unforeseeable extreme that may either be the highest stage of universal intelligence or of total entropy.
We pass the buck on freedom in every possible way.
In a continual transference, we devolve our own desires, our own lives, our own wills, to any other agency whatever.
If the people puts itself in the hands of the political class, it does so more to be rid of power than out of any desire for representation. We may interpret this as a sign of passivity and irresponsibility, but why not venture a subtler hypothesis: namely, that this passing of the buck proceeds from an unwittingly lucid intuition of an absence of desire and will of their own - in short, a secret awareness of the illusoriness of freedom?
The notion is doubly illusory, since it encapsulates in itself the double mystification of the two concepts of freedom and will. And the idea of a will, understood as autonomous determination of the individual being, is no less false when it turns round against freedom.
The illusion does not necessarily lie where one thinks it does, and if a few only (Lichtenberg) are able to know that they are 'unfree' and to accept that destiny, the great bulk of the others ultimately have fewer illusions about their free will than those who created the concept.
This does not stop 'voluntary servitude' having its rules and strategies.
It is by the absence of a desire of one's own that the other's will to dominate is thwarted: these are the ruses of seduction.
It is by transferring the responsibility of power on to the other that a form of equal deterrent power is exercised: these are the ruses of the accursed share.
Having said this, the present form of servitude is no longer the - voluntary or involuntary - form of the absence of freedom. It is, rather, that of an excess of freedom in which man, liberated at any price, no longer knows what he is free from, nor why he is free, nor what identity to commit himself to; in which, having all that is around him available for his use, he no longer knows how to make use of himself.
In this sense, the immersion in screens, networks and the technologies of Virtual Reality, with its immense possibilities, has spelled a great stride forward for liberation and has, at the same time, put an end to the question of freedom.
This resiling, in digital manipulation, from care of the self and responsibility - from that portion of freedom and subjectivity to which we lay claim so noisily and which we seek by all possible means to be rid of - is today the easiest solution. To the point where it is the essential task of government forcibly to redistribute responsibility, enjoining everyone to take responsibility for themselves 'freely and fully''.
The political authorities themselves strive constantly to assume an air of responsibility while passing the buck in every possible way (it is, in fact, better to be guilty than responsible, as guilt can always be imputed to some obscure force, whereas, with responsibility, the onus is on you).
Fortunately, there are other, more poetic ways of ridding oneself of freedom - that of gaming, for example, where what is at stake is not a freedom subject to the law, but a sovereignty subject to rules. A more subtle and paradoxical freedom which consists in a rigorous observance, an enchanted form of voluntary servitude that is, as it were, the miraculous combination of master and slave: in gaming no one is free, everyone is both the master and the slave of the game.
Do You Want to be Anyone Else?
Individuality is a recent phenomenon. It is only over the last two centuries that the populations of the civilized countries have demanded the democratic privilege of being individuals.
Before that, they were what they were: slaves, peasants, artisans, men or women, fathers or children -not 'individuals' or 'fully-fledged subjects'.
Only with our modern civilization did we find ourselves forcibly inducted into this individual existence.
Of course, we fight to retain this 'inalienable' right, and we are naturally driven to win it and defend it at all costs. We demand this freedom, this autonomy, as a fundamental human right and, at the same time, we are crippled by the responsibility that ends up making us detest ourselves as such.
This is what resounds in the complaint of Job. God asks too much: ''What is a man, that thou shouldest magnify him? And that thou shouldest set thy heart upon him? And that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment? How long wilt thou not depart from me, nor let me alone till I swallow down my spittle?"
This leaves us subject to a contradictory twofold requirement: to seek an identity by all possible means - by hounding the identities of others or by exploring the networks - and to slough off identity in every possible way, as though it were a burden or a disguise.
It is as though liberty and individuality, from having been a 'natural' state in which one may act freely, had become artificial states, a kind of moral imperative, whose implacable decree makes us hostages to our identities and our own wills.
This is a very particular case of Stockholm Syndrome, since we are here both the terrorist and the hostage. Now, the hostage is by definition the unexchangeable, accursed object you cannot be rid of because you don't know what to do with it.
The situation is the same for the subject: as a hostage to himself, he doesn't know how to exchange himself or be rid of himself.
Being unable to conceive that identity has never existed and that it is merely something we play-act, we fuel this subjective illusion to the point of exhaustion. We wear ourselves out feeding this ghost of a representation of ourselves.
We are overwhelmed by this pretension, this obstinate determination to carry around an identity which it is impossible to exchange (it can be exchanged only for the parallel illusion of an objective reality, in the same metaphysical cycle into which we are locked).
All the grand narratives of our individual consciousness of freedom, will, identity and responsibility - merely add a useless, even contradictory, over-determination to our actions as they 'occur' To the effect that we are the cause of them, that they are the doing of our will, that our decisions are the product of our free will, etc.
But our actions do not need this: we can decide and act without there being any need to involve the will and the idea of the will. There is no need to involve the idea of free will to make choices in one's life. Above all, there is no need to involve the idea of subject and its identity in order to exist (it is better, in any case, to involve that of alterity).
These are all useless, like the belief that is superadded to the existence of God (if he exists, he doesn't need it). And so we believe in a free, willed determination of our actions and it gives them a meaning, at the same time as it gives meaning to us - the sense of being the authors of those actions. But this is all a reconstruction, like the reconstruction of the dream narrative.
'A person's actions are commonly continuations of his own inner constitution the way the magnet bestows form and order on iron filings' (Lichtenberg).
This is the problem Luke Rhinehart sets himself in his novel The Dice Man: how are we to slough off this freedom, this ego which is captive to its free will? The solution he finds is that of chance.
Among all the possibilities for shattering the mirror of identity, for freeing beings from the terrorism of the ego, there is the option of surrendering oneself to chance, to the dice, for all one's actions and decisions. No free will any longer, no responsible subject, but merely the play of a random dispersal, an artificial diaspora of the ego.
At bottom, the ego is itself a form of superego: it is the ego we must rid ourselves of, above all. We must live without reference to a model of identity or a general equivalent.
But the trap with these plural identities, these multiple existences, this devolution on to 'intelligent machines' - dice machines as well as the machines of the networks - is that once the general equivalent has disappeared, all the new possibilities are equivalent to one another and hence cancel each other out in a general indifference. Equivalence is still there, but it is no longer the equivalence of an agency at the top (the ego); it is the equivalence of all the little egos 'liberated' by its disappearance. The erosion of destinies occurs by the very excess of possibilities - as the erosion of knowledge occurs by the very excess of information or sexual erosion by the removal of prohibitions, etc.
When, under the banner of identity, existence is so individualized, so atomized (' atomon' is the literal equivalent of individual) that its exchange is impossible, the multiplication of existences leads only to a simulacrum of alterity.
To be able to exchange itself for anything or anyone is merely an extreme, desperate form of impossible exchange.
Multiplying identities never produces anything more than all the illusory strategies for decentralizing power: it is pure illusion, pure stratagem.
A fine metaphor of this fractal, proliferating identity is the storyline of the film Being John Malkovich (by Spike Jonze) or, more precisely, the moment when Malkovich, by means of a virtual apparatus, goes back into his own skin - until then it was the others who wanted to become Malkovich, this time it is Malkovich who wants to re-enter himself, to become himself at one remove, a meta-Malkovich as it were. It is at this point that he diffracts into countless metastases: by a kind of fantastic image feedback, everyone around him becomes Malkovich. He becomes the universal projection of himself. This is the paroxystic form of identity (here treated with humour).
So it is that everywhere redoubled identity ends in a pure extrapolation of itself.
It becomes a special effect which, with the coming of electronic and genetic manipulation, veers towards cloning pure and simple. It is in the entire machinery of the Virtual and the mental diaspora of the networks today that the fate of Homo fractalis is played out: the definitive abdication of his identity and freedom, of his ego and his superego.
In these games of free will and identity, one novel variant is that of the double life.
This is what happens with Romand, who, in order to escape the banality of everyday, provincial life, invents a parallel life for himself and, covering his tracks (to the point where he wipes out his whole family to hide the traces of his 'real' existence), becomes, in his own life, his own stand-in or shadow.
It is by doubling and not in any sense by recourse to dissimulation that Romand imparts a fatal twist to his life. To transfigure insignificance and banality, all that is needed is to turn them into a parallel universe. There is no simulation in all this. All the psychological and sociological explanations of this duplicity and all the categories - lying, cowardice, egoism - to which it is assigned are mere fabrications.
It is not even a question of schizophrenia. The phantom existence into which Romand settles has no meaning, but his home life, his 'normal' life, has no greater meaning. And so, as it were, he substitutes for the insignificance of his real life the even greater insignificance of his double life - transfiguring it in this way by an original form of counter-transference.
And it is this that gave him his energy, the force of inertia that saw him able to bear this clandestine life so long. For, greatly deficient as it may have been, and deadly boring at times, there were extraordinary benefits to be had from it.
There was the possibility of becoming someone else, of existing incognito somewhere else. Of seeing without being seen, of preserving a secret side to oneself, even - indeed, most importantly - preserving it from one's nearest and dearest.
If Romand was able to survive in this (not even heroic) clandestine state, it was by dint of this secrecy, by dint of something the others had not even an inkling of -real 'insider trading' This was the price paid for the privilege of playing a game whose rules he alone laid down.
There is the mystery of the invisibility that gave him the strength to spend hours in carparks. The remarkable enjoyment of that monotony that did not even have the charm of solitude.
But there is another mystery: namely, that the others should come, in time, to connive in the illusion. For, unless we assume his wife, parents and children remained silent out of resignation, then their lack of awareness, their ignorance, become as inexplicable as his lingering in the car parks and cafeterias. Except when we see all this as a dual operation, not something got up by a single individual.
Lying, illusion and simulation are always operations in which there is complicity.
The mystified party is always a participant. This is true, indeed, of any relationship: there is no active or passive; there is no individual, there is only the dual.
One cannot therefore test anyone's individual truthfulness or sincerity.
One can no more explain the silence of those around him than Romand's own silence. The deeper he gets into his stratagem, the deeper the others retreat into their absence of curiosity. It is genuinely a conspiracy. There is no hidden truth. This is what gives the impostor his power. If there were a hidden truth, he could be unmasked, or he could unmask himself.
But we can clearly see throughout the whole story that he cannot, since the imposture is shared. To the point where the fact of wiping out his entire family in the end can, paradoxically, be regarded as a variant of suicide.
For the crime to be perfect, there must be no witnesses for the prosecution, but there must also be no defense witnesses, none who attempt at all costs to explain his act and to unravel this singular conspiracy. To find a moral or social reason is always to betray the secret, but Romand's crime is not so much the murder of his nearest and dearest as the thwarting of any moral and social justification.
In Elia Kazan's film The Arrangement, Eddie becomes sick of his own persona in the family and in his work. He therefore resolves to 'suicide' this official Eddie, this conformist version, to find out what his buried double is like, that double of which this 'real' Eddie is merely the empty outer shell. Gradually, then, he strips out all the elements of his conventional life: his job, his wife, his status, his sexuality, and even his father, of whom he rids himself in the end, and the house, which he burns down. Once all the marks of identity are swept away, all the terms of the ordered 'arrangement', what is left? Nothing. He returns to a meaningless conformism, into which he settles like his own shadow - or like the man who has lost his shadow. The dream of identity ends in indifference.
What can be read between the lines of these stories is that chance and destiny are not to be found elsewhere, in some imaginary decree.
Chance is already present in the unpredictability of ordinary life. There is nothing more unpredictable than any moment of daily life.
All one needs to do is to acknowledge immediately the non-existence of this individual structure, and to recognize that the ego exists only in the showing-through [transparition] of the world and all its most insignificant possibilities.
It is no use wondering where freedom or identity lies and what is to be done with them. Human beings are the coming to-pass of what they are and what they do.
Therein lies the movement of becoming, and what they wanted to be is not an issue; their ideals or free will are not an issue: these are merely retrospective justifications.
At bottom, says Barthes, we are faced with an alternative: either we suppose a real that is entirely permeable to history (to meaning, to the idea, to interpretation, to decision) and we ideologize or, by contrast, we suppose a real that is ultimately impenetrable and irreducible and in that case we poetize.
This would, at any rate, explain the coexistence in every one of the best and the worst or, in 'criminals' of an absolutely normal behaviour and an unintelligible violence which is itself a thing divided, as though alien to itself, as we see in so much crime reporting. 'He was so gentle, so kind ... '
All this is inexplicable in terms of identity and individual will.
This simultaneity of contradictory behaviors merely reflects the entanglement of reality and its disavowal that is our collective horizon today.
Jean Baudrillard/The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact / The Easiest Solutions
First published in France, 2004 by Editions Galilee © Galilee, 2004, Le Pact de lucidite ou l'intelligence du Mal
Typeset by JS Typesetting, Porthcawl, Mid Glamorgan Printed in the United Kingdom by BiddIes Ltd, King's Lynn
Videos, interactive screens, multimedia, the Internet, Virtual Reality: interactivity threatens us on all sides. What was once separated is everywhere merged. Distance is everywhere abolished: between the sexes, between opposite poles, between the stage and the auditorium, between the protagonists of the action, between the subject and the object, between the real and its double.
And this confusion of terms, this collision of poles, means that nowhere is value judgement now possible anywhere any longer: either in art, or in morality or in politics.
By the abolition of distance, of the 'pathos' of distance, everything becomes undecidable.
When an event and the broadcasting of that event in real time are too close together, the event is rendered undecidable and virtual; it is stripped of its historical dimension and removed from memory. We are in a generalized feedback effect.
Wherever a mingling of this kind - a collision of poles occurs, then the vital tension is discharged. Even in 'reality TV' where, in the live telling of the story, the immediate televisual acting, we see the confusion of existence and its double.
There is no separation any longer, no emptiness, no absence: you enter the screen and the visual image unimpeded. You enter life itself as though walking on to a screen. You slip on your own life like a data suit.
Unlike photography, cinema and painting, where there is a scene and a gaze, the video image, like the computer screen, induces a kind of immersion, a sort of umbilical relation, of 'tactile' interaction, as McLuhan used to say. You enter the fluid substance of the image, possibly to modify it, in the same way as science infiltrates itself into the genome and into the genetic code to transform the body itself.
It is the same with text, with any 'virtual' text (the Internet, word-processing): you work on it like a computer-generated image, which no longer bears any relation to the transcendence of the gaze or of writing. At any rate, as soon as you are in front of the screen, you no longer see the text as a text, but as an image. Now, it is in the strict separation of text and screen, of text and image, that writing is an activity in its own right, never an interaction.
Similarly, it is only with the strict separation of stage and auditorium that the spectator is an actor in his/her own right. Everything today conspires to abolish that separation: the immersion of the spectator in the spectacle, 'living theatre', 'happenings'.
The spectacle becomes user-friendly, interactive. The apogee of spectacle or its end? When everyone is an actor, there is no action any longer, no scene. It's the death of the spectator as such. The end of the aesthetic illusion.
In fact, everything that was so much trouble to separate, to sex, to transcend, to sublimate and to metamorphose by distance is today being constantly melded together. All that has been wrested from reality we are in the process of realizing by force - there will always be a technique for laying hold of it and making it operational. 'You dreamed it, we made it.' Everything that was so much trouble to destroy, we are today hell-bent on restoring. What we have here, in fact, is an immense reductionism, an immense revisionism.
In the sphere of the Virtual-of the digital, the computer, integral calculus -nothing is representable. It is not a 'scene', and there is neither distance nor a critical or aesthetic gaze: there is total immersion and the countless images that come to us from this media sphere are not of the order of representation, but of decoding and visual consumption. They do not educate us, they inform us. And it is impossible to work back from them to some tangible reality - even a political reality. Even war in this sense is no longer representable, and to the ordeal of war is now added that of the impossibility of representation - in spite of, or because of, the hypervisualization of the event. The war in Iraq and the Gulf War were vivid illustrations of this.
For there to be critical perception and genuine information, the images would have to be different from the war. But they are not (or not any longer): to the routinized violence of war is added the equally routine violence of the images. To the technical virtuality of the war is added the digital virtuality of the images.
If we understand war for what it is today (beyond its political stakes), namely the instrument of a violent acculturation to the world order, then the media and images are part of the Integral Reality of war. They are the subtler instrument of the same homogenization by force.
In this impossibility of re-apprehending the world through images and of moving from information to a collective action and will, in this absence of sensibility and mobilization, it isn't apathy or general indifference that's at issue; it is quite simply that the umbilical cord of representation is severed.
The screen reflects nothing. It is as though you are behind a two-way mirror: you see the world, but it doesn't see you, it doesn't look at you. Now, you only see things if they are looking at you. The screen screens out any dual relation (any possibility of 'response').
It is this failure of representation which, together with a failure of action, underlies the impossibility of developing an ethics of information, an ethics of images, an ethics of the Virtual and the networks. All attempts in that direction inevitably fail.
All that remains is the mental diaspora of images and the extravagant performance of the medium.
Susan Sontag tells a good story about this pre-eminence of the medium and of images: as she is sitting in front of the television watching the moon landing, the people she is watching with tell her they don't believe it at all. 'But what are you watching, then?' she asks. 'Oh, we're watching television!' Fantastic: they do not see the moon; they see only the screen showing the moon. They do not see the message; they see only the image.
Ultimately, contrary to what Susan Sontag thinks, only intellectuals believe in the ascendancy of meaning; 'people' believe only in the ascendancy of signs. They long ago said goodbye to reality. They have gone over, body and soul, to the spectacular.
What are we to do with an interactive world in which the demarcation line between subject and object is virtually abolished?
That world can no longer either be reflected or represented; it can only be refracted or diffracted now by operations that are, without distinction, operations of brain and screen - the mental operations of a brain that has itself become a screen.
The other side of this Integral Reality is that everything operates in an integrated circuit. In the information media - and in our heads too - the image-feedback dominates, the insistent presence of the monitors - this convolution of things that operate in a loop, that connect back round to themselves like a Klein bottle, that fold back into themselves. The perfect reality, in the sense that everything is verified by adherence to, by confusion with, its own image.
This process assumes its full magnitude in the visual and media world, but also in everyday, individual life, in our acts and thoughts. Such an automatic refraction affects even our perception of the world, sealing everything, as it were, by a focusing on itself.
It is a phenomenon that is particularly marked in the photographic world, where everything is immediately decked out with a context, a culture, a meaning, an idea, disarming any vision and creating a form of blindness condemned by Rafael Sanchez Ferlosio: 'There exists a terrible form of blindness which very few people notice: the blindness that allows you to look and see, but not to see at a stroke without looking. That is how things were before: you didn't look at them, you were happy simply to see them. Everything today is poisoned with duplicity; there is no pure, direct impulse. So, for example, the countryside has become "landscape" or, in other words, a representation of itself ... '
In this sense, it is our very perception, our immediate sensibility, that has become aesthetic. Sight, hearing, touch - all our senses have become aesthetic in the worst sense of the term. Any new vision of things can only be the product, then, of a deconstruction of this image-feedback, of a resolution of this counter-transference that blocks our vision, in order to restore the world to its sensory illusoriness (with no feedback and no image feedback).
In the mirror we differentiate ourselves from our image, we enter upon an open form of alienation and of play with it. The mirror, the image, the gaze, the scene - all these things open on to a culture of metaphor.
Whereas in the operation of the Virtual, at a certain level of immersion in the visual machinery, the man/machine distinction no longer holds: the machine is on both sides of the interface. Perhaps you are indeed merely the machine's space now - the human being having become the virtual reality of the machine, its mirror operator.
This has to do with the very essence of the screen. There is no 'through' the screen the way there is a 'through' the looking-glass or mirror. The dimensions of time itself merge there in 'real time' And, the characteristic of any virtual surface being first of all to be there, to be empty and thus capable of being filled with anything whatever, it is left to you to enter, in real time, into interactivity with the void.
Machines produce only machines. The texts, images, films, speech and programmes which come out of the computer are machine products, and they bear the marks of such products: they are artificially padded-out, face-lifted by the machine; the films are stuffed with special effects, the texts full of longueurs and repetitions due to the machine's malicious will to function at all costs (that is its passion), and to the operator's fascination with this limitless possibility of functioning.
Hence the wearisome character in films of all this violence and pornographied sexuality, which are merely special effects of violence and sex, no longer even fantasized by humans, but pure machinic violence.
And this explains all these texts that resemble the work of 'intelligent' virtual agents, whose only act is the act of programming.
This has nothing to do with automatic writing, which played on the magical telescoping of words and concepts, whereas all we have here is the automatism of programming, an automatic run-through of all the possibilities.
It is this phantasm of the ideal performance of the text or image, the possibility of correcting endlessly, which produce in the 'creative artist' this vertige of interactivity with his own object, alongside the anxious vertige at not having reached the technological limits of his possibilities.
In fact, it is the (virtual) machine which is speaking you, the machine which is thinking you.
And is there really any possibility of discovering something in cyberspace? The Internet merely simulates a free mental space, a space of freedom and discovery. In fact, it merely offers a multiple but conventional space, in which the operator interacts with known elements, pre-existent sites, established codes. Nothing exists beyond its search parameters. Every question has an anticipated response assigned to it. You are the questioner and, at the same time, the automatic answering device of the machine. Both coder and decoder - you are, in fact, your own terminal.
That is the ecstasy of communication.
There is no 'Other' out there and no final destination. It's any old destination - and any old interactor will do. And so the system goes on, without end and without finality, and its only possibility is that of infinite involution. Hence the comfortable vertige of this electronic, computer interaction, which acts like a drug. You can spend your whole life at this, without a break. Drugs themselves are only ever the perfect example of a crazed, closed-circuit interactivity.
People tell you the computer is just a handier, more complex kind of typewriter. But that isn't true. The typewriter is an entirely external object. The page floats free, and so do I. I have a physical relation to writing. I touch the blank or written page with my eyes - something I cannot do with the screen. The computer is a prosthesis. I have a tactile, intersensory relation to it. I become myself, an ectoplasm of the screen.
And this, no doubt, explains, in this incubation of the virtual image and the brain, the malfunctions which afflict computers, and which are like the failings of one's own body. On the other hand, the fact that priority belongs to the network and not to individuals implies the possibility of hiding, of disappearing into the intangible space of the Virtual, so that you cannot be pinned down anywhere, which resolves all problems of identity, not to mention those of alterity.
So, the attraction of all these virtual machines no doubt derives not so much from the thirst for information and knowledge as from the desire to disappear, and the possibility of dissolving oneself into a phantom conviviality.
A kind of 'high' that takes the place of happiness. But virtuality comes close to happiness only because it surreptitiously removes all reference from it. It gives you everything, but it subtly deprives you of everything at the same time. The subject is, in a sense, realized to perfection, but when realized to perfection, it automatically becomes object, and panic sets in.
However, we must not look on this domination of the Virtual as something inevitable. Above all, we must not take the Virtual for a 'reality' (definitely going too far!) and apply the categories of the real and the rational to it. That is the same misconception as reinterpreting science in the terms of theology, as has been done for centuries, not seeing that science put an end to theology. Or interpreting the media in the Marxist terms of alienation, in socio-political terms from ancient history, not seeing that the course of history came to an end with the entry on the scene of the news media and, more generally, that it was all over with reality once the Virtual came on the scene.
However, with the Virtual we find ourselves up against a strange paradox. This is because the Virtual can deny its own reality only at the same time as it denies the reality of all the rest. It is caught up in a game whose rules it does not control (no one controls them!)
The Virtual is not, then, the 'last word'; it is merely the virtual illusion, the illusion of the Virtual.
There is no highest stage of intelligence - and Artificial Intelligence is certainly no such stage.
We have already seen the media revolution being misunderstood when the medium was reduced to a mere instrumental technique. We see here the same misunderstanding of the meaning of the Virtual when it is reduced to an applied technology. People did not see that the irruption of both overturned the very principle of reality. So they speak of the proper use of the Virtual, of an ethics of the Virtual, of virtual 'democracy', without changing anything of the traditional categories.
Now, the specificity of the Virtual is that it constitutes an event in the real against the real and throws into question all these categories of the real, the social, the political and history - such that the only emergence of any of these things now is virtual.
This is to say that there is no longer any politics now but the virtual (and not a politics of the Virtual), no longer any history but the virtual (and not a history of the Virtual), no longer any technology but the virtual (and not a technology o f the Virtual). Not to mention the 'arts of the Virtual' - as though art remained art while playing with the digital and the numeric. Or the economy, which has itself passed over into virtuality, that is to say, into pure speculation.
This upping of the stakes shows that the rationale for the Virtual does not lie within itself, any more than is the case with the economy, and that it constructs itself by headlong flight forward, as a simulation effect, as substitution for the impossible exchange of the world.
Conclusion: from the moment the economic is there for something else, there is no point making endless critiques of it or analysing its transformations.
As soon as the Virtual is there for something else, there is no point enquiring into its principles or purposes, no point being for it or against it.
For the destiny of these things lies elsewhere. And the destiny of the analysis too: everything changes depending on whether you analyse a system by its own logic or in terms of the idea that it is there for something else.
We must have a sense of this illusion of the Virtual somewhere, since, at the same time as we plunge into this machinery and its superficial abysses, it is as though we viewed it as theatre. Just as we view news coverage as theatre.
Of news coverage we are the hostages, but we also treat it as spectacle, consume it as spectacle, without regard for its credibility. A latent incredulity and derision prevent us from being totally in the grip of the information media.
It isn't critical consciousness that causes us to distance ourselves from it in this way, but the reflex of no longer wanting to play the game. Somewhere in us lies a profound desire not to have information and transparency (nor perhaps freedom and democracy - all this needs looking at again). Towards all these ideals of modernity there is something like a collective form of mental reserve, of innate immunity.
It would be best, then, to pose all these problems in terms other than those of alienation and the unhappy destiny of the subject (which is where all critical analysis ends Up).
The unlimited extension of the Virtual itself pushes us towards something like pataphysics, as the science of all that exceeds its own limits, of all that exceeds the laws of physics and metaphysics. The pre-eminently ironic science, corresponding to a state in which things reach a pitch that is simultaneously paroxystic and parodic.
Can we advance the hypothesis that, beyond the critical stage, the heroic stage (which is still that of metaphysics), there is an ironic stage of technology, an ironic stage of history, an ironic stage of value, etc.?
This would free us from the Heideggerian view of technology as the effectuation, and the last stage, of metaphysics; it would free us from all retrospective nostalgia for being, giving us, rather, a gigantic objective irony, a superior intuition of the illusoriness of all this process - which would not be far from the radical post-historical snobbery Alexandre Kojeve spoke of.
At the heart of this artificial reality, this Virtual Reality, this irony is perhaps all we have left of the original illusion, which at least preserves us from any temptation one day to possess the truth.
excerpt from the book: 'The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact /'The Mental Diaspora of the Networks' by Jean Baudrillard
Let us listen to what is said in these fantastic fragments. Imagination is not madness. Even if in the arbitrariness of hallucination, alienation finds the first access to its vain liberty, madness begins only beyond this point, when the mind binds itself to this arbitrariness and becomes a prisoner of this apparent liberty. At the moment he wakes from a dream, a man can indeed observe: "I am imagining that I am dead": he thereby denounces and measures the arbitrariness of the imagination—he is not mad. He is mad when he posits as an affirmation of his death—when he suggests as having some value as truth—the still-neutral content of the image "I am dead." And just as the consciousness of truth is not carried away by the mere presence of the image, but in the act which limits, confronts, unifies, or dissociates the image, so madness will begin only in the act which gives the value of truth to the image. There is an original innocence of the imagination: "The imagination itself does not err, since it neither denies nor affirms but is fixed to so great a degree on the simple contemplation of an image"; and only the mind can turn what is given in the image into abusive truth, in other words, into error, or acknowledged error, that is, into truth: "A drunk man thinks he sees two candles where there is but one; a man who has a strabismus and whose mind is cultivated immediately acknowledges his error and accustoms himself to see but one." Madness is thus beyond imagination, and yet it is profoundly rooted in it; for it consists merely in allowing the image a spontaneous value, total and absolute truth. The act of the reasonable man who, rightly or wrongly, judges an image to be true or false, is beyond this image, transcends and measures it by what is not itself; the act of the madman never oversteps the image presented, but surrenders to its immediacy, and affirms it only insofar is it is enveloped by it: "Many persons, not to say all, succumb to madness only from being too concerned about an object." Inside the image, confiscated by it, and incapable of escaping from it, madness is nonetheless more than imagination, forming an act of undetermined content.
What is this act? An act of faith, an act of affirmation and of negation—a discourse which sustains and at the same time erodes the image, undermines it, distends it in the course of a reasoning, and organizes it around a segment of language. The man who imagines he is made of glass is not mad, for any sleeper can have this image in a dream; but he is mad if, believing he is made of glass, he thereby concludes that he is fragile, that he is in danger of breaking, that he must touch no object which might be too resistant, that he must in fact remain motionless, and so on. Such reasonings are those of a madman; but again we must note that in themselves they are neither absurd nor illogical. On the contrary, they apply correctly the most rigorous figures of logic. And Paul Zacchias has no difficulty finding them, in all their rigor, among the insane. Syllogism, in a man letting himself starve to death: "The dead do not eat; I am dead; hence I do not eat." Induction extended to infinity, in a man suffering from persecution delusions: "A, B, and C are my enemies; all of them are men; therefore all men are my enemies." Enthymeme, in another sufferer: "Most of those who have lived in this house are dead, hence I, who have lived in this house, am dead." The marvelous logic of the mad which seems to mock that of the logicians because it resembles it so exactly, or rather because it is exactly the same, and because at the secret heart of madness, at the core of so many errors, so many absurdities, so many words and gestures without consequence, we discover, finally, the hidden perfection of a language. "From these things," Zacchias concludes, "you truly see how best to discuss the intellect." The ultimate language of madness is that of reason, but the language of reason enveloped in the prestige of the image, limited to the locus of appearance which the image defines. It forms, outside the totality of images and the universality of discourse, an abusive, singular organization whose insistent quality constitutes madness. Madness, then, is not altogether in the image, which of itself is neither true nor false, neither reasonable nor mad; nor is it, further, in the reasoning which is mere form, revealing nothing but the indubitable figures of logic. And yet madness is in one and in the other: in a special version or figure of their relationship.
Let us consider an example borrowed from Diemerbroek. A man was suffering from a profound melancholia. As with all melancholies, his mind was attached to a fixed idea, and this idea was for him the occasion of a constantly renewed sadness. He accused himself of having killed his son, and in the excess of his remorse, declared that God, for his punishment, had assigned a demon to tempt him, like the demon which had tempted the Lord. This demon he saw, spoke to, heard, and answered. He did not understand why those around him refused to acknowledge such a presence. Such then is madness: this remorse, this belief, this hallucination, these speeches; in short, this complex of convictions and images which constitutes a delirium. Now Diemerbroek tries to find out what are the "causes" of this madness, how it can have originated. And this is what he learns: this man had taken his son bathing and the boy had drowned. Hence the father considered himself responsible for his son's death. We can therefore reconstitute in the following manner the development of this madness: judging himself guilty, the man decides that homicide is execrable in the sight of God on High; whence it occurs to his imagination that he is eternally damned; and since he knows that the chief torment of damnation consists in being delivered into Satan's hands, he tells himself "that a horrible demon is assigned to him." This demon he does not as yet see, but since "he does not cease thinking of it," and "regards this notion as necessarily true," he imposes on his brain a certain image of this demon; this image is presented to his soul by the action of the brain and of the spirits with such insistence that he believes he continually sees the demon itself."
Hence madness, as analyzed by Diemerbroek, has two levels; one is manifest to all eyes: an unwarranted melancholia in a man who wrongly accuses himself of having killed his son; a depraved imagination which pictures demons; a dismantled reason which converses with a phantom. But at a deeper level, we find a rigorous organization dependent on the faultless armature of a discourse. This discourse, in its logic, commands the firmest belief in itself, it advances by judgments and reasonings which connect together; it is a kind of reason in action. In short, under the chaotic and manifest delirium reigns the order of a secret delirium. In this second delirium, which is, in a sense, pure reason, reason delivered of all the external tinsel of dementia, is located the paradoxical truth of madness. And this in a double sense, since we find here both what makes madness true (irrefutable logic, perfectly organized discourse, faultless connection in the transparency of a virtual language) and what makes it truly madness (its own nature, the special style of all its manifestations, and the internal structure of delirium).
But still more profoundly, this delirious language is the ultimate truth of madness insofar as it is madness's organizing form, the determining principle of all its manifestations, whether of the body or of the soul. For if Diemerbroek's melancholic converses with his demon, it is because the demon's image has been profoundly impressed by the movement of spirits on the still-ductile substance of the brain. But in its turn, this organic figure is merely the other side of a preoccupation which has obsessed the patient's mind; it represents what might be called the sedimentation in the body of an infinitely repeated discourse apropos of the punishment God must reserve for sinners guilty of homicide. The body and the traces it conceals, the soul and the images it perceives, are here no more than stages in the syntax of delirious language.
And lest we be criticized for elaborating this entire analysis around a single observation from a single author (a privileged observation, since it concerns melancholic delirium), we shall also seek confirmation of the fundamental role of delirious discourse in the classical conception of madness in another author, of another period, and apropos of a very different disease. This is a case of "nymphomania" observed by Bienville. The imagination of a young girl, "Julie," had been inflamed by precocious reading and aroused by the remarks of a servant girl "initiated into the secrets of Venus, ... a virtuous handmaiden in the mother's eyes" but "a dear and voluptuous stewardess of the daughter's pleasures." Yet Julie combats these—to tier-new desires with all the impressions she has received in the course of her education; to the seductive language of novels, she opposes the lessons of religion and virtue; and despite the vivacity of her imagination, she does not succumb to disease so long as she possesses "the strength to reason thus with herself: it is neither lawful nor virtuous to obey so shameful a passion." But the wicked remarks, the dangerous readings increase; at every moment, they render more intense the agitation of the weakening fibers; then the fundamental language by which she had hitherto resisted gradually gives way: "Nature alone had spoken hitherto; but soon illusion, chimera, and extravagance played their part; at length she acquired the unhappy strength to approve in herself this horrible maxim: nothing is so beautiful nor so sweet as to obey the desires of love." This fundamental discourse opens the gates of madness: the imagination is freed, the appetites continually increase, the fibers reach the final degree of irritation. Delirium, in its lapidary form of a moral principle, leads straight to the convulsions which can endanger life itself.
At the end of this last cycle which had begun with the liberty of the hallucination and which closes now with the rigor of delirious language, we can conclude:
1. In madness, for the classical age, there exist two forms of delirium. A special, symptomatic form, proper to some of the diseases of the mind and especially to melancholia; in this sense we can say that there are diseases with or without delirium. In any case, such delirium is always manifest; it forms an integral part of the signs of madness; it is immanent to madness's truth and constitutes only a sector of it. But there exists another delirium which is not always manifest, which is not formulated by the sufferer himself in the course of the disease, but which cannot fail to exist in the eyes of anyone who, seeking to trace the disease from its origins, attempts to formulate its riddle and its truth.
2. This implicit delirium exists in all the alterations of the mind, even where we would expect it least. In cases of no more than silent gestures, wordless violence, oddities of conduct, classical thought has no doubt that madness is continually subjacent, relating each of these particular signs to the general essence of madness. James's Dictionary expressly urges us to consider as delirious "the sufferers who sin by fault or excess in any of various voluntary actions, in a manner contrary to reason and to propriety; as when they use their hand, for example, to tear out tufts of wool or in an action similar to that which serves to catch flies; or when a patient acts against his custom and without cause, or when he speaks too much or too little against his normal habits; if he abounds in obscene remarks, being, when in health, of measured speech and decent in his discourse, and if he utters words that have no consequence, if he breathes more faintly than he must, or uncovers his private parts in the presence of those who are near him. We also regard as being in a state of delirium those whose minds are affected by some derangement in the organs of sense, or who use them in a fashion not customary to them, as when, for example, a sufferer is deprived of some voluntary action or acts inhabitually."
3. Thus understood, discourse covers the entire range of madness. Madness, in the classical sense, does not designate so much a specific change in the mind or in the body, as the existence, under the body's alterations, under the oddity of conduct and conversation, of a delirious discourse. The simplest and most general definition we can give of classical madness is indeed delirium: "This word is derived from lira, a furrow; so that deliro actually means to move out of the furrow, away from the proper path of reason." Hence it is not surprising to find the eighteenth-century nosographers often classifying vertigo as a madness, and more rarely hysterical convulsions; this is because it is often impossible to find in hysterical convulsions the unity of a language, while vertigo affords the delirious affirmation that the world is really "turning around." Such delirium is a necessary and sufficient reason for a disease to be called madness.
4. Language is the first and last structure of madness, its constituent form; on language are based all the cycles in which madness articulates its nature. That the essence of madness can be ultimately defined in the simple structure of a discourse does not reduce it to a purely psychological nature, but gives it a hold over the totality of soul and body; such discourse is both the silent language by which the mind speaks to itself in the truth proper to it, and the visible articulation in the movements of the body. Parallelisms, complements, all the forms of immediate communication which we have seen manifested, in madness are suspended between soul and body in this single language and in its powers. The movement of passion which persists until it breaks and turns against itself, the sudden appearance of the image, and the agitations of the body which were its visible concomitants—all this, even as we were trying to reconstruct it, was already secretly animated by this language. If the determinism of passion is transcended and released in the hallucination of the image, if the image, in return, has swept away the whole world of beliefs and desires, it is because the delirious language was already present—a discourse which liberated passion from all its limits, and adhered with all the constraining weight of its affirmation to the image which was liberating itself.
It is in this delirium, which is of both body and soul, of both language and image, of both grammar and physiology, that all the cycles of madness conclude and begin. It is this delirium whose rigorous meaning organized them from the start. It is madness itself, and also, beyond each of its phenomena, its silent transcendence, which constitute the truth of madness.
A last question remains: In the name of what can this fundamental language be regarded as a delirium? Granting that it is the truth of madness, what makes it true madness and the originating form of insanity? Why should it be in this discourse, whose forms we have seen to be so faithful to the rules of reason, that we find all those signs which will most manifestly declare the very absence of reason?
A central question, but one to which the classical age has not formulated a direct answer. We must approach it obliquely, interrogating the experiences which are to be found in the immediate neighborhood of this essential language of madness: that is, the dream and the delusion.
The quasi-oneiric character of madness is one of the constant themes in the classical period. A theme which doubtless derives from a very old tradition, to which Andre du Laurens, at the end of the sixteenth century, still testifies; for him melancholia and dreams have the same origin and bear, in relation to truth, the same value. There are "natural dreams" which represent what, during the preceding day, has passed through the senses or the understanding but happens to be modified by the specific temperament of the subject. In the same way, there is a melancholia which has a merely physical origin in the disposition of the sufferer and alters, for his mind, the importance, the value, and so to speak the coloration of real events. But there is also a melancholia which permits the sufferer to predict the future, to speak in an unknown language, to see beings ordinarily invisible; this melancholia originates in a supernatural intervention, the same which brings to the sleeper's mind those dreams which foresee the future, announce events to come, and cause him to see "strange things."
But in fact the seventeenth century preserves this tradition of the resemblance between madness and dreams only to break it all the more completely and to generate new, more essential relations. Relations in which madness and dreams are not only understood in their remote origin or in their imminent value as signs, but are confronted as phenomena, in their development, in their very nature.
Dreams and madness then appeared to be of the same substance. Their mechanism was the same; thus Zacchias could identify in sleepwalking the movements which cause dreams, but which in a waking state can also provoke madness.
In the first moments when one falls asleep, the vapors which rise in the body and ascend to the head are many, turbulent, and dense. They are so dark that they waken no image in the brain; they merely agitate, in their chaotic dance, the nerves and the muscles. The same is true in the frenzied, in maniacs: they suffer few hallucinations, no false beliefs, but an intense agitation which they cannot manage to control. Let us continue the evolution of sleep: after the first period of turbulence, the vapors which rise to the brain are clarified, their movement organized; this is the moment when fantastic dreams are born; one sees miracles, a thousand impossible things. To this stage corresponds that of dementia, in which one is convinced of many things "which are not in real life." Then at last the agitation of the vapors is calmed altogether; the sleeper begins to see things still more clearly; in the transparency of the henceforth limpid vapors, recollections of the day before reappear in accordance with reality; such images are at most transposed, on one point or another—as occurs in melancholies, who recognize all things as they are, "in particular those who are not merely distracted." Between the gradual developments of sleep—with what they contribute at each stage to the quality of the imagination—and the forms of madness, the analogy is constant, because the mechanisms are the same: the same movement of vapors and spirits, the same liberation of images, the same correspondence between the physical qualities of phenomena and the psychological or moral values of sentiments. "To emerge from the insane no differently than from the sleeping."
The important thing, in Zacchias's analysis, is that madness is not associated with dreams in their positive phenomena, but rather to the totality formed by sleep and dreams together: that is, to a complex which includes—besides the image—hallucination, memory, or prediction, the great void of sleep, the night of the senses, and all that negativity which wrests man from the waking state and its apparent truths. Whereas tradition compared the delirium of the madman to the vivacity of the dream images, the classical period identified delirium only with the complex of the image and the night of the mind, against which background it assumed its liberty. And this complex, transposed entire into the clarity of the waking state, constituted madness. This is how we must understand the definitions of madness which insistently recur throughout the classical period. The dream, as a complex figure of image and sleep, is almost always present in that definition. Either in a negative fashion—the notion of the waking state then being the only one that distinguishes madmen from sleepers; or in a positive fashion, delirium being defined as a modality of the dream, with the waking state as the specific difference:
"Delirium is the dream of waking persons." The ancients' notion of the dream as a transitory form of madness is inverted; it is no longer the dream which borrows its disturbing powers from alienation—showing thereby how fragile or limited reason is; it is madness which takes its original nature from the dream and reveals in this kinship that it is a liberation of the image in the dark night of reality.
The dream deceives; it leads to confusions; it is illusory. But it is not erroneous. And that is why madness is not exhausted in the waking modality of the dream, and why it overflows into error. It is true that in the dream, the imagination forges "impossible things and miracles," or that it assembles lifelike figures "by an irrational method"; but, Zacchias remarks, "there is no error in these things, and consequently nothing insane." Madness occurs when the images, which are so close to the dream, receive the affirmation or negation that constitutes error. It is in this sense that the Encyclopedic proposed its famous definition of madness: to depart from reason "with confidence and in the firm conviction that one is following it— that, it seems to me, is what is called being mad." Error is the other element always present with the dream, in the classical definition of insanity. The madman, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, is not so much the victim of an illusion, of a hallucination of his senses, or of a movement of his mind. He is not abused; he deceives himself. If it is true that on one hand the madman's mind is led on by the oneiric arbitrariness of images, on the other, and at the same time, he imprisons himself in the circle of an erroneous consciousness: "We call madmen," Sauvages was to say, "those who are actually deprived of reason or who persist in some notable error; it is this constant error of the soul manifest in its imagination, in its judgments, and in its desires, which constitutes the characteristic of this category."
Madness begins where the relation of man to truth is disturbed and darkened. It is in this relation, at the same time as in the destruction of this relation, that madness assumes its general meaning and its particular forms. Dementia, Zacchias says, using the term here in the most general sense of madness, "lay in this, that the intellect did not distinguish true from false." But this breakdown, if we can understand it only as negation, has positive structures which give it singular forms. According to the different forms of access to the truth, there will be different types of madness. It is in this sense that Chrichton, for example, distinguishes in the order of vesanias, first the class deliria, which alter that relation to the truth which takes shape in perception ("general delirium of the mental faculties, in which the diseased perceptions are taken for realities"); then the class hallucinations, which alter representation ("error of the mind in which imaginary objects are taken for realities, or else real objects are falsely represented"); and last, the class dementias, which without abolishing or altering the faculties that afford access to truth, weaken them and diminish their powers.
But we can also analyze madness starting with truth itself and with the forms proper to it. It is in this manner that the Encyclopedic distinguishes "physical truth" from "moral truth." "Physical truth consists in the accurate relation of our sensations with physical objects"; there will be a form of madness determined by the impossibility of acceding to this form of truth; a kind of madness of the physical world which includes illusions, hallucinations, all perceptual disturbances; "it is a madness to hear choirs of angels, as certain enthusiasts do." "Moral truth," on the other hand, "consists in the exactitude of the relations we discern either between moral objects, or between those objects and ourselves." There will be a form of madness consisting of the loss of these relations; such is the madness of character, of conduct, and of the passions. "Veritable madnesses, then, are all the derangements of our mind, all the illusions of self-love, and all our passions when they are carried to the point of blindness; for blindness is the distinctive characteristic of madness."
Blindness: one of the words which comes closest to the essence of classical madness. It refers to that night of quasi-sleep which surrounds the images of madness, giving them, in their solitude, an invisible sovereignty; but it refers also to ill-founded beliefs, mistaken judgments, to that whole background of errors inseparable from madness. The fundamental discourse of delirium, in its constitutive powers, thus reveals to what extent, despite analogies of form, despite the rigor of its meaning, it was not a discourse of reason. It spoke, but in the night of blindness; it was more than the loose and disordered text of a dream, since it deceived itself; but it was more than an erroneous proposition, since it was plunged into that total obscurity which is that of sleep. Delirium, as the principle of madness, is a system of false propositions in the general syntax of the dream.
Madness is precisely at the point of contact between the oneiric and the erroneous; it traverses, in its variations, the surface on which they meet, the surface which both joins and separates them. With error, madness shares non-truth, and arbitrariness in affirmation or negation; from the dream, madness borrows the flow of images and the colorful presence of hallucinations. But while error is merely non-truth, while the dream neither affirms nor judges, madness fills the void of error with images, and links hallucinations by affirmation of the false. In a sense, it is thus plenitude, joining to the figures of night the powers of day, to the forms of fantasy the activity of the waking mind; it links the dark content with the forms of light. But is not such plenitude actually the culmination of the void? The presence of images offers no more than night-ringed hallucinations, figures inscribed at the comers of sleep, hence detached from any sensuous reality; however vivid they are, however rigorously established in the body, these images are nothingness, since they represent nothing; as for erroneous judgment, it judges only in appearance: affirming nothing true or real, it does not affirm at all; it is ensnared in the non-being of error.
Joining vision and blindness, image and judgment, hallucination and language, sleep and waking, day and night, madness is ultimately nothing, for it unites in them all that is negative. But the paradox of this nothing is to manifest itself, to explode in signs, in words, in gestures. Inextricable unity of order and disorder, of the reasonable being of things and this nothingness of madness! For madness, if it is nothing, can manifest itself only by departing from itself, by assuming an appearance in the order of reason and thus becoming the contrary of itself. Which illuminates the paradoxes of the classical experience: madness is always absent, in a perpetual retreat where it is inaccessible, without phenomenal or positive character; and yet it is present and perfectly visible in the singular evidence of the madman. Meaningless disorder as madness is, it reveals, when we examine it, only ordered classifications, rigorous mechanisms in soul and body, language articulated according to a visible logic. All that madness can say of itself is merely reason, though it is itself the negation of reason. In short, a rational hold over madness is always possible and necessary, to the very degree that madness is non-reason.
There is only one word which summarizes this experience, Unreason: all that, for reason, is closest and most remote, emptiest and most complete; all that presents itself to reason in familiar structures—authorizing a knowledge, and then a science, which seeks to be positive—and all that is constantly in retreat from reason, in the inaccessible domain of nothingness.
And if, now, we try to assign a value, in and of itself, outside its relations with the dream and with error, to classical unreason, we must understand it not as reason diseased, or as reason lost or alienated, but quite simply as reason dazzled.
Dazzlement is night in broad daylight, the darkness that rules at the very heart of what is excessive in light's radiance. Dazzled reason opens its eyes upon the sun and sees nothing, that is, does not see; in dazzlement, the recession of objects toward the depths of night has as an immediate correlative the suppression of vision itself; at the moment when it sees objects disappear into the secret night of light, sight sees itself in the moment of its disappearance.
To say that madness is dazzlement is to say that the madman sees the daylight, the same daylight as the man of reason (both live in the same brightness); but seeing this same daylight, and nothing but this daylight and nothing in it, he sees it as void, as night, as nothing; for him the shadows are the way to perceive daylight. Which means that, seeing the night and the nothingness of the night, he does not see at all. And believing he sees, he admits as realities the hallucinations of his imagination and all the multitudinous population of night. That is why delirium and dazzlement are in a relation which constitutes the essence of madness, exactly as truth and light, in their fundamental relation, constitute classical reason.
In this sense, the Cartesian formula of doubt is certainly the great exorcism of madness. Descartes closes his eyes and plugs up his ears the better to see the true brightness of essential daylight; thus he is secured against the dazzlement of the madman who, opening his eyes, sees only night, and not seeing at all, believes he sees when he imagines. In the uniform lucidity of his closed senses, Descartes has broken with all possible fascination, and if he sees, he is certain of seeing that which he sees. While before the eyes of the madman, drunk on a light which is darkness, rise and multiply images incapable of criticizing themselves (since the madman sees them), but irreparably separated from being (since the madman sees nothing).
Unreason is in the same relation to reason as dazzlement to the brightness of daylight itself. And this is not a metaphor. We are at the center of the great cosmology which animates all classical culture. The "cosmos" of the Renaissance, so rich in internal communications and symbolisms, entirely dominated by the interacting presence of the stars, has now disappeared, without "nature" having yet assumed its status of universality, without its having received man's lyrical recognition, subjecting him to the rhythm of its seasons. What the classical thinkers retain of the "world," what they already anticipate in "nature," is an extremely abstract law, which nonetheless forms the most vivid and concrete opposition, that of day and night. This is no longer the fatal time of the planets, it is not yet the lyrical time of the seasons; it is the universal but absolutely divided time of brightness and darkness. A form which thought entirely masters in a mathematical science— Cartesian physics is a kind of mathesis of light—but which at the same time traces the great tragic caesura in human existence: one that dominates the theatrical time of Racine and the space of Georges de la Tour in the same imperious fashion. The circle of day and night is the law of the classical world: the most reduced but the most demanding of the world's necessities, the most inevitable but the simplest of nature's legalities.
A law which excludes all dialectic and all reconciliation; which establishes, consequently, both the flawless unity of knowledge and the uncompromising division of tragic existence; it rules over a world without twilight, which knows no effusion, nor the attenuated cares of lyricism; everything must be either waking or dream, truth or darkness, the light of being or the nothingness of shadow. Such a law prescribes an inevitable order, a serene division which makes truth possible and confirms it forever.
And yet on either side of this order, two symmetrical, inverse figures bear witness that there are extremities where it can be transgressed, showing at the same time to what degree it is essential not to transgress it. On one side, tragedy. The rule of the theatrical day has a positive content; it forces tragic duration to be poised upon the singular but universal alternation of day and night; the whole of the tragedy must be accomplished in this unity of time, for tragedy is ultimately nothing but the confrontation of two realms, linked to each other by time itself, in the irreconcilable. Every day, in Racine's theater, is overhung by a night, which it brings, so to speak, to light: the night of Troy and its massacres, the night of Nero's desires, Titus's Roman night, Athalie's night. These are the great stretches of night, realms of darkness which haunt the day without yielding an hour, and disappear only in the new night of death. And these fantastic nights, in their turn, are haunted by a light which forms a kind of infernal reflection of the day: the burning of Troy, the torches of the Praetorians, the pale light of the dream. In classical tragedy, day and night are arranged like a pair of mirrors, endlessly reflect each other, and afford that simple couple a sudden profundity which envelops in a single movement all of man's life and his death. In the same fashion, in De la Tour's Madeleine au miroir, light and shadow confront each other, divide and at the same time unite a face and its reflection, a skull and its image, a vigil and a silence; and in the Image Saint-Alexis, the page holding the torch reveals under the shadow of the vault the man who was his master—a grave and luminous boy encounters all of human misery; a child brings death to light.
On the other side, facing tragedy and its hieratic language, is the confused murmur of madness. Here, too, the great law of the division has been violated; shadow and light mingle in the fury of madness, as in the tragic disorder. But in another mode. In night, the tragic character found a somber truth of day; the night of Troy remained Andromache's truth, as Athalie's night presaged the truth of the already advancing day; night, paradoxically, revealed; it was the profoundest day of being. The madman, conversely, finds in daylight only the inconsistency of the night's figures; he lets the light be darkened by all the illusions of the dream; his day is only the most superficial night of appearance. It is to this degree that tragic man, more than any other, is engaged in being, is the bearer of his truth, since, like Phedre, he flings in the face of the pitiless sun all the secrets of the night; while the madman is entirely excluded from being. And how could he not be, lending as he does the day's illusory reflection to the night's non-being?
We understand that the tragic hero—in contrast to the baroque character of the preceding period—can never be mad; and that conversely madness cannot bear within itself those values of tragedy, which we have known since Nietzsche and Artaud. In the classical period, the man of tragedy and the man of madness confront each other, without a possible dialogue, without a common language; for the former can utter only the decisive words of being, uniting in a flash the truth of light and the depth of darkness; the latter endlessly drones out the indifferent murmur which cancels out both the day's chatter and the lying dark.
Madness designates the equinox between the vanity of night's hallucinations and the non-being of light's judgments.
And this much, which the archaeology of knowledge has been able to teach us bit by bit, was already offered to us in a simple tragic fulguration, in the last words of Andromaque.
As if, at the moment when madness was vanishing from the tragic act, at the moment when tragic man was to separate himself for over two centuries from the man of unreason—as if, at this very moment, an ultimate figuration were demanded of madness. The curtain which falls on the last scene of Andromaque also falls on the last of the great tragic incarnations of madness. But in this presence on the threshold of its own disappearance, in this madness incarcerating itself for good, is articulated what it is and will be for the entire classical age. Is it not precisely at the moment of its disappearance that it can best present its truth, its truth of absence, its truth which is that of day at the limits of night? This had to be the last scene of the first great classical tragedy; or if one prefers, the first time in which the classical truth of madness is expressed in a tragic movement which is the last of the preclassical theater. A truth, in any case, that is instantaneous, since its appearance can only be its disappearance; the lightning-flash is seen only in the already advancing night.
Orestes, in his frenzy, passes through a triple circle of night: three concentric figurations of dazzlement. Day has just dawned over Pyrrhus's palace; night is still there, edging this light with shadow, and peremptorily indicating its limit. On this morning which is a festival morning, the crime has been committed, and Pyrrhus has closed his eyes on the dawning day: a fragment of shadow cast here on the steps of the altar, on the threshold of brightness and of darkness. The two great cosmic themes of madness are thus present in various forms, as omen, decor, and counterpoint of Orestes' frenzy. It can then begin: in a pitiless clarity which denounces the murder of Pyrrhus and the treachery of Hermione, in that dawn where everything finally explodes in a truth so old and at the same rime so young, a first circle of shadow: a dark cloud into which, all around Orestes, the world begins to withdraw; the truth appears in this paradoxical twilight, in this matinal night where the cruelty of truth will be transformed into the fury of hallucination:
Mais quelle epaisse nuit, tout a coup, m'environne?
(But what thick night suddenly surrounds me?)
It is the empty night of error; but against the background of this first obscurity, a brilliance, a false light will appear: that of images. The nightmare rises, not in the bright light of morning, but in a somber scintillation: the light of storm and of murder.
Dieux! quels ruisseaux de sang content autour de moi!
(O Gods! What streams of blood flow around me!)
And then appears the dynasty of the dream. In this night the hallucinations are set free; the Erinnyes appear and take over. What makes them precarious also makes them sovereign; they triumph easily in the solitude where they succeed one another; nothing challenges them; images and language intersect, in apostrophes which are invocations, presences affirmed and repulsed, solicited and feared. But all these images converge toward night, toward a second night which is that of punishment, of eternal vengeance, of death within death. The Erinnyes are recalled to that darkness which is their own—their birthplace and their truth, i.e., their own nothingness.
Venez-vous m'enlever dans Fetemelle nuit?
(Do you come to bear me off into eternal night?)
This is the moment when it is revealed that the images of madness are only dream and error, and if the sufferer who is blinded by them appeals to them, it is only to disappear with them in the annihilation to which they are fated.
A second time, then, we pass through a circle of night. But we are not thereby restored to the daylight reality of the world. We accede, beyond what is manifested in madness, to delirium, to that essential and constitutive structure which had secretly sustained madness from the first. This delirium has a name, Hermione; Hermione who no longer reappears as a hallucinatory vision, but as the ultimate truth of madness. It is significant that Hermione intervenes at this very moment of the frenzy: not among the Eumenides, nor ahead of them—to guide them; but behind and separated from them by the night into which they have dragged Orestes and in which they themselves are now scattered. Hermione intervenes as a figure of delirium, as the truth which secretly reigned from the start, and of which the Eumenides were ultimately only the servants. Here we are at the opposite of Greek tragedy, where the Erinnyes were the final destiny and truth which, in the night of time, had awaited the hero; his passion was merely their instrument. Here the Eumenides are merely figures in the service of delirium, the primary and ultimate truth, which was already appearing in passion, and now declares itself in its nakedness. This truth rules alone, thrusting images away:
Mais non, retirez-vous, laissez faire Hermione.
(But no, begone, let Hermione do her work.)
Hermione, who has always been present from the beginning, Hermione who has always lacerated Orestes, destroying his reason bit by bit, Hermione for whom he has become "parricide, assassin, sacrilege," reveals herself finally as the truth and culmination of his madness. And delirium, in its rigor, no longer has anything to say except to articulate as imminent decision a truth long since commonplace and laughable:
Et je lui porte enfin mon coeur a devorer.
(And I bring her at last my heart to devour.)
Days and years ago Orestes had offered up this savage sacrifice. But now he expresses this principle of his madness as an end. For madness cannot go any farther. Having uttered its truth in its essential delirium, it can do no more than collapse in a third night, that night from which there is no return, the night of an incessant devouring. Unreason can appear only for a moment, the instant when language enters silence, when delirium itself is stilled, when the heart is at last devoured.
In the tragedies of the early seventeenth century, madness, too, released drama; but it did so by liberating truth; madness still had access to language, to a renewed language of explanation and of reality reconquered. It could be at most only the penultimate moment of the tragedy. Not the last, as in Andromaque, in which no truth is uttered except the truth, in delirium, of a passion which has found with madness the perfection of its fulfillment.
The movement proper to unreason, which classical learning followed and pursued, had already accomplished the whole of its trajectory in the concision of tragic language. After which, silence could reign, and madness disappear in the—always withdrawn— presence of unreason.
What we now know of unreason affords us a better understanding of what confinement was.
This gesture, which banished madness to a neutral and uniform world of exclusion, did not mark a halt in the evolution of medical techniques, nor in the progress of humanitarian ideas. It assumed its precise meaning in this fact: that madness in the classical period ceased to be the sign of another world, and that it became the paradoxical manifestation of non-being. Ultimately, confinement did seek to suppress madness, to eliminate from the social order a figure which did not find its place within it; the essence of confinement was not the exorcism of a danger. Confinement merely manifested what madness, in its essence, was: a manifestation of non-being; and by providing this man ifestation, confinement thereby suppressed it, since it restored it to its truth as nothingness. Confinement is the practice which corresponds most exactly to madness experienced as unreason, that is, as the empty negativity of reason; by confinement, madness is acknowledged to be nothing. That is, on one hand madness is immediately perceived as difference: whence the forms of spontaneous and collective judgment sought, not from physicians, but from men of good sense, to determine the confinement of a madman; and on the other hand, confinement cannot have any other goal than a correction (that is, the suppression of the difference, or the fulfillment of this nothingness in death); whence those options for death so often to be found in the registers of confinement, written by the attendants, and which are not the sign of confinement's savagery, its inhumanity or perversion, but the strict expression of its meaning: an operation to annihilate nothingness. Confinement sketches, on the surface of phenomena and in a hasty moral synthesis, the secret and distinct structure of madness.
Then did confinement establish its practices in this profound intuition? Was it because madness under the effect of confinement had really vanished from the classical horizon that it was ultimately stigmatized as non-being? Questions whose answers refer to each other in a perfect circularity. It is futile, no doubt, to lose oneself in the endless cycle of these forms of interrogation. Better to let classical culture formulate, in its general structure, the experience it had of madness, an experience which crops up with the same meanings, in the identical order of its inner logic, in both the order of speculation and the order of institutions, in both discourse and decree, in both word and watchword—wherever, in fact, a signifying element can assume for us the value of a language.
MICHEL FOUCAULT, MADNESS AND CIVILIZATION (A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason )
Translated from the French by RICHARD HOWARD
Vintage Books, A DIVISION OF RANDOM HOUSE, New York
THE savage danger of madness is related to the danger of the passions and to their fatal concatenation.
Savages had sketched the fundamental role of passion, citing it as a more constant, more persistent, and somehow more deserved cause of madness: "The distraction of our mind is the result of our blind surrender to our desires, our incapacity to control or to moderate our passions. Whence these amorous frenzies, these antipathies, these depraved tastes, this melancholy which is caused by grief, these transports wrought in us by denial, these excesses in eating, in drinking, these indispositions, these corporeal vices which cause madness, the worst of all maladies." But as yet, what was involved was only passion's moral precedence, its responsibility, in a vague way; the real target of this denunciation was the radical relation of the phenomena of madness to the very possibility of passion.
Before Descartes, and long after his influence as philosopher and physiologist had diminished, passion continued to be the meeting ground of body and soul; the point where the latter's activity makes contact with the former's passivity, each being a limit imposed upon the other and the locus of their communication.
The medicine of humor sees this unity primarily as a reciprocal interaction: " The passions necessarily cause certain movements in the humor; anger agitates the bile, sadness excites melancholy (black bile), and the movements of the humor are on occasion so violent that they disrupt the entire economy of the body, even causing death; further, the passions augment the quantity of the humor; anger multiplies the bile as sadness increases melancholy. The humour which is customarily agitated by certain passions dispose those in whom they bound to the same passions, and to thinking of the objects which ordinarily excite them; bile disposes to anger and to thinking of those we hate. Melancholy (black bile) disposes to sadness and to thinking of untoward things; well-tempered blood disposes to joy."
The medicine of spirits substitutes for this vague idea of "disposition" the rigor of a physical, mechanical transmission of movements. If the passions are possible only in a being which has a body, and a body not entirely subject to the light of its mind and to the immediate transparence of its will, this is true insofar as, in ourselves and without ourselves, and generally in spite of ourselves, the mind's movements obey a mechanical structure which is that of the movement of spirits. "Before the sight of the object of passion, the animal spirits were spread throughout the entire body in order to preserve all the parts in general; but at the presence of the new object, this entire economy is disrupted. The majority of spirits are impelled into the muscles of the arms, the legs, the face, and all the exterior parts of the body in order to afford it a disposition proper to the prevailing passion and to give it the countenance and movement necessary for the acquisition of the good or the escape from the evil which presents itself." Passion thus disperses the spirits, which are disposed to passion: that is, under the effect of passion and in the presence of its object, the spirits circulate, disperse, and concentrate according to a spatial design which licenses the trace of the object in the brain and its image in the soul, thus forming in the body a kind of geometric figure of passion which is merely its expressive transposition; but which also constitutes passion's essential causal basis, for when all the spirits are grouped around this object of passion, or at least around its image, the mind in its turn can no longer ignore it and will consequently be subject to passion.
One more step, and the entire system becomes a unity in which body and soul communicate immediately in the symbolic values of common qualities. This is what happens in the medicine of solids and fluids, which dominates eighteenth-century practice. Tension and release, hardness and softness, rigidity and relaxation, congestion and dryness— these qualitative states characterize the soul as much as the body, and ultimately refer to a kind of indistinct and composite passional situation, one which imposes itself on the concatenation of ideas, on the course of feelings, on the state of fibers, on the circulation of fluids. The theme of causality here appears as too discursive, the elements it groups too disjunct for its schemas to be applicable. Are the "active passions, such as anger, joy, lust," causes or consequences "of the excessive strength, the excessive tension, and the excessive elasticity of the nervous fibers, and of the excessive activity of the nervous fluid"? Conversely, cannot the "inert passions, such as fear, depression, ennui, lack of appetite, the coldness that accompanies homesickness, bizarre appetites, stupidity, lack of memory" be as readily followed as they are preceded by "weakness of the brain marrow and of the nervous fibers distributed in the organs, by impoverishment and inertia of the fluids"? Indeed, we must no longer try to situate passion in a causal succession, or halfway between the corporeal and the spiritual; passion indicates, at a new, deeper level, that the soul and the body are in a perpetual metaphorical relation in which qualities have no need to be communicated because they are already common to both; and in which phenomena of expression are not causes, quite simply because soul and body are always each other's immediate expression. Passion is no longer exactly at the geometrical center of the body-and-soul complex; it is, a little short of that, at the point where their opposition is not yet given, in that region where both their unity and their distinction are established.
But at this level, passion is no longer simply one of the causes— however powerful—of madness; rather it forms the basis for its very possibility. If it is true that there exists a realm, in the relations of soul and body, where cause and effect, determinism and expression still intersect in a web so dense that they actually form only one and the same movement which cannot be dissociated except after the fact; if it is true that prior to the violence of the body and the vivacity of the soul, prior to the softening of the fibers and the relaxation of the mind, there are qualitative, as yet unshared kinds of a priori which subsequently impose the same values on the organic and on the spiritual, then we see that there can be diseases such as madness which are from the start diseases of the body and of the soul, maladies in which the affection of the brain is of the same quality, of the same origin, of the same nature, finally, as the affection of the soul.
The possibility of madness is therefore implicit in the very phenomenon of passion.
It is true that long before the eighteenth century, and for a long series of centuries from which we have doubtless not emerged, passion and madness were kept in close relation to one another. But let us allow the classical period its originality. The moralists of the Greco-Latin tradition had found it just that madness be passion's chastisement; and to be more certain that this was the case, they chose to define passion as a temporary and attenuated madness. But classical thought could define a relation between passion and madness which was not on the order of a pious hope, a pedagogic threat, or a moral synthesis; it even broke with the tradition by inverting the terms of the concatenation; it based the chimeras of madness on the nature of passion; it saw that the determinism of the passions was nothing but a chance for madness to penetrate the world of reason; and that if the unquestioned union of body and soul manifested man's finitude in passion, it laid this same man open, at the same time, to the infinite movement that destroyed him.
Madness, then, was not merely one of the possibilities afforded by the union of soul and body; it was not just one of the consequences of passion. Instituted by the unity of soul and body, madness turned against that unity and once again put it in question. Madness, made possible by passion, threatened by a movement proper to itself what had made passion itself possible. Madness was one of those unities in which laws were compromised, perverted, distorted—thereby manifesting such unity as evident and established, but also as fragile and already doomed to destruction.
There comes a moment in the course of passion when laws are suspended as though of their own accord, when movement either abruptly stops, without collision or absorption of any kind of active force, or is propagated, the action ceasing only at the climax of the paroxysm. Whytt admits that an intense emotion can provoke madness exactly as impact can provoke movement, for the sole reason that emotion is both impact in the soul and agitation of the nervous fiber: "It is thus that sad narratives or those capable of moving the heart, a horrible and unexpected sight, great grief, rage, terror, and the other passions which make a great impression frequently occasion the most sudden and violent nervous symptoms." But—it is here that madness, strictly speaking, begins—it happens that this movement immediately cancels itself out by its own excess and abruptly provokes an immobility which may reach the point of death itself. As if in the mechanics of madness, repose were not necessarily a quiescent thing but could also be a movement in violent opposition to itself, a movement which under the effect of its own violence abruptly achieves contradiction and the impossibility of continuance. "It is not unheard of that the passions, being very violent, generate a kind of tetanus or catalepsy such that the person then resembles a statue more than a living being. Further, fear, affliction, joy, and shame carried to their excess have more than once been followed by sudden death."
Conversely, it happens that movement, passing from soul to body and from body to soul, propagates itself indefinitely in a locus of anxiety certainly closer to that space where Malebranche placed souls than to that in which Descartes situated bodies. Imperceptible movements, often provoked by a slight external impact, accumulate, are amplified, and end by exploding in violent convulsions. Giovanni Maria Lancisi had already explained that the noble Romans were often subject to the vapors—hysterical attacks, hypochondriacal fits—because in their court life "their minds, continually agitated between fear and hope, never knew a moment's repose." According to many physicians, city life, the life of the court, of the salons, led to madness by this multiplicity of excitations constantly accumulated, prolonged, and echoed without ever being attenuated. But there is in this image, in its more intense forms, and in the events constituting its organic version, a certain force which, increasing, can lead to delirium, as if movement, instead of losing its strength in communicating itself, could involve other forces in its wake, and from them derive an additional vigor. This was how Sauvages explained the origin of madness: a certain impression of fear is linked to the congestion or the pressure of a certain medullary fiber; this fear is limited to an object, as this congestion is strictly localized. In proportion as this fear persists, the soul grants it more attention, increasingly isolating and detaching it from all else. But such isolation reinforces the fear, and the soul, having accorded it too special a condition, gradually tends to attach to it a whole series of more or less remote ideas: "It joins to this simple idea all those which are likely to nourish and augment it. For example, a man who supposes in his sleep that he is being accused of a crime, immediately associates this idea with that of its satellites-judges, executioners, the gibbet." And from being thus burdened with all these new elements, involving them in its course, the idea assumes a kind of additional power which ultimately renders it irresistible even to the most concerted efforts of the will.
Madness, which finds its first possibility in the phenomenon of passion, and in the deployment of that double causality which, starring from passion itself, radiates both toward the body and toward the soul, is at the same time suspension of passion, breach of causality, dissolution of the elements of this unity. Madness participates both in the necessity of passion and in the anarchy of what, released by this very passion, transcends it and ultimately contests all it implies. Madness ends by being a movement of the nerves and muscles so violent that nothing in the course of images, ideas, or wills seems to correspond to it: this is the case of mania when it is suddenly intensified into convulsions, or when it degenerates into continuous frenzy. Conversely, madness can, in the body's repose or inertia, generate and then maintain an agitation of the soul, without pause or pacification, as is the case in melancholia, where external objects do not produce the same impression on the sufferer's mind as on that of a healthy man; "his impressions are weak and he rarely pays attention to them; his mind is almost totally absorbed by the vivacity of certain ideas."
Indeed this dissociation between the external movements of the body and the course of ideas does not mean that the unity of body and soul is necessarily dissolved, nor that each recovers its autonomy in madness. Doubtless the unity is compromised in its rigor and in its totality; but it is fissured, it turns out, along lines which do not abolish it, but divide it into arbitrary sectors. For when melancholia fixes upon an aberrant idea, it is not only the soul which is involved; it is the soul with the brain, the soul with the nerves, their origin and their fibers: a whole segment of the unity of soul and body is thus detached from the aggregate and especially from the organs by which reality is perceived. The same thing occurs in convulsions and agitation: the soul is not excluded from the body, but is swept along so rapidly by it that it cannot retain all its conceptions; it is separated from its memories, its intentions, its firmest ideas, and thus isolated from itself and from all that remains stable in the body, it surrenders itself to the most mobile fibers; nothing in its behavior is henceforth adapted to reality, to truth, or to prudence; though the fibers in their vibration may imitate what is happening in the perceptions, the sufferer cannot tell the difference: "The rapid and chaotic pulsations of the arteries, or whatever other derangement occurs, imprints this same movement on the fibers (as in perception); they will represent as present objects which are not so, as true those which are chimerical."
In madness, the totality of soul and body is parceled out: not according to the elements which constitute that totality metaphysically; but according to figures, images which envelop segments of the body and ideas of the soul in a kind of absurd unity. Fragments which isolate man from himself, but above all from reality; fragments which, by detaching themselves, have formed the unreal unity of a hallucination, and by very virtue of this autonomy impose it upon truth. "Madness is no more than the derangement of the imagination." In other words, beginning with passion, madness is still only an intense movement in the rational unity of soul and body; this is the level of unreason; but this intense movement quickly escapes the reason of the mechanism and becomes, in its violences, its stupors, its senseless propagations, an irrational movement; and it is then that, escaping truth and its constraints, the Unreal appears.
And thereby we find the suggestion of the third cycle we must now trace: that of chimeras, of hallucinations, and of error—the cycle of non-being.
MICHEL FOUCAULT, MADNESS AND CIVILIZATION (A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason )
Translated from the French by RICHARD HOWARD
Vintage Books, A DIVISION OF RANDOM HOUSE, New York
by Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari
Whenever there is transcendence, vertical Being, imperial State in the sky or on earth, there is religion; and there is Philosophy whenever there is immanence, even if it functions as arena for the agon and rivalry.
- Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari
The plane is surrounded by illusions. These are not abstract misinterpretations or just external pressures but rather thought's mirages. Can they be explained by the sluggishness of our brain, by the ready made facilitating paths [frayage] of dominant opinions, and by our not being able to tolerate infinite movements or master the infinite speeds that crush us (so that we have to stop the movement and make ourselves prisoners of the relative horizon once more)? Yet it is we ourselves who approach the plane of immanence, who are on the absolute horizon. It is indeed necessary, in part at least, that illusions arise from the plane itself, like vapors from a pond, like pre-Socratic exhalations given off hy transformations of the elements that are always at work on the plane. Artaud said that "the plane of consciousness" or limitless plane of immanences-what the Indians called Ciguri-also engenders hallucinations, erroneous perceptions, bad feelings. We must draw up a list of these illusions and take their measure, just as Nietzsche, following Spinoza, listed the "four great errors." But the list is infinite. First of all there is the illusion of transcendence, which, perhaps, comes before all the others (in its double aspect of making immanence immanent to something and of rediscovering a transcendence within immanence itself); then the illusion ofuniversals when concepts are confused with the plane. But this confusion arises as soon as immanence is posited as being immanent to something, since this something is necessarily a concept. We think the universal explains, whereas it is what must be explained, and we fall into a triple illusion-one of contemplation or reflection or communication. Then there is the illusion ofthe eternal when it is forgotten that concepts must be created, and then the illusion of discursiveness when propositions are confused with concepts. It would be wrong to think that all these illusions logically entail one another like propositions, but they resonate or reverberate and form a thick fog around the plane.
From chaos the plane of immanence takes the determinations with which it makes its infinite movements or its diagrammatic features. Consequently, we can and must presuppose a multiplicity of planes, since no one plane could encompass all of chaos without collapsing back into it; and each retains only movements which can be folded together. The history of philosophy exhibits so many quite distinct planes not just as a result of illusions, of the variety of illusions, and not merely because each plane has its own, constantly renewed, way of restoring transcendence. More profoundly, it is because each plane has its own way of constructing immanence. Each plane carries out a selection of that which is due to thought by right, but this selection varies from one plane to another. Every plane of immanence is a One-All: it is not partial like a scientific system, or fragmentary like concepts, but distributive-it is an "each." The plane of immanence is interleaved. When comparing particular cases it is no doubt difficult to judge whether there is a single plane or several different ones: do the pre-Socratics have the same image of thought, despite the differences between Heraclitus and Parmenides? Can we speak of a plane of immanence or image of so-called classical thought that continues from Plato to Descartes? It is not just the planes that vary but the way in which they are distributed. Are there more-or-less close or distant points of view that would make it possible to group different layers over a fairly long period or, on the contrary, to separate layers on what seemed to be a common plane? Where, apart from the absolute horizon, would these points of view come from? Can we be satisfied here with a historicism, or with a generalized relativism? In all these respects, the question of the one or the multiple once again becomes the most important one, introducing itself into the plane.
In the end, does not every great philosopher layout a new plane of immanence, introduce a new substance of being and draw up a new image of thought, so that there could not be two great philosophers on the same plane? It is true that we cannot imagine a great philosopher of whom it could not be said that he has changed what it means to think; he has "thought differently" (as Foucault put it). When we find several philosophies in the same author, is it not because they have changed plane and once more found a new image? We cannot be unaware of Biran's complaint when he was near to death: "I feel a little too old to start the construction again." On the other hand, those who do not renew the image of thought are not philosophers but functionaries who, enjoying a ready-made thought, are not even conscious of the problem and are unaware even of the efforts of those they claim to take as their models. But how, then, can we proceed in philosophy if there are all these layers that sometimes knit together and sometimes separate? Are we not condemned to attempt to lay out our own plane, without knowing which planes it will cut across? Is this not to reconstitute a sort of chaos? That is why every plane is not only interleaved but holed, letting through the fogs that surround it, and in which the philosopher who laid it out is in danger of being the first to lose himself. That so many fogs arise is explained in two ways. Firstly, because thought cannot stop itself from interpreting immanence as immanent to something, the great Object of contemplation, the Subject of reflection, or the Other subject of communication: then transcendence is inevitably reintroduced. And if this cannot be avoided it is because it seems that each plane of immanence can only claim to be unique, to be the plane, by reconstituting the chaos it had to ward off: the choice is between transcendence and chaos.
When the plane selects what is by right due to thought, in order to make its features, intuitions, directions, or diagrammatic movements, it relegates other determinations to the status of mere facts, characteristics of states of affairs,or lived contents. And, of course, philosophy will be able to draw out concepts from these states of affairs inasmuch as it extracts the event from them. That which belongs to thought by right, that which is retained as diagrammatic feature in itself, represses other rival determinations (even if these latter are called upon to receive a concept). Thus Descartes makes error the feature or direction that expresses what is in principle negative in thought. He was not the first to do this, and "error" might be seen as one of the principal features of the classical image of thought. We know that there are many other things in this image that threaten thinking: stupidity, forgetfulness, aphasia, delirium, madness; but all these determinations will be considered as facts that in principle have only a single effect immanent in thought-error, always error. Error is the infinite movement that gathers together the whole of the negative. Can this feature be traced back to Socrates, for whom the person who is wicked (in fact) is someone who is by right "mistaken"? But, if it is true that the Thaetctus is a foundation of error, does not Plato hold in reserve the rights of other rival determinations, like the delirium of the Phaedrus, so that it seems to us that the image of thought in Plato plots many other tracks ?
A major change occurs, not only in concepts but in the image of thought, when ignorance and superstition replace error and prejudice in expressing what by right is the negative of thought: Fontenelle plays a major role here, and what changes at the same time is the infinite movements in which thought is lost and gained. There is an even greater change when Kant shows that thought is threatened less by error than by inevitable illusions that come from within reason, as if from an internal arctic zone where the needle of every compas goes mad. A re-orientation of the whole thought becomes necessary at the same time as it is in principle penetrated by a certain delirium. It is no longer threatened on the plane of immanence by the holes or ruts of a path that it follows but by Nordic fogs that cover everything. The meaning of the question of "finding one's bearings in , thought" itself changes.
A feature cannot be isolated. In fact, the movement given a negative sign is itself folded within other movements with positive or ambiguous signs. In the classical image, error does not express what is by right the worst that can happen to thought, without thought being presented as "willing" truth, as orientated toward truth, as turned toward truth. It is this confidence, which is not without humor, which animates the classical image-a relationship to truth that constitutes the infinite movement of knowledge as diagrammatic feature. In contrast, in the eighteenth century, what manifests the mutation of light from "natural light" to the "Enlightened" is the substitution of belief for knowledge-that is, a new infinite movement implying another image of thought: it is no longer a matter of turning toward but rather one of following tracks, of inferring rather than grasping or being grasped. Under what conditions is inference legitimate? Under what conditions can belief be legitimate when it has become secular? This question will be answered only with the creation of the great empiricist concepts (association, relation, habit, probability, convention). But conversely, these concepts, including the concept of belief itself, presuppose diagrammatic features that make beliefan infinite movement independent of religion and traversing the new plane of immanence (religious belief, on the other hand, will become a conceptualizable case, the legitimacy or illegitimacy ofwhich can be measured in accordance with the order of the infinite). Of course, we find in Kant many of these features inherited from Hume, but again at the price of a profound mutation, on a new plane or according to another image. Each time there are great acts of daring. When the distribution of what is due to thought by right changes, what changes from one plane of immanence to another are not only the positive or negative features but also the ambiguous features that may become increasingly numerous and that are no longer restricted to folding in accordance with a vectorial opposition of movements.
If we attempt to set out the features of a modern image of thought in such a summary fashion, this is not in a triumphalist way, or even in horror. No image of thought can be limited to a selection of calm determinations, and all of them encounter something that is abominable in principle, whether this be the error into which thought continually falls, or the illusion within which it continually turns, or the stupidity in which it continually wallows, or the delirium in which it continually turns away from itself or from a god. The Greek image of thought already invoked the madness of the double turning-away, which launched thought into infinite wandering rather than into error. The relationship of thought to truth in the ambiguities of infinite movement has never been a simple, let alone constant, matter. That is why it is pointless to rely on such a relationship to define philosophy. The first characteristic of the modern image of thought is, perhaps, the complete renunciation of this relationship so as to regard truth as solely the creation of thought, taking into account the plane of immanence that it takes as its presupposition, and all this plane's features, negative as well as positive having become indiscernible. As Nietzsche succeeded in making us understand, thought is creation, not will to truth. But if, contrary to what seemed to be the case in the classical image, there is no will to truth, this is because thought constitutes a simple "possibility" of thinking with out yet ddining" a thinker "capable" of it and able to say "I": what violence must be exerted on thought for us to become capable of thinking; what violence of an infinite movement that, at the same time, takes from us our power to say "I"? Famous texts of Heidegger and Blanchot deal with this second characteristic. But, as a third characteristic, if there is in this wayan "Incapacity" of thought, which remains at its core even after it has acquired the capacity determinable as creation, then a set of ambiguous signs arise, which become diagrammatic features or infinite movements and which take on a value by right, whereas in the other images of thought they were simple, derisory facts excluded from selection: as Kleist or Artaud suggests, thought as such begins to exhibit snarls, squeals, stammers; it talks in tongues and screams, which leads it to create, or to try to. 13 Ifthought searches, it is less in the manner of someone who possesses a method than that of a dog that seems to be making uncoordinated leaps. We have no reason to take pride in this image of thought, which involves much suffering without glory and indicates the degree to which thinking has become increasingly difficult: immanence.
The history of philosophy is comparable to the art of the portrait. It is not a matter of "making lifelike," that is, of repeating what a philosopher said but rather of producing resemblance by separating out both the plane of immanence he instituted and the new concepts he created. These are mental, noetic, and machinic portraits. Although they are usually created with philosophical tools, they can also be produced aesthetically. Thus Tinguely recently presented some monumental machinic portraits of philosophers, working with powerful, linked or alternating, infinite movements that can be folded over or spread out, with sounds, lightning flashes, substances of being, and images of thought according to complex curved planes. However, if it is permissible to criticize such a great artist, the attempt does not quite seem to hit the mark. Nothing dances in the Nietzsche, although elsewhere Tinguely has been quite able to make machines dance. The Schopenhauer gives us nothing decisive, whereas the four Roots and the veil ofMaya seem ready to occupy the bifaceted plane of the World as will and representation. The Heidegger does not retain any veiling-unveiling on the plane of a thought that does not yet think. Perhaps more attention should be given to the plane of immanence laid out as abstract machine and to created concepts as parts of the machine. In this sense we could imagine a machinic portrait of Kant, illusions included .
The componenets of the schema are as follows: 1) the "I think" as an ox head wired for sound, which constantly repeats Self = Self; 2) the categories as universal concepts (four great headings): shafts that are extensive and retractile according to the movement of 3); 3) the moving wheel of the schemata; 4) the shallow stream of Time as form of interiority, in and out of which the wheel of the schemata plunges; 5) space as form of exteriority: the stream's banks and bed; 6) the passive selfat the bottom ofthe stream and as junction of the two forms; 7) the principles of synthetic judgments that run across space-time; 8) the transcendental field of possible experience, immanent to the "I" (plane of immanence); and 9) the three Ideas or illusions of transcendence (circles turning on the absolute horizon: Soul, World and God).
This account gives rise to many problems that concern philosophy and the history of philosophy equally. Sometimes the layers of the plane of immanence separate to the point of being opposed to one another, each one suiting this or that philosopher. Sometimes, on the contrary, they join together at least to cover fairly long periods. Moreover, the relationships between the instituting of a prephilosophical plane and the creation of philosophical concepts are themselves complex. Over a long period philosophers can create new concepts while remaining on the same plane and presupposing the same image as an earlier philosopher whom they invoke as their master: Plato and the neo-Platonists, Kant and the neo-Kantians (or even the way in which Kant himself reactivates certain parts of Platonism). However, in every case, this involves extending the original plane by giving it new curves, until a doubt arises: is this not a different plane that is woven in the mesh of the first one? Thus, the question of knowing when and to what extent philosophers are "disciples" of another philosopher and, on the contrary, when they are carrying out a critique of another philosopher by changing the plane and drawing up another image involves all the more complex and relative assessments, because the concepts that come to occupy a plane can never be simply deduced. Concepts that happen to populate a single plane, albeit at quite different times and with special connections, will be called concepts of the same group. Those concepts that refer back to different planes will not belong to the same group. There is a strict correspondence between the created concepts and the instituted plane, but this comes about through indirect relationships that are still to be determined.
Can we say that one plane is "better" than another or, at least, that it does or does not answer to the requirements ofthe age? What does answering to the requirements ofthe age mean, and what relationship is there between the movements or diagrammatic features ofan image of thought and the movements or sociohistorical features of an age? We can only make headway with these questions if we give up the narrowly historical point of view of before and after in order to consider the time rather than the history of philosophy. This is a stratigraphic time where "before" and "after" indicate only an order of superimpositions. Certain paths (movements) take on sense and direction only as the shortcuts or detours of faded paths; a variable curvature can appear only as the transformation of one or more others; a stratum or layer of the plane of immanence will necessarily be above or below in relation to another, and images of thought cannot arise in any order whatever because they involve changes of orientation that can be directly located only on the earlier image (and even the point of condensation that determines the concept sometimes presupposes the breaking-up of a point Or the conglomeration of earlier points). Mental landscapes do not change haphazardly through the ages: a mountain had to rise here or a river to flow by there again recently for the ground, now dry and flat, to have a particular appearance and texture. It is true that very old strata can rise to the surface again, can cut a path through the formations that covered them and surface directly on the current stratum to which they impart a new curvature. Furthermore, depending on the regions considered, superimpositions are not necessarily the same and do not have the same order. Philosophical time is thus a grandiose time of coexistence that does not exclude the before and after but superimposes them in a stratigraphic order. It is an infinite becoming of philosophy that crosscuts its history without being confused with it. The life of philosophers, and what is most external to their work, conforms to the ordinary laws of succession; but their proper names coexist and shine either as luminous points that take us through the components of a concept once more or as the cardinal points of a stratum or layer that continually come back to us, like dead stars whose light is brighter than ever. Philosophy is becoming, not history; it is the coexistence of planes, not the succession of systems.
That becoming, that coexistence is why planes may sometimes separate and sometimes join together-this is true for both the best and the worst. They have in common the restoration of transcendence and illusion (they cannot prevent it) but also the relentless struggle against transcendence and illusion; and each also has its particular way of doing both one and the other. Is there a "best" plane that would not hand over immanence to Something x and that would no longer mimic anything transcendent? We will say that THE plane of immanence is, at the same time, that which must be thought and that which cannot be thought. It is the nonthought within thought. It is the base of all planes, immanent to every thinkable plane that does not succeed in thinking it. Itis the most intimate within thought and yet the absolute outside-an outside more distant than any external world because it is an inside deeper that any internal world: it is immanence, "intimacy as the Outside, the exterior become the intrusion that stifles, and the reversal of both the one and the other" the incessant to-ing and fro-ing of the plane, infinite movement. Perhaps this is the supreme act of philosophy: not so much to think THE plane of immanence as to show that it is there, unthought in every plane, and to think it in this way as the outside and inside of thought, as the not-external outside and the not-internal inside-that which cannot be thought and yet must be thought, which was thought once, as Christ was incarnated once, in order to show, that one time, the possibility ofthe impossible. Thus Spinoza is the Christ of philosophers, and the greatest philosophers are hardly more than apostles who distance themselves from or draw near to this mystery. Spinoza, the infinite becoming-philosopher: he showed, drew up, and thought the "best" plane of immanence-that is, the purest, the one that does not hand itself over to the transcendent or restore any transcendent, the one that inspires the fewest illusions, bad feelings, and erroneous perceptions.
Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari / What Is Philosophy?/ The Plane Of Immanence
Qu'est-ce que la philosophic? © 1991 by Les Editions de Minuit.
Translation © 1994 Columbia University Press
by Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari
Whenever there is transcendence, vertical Being, imperial State in the sky or on earth, there is religion; and there is Philosophy whenever there is immanence, even if it functions as arena for the agon and rivalry.
- Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari
Philosophical concepts are fragmentary wholes that are not aligned with one another so that they fit together, because their edges do not match up. They are not pieces of a jigsaw puzzle but rather the outcome of throws of the dice. They resonate nonetheless, and the philosophy that creates them always introduces a powerful Whole that, while remaining open, is not fragmented: an unlimited One-All, an "Omnitudo" that includes all the concepts on one and the same plane. It is a table, a plateau, or a slice; it is a plane of consistency or, more accurately, the plane of immanence of concepts, the phenomenon. Concepts and plane are strictly correlative, but nevertheless, the two should not be confused. The plane of immanence is neither a concept nor the concept of all concepts. If one were to be confused with the other there would be nothing to stop concepts from forming a single one or becoming universals and losing their singularity, and the plane would also lose its open ness. Philosophy is a constructivism and constructivism has two qualitatively different complementary aspects: the creation of concepts and the laying out of a plane. Concepts are like multiple waves, rising and falling, but the plane of immanence is the single wave that rolls them up and unrolls them. The plane envelops infinite movements that pass back and forth through it, but concepts are the infinite speeds offinite movements that, in each case, pass only through their own components. From Epicurus to Spinoza (the incredible book 5) and from Spinoza to Michaux the problem of thought is infinite speed. But this speed requires a milieu that moves infinitely in itself-the plane, the void, the horizon. Both elasticity of the concept and fluidity ofthe milieu are needed. Both are needed to make up "the slow beings" that we are.
Concepts are the archipelago or skeletal frame, a spinal column rather than a skull, whereas the plane is the breath that suffuses the separate parts. Concepts are absolute surfaces or volumes, formless and fragmentary, whereas the plane is the formless, unlimited absolute, neither surface nor volume but always fractaL Concepts are concrete assemblages, like the configurations of a machine, but the plane is the abstract machine of which these assemblages are the working parts. Concepts are events, but the plane is the horizon of events, the reservoir or reserve of purely conceptual events: not the relative horizon that functions as a limit, which changes with an observer and encloses observable states of affairs, but the absolute horizon, independent of any observer, which makes the event as concept independent of a visible state of affairs in which it is brought ahout.? Concepts pave, occupy, or populate the plane bit by bit, whereas the plane itself is the indivisible milieu in which concepts are distributed without breaking up its continuity or integrity: they occupy it without measuring it out (the concept's combination is not a number) or are distributed without splitting it up. The plane is like a desert that concepts populate without dividing up. The only regions of the plane are concepts themselves, but the plane is all that holds them together. The plane has no other regions than the tribes populating linkages with ever increasing connections, and it is concepts that secure the populating and moving around it. It is the plane that secures conceptual linkages with ever increasing connections, and it is concepts that secure the populating of the plane on an always renewed and variable curve.
The plane of immanence is not a concept that is or can be thought but rather the image of thought, the image thought gives itself of what it means to think, to make use of thought, to find one's bearings in thought. It is not a method, since every method is concerned with concepts and presupposes such an image. Neither is it a state of knowledge on the brain and its functioning, since thought here is not related to the slow brain as to the scientifically determinable state of affairs in which, whatever its use and orientation, thought is only brought about. Nor is it opinions held about thought, about its forms, ends, and means, at a particular moment. The image of thought implies a strict division between fact and right: what pertains to thought as such must be distinguished from contingent features of the brain or historical opinions. Quidjuris?-can, for example, losing one's memory or being mad belong to thought as such, or are they only contingent features of the brain that should be considered as simple facts? Are contemplating, reflecting, or communicating anything more than opinions held about thought at a particular time and in a particular civilization? The image of thought retains only what thought can claim by right. Thought demands "only" movement that can be carried to infinity. What thought claims by right, what it selects, is infinite movement or the movement of the infinite. It is this that constitutes the image of thought.
Movement of the infinite does not refer to spatiotemporal coordinates that define the successive positions of a moving object and the fixed reference points in relation to which these positions vary. "To orientate oneself in thought" implies neither objective reference point nor moving object that experiences itself as a subject and that, as such, strives for or needs the infinite. Movement takes in everything, and there is no place for a subject and an object that can only be concepts. It is the horizon itself that is in movement: the relative horizon recedes when the subject advances, but on the plane of immanence we are always and already on the absolute horizon. Infinite movement is defined by a coming and going, because it does not advance toward a destination without already turning back on itself, the needle also being the pole. If "turning toward" is the movement of thought toward trnth, how could truth not also turn toward thought? And how could truth itself not turn away from thought when thought turns away from it? However, this is not a fusion but a reversibility, an immediate, perpetual, instantaneous exchange-a lightning Hash. Infinite movement is double, and there is only a fold from one to the other. It is in this sense that thinking and being are said to be one and the same. Or rather, movement is not the image of thought without being also the substance of being. When Thales's thought leaps out, it comes back as water. When Heraclitus's thought becomes polemos, it is fire that retorts. It is a single speed on both sides: "The atom will traverse space with the speed of thought? "The plane of immanence has two facets as Thought and as Nature, as Nous and as Phusis. That is why there are always many infinite movements caught within each other, each folded in the others, so that the return of one instantaneously relaunches another in such a way that the plane of immanence is ceaselessly being woven, like a gigantic shuttle. To turn toward does not imply merely to turn away but to confront, to lose one's way, to move aside." Even the negative produces infinite movements: falling into error as much as avoiding the false, allowing oneself to be dominated by passions as much as overcoming them. Diverse movements of the infinite are so mixed in with each other that, far from breaking up the One-All of the plane of immanence, they constitute its variable curvature, its concavities and convexities, its fractal nature as it were. It is this fractal nature that makes the planomenon an infinite that is always different from any surface or volume determinable as a concept. Every movement passes through the whole of the plane by immediately turning back on and also by folding ilself or allowing itself to be folded by them; giving rise to retroactions, connections, and proliferations in the fractalization of this infinitely folded up infinity (variable curvature of the plane). But if it is true that the plane of immanence is always single, being itself pure variation, then it is all the more necessary to explain why there are varied and distinct planes of immanence that, depending upon which infinite movements are retained and selected, succeed and contest each other in history. The plane is certainly not the same in the time of the Greeks, in the seventeenth century, and today (and these are still vague and general terms): there is neither the same image of thought nor the same substance of being. The plane is, therefore, the object of an infinite specification so that it seems to be a One-All only in cases specified by the selection of movement. This difficulty concerning the ultimate nature of the plane of immanence can only be resolved step by step.
It is essential not to confuse the plane of immanence and the concepts that occupy it. Although the same elements may appear twice over, on the plane and in the concept, it will not be in the same guise, even when they are expressed in the same verbs and words. We have seen this for being, thought, and one: they enter into the concept's components and are themselves concepts, but they belong to the plane quite differently as image or substance. Conversely, truth can only be defined on the plane by a "turning toward" or by "that toward which thought turns"; but this does not provide us with a concept of truth. If error itself is an element that by right forms part of the plane, then it consists simply in taking the false for the true (falling); but it only receives a concept if we determine its components (according to Descartes, for example, the two components of a finite understanding and an infinite will). Movements or elements of the plane, therefore, will seem to be only nominal definitions in relation to concepts so long as we disregard the difference in nature between plane and concepts. But in reality, elements of the plane are diagrammatic features, whereas concepts are intensive features. The former movements of the infinite, whereas the latter are intensive ordinates of these movements, like original sections or differential positions: finite movements in which the infinite is now only speed and each of which constitutes a surface or a volume, an irregular contour marking a halt in the degree of proliferation. The former are directions that are fractal in nature, whereas the latter are absolute dimensions, intensively defined, always fragmentary surfaces or volumes. The former are intuitions, and the latter intensions. The grandiose Leibnizian or Bergsonian perspective that every philosophy depends upon an intuition that its concepts constantly develop through slight differences of intensity is justified if intuition is thought of as the envelopment of infinite movements of thought that constantly pass through a plane of immanence. Of course, we should not conclude from this that concepts are deduced from the plane: concepts require a special construction distinct from that of the plane, which is why concepts must be created just as the plane must be set up. Intensive features are never the consequence of diagrammatic features, and intensive ordinates are not deduced from movements or directions. Their correspondence goes beyond even simple resonances and introduces instances adjunct to the creation of concepts, namely, conceptual personae.
If philosophy begins with the creation of concepts, then the plane of immanence must be regarded as prephilosophical. It is presupposed not in the way that one concept may refer to others but in the way that concepts themselves refer to a nonconceptual understanding. Once again, this intuitive understanding varies according to the way in which the plane is laid out. In Descartes it is a matter of a subjective understanding implicitly presupposed by the "I think" as first concept; in Plato it is the virtual image of an already-thought that doubles every actual concept. Heidegger invokes a "preontological understanding of Being," a "preconceptual" understanding that seems to imply the grasp of a substance of being in relationship with a predisposition of thought. In any event, philosophy posits as prephilosophical, or even as nouphilosophical, the power of a One-All like a moving desert that concepts come to populate. Prephilosophical does not mean something preexistent but rather something that does not exist outside philosophy, although philosophy presupposes it. These are its internal conditions. The nonphilosophical is perhaps closer to the heart of philosophy than philosophy itself, and this means that philosophy cannot be content to be understood only philosophically or conceptually, but is addressed essentially to nonphilosophers as well. We will see that this constant relationship with nonphilosophy has various features. According to this first feature, philosophy defined as the creation of concepts implies a distinct but inseparable presupposition. Philosophy is at once concept creation and instituting of the plane. The concept is the beginning of philosophy, but the plane is its instituting." The plane is clearly not a program, design, end, or means: it is a plane of immanence that constitutes the absolute ground of philosophy, its earth or deterritorialization, the foundation on which it creates its concepts. Both the creation of concepts and the instituting of the plane are required, like two wings or fins.
Thinking provokes general indifference. It is a dangerous exercise nevertheless. Indeed, it is only when the dangers become obvious that indifference ceases, but they often remain hidden and barely perceptible, inherent in the enterprise. Precisely because the plane of immanence is prephilosophical and does not immediately take effect with concepts, it implies a sort of groping experimentation and its layout resorts to measures that are not very respectable, rational, or reasonable. These measures belong to the order of dreams, of pathological processes, esoteric experiences, drunkenness, and excess. We head for the horizon, on the plane of immanence, and we return with bloodshot eyes, yet they are the eyes of the mind. Even Descartes had his dream. To think is always to follow the witch's flight. Take Michaux's plane of immanence, for example, with its infinite, wild movements and speeds. Usually these measures do not appear in the result, which must be grasped solely in itself and calmly. But then "danger" takes on another meaning: it becomes a case ofobvious consequences when pure immanence provokes a strong, instinctive disapproval in public opinion, and the nature of the created concepts strengthens this disapproval. This is because one does not think without becoming something else, something that does not thinkan animal, a molecule, a particle-and that comes back to thought and revives it.
The plane of immanence is like a section of chaos and acts like a sieve. In fact, chaos is characterized less by the absence of determinations than by the infinite speed with which they take shape and vanish. This is not a movement from one determination to the other but, on the contrary, the impossibility of a connection between them, since one does not appear without the other having already disappeared, and one appears as disappearance when the other disappears as outline. Chaos is not an inert or stationary state, nor is it a chance mixture. Chaos makes chaotic and undoes every consistency in the infinite. The problem of philosophy is to acquire a consistency without losing the infinite into which thought plunges (in this respect chaos has as much a mental as a physical existence). To give consistency without losing anything ofthe infinite is very different from the problem of which seeks to provide chaos with reference points, on condition of renouncing infinite movements and speeds and of carrying out a limitation of speed first of all. Light, or the relative horizon, is primary in science. Philosophy, on the other hand, proceeds by presupposing or by instituting the plane of immanence: it is the plane's variable curves that retain the infinite movements that turn back on themselves in incessant exchange, but which also continually free other movements which are retained. The concepts can then mark out the intensive ordinates of these infinite movements, as movements which are themselves finite which form, at infinite speed, variable contours inscribed on the plane. By making a section of chaos, the plane of immanence requires a creation of concepts.
To the question "Can or must philosophy be regarded as Greek?" a first answer seemed to be that the Greek city actually appears as the new society of "friends," with all the ambiguities of that word. Jean Pierre Vernant adds a second answer: the Greeks were the first to conceive of a strict immanence of Order to a cosmic milieu that sections chaos in the form of a plane. If we call such a plane-sieve Logos, the logos is far from being like simple "reason" (as when one says the world is rational). Reason is only a concept, and a very impoverished concept for defining the plane and the movements that pass through it. In short, the first philosophers are those who institute a plane of immanence like a sieve stretched over the chaos. In this sense they contrast with sages, who are religious personae, priests, because they conceive of the institution ofan always transcendent order imposed from outside by a great despot or by one god higher than the others, inspired by Eris,"pursuing wars that go beyond any agon and hatreds that object in advance to the trials of rivalry." Whenever there is transcendence, vertical Being, imperial State in the sky or on earth, there is religion; and there is Philosophy whenever there is immanence, even if it functions as arena for the agon and rivalry (the Greek tyrants do not constitute an objection to this, because they are wholeheartedly on the side of the society of friends such as it appears in their wildest, most violent rivalries). Perhaps these two possible determinations of philosophy as Greek are profoundly linked. Only friends can set out a plane of immanence as a ground from which idols have been cleared. In Empedocles, Love lays out the plane, even if she does not return to the self without enfolding hatred as movement that has become negative showing a subtranscendence of chaos (the volcano) and a supertranscendence of a god. It may be that the first philosophers still look like priests, or even kings. They borrow the sage's mask-and, as Nietzsche says, how could philosophy not disguise itself in its early stages? Will it ever stop having to disguise itself? If the instituting of philosophy merges with the presupposition of a prephilosophical plane, how could philosophy not profit from this by donning a mask? It remains the case that the first philosophers layout a plane through which unlimited movements pass continually on two sides, one determinable as Physis in as much as it endows Being with a substance, and the other as Nous in as much as it gives an image to thought. It is Anaximander who distinguishes between the two sides most rigorously by combining the movement of qualities with the power of an absolute horizon, the Apeiron or the Boundless, but always on the same plane. Philosophers carry out a vast diversion of wisdom; they place it at the service of pure immanence. They replace genealogy with a geology.
Can the entire history of philosophy be presented from the viewpoint of the instituting of a plane of immanence? Physicalists, who insist on the substance of Being, would then be distinguished from noologists, who insist on the image of thought. But a risk of confusion soon arises: rather than this substance of Being or this image of thought being constituted by the plane of immanence itself, immanence will be related to something like a "dative," Matter or Mind. This becomes clear with Plato and his successors. Instead of the plane of immanence constituting the One-All, immanence is immanent "to" the One, so that another One, this time transcendent, is superimposed on the one in which immanence is extended or to which it is attributed: the neo-Platonists' formula will always be a One beyond the One. Whenever immanence is interpreted as immanent "to" something a confusion of plane and concept results, so that the concept becomes a transcendent universal and the plane becomes an attribute in the concept. When misunderstood in this way, the plane of immanence revives the transcendent again: it is a simple field of phenomena that now only possesses in a secondary way that which first of all is attributed to the transcendent unity.
It gets worse with Christian philosophy. The positing of immanence remains pure philosophical instituting, but at the same time it is tolerated only in very small doses; it is strictly controlled and enframed by the demands of an emanative and, above all, creative transcendence. Putting their work and sometimes their lives at risk, all philosophers must prove that the dose of immanence they inject into world and mind does not compromise the transcendence of a God to which immanence must be attributed only secondarily (Nicholas of Cusa, Eckhart, Bruno). Religious authority wants immanence to be tolerated only locally or at an intermediary level, a little like a terraced fountain where water can briefly imrnanate on each level but on condition that it comes from a higher source and falls lower down (transascendence and transdescendence, as Wahl said). Immanence can be said to be the burning issue of all philosophy because it takes on all the dangers that philosophy must confront, all the condemnations, persecutions, and repudiations that it undergoes. This at least persuades us that the problem of immanence is not abstract or merely theoretical. It is not immediately clear why immanence is so dangerous, but it is. It engulfs sages and gods. What singles out the philosopher is the part played by immanence or fire. Immanence is immanent only to itself and consequently captures everything, absorbs All-One, and leaves nothing remaining to which it could be immanent. In any case, whenever immanence is interpreted as immanent to Something, we can be sure that this Something reintroduces the transcendent.
Beginning with Descartes, and then with Kant and Husserl, the cogito makes it possible to treat the plane of immanence as a field of consciousness. Immanence is supposed to be immanent to a pure consciousness, to a thinking subject. Kant will call this subject transcendental rather than transcendent, precisely because it is the subject of the field of immanence of all possible experience from which nothing, the external as well as the internal, escapes. Kant objects to any transcendent use of the synthesis, but he ascribes immanence to the subject of the synthesis as new, subjective unity. He may even allow himself the luxury of denouncing transcendent Ideas, so as to make them the "horizon" of the field immanent to the subject." But, in so doing, Kant discovers the modern way of saving transcendence: this is no longer the transcendence of a Something, or of a One higher than everything (contemplation), but that of a Subject to which the field of immanence is only attributed by belonging to a self that necessarily represents such a subject to itself (reflection). The Greek world that belonged to no one increasingly becomes the property ofa Christian consciousness.
Yet one more step: when immanence becomes immanent "to" a transcendental subjectivity, it is at the heart of its own field that the hallmark or figure [chiffre] of a transcendence must appear as action now referring to another self, to another consciousness (communication). This is what happens in Husserl and many of his successors who discover in the Other or in the Flesh, the mole of the transcendent within immanence itself. Husserl conceives of immanence as that of the flux lived by subjectivity. But since all this pure and even untamed lived does not belong completely to the self that represents it to itself, something transcendent is reestablished on the horizon, in the regions of nonbelonging: first, in the form of an "immanent or primordial transcendence" of a world populated by intentional objects; second, as the priviIeged transcendence of an intersubjective world populated by other selves; and third, as objective transcendence of an ideal world populated by cultural formations and the human community. In this modern moment we are no longer satisfied with thinking immanence as immanent to a transcendent; we want to think transcendence within the immanent, and it is from immanence that a breach is expected. Thus, in Jaspers, the plane of immanence is given the most profound determination as "Encompassing" [Englobant], but this encompassing is no more than a reservoir for eruptions of transcendence. The Judeo-Christian word replaces the Greek logos: no longer satisfied with ascribing immanence to something, immanence itself is made to disgorge the transcendent everywhere. No longer content with handing over immanence to the transcendent, we want it to discharge it, reproduce it, and fabricate it itself. In fact this is not difficult-all that is necessary is for movement to be stopped. Transcendence enters as soon as movement of the infinite is stopped. It takes advantage ofthe interruption to reemerge, revive, and spring forth again. The three sorts of Universals-contemplation, reflection, and communication-are like three philosophical eras-e-Eidetic, Critical, and Phenomenological-inseparable from the long history of an illusion. The reversal of values hadto go so far-making us think that immanence is a prison (solipsism) from which the Transcendent will save us.
Sartre's presupposition of an impersonal transcendental field restores the rights of immanence. When immanence is no longer immanent to something other than itself it is possible to speak of a plane of immanence. Such a plane is, perhaps, a radical empiricism: it does not present a flux of the lived that is immanent to a subject and individualized in that which belongs to a self. It presents only events, that is,possible worlds as concepts, and other people as expressions of possible worlds or conceptual personae. The event does not relate the lived to a transcendent subject = Self but, on the contrary, is related to the immanent survey of a field without subject; the Other Person does not restore transcendence to an other self but returns every other self to the immanence of the field surveyed. Empiricism knows only events and other people and is therefore a great creator of concepts. Its force begins from the moment it defines the subject: a habitus, a habit, nothing but a habit in a field of immanence, the habit of saying I.
Spinoza was the philosopher who knew full well that immanence was only immanent to itself and therefore that it was a plane traversed by movements of the infinite, filled with intensive ordinates. He is therefore the prince ofphilosophers. Perhaps he is the only philosopher never to have compromised with transcendence and to have hunted it down everywhere. In the last book of the Ethics he produced the movement of the infinite and gave infinite to thought in the third kind of knowledge. There he attains incredible speeds, with such lightning compressions that one can only speak of music, of tornadoes, of wind and strings. He discovered that freedom exists only within immanence. He fulfilled philosophy because he satisfied its prephilosophical presupposition. Immanence does not refer back to the Spinozist substance and modes but, on the contrary, the Spinozist concepts of substance and modes refer back to the plane of immanence as their presupposition. This plane presents two sides to us, extension and thought, or rather its two powers, power of being and power ofthinking. Spinoza is the vertigo of immanence from which so many philosopliers try in vain to escape. Will we ever tw mature enough for a Spinozist inspiration? It happened once with Bergson: the beginning of Mater and Memory marks out a plane that slices through the chaos-both the infinite movement of a substance that continually propagates itself, and the image of thought that everywhere continually spreads a pure consciousness by right (immanence is not immanent "to" consciousness but the other way around).
Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari / What Is Philosophy?/ The Plane Of Immanence
Qu'est-ce que la philosophic? © 1991 by Les Editions de Minuit.
Translation © 1994 Columbia University Press
When my face is flushed with blood, it becomes red and obscene.
It betrays, at the same time, through morbid reflexes, a bloody erection and a demanding thirst for in decency and criminal debauchery.
For that reason I am not afraid to affirm that my face is a scandal and that my passions are only expressed by the Jesuve.
The terrestrial globe is covered with volcanoes, which serve as its anus.
Although this globe eats nothing, it often violently ejects the contents of its entrails.
These contents shoot out with a racket, and fall back, streaming down.
The Solar Anus
I. Scientific Anthropology and Mythical Anthropology
To the extent that a description of human life that goes back to the origins tries to represent what the formless universe has accomplished in producing man rather than something else, how it has been led to this useless production and by what means it made this creature something different from all the rest-to this extent it is necessary to abandon scientific anthropology, which is reduced to a babbling even more senile than puerile, reduced to giving answers that tend to make the questions put to it seem ludicrous, whereas these answers alone are miserably so when confronted with the inevitable and demanding brutality of an interrogation taking upon itself the very meaning of the life that this anthropology supposedly aims to describe.
But in the first phase, at least, philosophical speculation is rejected with no less impatience than the impotent theories of prehistory when this speculation, obeying the dictates of a guilty conscience, almost always kills itself or timidly prostrates itself before science. For even if this inhuman prostration can still be denounced, even if it is still possible for man to contrast his own cruelty and madness with a necessity that is crushing him, nothing of what is known of the means proper to philosophical investigation can inspire in him any confidence; philosophy has been, up to this point, as much as science, an expression of human subordination, and when man seeks to represent himself, no longer as a moment of a homogeneous process-of a necessary and pitiful process-but as a new laceration within a lacerated nature, it is no longer the leveling phraseology coming to him from the understanding that can help him: he can no longer recognize himself in the degrading chains of logic, but he recognizes himself, instead-not only with rage but in an ecstatic torment-in the virulence of his own phantasms.
Nevertheless, the introduction of a lawless intellectual series into the world of legitimate thought defines itself at the outset as the most arduous and audacious operation. And it is evident that if it were not practiced without equivocation, with a resolution and a rigor rarely attained in other cases, it would be the most vain operation.
Outside of a certain inaccessibility to fear-it is a question here essentially of undergoing, without being overwhelmed, the attraction of the most repulsive objects-two conditions thrust themselves on anyone whose object is to invest understanding with a content that will remain foreign to it, and they do so not only in a clear and distinct way, but as imperative prescriptions.
II. Conditions of Mythological Representation
In the first place, methodical knowledge can only be brushed aside to the extent that it has become an acquired faculty, since, at least in the present circumstances, without close contact with the homogeneous world of practical life, the free play of intelligible images would lose itself and would dissolve fatally in a region where no thought and no word would have the slightest consequence.
It is thus necessary to start by reducing science to a state that must be defined by the term subordination, in such a way that one uses it freely, like a beast of burden, to accomplish ends which are not its own. Left to itself, free in the poorest sense of the word (where liberty is only impotence), inasmuch as its legacy as the first condition of existence was the task of dissipating and annihilating mythological phantasms, nothing could keep science from blindly emptying the universe of its human content. But it is possible to use it to limit its own movement and to situate beyond its own limits what it will never attain, that before which it becomes an unsuccessful effort and a vague, sterile being. It is true that, posed in this way by science, these elements are still only empty terms and impotent paralogisms. It is only after having passed from these exterior limits of another existence to their mythologically lived content that it becomes possible to treat science with the indifference demanded by its specific nature, but this takes place only on condition that one has first enslaved science through the use of weapons borrowed from it, by making it itself produce the paralogisms that limit it.
The second condition is, first of all, only one of the forms of the first; here too science is utilized for a contrary end. The exclusion of mythology by reason is necessarily a rigorous one, on which there is no going back, and which, when required, must be made still more trenchant. But at the same time, it is necessary to overturn the values created by means of this exclusion; in other words, the fact that reason denies any valid content in a mythological series is the condition ofits most significant value. For if the affective violence of human intelligence is projected like a specter across the deserted night of the absolute or of science, it does not follow that this specter has anything in common with the night in which its brilliance becomes glacial. On the contrary, a spectral content only truly exists as such from the moment when the milieu that contains it defines itself through its intolerance toward that which appears in it as a crime. The strongest repulsion by science that can be represented is necessary for the characterization of the excluded part. Such a characterization must be compared to the affective charge of an obscene element whose obscenity derives only from the prohibition leveled against it. So long as the formal exclusion has not taken place, a mythical statement can still be assimilated to a rational statement; the mythical can be described as real and can be methodically explained. But at the same time it loses its spectral characterization, its free falseness. It enters, as in the case of revealed imperative religions, into various mystical groupings that have as a goal the narrow enslavement of impoverished men to an economic necessity: in other words, in the last analysis, to an authority that exploits them.
It is true that such an operation would be inconceivable at the present time, due to the fact that the possibilities have been limited by the very development of science.
Science, proceeding on the basis of a mystical conception of the universe, has separated the constituent elements of the universe into two profoundly distinct classes: it has elaborated, through assimilation, the necessary and practical parts, transforming a mental activity, which previously was only an instrument of exploitation, into an activity useful for man's material life. At the same time, it has had to brush aside the delirious parts of the old religious constructions, in order to destroy them. But this act of destruction becomes, at the final point of development, an act of liberation: delirium escapes from necessity, casts off its heavy mantel of mystical servitude, and it is finally only then that, nude and lubricious, it plays with the universe and its laws as if they were toys.
In. The Pineal Eye
Starting from these two principles, and supposing that the first condition, which requires a scientific knowledge of the objects considered, has at least to a large extent been met, nothing stands in the way of a phantomlike and adventurous description of the universe. What remains to be said about the ways in which this description proceeds-and about the relations of the finished description with the object it describes-can only be a reflection on the realized experience.
The eye, at the summit of the skull, opening on the incandescent sun in order to contemplate it in a sinister solitude, is not a product of the understanding, but is instead an immediate existence; it opens and blinds itself like a conflagration, or like a fever that eats the being, or more exactly, the head. And thus it plays the role of a fire in a house; the head, instead of locking up life as money is locked in a safe, spends it without counting, for, at the end of this erotic metamorphosis, the head has received the electric power of points. This great burning head is the image and the disagreeable light of the notion of expenditure, beyond the still empty notion as it is elaborated on the basis of methodical analysis
From the first, myth is identified not only with life but with the loss of life with degradation and death. Starting from the being who bore it, it is not at all an external product, but the form that this being takes in his lubricious avatars, in the ecstatic gift he makes of himself as obscene and nude victim-and a victim not before an obscure and immaterial force, but before great howls of prostitutes' laughter.
Existence no longer resembles a neatly defined itinerary from one practical sign to another, but a sickly incandescence, a durable orgasm.
IV. The Two Axes of Terrestrial Life
No matter how blinding the mythical form, insofar as it is not a simple representation, but the exhausting consumption of being, it is possible, at its first indistinct appearance, to pass from a content to a container, to a circumstantial form that, although it is probably unacceptable from the point of view ofscience, does not seem different from the habitual constructs of the intellect.
The distribution of organic existence on the surface of the earth takes place on two axes: the first, vertical, prolongs the radius of the terrestrial sphere; the second, horizontal, is perpendicular to the first. Vegetation develops more or less exclusively on the vertical axis (which is also the axis of the fall of bodies); on the other hand, the development of animal life is situated, or tends to be situated, on the horizontal axis. But although, generally speaking, their movements are only slippages parallel to the lines described by the rotation of the terrestrial globe, animals are never completely foreign to the axis of vegetal life. Thus existence makes them raise themselves above the ground when they come into the world and, in a relatively stable way, when they exit from sleep or love (on the other hand, sleep and death abandon bodies to a force directed from high to low). Their skeleton, even in the most regular cases, is not perfectly adjusted to a horizontal trajectory: the skull and thus the orifice of the eyes are situated above the level of the anal vertebra. However, even if one refers to the position of the male in coitus, and to the structures of some birds, a complete verticality is never attained.
V. The Position of the Human Body and Eyes on the Surface of the Terrestrial Globe
Only human beings, tearing themselves away from peaceful animal horizontality, at the cost of the ignoble and painful efforts that can be seen in the faces of the great apes, have succeeded in appropriating the vegetal erection and in letting themselves be polarized, in a certain sense, by the sky.
It is thus that the Earth-whose immense regions are covered with plants that everywhere flee it in order to offer and destroy themselves endlessly, in order to project themselves into an alternately light and dark celestial void-releases to the disappointing immensity ofspace the totality of laughing or lacerated men.
But, in this liberation of man, which leads to a suffocating absence of limits on the surface ofthe globe, human nature is far from surrendering without resistance. For if it is true that his blood, bones, and arms, that the shuddering of his pleasure (or still more the silence of true dread)-if it is true that his senile laughter and his insipid hate are endlessly lost and rise toward a sky as beautiful as death, as pale and implausible as death, his eyes continue to fetter him tightly to vulgar things, in the midst of which necessity has determined his steps.
The horizontal axis of vision, to which the human structure has remained strictly subjected, in the course of man's wrenching rejection of animal nature, is the expression of a misery all the more oppressive in that it is apparently confused with serenity.
VI. The Vertigo-Tree
For the anthropologist who can only observe it, this contradiction of axes of the human structure is devoid of meaning. And if, without even being able to explain itself, anthropology underscored the importance of the axes, it would only betray an unjustIfiable tendency toward mysticism. The description of the perpendicular axes only takes on its value once it becomes possible to construct on these axes the puerile play of a mythological existence, answering no longer to observation or deduction but to a free development of the relations between the immediate and varied consciousness of human life and the supposedly unconscious givens that constitute this life.
Thus the pineal eye, detaching itself from the horizontal system of normal ocular vision, appears in a kind of nimbus of tears, like the eye of a tree or, perhaps like a human tree. At the same time this ocular tree is only a giant (ignoble) pink penis, drunk with the sun and suggesting or soliciting a nauseous malaise, the sickening despair of vertigo. In this transfiguration of nature, during which vision itself, attracted by nausea, is torn out and torn apart by the sunbursts into which it stares, the erection ceases to be a painful upheaval on the surface of the earth and, in a vomiting of flavorless blood, it transforms itself into a vertiginous fall in celestial space, accompanied by a horrible cry.
VII. The Sun
The sun, situated at the bottom of the sky like a cadaver at the bottom of a pit, answers this inhuman cry with the spectral attraction of decomposition. Immense nature breaks its chains and collapses into the limitless void. A severed penis, soft and bloody, is substituted for the habitual order of things. In its folds, where painful jaws still bite, pus, spittle, and larva accumulate, deposited by enormous flies: fecal like the eye painted at the bottom of a vase, this Sun, now borrowing its brilliance from death, has buried existence in the stench of the night.
VIII. The Jesuve
The terrestrial globe has retained its enormity like a bald head, in the middle of which the eye that opens on the void is both volcanic and lacustrine. It extends its disastrous countryside into the deep folds of hairy flesh, and the hairs that form its bush are inundated with tears. But the troubled feelings of a degradation e.ven stranger than death do not have their source in a typical brain: heavy intestmes alone press under this nude flesh, as charged with obscenity as a rear en.d-one that is just as satanic as the equally nude bottom a young sorceress raIses to the black sky at the moment her fundament opens, to admit a flaming torch.
The love-cry tom from this comic crater is a feverish sob and a rattling blast of thunder.
The fecal eye of the sun has also torn itself from these volcanic entrails, and the pain of a man who tears out his own eyes with his fingers is no more absurd than this anal maternity of the sun.
IX. The Sacrifice of the Gibbon
The intolerable cry of cocks has a solar significance because of the pride and feeling of triumph of the man perceiving his own dejecta under the open sky. In the same way, during the night, an immense, troubled love, sweet as a young girl's spasm, abandons and throws itself into a giant universe, with the intimate feeling of having urinated the stars.
In order to renew this tender pact between belly and nature, a rotting forest offers its deceptive latrines, swarming with animals, colored or venomous insects, worms, and little birds. Solar light decomposes in the high branches. An Englishwoman, transfigured by a halo of blond hair, abandons her splendid body to the lubricity and the imagination (driven to the point of ecstasy by the stunning odor of decay) of a number of nude men.
Her humid lips open to kisses like a sweet swamp, like a noiseless flowing river, and her eyes, drowned in pleasure, are as immensely lost as her mouth. Above the entwined human beasts who embrace and handle her, she raises her marvelous head, so heavy with dazzlement, and her eyes open on a scene of madness.
Near a round pit, freshly dug in the midst of exuberant vegetation, a giant female gibbon struggles with three men, who tie her with long cords: her face is even more stupid than it is ignoble, and she lets out unbelievable screams of fear, screams answered by the various cries of small monkeys in the high branches. Once she is trussed up like a chicken-with her legs folded back against her body-the three men tie her upside down to a stake planted in the middle of the pit. Attached in this way, her bestially howling mouth swallows dirt while, on the other end, her huge screaming pink anal protrusion stares at the sky like a flower (the end of the stake runs between her belly and her bound paws): only the part whose obscenity stupefies emerges above the top level of the pit.
Once these preparations are finished, all the men and women present (there are, in fact, several other women, no less taken with debauchery) surround the pit: at this moment they are all equally nude, all equally deranged by the avidity of pleasure (exhausted by voluptuousness), breathless, at wits' end ...
They are all armed with shovels, except the Englishwoman: the earth destined to fill the pit is spread evenly around it. The ignoble gibbon, in an ignoble posture, continues her terrifying howl, but, on a signal from the Englishwoman, everyone busies himself shoveling dirt into the pit, and then quickly stamps it down: thus, in the blink of an eye, the horrible beast is buried alive.
A relative silence settles: all the stupefied glances are fixed on the filthy, beautifully blood-colored solar prominence, sticking out of the earth and ridiculously shuddering with convulsions of agony. Then the Englishwoman with her charming rear end stretches her long nude body on the filled pit: the mucousflesh of this bald false skull, a little soiled with shit at the radiate flower of its summit, is even more upsetting to see when touched by pretty white fingers. All' those around hold back their cries and wipe their sweat; teeth bite lips; a light. foam even flows from overly agitated mouths: contracted by strangulation, and even by death, the beautiful boil of red flesh is set ablaze with stinking brown flames.
Like a storm that erupts and, after several minutes of intolerable delay, ravishes in semidarkness an entire countryside with insane cataracts of water and blasts of thunder, in the same disturbed and profoundly overwhelming way (albeit with signs infinitely more difficult to perceive), existence itself shudders and attains a level where there is nothing more than a hallucinatory void, an odor of death that sticks in the throat.
In reality, when this puerile little vomiting took place, it was not on a mere. carcass that the mouth of the Englishwoman crushed her most burning, her' sweetest kisses, but on the nauseating JESUVE: the bizarre noise of kisses, prolonged on flesh, clattered across the disgusting noise of bowels. But these unheard-of events had set off orgasms, each more suffocating and spasmodic than its predecessor, in the circle of unfortunate observers; all throats were choked by raucous sighs, by impossible cries, and, from all sides, eyes were moist with the brilliant tears of vertigo. . .
The sun vomited like a sick drunk above the mouths full of comic screams, in the void of an absurd sky . . . And thus an unparalleled heat and stupor formed an alliance-as excessive as torture: like a severed nose, like a torn-out tongue-and celebrated a wedding (celebrated it with the blade of a razor on pretty, insolent rear ends), the little copulation of the stinking hole with the sun ...
x. The Bronze Eye
The little girls who surround the animal cages in zoos cannot help but be stunned by the ever-so lubricious rear ends of apes. To their puerile understanding, these creatures-who seem to exist only for the purpose of coupling with men-mouth to mouth, belly to belly-with the most doubtful parts of nature-propose enigmas whose perversity is barely burlesque. Girls cannot avoid thinking of their own little rear ends, of their own dejecta against which crushing interdictions have been leveled: but the image of their personal indecency, conveyed to them by the parti-colored, red, or mauve anal baldness of some apes, reaches, on the other side of the bars of the cage, a comic splendor and a suffocating atrocity. When the mythological deliria dissipate, after having fatigued the spirit through a lack of connections and through a disproportion to the real needs of life, the phantoms banished from all sides, abandoning the sun itself to the vulgarity of a nice day, make room for forms without mystery, through which one can easily make one's way, with no other goal than defined objects. But all it takes is an idiotic ape in his cage and a little girl (who blushes at seeing him take a crap), to rediscover suddenly the fleeing troop of phantoms, whose obscene sniggers have just charged a rear end as shocking as a sun.
What science cannot do-which is to establish the exceptional signification, the expressive value of an excremental orifice emerging from a hairy body like a live coal, as when, in a lavatory, a human rear end comes out of a pair of pants-the little girl achieves in such a way that there will be nothing left to do but stifle a scream. She drifts away, pressed on by a need; she trots in an alley where her steps make the gravel screech and where she passes her friends without seeing their multicolored balls, which are nevertheless well designed to attract eyes dazzled by any riot of color. Thus she runs to the foul-smelling place and locks herself in with surprise, like a young queen who, out of curiosity, locks herself in the throne room: obscurely, but in ecstasy, she has learned to recognize the face, the comic breath of death; she is unaware only of her own sobs of voluptuousness that will join, much later, this miraculous, sweet discovery ...
In the course of the progressive erection that goes from the quadruped to Homo erectus, the ignominy of animal appearance grows to the point of attaining horrifying proportions, from the pretty and almost baroque lemur, who still moves on the horizontal plane, up to the gorilla. However, when the line of terminal evolution is directed toward the human being, the series of forms is produced, on the contrary, in the direction of a more and more noble or correct regularity. Thus at the present stage of development the automatic rectitude of a soldier in uniform, maneuvering according to orders, emerges from the immense confusion of the animal world and proposes itself to the universe of astronomy as its highest achievement. If, on the other hand, this mathematical military truth is contrasted with the excremental orifice of the ape, which seems to be its inevitable compensation, the universe that seemed menaced by human splendor in a pitifully imperative form receives no other response than the unintelligible discharge of a burst of laughter . . .
When the arboreal life of apes, moving in jerks from branch to branch, provoked the rupture of the equilibrium that resulted from rectilinear locomotion everything that obscurely but ceaselessly sought to throw itself outside the animal organism was freely discharged into the region of the inferior orifice. This part, which had never been developed, and was hidden under the tails 0f other animals, sent out shoots and flowered in the ape; it turned into a bald protuberance and the most beautiful colors of nature made it dazzling. The tail, for a long time incapable of hiding this immense hernia of flesh, disappeared from the most evolved apes, those that carried on the genius of their species, in such a way that the hernia was able to blossom, at the end of the process, with the' most hideous obscenity.
Thus the disappearance of the free caudal appendage with which, more than anything else, human pride is commonly associated, in no way signifies a regression of original bestiality, but rather a liberation oflubricious and absolutely disgusting anal forces, of which man is only the contradictory expression.
The earth, shaken to its foundations, answered this doubtful colic of nature discharged, in the gluey penumbra of forests, through numberless flowers of flesh-with the noisy joy of entrails, with the vomiting of unbelievable volcanoes. In the same way that a burst of laughter provokes others, or a yawn provokes the yawns of a crowd, a burlesque fecal spasm had unleashed, under a black sky ravaged with thunder, a spasm of fire. In this wonderland, a wind, heavy with bloody smoke, broke down from time to time immense glowing. trees, while tortuous rivers of red incandescent lava streamed from everywhere, as if from the sky. Victims of an insane terror, the giant apes fled, their flesh broiled, their mouths distorted by puerile screams.
Many of them were felled by fiery tree trunks, which laid them down, screaming, on their stomachs or backs; they soon caught fire and burned like wood. Occasionally, however, a few arrived on a treeless beach, spared by the fire, protected from the smoke by an opposing wind: they were nothing more than breathless lacerations, shapeless silhouettes, half eaten by fire, getting up or moaning on the ground, staggered by intolerable pain. Before a spectacle of red lava - as dazzling as a nightmare - of an apocalyptic lava that seemed to come bloody out of their own anuses (just as, originally, their own hairy bodies had thrust out and sadistically exhibited these vile anuses-as if all the more to insult and soil that which exists) these unfortunate creatures became like the wombs of women who give birth, something horrible ...
It is easy, starting with the worm, to consider ironically an animal, a fish, a monkey, a man, as a tube with two orifices, anal and buccal: the nostrils, the eyes, the ears, the brain represent the complications of the buccal orifice; the penis, the testicles, or the female organs that correspond to them, are the complication of the anal. In these conditions, the violent thrusts that come from the interior of the body can be indifferently rejected to one extremity or the other, and they are discharged, in fact, where they meet the weakest resistance. All the ornaments of the head, of whatever type, mean the generalized privilege of the oral extremity; one can only contrast them with the decorative riches of the excremental extremity of apes.
But when the great anthropoid carcass found itself standing on the ground, no longer swinging from one tree to another, itself now perfectly straight and parallel to a tree, all the impulses that had up to that time found their point of free expulsion in the anal region ran up against a new barrier. Because of the erect posture, the anal region ceased to form a protuberance, and it lost the "privileged power of points": the erection could only be maintained on condi- tion that a barrier of contracted muscles be regularly substituted for this' 'power of points." Thus the obscure vital thrusts were suddenly thrown back in the direction of the face and the cervical region: they were discharged in the human voice and in more and more fragile intellectual constructions (these new modes of discharge were not only adapted to the principle of the new structure, to the erection, but they even contributed to its rigidity and strength).
Beyond this, in order to consume an excess, the facial extremity assumed a part-relatively weak, but significant-of the excretory functions that up to that time had been routed in the opposite direction: men spit, cough, yawn, belch, blow their noses, sneeze, and cry much more than the other animals, but above all they have acquired the strange faculty of sobbing and bursting into laughter.
Alone, even though it may be substituted at the end of evolution for the mouth as the extreme point of the upper edifice, the pineal gland remains only in a virtual state and can only attain its meaning (without which a man spontaneously enslaves himself and reduces himself to the status of an employee) with the help of mythical confusion, as if better to make human nature a value foreign to its own reality, and thus to tie it to a spectral existence.
It is in relation to this last fact that the metamorphosis of the great ape must be seen as an inversion, having as its object not only the direction of the discharges thrust back through the head-transforming the head into something completely different from a mouth, making it a kind of flower blossoming with the most delirious richness of forms-but also the access of living nature (up to that point tied to the ground) to the unreality of solar space.
It is the inversion of the anal orifice itself, resulting from the shift from a squatting posture to a standing one, that is responsible for the decisive reversal of animal existence.
The bald summit of the anus has become the center, blackened with bushes, of the narrow ravine cleaving the buttocks.
The spectral image of this change of sign is represented by a strange human nudity-now obscene-that is substituted for the hairy body of animals, and in particular by the pubescent hairs that appear exactly where the ape was glabrous' surrounded by a halo of death, a creature who is too pale and too large stands up, a creature who, under a sick sun, is nothing other than the celestial eye it; lacks.
Georges Bataille/ Visions of Excess/ Selected Writings (1927-1939)/The Pineal Eye/ University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis
by Davis Schneiderman
In the second decade of the nineteenth century, a now famous progenitor of American letters wrote (in mockery of the naturalist Buffon) that ‘all animals degenerated in America, and man among the number’ (Irving 1819:809). While readers of the time might have been surprised to learn that the author of this statement, one Geoffrey Crayon, was also that famous New York historian Diedrich Knickerbocker, those who know the ‘real’ identity of both writers as Washington Irving recognize Irving’s position in the American canon as that of a literary imitator. Irving’s pseudonymous Crayon completely transformed the original German locations of ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘Rip Van Winkle’ into terrain seemingly indigenous to the new world.
I deliberately use the term ‘real’ to describe this author’s identity— not to question the existence of the man known as Washington Irving, but to dramatize (in conjunction with American ‘degeneration’) that the position of the author is bound inextricably with the transformation of his subject matter, so that the resulting amalgamation might respond to the question: ‘Wouldn’t it be booful if we should juth run together into one gweat big blob’ (Q 100). Such is also the case with the American transient William S. Burroughs, who jigged about the map in his effort to produce a corpus that exists never in only one place and time, but rather, finds itself moving toward what he calls a ‘final ecological jump’ (Zivancevic 1981:525) into space.
‘Space’ has at least two meanings when applied to Burroughs’s work; first, he encourages the evolution of humans into a form best suited for cosmic nether-realms via a spirit body (see Russell 2001:155–87); second, ‘space’ can also signify a postmodern dissolution of Enlightenment-imposed limits in a world no longer bound by the flat logic of hegemonic ‘reason’. This latter value acts as a continual hedge against the more fantastic elements of the Burroughsian cosmology, but also finds connection with the political struggles characterizing the emerging global economic order, where ‘all of nature has become capital, or at least has become subject to capital’ (Hardt and Negri 2000:272).
Accordingly, Burroughs’s entreaties for humans to evolve from ‘time’ into ‘space’ can be productively analyzed in terms of the material vagaries of global politics that are contemporaneous with his movement, not away from writing, but into a creative space (in the second sense of the term) populated with a variety of multimedia projects. As noted by a number of critics (Miles 1992; Sobieszek 1996; Murphy 1997), Burroughs has a long engagement with aesthetics beyond the written form, and this engagement can be traced back to at least the late 1950s in his work with Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville.
Significantly, such supplementary activity quickly assumed a prominent theoretical position in Burroughs’s work, which became increasingly fixated on conceits of media as both resistance and control. This ambivalence is crucial, both deployed and circumscribed by the language of its articulation, so that Burroughs’s work—offering a symbolic language of media production—always searches for opportunities to exploit formal processes as a means of scuttling the forces of commodification: Burroughs not only argued for the efficacy of cut-ups, but also used them as a production tool; he not only wrote about films and recordings, but also made them throughout his career. His reflexive empiricism thus carries the significance of his work beyond that of a simply innovative writer, providing it with a ‘double resonance’—an awareness of its structural limits in terms of both content and production.
Robert A. Sobieszek notes that Burroughs’s film and recorder projects ‘startlingly anticipate MTV rock videos of the 1980s and 1990s as well as the devices of “scratching” and “sampling” in punk, industrial, and rap music of the same decades’ (1996:20–1). Still, it is important not simply to perceive the sound manipulation techniques that we consider contemporary, including ‘inching’— represented on Break Through in Grey Room (a 1986 collection of early Burroughs sound experiments)—as the progenitors of today’s ubiquitous rap and DJ culture; worse yet, to consider this culture from the banal academic perspective that would label those techniques as still effectively ‘resistant’ ignores the mass culture’s ability to absorb innovation. In both cases, such plaudits run the risk of paradoxically diluting the work into the neutralized extensions of Madison Avenue. Rather, we must examine subversive possibilities that remain ever wary of the media, while simultaneously exploiting the field’s incessant desire to cover. Accordingly, media literacy campaigns dedicated to reversing a default one-way information flow (as per the ‘Senders’ of Naked Lunch and their ‘biocontrol apparatus’ [NL 148]) have found some success in recent years. Image-savvy groups such as the indigenous rights-oriented Zapatistas in Mexico, as well as the coalition of activists involved in the ‘Battle of Seattle’ protest at the 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization and the similarly motivated 2000 protests against the World Economic Forum’s Asia Pacific meeting in Melbourne, Australia, demonstrate that the anti-globalization movement not only ‘manifests viscerally in local spaces but it also depends upon broad non-geographical media spaces’ (Luckman and Redden 2001:32).
Significantly, the clutch of struggles affiliated with the antiglobalization movement is always locked into a split-level effort: on the one hand, such movements must attempt to prevent the pandemic erosion of public space and public resources (air, water, wilderness, and so on); at the same time they must battle against the co-optation and dissolution of their public voices into the droning mass of the culture industry—any middle-American mall-rat with a pocket full of allowance can purchase a Che Guevara T-shirt. Burroughs’s sound collaborations, while always in danger of becoming just this sort of empty prattle, are nonetheless ideally positioned: not to overthrow the control machine by ‘storming the reality studio’—a goal too idealistic to combat a control machine that routinely deploys the techniques of media-savvy dissent—but to map, onto the material effects of its own delivery systems, strategies of guerilla resistance imbued with enough reflexive potential to hold the grey room after the oft-envisaged ‘break through’.
As Tom Hayden comments (on a poster at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago): ‘[T]hose administering the regressive apparatus […] cannot distinguish “straight” radicals from newspapermen or observers from delegates to the convention. They cannot distinguish rumors about demonstrations from the real thing’ (cited by Walker 1968:36–7). Hayden’s statement seems to imply the opportunity for guerilla intervention, but for Burroughs, there is no such ‘resistance’ that can avoid the possibility of being spun from a reverse angle. Thus, the ‘double resonance’ of his sound production has as much to do with the undesirability of supposedly ‘transformative’ technological identity cast in the illusion of hybridity, as it does with the possibility of producing aesthetic artifacts capable of exploding the limits of conventional discourse.
THE HIPSTER BE-BOP JUNKIE?
Regarding Burroughs’s first official sound release, Call Me Burroughs (1965), Barry Alfonso remarks (on the reissue liner notes) on the ‘antique metallic resonance’ of Burroughs’s voice—linked to the resounding ‘echoes of older America’—which, with its metanarrative pronouncements from texts such as Nova Express, assumes meanings not possible on the page. On the same track, ‘Where You Belong’, the straight-ahead voice tells us: ‘We pull writers of all time in together and record radio programs, movie soundtrack, TV and jukebox songs […] all the words of the world stirring around in a cement mixer, and pour in the resistance message’ (CMB). Still, the Englishlanguage portion of the original 1965 liner notes, written by Emmett Williams, oversimplifies the connection between Burroughs’s voice and the cut-up ‘message’, misattributing interpretative clairvoyance to Burroughs’s already prophetic reputation. For Williams, Burroughs reading Burroughs might be taken as ‘an indispensable key to the arcana of The Naked Lunch and Nova Express’ (CMB liner notes).
Is this the ‘real’ Burroughs then—the producer and interpreter of text through its own articulation? According to Williams’s playful and perhaps hasty summation, we can envision Burroughs feeding himself media on the subliminal level, processing himself through performance, and thus producing a hyperbolic carnival version of his own narrative fête. Such jouissance might point to the ‘real’ Burroughs in the same way that Crayon or Knickerbocker were at various times associated with the early American ‘degenerate’ called Washington Irving. Any correlation beyond simple identification or attribution remains only local, no more emblematic of the essential Burroughs than the $25 T-shirt is representative of the South American revolutionary.
Despite Williams’s desire to ‘discover’ in Burroughs’s voice some vital essence, what may be most significant about Burroughs’s early forays into visual and sound culture is that the work itself never surrendered to the ‘countercultural myth’ that characterized much avant-garde output of the time—as Thomas Frank calls the myth that resistance operated in binary opposition to the ‘muted, uniform gray’ of the business world (1997:6). Frank, for instance, notes PepsiCola’s early 1960s invention of a completely commodified populace who could be set against the apparently rigid mores of old America (in this case represented by Coca-Cola) for mercantile purposes: ‘[I]n 1961 [Pepsi] invented a fictional youth movement, a more wholesome version of Mailer’s hipsters but still in rebellion against the oppressive demands of mass society’ (1997:170). Such easy binaries are not to be found in Burroughs’s arsenal; marked by the ‘double resonance’ of his content and production, the ambivalence of addiction along with its complete hold on the subject assures Burroughs’s readers that they would be wise to remain continually suspicious of the standard counterculture line: ‘The prolonged use of LSD may give rise in some cases to a crazed unwholesome benevolence—the old tripster smiling into your face sees all your thoughts loving and accepting you inside out’ (Job 137).
Accordingly, we might investigate Burroughs’s later sound production as a project evolving from his early tape recorder and film pieces, because once the mass media entered its current period of rampant self-reflective narcissism, Burroughs’s rise as a pop-culture figure was on one level assured by the fact that he was still alive and producing. Popular constructions of Burroughs as junkie-murdererScientologist-Nike shill-painter-homosexual-et al. might be read as reminders of the control machine’s adaptability; no doubt, these ‘ports of entry’ will each remain enticing gateways for the Burroughs mythology, but Burroughs’s continued suspicion of language’s ‘ability’ to offer a clear message can also countermand the accreted meaning and interpretation of his popular persona: ‘If they write an article attacking the Olympia Press as sexualizing congruent accessibility to its heart of pulp fecundate with orifices perspectives in the name of human privacy they have placed their thesis beyond the realm of fact […] The words used refer to nothing’ (Job 107). Language betrays any attempt to hang Burroughs onto a particular commercial hook, but also compromises—‘informs’—on his retorts.
Even so, Burroughs’s multimedia collaborations might still be interpreted as ‘lines of flight’ from the structures of advanced capital. The ‘double resonance’ of Burroughs’s work and cultural appropriation attempts to perform key reversals, what Saul Alinsky calls ‘mass political jujitsu’ (cited by Klein 2002:281), so that while the forces of commodification try to assimilate the viral seed of Burroughs’s language, they remain unable to force the words into their desired meaning.
INVERSION I: WORKING WITH THE POPULAR FORCES
In his classic treatise Noise: The Political Economy of Music, Jacques Attali articulates our first inversion—that recorded music and sound have become representative of a fundamental shift in the relationship between performance and recording. Whereas the original purpose of recording was to preserve the live concert experience, Attali argues that the evolution of mass reproducibility and the concomitant rise of the ‘recording star’ changed the live performance into a repetition of the recorded situation. The authority of original production and that of the recording industry are both called into question (1985:85–6), guaranteeing that even in its popular manifestation of apparent countercultural forms (for example, the Beatles), the recording industry ‘assured that young people were very effectively socialized, in a world of pettiness constructed by adults’ (110).
Burroughs and Gysin, aware of the deep structural ambivalence of the linguistic medium, argued that ‘[t]he word was and is flesh […] The word was and is sound and image’ (3M 159), and thus focused their recording energies on pieces that would somehow cultivate a reproduction of ‘aura’ that could grow throughreplication, while at the same time questioning the efficacy of their own involvement in the control mechanisms of the pre-recordings. In the liner notes for Apocalypse Across the Sky by the Master Musicians of Jajouka featuring Bachir Attar (produced by Bill Laswell), Burroughs and Gysin position the special caste of musicians (‘the 4000-year-old rock ‘n’ roll band’) in an era pre-dating the traps of language and technological recording: ‘Musicians are magicians in Morocco […] They are evokers of djenoun forces, spirits of the hills and the flocks and above all the spirits of music’ (Apocalypse liner notes). Yet, Burroughs and Gysin also admonish the consumers of the music to ‘let the music penetrate you and move you, and you will connect with the oldest music on earth’ (Apocalypse liner notes). In order to account not only for the apparent contradiction of discovering such ‘auratic’ magic in the technological medium, but also for Attali’s sense that recording sound and music becomes subordinate to the replicated long-player of capital, we must determine how Burroughs uses such an inversion to his advantage.
‘Burroughs Break’, the first track from the Burroughs and Gus Van Sant collaboration The Elvis of Letters (1985), offers the line, ‘Whatever you feed into the machine on a subliminal level, the machine will process’, and this sample is seemingly copied straight from the Call Me Burroughs record (as are other portions of Elvis). Van Sant’s twangy guitar backs up the majority of Elvis, most effectively perhaps on the second track, ‘Word is Virus’, which repeats the ideological mantra of Nova Express: ‘Word begets image and image is virus’ (48). While such exercises, which mix Burroughs’s spoken word recording with musical accompaniment, are notable advances from the deadpan delivery on Call Me Burroughs, the potential of Van Sant’s project to overcome the limiting interplay of sound and text, while always relying more heavily on spoken word material, remains in question.
The privileging of the Burroughs text on this record is evident in the resonance of such sound recordings to the events of global theater. Stash Luczkiw, writing in Italy Weekly of the beleaguered Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, attributes a connection between Burroughs’s line, ‘Word begets image, and image is virus’ (Luczkiw 2003), and the co-opting power of image politics to the Italian media elite. Luczkiw cites a rumor concerning the outlawed Masonic Lodge, Propaganda 2 (P2), and a supposed 1976 document, the ‘Plan for Democratic Renewal’, detailing an objective ‘to gain influence and, ultimately, control over the mass media by infiltrating various newspapers, publishing houses and TV stations’. Significantly, Luczkiw names Berlusconi as a ‘former member of P2’ (2003), but his essay represents more than the political application of Burroughs’s paranoiac cosmic-opera ideas.
Applying Burroughs’s work to theoretical materials that attempt to explain the metaphorical implications of his prose is certainly a viable critical tactic, yet even casually drawing such conclusions (as Luczkiw does) from a text used in The Elvis of Letters does not specifically address the recorded nature of the disk. For it is the material of the recording, to return to Attali, that puts a unique spin on the replicating inversion of the original/recording relationship within the space of global capital. In order to circumnavigate the trap of ‘double resonant’ production applied only along its single written dimension, we must more precisely trace the relationship between recording and original.
INVERSION II: BURROUGHS CALLED THE LAW CALLED BURROUGHS
Expanding on Roland Barthes’s ‘death of the author’ in the lateStructuralist moment, Michel Foucault offers a salient conception of the ‘author function’ that characterizes our second inversion. Foucault traces the history of the ‘author function’ as born from an alteration of the common cultural notion of the ‘author’ preceding the text that she constructs from the genius of her creative faculty. After demonstrating how the author has indeed become subject to the legal vagaries of advanced capital, including ‘ownership’ necessitated by the rise of copyright law, Foucault shows how this ‘author function’ does not precede the text in the same way as the humanist notion of ‘Author’, but how it assumes a limiting function for the text(s) that it accompanies. The ‘author function’ becomes a projection of the ‘operations that we force texts to undergo’ (1969:551)— a chimera made real by its own culturally sanctioned image and its ability to reinforce epistemological discursive limits.
As one embodiment of this ‘author function’ that is complicit with control, Burroughs, the author-cum-counterculture-icon, must somehow intervene directly into the milieu of control in order to alter the discursive practices that are ‘natural’ to the capitalist environment of his production as an ‘Author’. This task is not unlike his oft-used comparison for the limits of the space program (‘Yes sir, the fish said, I’m just going to shove a little aquarium up onto land there, got everything I need in it’ [PDR 41]); language, understood as a virus, precipitates its own dissemination in a way that forces a certain limited meaning at every juncture. If the solution to this poststructural quandary, as offered in such texts as the ‘Academy 23’ section of The Job, is recourse to pictorial associative systems, how can we reconcile Burroughs’s work with image/sound as being any more successful than his already circumscribed-by-capital textual production?
The key to this ‘solution’ lies in the second reversal mixed with the first: if recording has become a means to replicate the live act that is now constructed as a facsimile of the recording (Attali), and if the ‘author function’ is in part an illusory product of copyright-inspired capital transactions of ownership (Foucault), then any disruption must occur in a way that scuttles the efficacy of the signifying chain separating ‘original’ from ‘copy’ while at the same time destroying the relational mechanisms that authorize such compartmentalization through the function of the ‘genius’ author or intellect.
EL HOMBRE INVISIBLE
Jesse Bernstein: How do you see the relationship between your public image—there’s a William S. Burroughs archetype—your body of work, and yourself, the actual man?
William Burroughs: There is no actual man.
—Jesse Bernstein, ‘Criminal Mind’
One of the more interesting sound works of Burroughs’s later period is the 1997 remix release version of the classic Material album Seven Souls (1989), a sort of unofficial soundtrack to Burroughs’s last major novel, The Western Lands (1987). Significant to this discussion is the way that the music, along with Burroughs’s readings, creates an interplay that moves beyond the reliance on written text; as Murphy notes about the track ‘The Western Lands’, excerpts from different sections of Burroughs’s novel have come together in the song (1997:225), creating an orchestrated cut-up at the altar of the mixing table. The final track of both the original and the remix record, ‘The End of Words’, returns the listener to that assumed connection between the text and its performance, which features ‘Middle Eastern scales and overdubbed chants’ (Murphy 1997:225), before Burroughs drones through the final passages of The Western Lands, including, significantly: ‘The old writer couldn’t write anymore because he had reached the end of words, the end of what can be done with words. And then?’ (WL 258)
Expressed as both text and sound versions, this passage is ostensibly the ‘same’ in each instance, yet the difference between the ‘original’ written iteration of this passage and its re-articulation on the remix record becomes more than just a refraction of the ‘real’ world of the text into a sound medium. Such movement between mediums is not simply, as the Critical Art Ensemble laments, ‘trying to eat soup with soup’ (1994:86). Rather, the context has been altered to locate this new articulation, as a new expression of the ‘double resonance’ that exploits Attali’s retroversion.
In Attali’s conception, the artist originally recorded her work as a way of preserving the live performance. In this case, at first analysis, the live performance of Burroughs’s reading would comport, in the straight-ahead style of Call Me Burroughs, to the reverse structure that Attali attributes to the pattern of replication typified by advanced capital: Burroughs reads and records the text during a live performance, in order to preserve (as per the reversal), through voice, the ‘original’ written text and any ‘original’ live performances that presumably preceded its recorded articulation. Significantly, this live performance is recorded.
Yet, with Laswell’s band not so much performing a cut-up on the text as radically recontextualizing it, the situation undergoes a subsequent and crucial re-inversion: the recording of the spoken word reading, which Laswell uses on his 1989 record, becomes the original performance of the aural material (or the articulation that serves as such within the new regime), and the Laswell-produced track ‘The End of Words’—a new recording—works in Attali’s formula as a way of not merely limiting the new original by reproducing it again, but changing the new original—which is not, of course, the ‘real’ original—through the détournement of its first and only temporary position in a tenuous chain of signification (as an aural copy of the written text, which has been elided from the sound process completely).
For Burroughs’s work, the context has now shifted, and his ‘end of words’ proclamation becomes a prophecy that plays itself out in the inability of that language to fix the ‘meaning’ of its articulation. Just as Magritte’s picture of a pipe is no longer a pipe itself, Burroughs’s text about the ‘end of words’ is no longer a fixed written text that attempts to signify an insoluble concept through appreciable limits, because its recording and subsequent re-situation plays upon Burroughs’s own narrative critiques of the insolubility of originality. The recording and mixing process redirects the specter of repetition, so that any relation to the ‘original’ is not one of only preservation and repetition (as per Attali’s reversal), but, potentially, one of evolution.
Still, it may be clear from such an example that Laswell’s work, while certainly innovative, is little more than a clever crossapplication of the cut-up method to a sound medium, and thus, the new articulation quickly exhausts its apparent insight into the system of replicated reproduction. While manipulations of spoken word texts are by no means legion in the popular arena, enough of this type of activity has been performed that the reader might see the re-signification of Attali’s reversal (complicated by Burroughs’s own production techniques, discussed earlier) as subject to Frank’s cogent analysis of the countercultural myth, or Foucault’s notions of the complete penetration of the power apparatus in a society of control. Without discounting these critiques, let us lay down the ‘second reversal’, that of the ‘author function’, onto this track.
EL HOMBRE DI-VISIBLE
Recall that Foucault expresses that the ‘author function’ is born contemporaneously with the text, and is, in fact, the limiting agent to which the text is attributed, a sort of phenomenological enforcer of Burroughs’s ‘Board Books’. Burroughs’s solution, offered throughout his career, might be cited as: ‘Equipped now with sound and image track of the control machine […] I had only to mix the order of recordings and the order of images’ (SM 92). This possibility is developed in works such as the CD Break Through in Grey Room (due to the fact that a text that has as its subject ‘recording’ is then manipulated as a recording itself), but let us consider the remix of Seven Souls for a later iteration of this methodology as a musical concept once removed from the ‘originating’ consciousness of the idea as already developed by Burroughs.
The original 1989 ‘Soul Killer’ track, also a collection of passages from The Western Lands, expands upon ‘Total Death. Soul Death’, the consolidation of energy that occurs in that mummycontrolled ‘space’ of the Western hegemonic afterlife. From the track: ‘Governments fall from sheer indifference. Authority figures, deprived of the vampiric energy they suck off their constituents are seen for what they are: dead, empty masks manipulated by computers. And what is behind the computers? Remote control of course’ (WL 116). On the most provocative remix from the 1997 record, DJ Terre Thaemlitz’s ‘Remote Control Mix’ of ‘Soul Killer’, Burroughs’s famous dictum that there is ‘nothing here now but the recordings’ (which also ends the 1989 Laswell version) closes with the same warning about the ‘recordings’: ‘[T]hey are as radioactive as an old joke’ (WL 116). The familiar metallic timbre of Burroughs’s voice gives way to the distorted soundscape that one reviewer notes ‘evok[es] imagery of Morocco or somewhere equally as exotic’ (Stoeve 2002). The sonic wasteland is ethereal enough to situate the few remaining and audible Burroughs sounds, no more than quick glitches in time, in a way that implies that the ‘author’—the absent Burroughs—has been drowned by the same ‘remote control technology’ that he conducted an excursus upon in the 1989 recording. From the time of 6:30 to 7:00 on the remix, we hear almost inaudible and certainly defamiliarized fragments of what sounds like Burroughs’s voice buried beneath the sands of the engineer’s table: ‘originally’ words in the pages of The Western Lands (assuming erroneously but deliberately that typing/scripting is the origination point of language), these words are no longer ‘words’ at all.
Here we enter the realm that lies submersed beneath the ambient waves of the postmodern musical era, served under the imprimatur of direct noise that one might find on the records Greg Hainge cites in his essay, ‘Come on Feel the Noise: Technology and its Dysfunctions in the Music of Sensation’, including Reynol’s Blank Tapes or Francis Lopez’s Paris Hiss (2002:42–58). In the postindustrial wilderness that closes Thaemlitz’s mix, the warning about the ‘radioactivity’ of the pre-recordings becomes the last completely audible (although manipulated) portion of the track, so that this final desert of the red night not only plays upon the radioactive nature of the ‘old jokes’—the old America that contributes to the degeneration of its inhabitants—but also continues the ‘double resonance’ that infuses the best of Burroughs’s spoken word material: remixed almost beyond aural recognition, the spoken word ‘text’, a mélange of the textual and sonic, a distorted re-recording of a previously manipulated recording of a live performance of a written ‘original’ (with multiple variations across a history of Burroughs’s work) hopelessly spins the Attali equation on its head, but also pushes toward Foucault’s vision of the text as no longer constrained by the author function (although Foucault always envisions some form of constraint). We need no longer lament the replication of a recorded text or performance in its live iteration, because all of these categories are problematized by the conflation of the original and the recording. The identity of the ‘real’ originator Burroughs (while still ‘present’ on the remix) finds his flickering persona fed into the recording machine in so many iterations, both through his own instrumentation and that of other like-minded collaborators, that it is cut backward and chopped apart until the computer sample of ‘his’ voice, the recording of a recording, implodes.
Burroughs’s ‘double resonance’ provides a limit, a glass ceiling for him to vibrate toward in an attempt to ‘rub out the word’, so that it is only with a soul death, a total death effectuated—through the use of the recording process that seeks to eliminate his voice from his own descriptive passages—that we can see our way forward to Foucault’s vision of a future without the ‘author function’. Foucault’s future is founded not upon a reversal that allows the ‘author’ to again precede the ‘text’, but with an acknowledgement of the signifying limits of the author that accelerate the evolutionary changes, suggesting, like Burroughs’s buried and distorted clicks at the end of the ‘Soul Killer’ remix, that: ‘All discourses, whatever their status, form, value, and whatever the treatment to which they will be subjected, would then develop in the anonymity of a murmur’ (Foucault 1969:558). Listen as closely as you like to the Thaemlitz track’s final minutes, between 6:30 and 6:50; rewind and replay as often as you can; wear noisecanceling headphones to better preserve the snippets of deconstructed Burroughs that pass through your ears—and you will still hear only the murmur of standard narrative intelligibility.
This murmur is an apt metaphor in its ethereality—in its ambivalence between presence and absence—to bring us toward closure. N. Katherine Hayles, upon listening to Nothing Here Now But the Recordings, expresses the disjunction between the ‘explanatory’ prose segments on sound manipulation and the practical application of the method: ‘I found the recording less forceful as a demonstration of Burroughs’s theories than his writing. For me, the aurality of his prose elicits a greater response than the machine productions it describes and instantiates’ (Hayles 1999:216). Significantly, Hayles’s analysis also identifies the danger of Burroughs’s sound experiments to ‘constitute a parasitic monologue’ if not ‘self-disrupted’ (215) by manipulations that might counteract the trap of language—so that sound can be expanded to not only echo the sounds of the body (an internal engine), but in its self-deconstruction, become an external mechanism that produces ‘a new kind of subjectivity that strikes at the deepest levels of awareness’ (220). Elsewhere is this collection, Anthony Enns attends to Hayles’s critique through the primacy of Burroughs’s use of the typewriter, yet we must also consider her hesitancy to embrace Burroughs’s sound recordings as a reminder of the difficulty in escaping the parasitism of the control machine that feeds on the iconic image.
This brief reading of Burroughs’s sound-related projects cannot possibly approach an exhaustive study, nor can it imply that such current sound production will actually produce Hayles’s new subjectivity, because in many ways the works of contemporary musicians/ sound performers, no matter how seemingly ‘revolutionary’, exist in a different cultural location than once-‘obscene’ texts such as Naked Lunch. Great gains have been made for provocative aesthetics; while I never read Burroughs as a student, his work routinely finds a place on my syllabus as a professor, representing a local manifestation of Kathy Acker’s statement that ‘we are living in the world of Burroughs’s novels’ (1997:3). Even though we might now simply view a picture of Burroughs holding court with Kim Gordon and Michael Stipe, or hear socially conscious rock band Radiohead sample lead singer Thom Yorke’s live voice for immediate playback during performances of ‘Everything in the Right Place’ (an application of ‘Burroughsian’ principles), we must still force ourselves to reconcile the overwhelming persona of the speaker against the cult of the image that dilutes its message, while simultaneously applying the same concerns to the medium. Perhaps, as both Attali and Hainge suggest, the solution can be found in the productive power of noise, because ‘in its limited appeal […] the Noise genre subverts the relationship between product and demand in the age or repetition and mass consumerism’ (Hainge 2002:56).
The inherent problem of such pronouncements is that the control machine also listens to its own noises—and it never hesitates to engage in playback. During the ‘psyops’ (psychological operations) phase of the 2003 Iraq war, the US military followed Burroughs’s admonition in ‘Electronic Revolution’ to use sound as ‘a front line weapon to produce and escalate riots’ (now in Job 175): ‘The military also uses the recordings during tank assaults as “force multipliers”, sound effects to make the enemy think the forces are larger than they actually are’ (Leinwand 2003).
Burroughs would advocate fighting fire with a recording of fire, and while even the recent rise of file sharing protocols might create conditions (in the separation of recording from corporate ownership) to cut the association lines of the mass media, the fact that we cannot eat soup with soup also argues for constant vigilance against the corporate and commercial forces. If the cop not only needs the criminal, but also is the criminal, we must also see the dominant culture’s ability to absorb the ideologically ‘resistant’ as the key to the ‘double resonance’ of Burroughs’s sound projects. Senator Orrin Hatch, himself a musician of the patriotic/religious variety, recently advocated integrating viruses into Internet downloads to damage file sharing culprits, which, in Hatch’s words, ‘may be the only way you can teach somebody about copyrights’ (Bridis 2003:2B).
If the corporate body can literally consume everything it tastes, there is no sense in hiding the food. Instead, Burroughs’s position must be fed into the machine in so many ways, from so many coordinate points, that not only will that position overwhelm the machine on the subliminal level, but the machine will be fundamentally changed so that it no longer recognizes a source for the recordings at all. The best way to put Burroughs’s concepts to use may be to get rid of ‘Burroughs’ altogether.
And at the same time, we must make of ourselves a meal.
Retaking the Universe (William S.Burroughs in the Age of Globalization)
Part2: Writing, Sign, Instrument: Language and Technology/Nothing Hear Now but the Recordings : Burroughs’s ‘Double Resonance’/Edited by Davis Schneiderman and Philip Walsh
First published 2004 by Pluto Press 345 Archway Road, London N6 5AA 22883 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, VA 20166–2012, USA
Well after the Sun King stung Colbert into action with his dictum: 'Let there be Light and Security!', well before the Nazi theorist Rosenberg delivered his extravagant aphorism: 'When you know everything you are afraid of nothing', the French Revolution had turned the elucidation of details into a means of governing.
Omnivoyance, Western Europe's totalitarian ambition, may here appear as the formation of a whole image by repressing the invisible. And since all that appears, appears in light — the visible being merely the reality-effect of the response of a light emission - we could say that the formation of a total image is the result of illumination. Through the speed of its own laws, this illumination will progressively quash the laws originally dispensed by the universe: laws not only governing things, as we have seen, but bodies as well.
At the end of 'Day One' of the 1848 Revolution, appropriately, witnesses testified that in different parts of Paris, independently of each other, people shot up public clocks, as though instinctively determined to stop time just as darkness was about to fall naturally. Obeying the law is suspect', asserts Louis de Saint-Just, one of the leading promulgators of the terror-effect. With the perfectly French invention of revolutionary terror - domestic as well as ideological the scientific and philosophical genius of the land of the Enlightenment and supreme rationality topples over the edge into a sociological Phenomenon of pure panic.
It was at this moment that the revolutionary police chose an eye as its emblem; that the invisible police, the police spy, replaced the evident, dissuasive police force; that Fouche, the orator and former monk, confessor to the sinner, set up a camera obscura of a different kind, the famous cell in which the correspondence of citizens under suspicion was deciphered and exposed. A police investigation that aimed to illuminate the private sphere just as the theatres, streets and avenues of the public sphere had previously been illuminated, and to obtain a total image of society by dispersing its dark secrets. A permanent investigation within the very bosom of the family, such that anything communicated, the tiniest shred of information, might prove dangerous, might become a personal weapon, paralysing each individual in mortal terror of all the rest, of their spirit of inquiry.
Remember that in September 1791, on the eve of the Terror, the Constituent Assembly, which was to disappear the following month, had instituted the Criminal Jury as an agent of justice whereby citizens, as members of the jury, acquired sovereign authority with the power to sentence a person to death without appeal. (In legal parlance, this is a double-degree move.) The people and their representatives were thus granted the same infallibility as the monarch by divine right they were supposed to replace. It would not be long before common justice showed the flaws Montaigne had described two centuries earlier: 'A heaving sea of opinions ... forever whipped up ... and driven on by customs that change with the wind. ...'
Curiously, the terror-effect's atavistic twin nature - its obsession with the un-said going hand in glove with a totalitarian desire for clarification - is to be found at work endlessly and excessively in Fouche or Talleyrand. But also, later, much later, in the terrorising and terrorised knowledge of the Lacan of Je ne vous le fais pas dire!, in the Michel Foucault of Naissance de la clinique and Surveiller et punir, in the Roland Barthes of La Chambre claire and the Barthes inspired exhibition 'Cartes et figures de la Terre' at the Pompidou Centre. Barthes would write in conclusion to a life of illness and anguish: 'Fear turns out to have been my ruling passion'.
One could discourse endlessly about 'The declaration of the rights of man and the citizen' and the conquest of power by the middle-class military democracy. But it is just as important not to detach the people's revolution from its means, from its everyday materials and depredations. The Revolution as social disease speaks of a banal, sometimes ignominious death. But beyond this, on the internal battlefront, with the supremely warrior-like scorn for the living and the Other that we find in both opposing camps, the Revolution will spread the new materialist vision in the wake of its victorious armies. And this vision will overthrow the entire set of systems of representation and communication in the course of the nineteenth century. The real significance of the 1789 revolution lay here, in the invention of a public gaze that aspired to a spontaneous science, to a sort of knowledge in its raw state, each person becoming for everyone else, in the manner of the sans culotte, a benevolent inquisitor. Or, better still, a deadly Gorgon.
Benjamin was later to rejoice that 'cinemagoers have become examiners, but examiners having fun'. If we turn the phrase around, things look a bit less promising: what we are now dealing with is an audience for whom the investigation, the test, has become fun. Actions spring from terror, events that embody the new passion, like stringing people up from lampposts, brandishing freshly lopped heads on spikes, storming palaces and hotels, seeing that residents' names are posted on the door of apartment blocks, reducing the Bastille to rubble, desecrating convents and places of worship, digging up the dead. ... Nothing is sacred any more because nothing is now meant to be inviolable. This is the tracking down of darkness, the tragedy brought about by an exaggerated love of light.
What about the little quirks of David, the painter and member of the Convention; his penchant for the bodies of victims of the scaffold; the sordid sequel to the execution of Charlotte Corday; the dark side of his celebrated painting 'The Death of Marat'. Remember it was Marat, 'the people's friend' and an absolute maniac for denunciation, who, in March 1779, presented a paper to the Academie des Sciences entitled 'Monsieur Marat's discoveries concerning fire, electricity and light' in which he singled out Newton's theories in particular for attack.
The French Revolution was preoccupied with lighting, notes Colonel Herlaut. The general public, we know, craved artificial lighting. They wanted lights, city lights, which had no further truck with Nature or the Creator, which just involved man illuminating himself. This coincided with the precise moment when man's being was becoming his own object of study, the subject of a positive knowledge (Foucault). The rise of the fourth estate occurs here, within the shimmering urban mirage that is merely the illusion of what is up for grabs.
Better to be an eye', as Flaubert would say, taking up the slogan of the revolutionary police. In fact, the Revolution ushered in that collusion between the man of letters, the artist and the man of the press, the investigative journalist-informer. Whether Marat or the Hebertiste 'Pere Duchesne', the trick is to hold the attention of the greatest number through anecdote, the fait divers, the political or social-crime story.
Despite its wild excesses, revolutionary journalism aims to enlighten public opinion, to make revelations, to delve behind deceptive appearances, to provide slowly but surely a convincing explanation for every mystery, in keeping with the demands of a public full examiners.
In 1836 a new partner emerged and a decisive cartel was formed.
Thanks to Emile Girardin the press finally achieved mass circulation by rationally exploiting advertising revenue, thereby succeeding in lowering subscription rates. And in 1848, as the romantic revolution is winding down, the serial novel takes off.
That same year, Baudelaire discusses the great writers of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, such as Diderot, Jean Paul, Laclos and Balzac, in terms of their preoccupation with an eternal supernaturalism having to do with the primitive nature of their probe, with the new inquisitorial spirit, the spirit of an examining judge. Following spiritual ancestors like Voltaire, who conducted his own investigations into a number of criminal cases (advocating the rehabilitation of Jean Calas, for example, or Sirven, or defending Count Lally-ToUendal in the Lally-ToUendal Affair), Stendhal published Le Rouge et le noir in 1830, unsuccessfully, only two years after the Berthet Affair had been splashed across the Grenoble newspapers.
Though the claim that The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) was the first modern detective story is a bit excessive, Edgar Allan Poe, who was perfectly familiar with Balzac's works, felt the ideal investigator had to be French, like Descartes. Although he never once set foot in Paris, the author of The Purloined Letter kept very much abreast of what was happening there. His Charles-August Dupin, the model for all future fictional detectives, was probably none other than the Paris Polytechnique graduate and research scientist, CharlesHenri Dupin. As for the mandatory example of Descartes, we know that the author of Discours de la methode once solved a crime in which one of his neighbours was implicated by assiduously disentangling the psychology involved. (He alludes to the episode in a letter to Huygens dated January 1646).
Flaubert took the innovation of the novel's conversion into case study to new heights. In his essay on Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant writes: 'First of all he imagines types, then, proceeding by deduction, he makes these beings perform actions typical of them and which they are doomed to carry out absolutely logically according to temperament.'
The instrumentalisation of the photographic image is not unrelated to this literary mutation. Before establishing a photographic encyclopaedia of his contemporaries, Nadar (who once worked for the French secret service), with his brother, became interested in the work of the celebrated neurologist Guillaume Duchenne whose major study, complete with supporting photographic documentation, was eventually published as The mechanics of human physiognomy, or an electro-physiological analysis of the expression of the passions.
This was in 1853. Madame Bovary was to appear four years later. In it Flaubert dismantles the passions mechanically a la Duchenne and leaves no doubt whatever about his own methods: before working up what he calls scenarios of novels 'analysing psychological cases', and 'since everything one invents is true', he conducts intricate investigations and cross-examinations, going as far as extorting embarrassing confessions as in the Louise Pradier case. In the same spirit, he thought it was only fair to claim the sum of 4,000 francs from his publisher Michel Levy for the costs of investigations relating to Salammbo.
But apart from what it owes to the documentary and the lampoon, Flaubert's real art has to do with the light spectrum. For Flaubert, the organisation of mental images is a subtractive synthesis that ends in a coloured unity: golden for the exotic Salammbo, mildewy for Madame Bovary, the colour of small country towns and the dull sheen of romantic thought active in France after the 1848 Revolution.
What we might call the conceptual framework of the novel is thus deliberately reduced to the encoding of a dominant, quasi-unconditional stimulus, the target attribute destined to act beyond the bounds of literature itself and designed to lead the reader to a kind of 'optical retrieval' of the meaning of the work.
This brings us dangerously close to impressionism, and the succes de scandale enjoyed by Madame Bovary anticipates that of the exposition des refuses held at Nadar's.
Meanwhile Gustave Courbet cites Gericault (along with Prud'hon and Gros) as one of the great precursors of the new art vivant, largely due to his having chosen to paint contemporary subjects.
In 1853 Gustave Planche, in his Portraits d'artists, also paid homage to the forgotten works of the painter of 'The Raft of the Medusa'. 'No-one', Klaus Berger remarks, 'was interested in making what he had to say known after his death in 1824, least of all the Romantics, like Delacroix, who owed his beginnings to the young Gericault
So Gericault emerges from oblivion at the precise moment that the photographers are dreaming of absolute instantaneity, that Dr duchenne of Boulogne, sending an electric current through the facial muscles of his subjects, claimed to seize photographically the mechanism involved in their movement. The painter suddenly found himself a precursor, since, well before Daguerre's process was unveiled before the general public, the compression of time that visual instantaneity represents had become the undying passion of his short life. Well before the impressionists, Gericault considered immediate vision an end in itself, the very substance of the work and not merely a possible starting point for a 'more or less fossilised' academic painting.
Gericault's art vivant was already an art that evolves by summing itself up such as Degas would later describe: an art of reiteration, like everything else that communicated and conveyed itself at constantly increasing speed from the nineteenth century on.
In 1817 Gericault got to know the doctors and nurses at Beaujon Hospital next to his studio. They supplied him with corpses and sawn-off limbs and let him stay in the hospital wards to follow every phase of the suffering, and death pangs of the terminally ill. We also know of his relationship with Dr Georget, the founder of social psychiatry and a court expert to boot.
It was at the instigation of this celebrated specialist in mental health that he completed his 'portraits of mad people' in the winter of 1822, which were to serve as visual aids for the doctor's students and assistants. 'A transmutation of science into eloquent portraits' was how they were described at the time. It is perhaps more apt to call them the artist's conversion of the clinical sign to enhance the painted work which then becomes a documentary, an image loaded with information: the conversation of a perception of the special detachment that enables the doctor or surgeon to make a diagnosis simply by using his senses and repressing any emotion due to the effects of terror, pity or repulsion.
Some time before this, driven as always by his passion for the immediate, Gericault had conceived the project of painting a recent news story. For a while he toyed with the Fualdes Affair, popularised in the press and cheap prints. Why did he finally opt for the tragedy of the Medusa} I personally think it is incredible that the name of the ship that went down was precisely the same as in the Gorgon myth. 'To behold the Gorgon,' writes Jean-Pierre Vernant, 'you must look into her eyes and when your eyes meet, you cease being yourself, cease living and become, like her, a power of death.' The Medusa is a kind of integrated circuit of vision that would seem to bode a future of awesome communication. And just to round off this case for permeation, there was Gericault's passion for the horse-as-speed. This would be one of the agents of his death; with Pegasus, it furthermore constitutes an essential element of the ancient Gorgon imagery (at once the face of terror, the incarnation of fright and the source of poetic inspiration).
For his painting 'The Raft of the Medusa' Gericault began preparatory work and research in 1818, less than two years after the tragedy occurred, starting with the way the catastrophe was related in the press and in a book which went into several editions, all eagerly snapped up by the public. Gericault met survivors of the shipwreck, notably Dr Savigny; he had a model of the raft made up and did numerous studies using dying patients in the hospitals next door as models along with corpses in the morgue.
But apart from all that, which we know about, the monumental dimensions of the picture — thirty-five square metres - tell us something about Gericault's intentions. He clearly wanted to capture the attention of the general public, not so much in his capacity as an artist, but in the manner of a journalist or advertising executive. Before hitting on the solution of giganticism, he first thought of doing a painting series, a 'painting in episodes' that would evolve over time (bit like Poussin's sketches based on the figures of Trajan's Column).
In the end he decided he could overcome pictorial representation's media handicap by enlarging the spectator's visual field, the size of the work begging the question, by reversing it, of the space in which the image could be shown. This crowd painting obviously could not, through its sheer size, be hung anywhere other than in some vast public place (a museum?). Unlike an easel painting, which could adapt to domestic intimacy, unlike the frescoes and monumental paintings commissioned in the Renaissance, which then spread out after the fact over the walls of the various palaces and churches, Gericault's painting was a work looking for a place to hang
As soon as it was unveiled, in all its internal contradictions, it met with hostility from painters of all persuasions, critics and art lovers alike. On the other hand, it was a sensation with the general public who saw it not so much as a work of art as a pamphlet designed to discredit the government of Louis XV111. The royal administration, accused by the opposition of being indirectly responsible for the tragedy, had in any event made the first move by banning the use of the name Meduse in the exhibition leaflet. But as Rosenthal writes: 'the public was able to work out the original name without too much trouble and political passions ran riot'. In such a climate there was no question of the State's buying it or of its being hung in some official space or museum.
Rolled up in Paris and shipped to England, the outsize painting was finally shown from town to town as far as Scotland, for the price of a ticket. Organised by one Bullock, the venture was to earn Gericault the enormous sum of 17,000 gold sovereigns, a fortune in keeping with its popular success.
But well before the symbolic Medusa, pictorial art in Great Britain had been veering towards the mercantilism of the sideshow.
Panorama: The term sounds as though it should belong exclusively to the language of painting, for it combines two Greek words to signify complete view. This is obtained by means of a circular background on which a series of aspects are drawn and then rendered, uniquely, by a series of separate paintings.
'Now it is precisely this condition, which is indispensable to this genre of representation, which makes an architectural work of the painter's field of activity. The name panorama, in fact, refers both to the edifice on which the painting is hung and to the painting itself.'
Quatremere describes the building as a rotunda with daylight entering from above, the rest of the building remaining dark. Viewers were led into the centre along long, dark corridors so their eyes would adjust to the dark and register the light on the painting as natural. Coming on to a raised amphitheatre in the middle of the rotunda in the dark, viewers had no idea where the light was coming from. They could not see either the top or the bottom of the painting which revolved around the circumference of the building, offering no beginning or end, in fact no boundary whatever. It was like being on a mountain with the view obstructed only by the horizon.
In 1792 Robert Barker showed 'The English Fleet at Portsmouth' in his Leicester Square rotunda. The American Robert Fulton, who was responsible for the first submarine and the industrialisation of steamship propulsion, bought the rights for the commercial use of the patent in France. Fulton gave Paris its first rotunda in the boulevard Montmartre. After that similar constructions sprang up all over Paris offering pictorial spectacles: battle scenes, historic events, exotic urban sites like Constantinople, Athens, Jerusalem, and painted in lavishly minute detail.
'In Paris I saw panoramas of Jerusalem and Athens', Chateaubriand writes in the preface to his Complete Works. 'I recognised all the monuments immediately, every building, right down to the tiny room I stayed in in Saint-Sauveur Convent. No traveller has ever endured a rougher ordeal: how was I to know they were going to bring Jerusalem and Athens to Paris?'
The new inertia of the traveller-voyeur was to be further attenuated by Daguerre when he turned his Diorama construction in the rue Samson, behind the boulevard Saint-Martin, into a veritable sight travel machine.
In this structure, which was built in 1822, The viewers' room was mobile and spun round like a one-man-operated merry-go-round. Everyone found themselves carried around past all the paintings on show without apparently having to move a muscle.
Panoramas and dioramas were enormously successful, the profits fabulous. Deeply admiring, the painter David took his students to a panorama on the boulevard Montmarte. In 1810 Napoleon slipped into a rotunda on the boulevard des Capucines and came out dreaming of using the hit show as an instrument of propaganda.
'Napoleon engaged the architect Celerier to draw up plans for eight rotundas to be erected in the great square on the Champs-Elysees; in each, one of the great battles of the Revolution or Empire was to be shown. ... The events of 1812 prevented the project from being carried out.'
'You must first of all speak to the eyes.' Abel Gance liked to quote the Emperor's phrase. An expert in matters of propaganda fide, Napoleon knew immediately that he was dealing with a perfectly staggering new generation of media.
When you stare at the Gorgon, the sparkle in her eye dispossesses you, makes you lose your own sight, condemns you to immobility. With the panorama and the diorama's play of colour and lighting, both fated to vanish at the beginning of the twentieth century only to be replaced by photography, the Medusa Syndrome comes into its own. We are not interested here in Daguerre the scenery-painter, doing sets for the Paris Opera or the Ambigu Comique, but Daguerre the lighting engineer, the master technician, whose application of the image to an architectural construct used absolutely realistic and totally illusory time and movement. In his Description of the Techniques of Diorama Painting and Lighting, Daguerre writes: 'Only two effects were actually painted on - day on the front of the canvas, night on the back, and one could only shift from one to the other by means of a series of complicated combinations of media the light had to pass through. But these produced an infinite number of additional effects similar to those Nature offers in its course from morning to night and vice versa.'
Elsewhere, Benezit writes: 'Daguerre made constant use of the dark room in his studies of lighting and the living image... which took shape on the screen drove him wild with excitement. Here was his dream come true; it now only remained to fix it.'
Niepce had fixed his first negatives in 1818. Daguerre wrote to him for the first time in 1826. In 1829, Niepce became interested in the diorama and joined forces with Daguerre. In 1839 Daguerre was practically wiped out but this did not stop the daguerreotype from being unveiled solemnly that same year before the public of Paris.
The perception of appearances determinedly stopped having anything to do with some kind of spiritual approach (in Leibniz's sense, if you like, accepting the existence of mind as a substantial reality). The artist now had a double, a being led astray by representational techniques and their reproductive power, not to mention the circumstances surrounding their occurrence, they very phenomenology.
As we have seen, the multi-dimensional approach to reality of investigative techniques has had a decisive influence on the instrumentalisation of the public image (propaganda, advertising, etc) as well as on the birth of modern art and the emergence of the documentary. ... The adjective documentary (having the character of a document) was actually admitted by Littre in 1879, the same year as the term impressionism.
'To see without being seen' is one of the adages of police incommunicability. Well before anthropologists or sociologists came along, the eye the investigator cast over society was eminently external to it. As Commissioner Fred Prase said in a recent interview: 'You wind up living in a world that no longer has any connection with the normal world and when you want to talk about what you're going through, no one knows what you are talking about.' It is only natural that the colonial model and its methods have had a bit input on the means and kinds of scientific and technical analyses adopted by the metropolitan police. It was, for example, a British civil servant. Sir William Hershel, who decreed that all papers pertaining to indigenous people be ] signed with their thumb prints from 1858. Some thirty years later, Sir Edward Henry devised a fingerprint-classification system which was adopted by the British government in 1897.
The use of fingerprints as identification marks was already well established in the Far East; the Japanese, among others, had been using fingerprints as signatures from the beginning of the eighth century.
In Europe fingerprints were to be employed in quite a different way. Photographic printing and its possibilities here assuming their ] full significance, the print would come to be perceived as a latent image. Fingerprints, followed by skin prints (pore printing), of any individual alive or dead, would come to be viewed as immutable, I realities.
'One fingerprint taken at the scene of the crime is worth even more than the criminal's confession', writes legal officer Goddefroy in his Manuel de police technique. The celebrated Alphonse Bertillon, who had invented a system of criminal anthropometry-anthropology, finally succeeded on 24 October 1902, the first person to do so in the I history of the police, in identifying a criminal by his fingerprints, I photographed and enlarged to more than four times normal size, as I he was keen to point out in his report.
The introduction of fingerprints as proof of criminal law marks the decline of the story, of the eye-witness account and the descriptive model, once the basis of every investigation and crucial to writers of previous centuries.
Bertillon also, in a well-known phrase, denounced the deficiency of the human eye and the aberrations of subjectivity: You only see what you look at and you only look at what you want to see. The former chief of the Criminal Records Office thereby sums up in his own words the demonstration offered by Poe's Dupin in The Purloined Letter, that letter no one can see for looking, like 'the over-largely lettered signs and placards of the street [which] escape observation by dint of being excessively obvious'. No one can see Poe's letter because everyone is already convinced it must be hidden.
They say you only ask yourself a question when you already know the answer. Dupin, as objective a witness as any camera, is not subject to this ordinary human failing, a failing which makes the scene of the crime almost invisible for the average person who is distracted trying to take note of a welter of details. Metric photographs of the spot, by contrast, record all its particularities regardless, right down to the most insignificant, or which would seem to be so at the time to the eye-witness, whereas, in retrospect, in the course of the investigation, they may turn out to be vital.
The police viewpoint shows just how worthless the story of the person who was there is. In spite of the usefulness of witnesses and the elaborate reports of inspectors, the human eye no longer gives signs of recognition, it no longer organises the search for truth, it no longer presides over the construction of truth's image, in this mad rush to identify individuals whom the police do not know and have never seen.
The outward manifestation of a thought, its symptom in the literal sense of sumptoma (coincidence), is once again to be rejected as far as possible. It is no longer in synch, no longer integrated into the time of the investigation. What counts is what is already there, remaining in a state of latent immediacy in the huge junk heap of stuff of memory, waiting to reappear, inexorably, when the time comes.
Empirically acknowledged as tragic, the photographic print was really just that when, at the turn of the century, it became the instrument of the three great authorities over life and death (the law, the army, medicine). This is when it demonstrated its power to reveal the unfolding of a destiny from the word go. As deus ex machina, it was to become just as ruthless for the criminal, the soldier or the invalid, the conjunction between the immediate and the fatal only becoming more solid, inevitably, with the technical progress of representation.
In 1967 the examining judge Philippe Chausserie Lapree presented a three-minute film re-enactment of the murder of a Normandy farmer to the jury of the Court of Assizes in Caen. Lapree, who describes himself as 'an investigation fiend', turns the cases he hears into veritable synopses: using school exercise books, he pastes photographs on the left-hand side and records of cross-examinations in the form of dialogue on the right. Within his video re-enactment he introduced, for the first time in France, a 'legal documentary' in addition to the usual photos of victims and scenes of crimes. Note that he used two ex-army film-makers as assistants on the film rather than his own staff.
Allowed soon after this by the Code of Criminal Law Procedure, video proof would be used to convict criminals on the basis of documents supplied by cameras installed in banks, shops, at traffic lights and so on. After video refereeing was introduced into sports stadiums, the Belgian officers in charge of the investigation into the Heysel tragedy would have to sit through sixty hours of non-stop video to be able to identify the perpetrators of the violence with any degree of certainty.
In France, lagging well behind England and Germany, law courts such as the district court of Creteil - which has a central projection room and scientific police laboratory fully equipped with video-imaging machines (the ultrasound machine used in medicine for taking ectographs or ecocardiographs) have little by little taken on the trappings of television studios.
In 1988 the police department even decided to deploy crime-scene technicians, who are public servants trained to pick up the clues using ultramodern scientific equipment.
What we are witnessing here is the birth of hyper-realism in legal and police representation. As one technician put it: 'Now, with ultrasound, we can bring up the image of a person who's just a tiny speck the size of a pinhead on a video tape, even if they're at the back of a dark room.' Eyewitness accounts having been devalued, it is now possible to do away with their body too, for we now have something more than their image: we have their real-time telepresence.
Instituted in Great Britain and Canada, the telepresence of witnesses who are either in poor health, in danger or too young to appear, poses the whole question of habe as corpus all over again. Where the body of the person in custody is still produced before the court (that is, if they agree), they are encircled by electronic microscopes, mass spectrometers and laser videographs in an implacable electronic circuit. Now that the court arena has become first a movie projection room, then a video chamber, legal representatives of all stripes have lost any hope of creating within it, with the means at their disposal, a reality-effect capable of captivating the jury and audience for whom video recorders, networking systems like Minitel, television and sundry computers have become a virtually exclusive way of gathering information, communicating and understanding reality and moving about in it.
How can we hope to pull off the old scenic effects, the coups de theatre that were the pride and joy of our former ring masters? How can we hope to scandalise, surprise, move to tears under the gaze of electronic magistrates that can fast forward or reverse in time and space at will, before a judicial system that is now no more than the distant technological outcome of that merciless more light of revolutionary terror, which is, in fact, its very perfection?
excerpt from the book: The Vision Machine/ Chapter 3: Public Image by Paul Virilio
The Jew Judas betrayed Jesus for a small sum of money-after that he hanged himself. The betrayal carried out by those close to Nietzsche does not have the brutal consequences of Judas's, but it sums up and makes intolerable all the betrayals that deform the teachings of Nietzsche (betrayals that put him on the level of the most shortsighted of current enthusiasms). The anti-Semitic falsifications of Frau Forster, Nietzsche's sister, and of Herr Richard Oehler, his cousin, are in some ways even more vulgar than Judas's deal-beyond all reckoning, they give the force of a whiplash to the maxim in which Nietzsche expressed his horror of anti-Semitism:
DO NOT BEFRIEND ANYONE INVOLVED IN THIS IMPUDENT HOAX, RACISM!!
The name of Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche, who died on November 8, 1935, after living a life devoted to a very narrow and degrading form of family-worship, has not yet become an object of aversion . . . On November 2, 1933 Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche had not forgotten the difficulties that came up between her and her brother over her marriage, in 1885, to the anti-Semite Bernhard Forster. A letter in which Nietzsche reminds her of his "repulsion"- "as pronounced as possible" for her husband's party-which he specifically mentions with bitterness-was published through her own efforts. 3 On November 2, 1933, receiving Adolf Hitler at Weimar, in the Nietzsche-Archiv, Elisabeth Forster testified to Nietzsche's anti-Semitism by reading a text by Bernhard Forster.
Before leaving Weimar to go to Essen [reports the Times of November 4, 1933], Chancellor Hitler went to visit Frau Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche, the sister of the famous philosopher. The aged gave him a sword cane that had belonged to her brother. She led him on a tour of the Nietzsche archives.
Herr Hitler listened to a reading of a statement, addressed to Bismarck, written in 1879 by Dr. Forster, an anti-Semitic agitator, which protests against the "Jewish spirit's invasion of Germany:" Holding Nietzsche's cane, Herr Hitler walked through the cheering crowd and got back into his car in order to go to Erfurt, and from there to Essen.
Nietzsche, writing in 1887 a scorning letter to the anti-Semite Theodor Fritsch,4 ends it with these words:
BUT FINALLY, WHAT DO YOU THINK I FEEL WHEN ZARATHUSTRA'S NAME COMES OUT OF THE MOUTH OF AN ANTI-SEMITE!
The Second Judas of the Nietzsche-Archiv
Adolf Hitler, in Weimar, had himself photographed before a bust of Nietzsche. Herr Richard Oehler, Nietzsche's cousin and a collaborator of Elisabeth Forster at the archives, had the photograph reproduced as the frontispiece of his book Nietzsche and the Future of Germany. In this work, he tried to show the profound kinship of Nietzsche's teachings and those of Mein Kampf. He recognizes, it is true, the existence of passages in Nietzsche that are not hostile to the Jews, but he concludes:
Most important for us is this warning:
"Admit no more Jews! And especially close the doors to the east!" . . . "That Germany has amply enough Jews, that the German stomach the German blood has trouble (and will still have trouble for a long time) digesting even this quantum of 'Jew' - as the Italians, French, and English have done, having a stronger digestive system:- that is the clear testimony and language of a general instinct to which one must listen, in accordance with which one must act. 'Admit no more Jews! And especially close the doors to the east to. Austria!' thus commands the instinct of a people whose type is still weak and indefinite, so it could easily be blurred or extinguished by a stronger race."
It is not only a case here of an "impudent hoax," but of a crudely and consciously fabricated falsehood. This text appears, in fact, in Beyond Good and Evil (section 251), but the opinion it expresses is not that of Nietzsche, but that of the anti-Semites, taken up by Nietzsche in order to mock it.
I have not met a German yet who was weIl disposed toward the Jews; and however unconditionally all the cautious and politicaIly minded repudiated real anti-Semitism, even this caution and policy are not directed against the species of this feeling itself but only against its dangerous immoderation, especiaIly against the inspired and shameful expression of this immoderate feeling-about this, one should not deceive oneself. That Germany has amply enough Jews, etc.
After this comes the passage attributed by the fascist forger to Nietzsche! A little further on a practical conclusion is, moreover, given to these considerations: "it might be useful and fair to expel the anti-Semite screamers from the country." This time Nietzsche speaks in his own name. The aphorism as a whole favors the assimilation of the Jews by the Germans.
Do Not Kill:
Reduce to Slavery
DOES MY LIFE MAKE IT LIKELY THAT I COULD ALLOW ANYONE AT ALL TO "CLIP MY WINGS"?
The tone Nietzsche used during his lifetime to answer obnoxious anti-Semites excludes the possibility of treating the question lightly, and of considering the Weimar Judases' treason to be venial: he appears there with "clipped wings."
Nietzsche's relatives have attempted nothing less base than the reduction to degrading slavery of the one who intended to disprove servile morality. Is it possible that there is no gnashing of teeth in the world, and doesn't this absence become so obvious that, in the ever-growing confusion, it makes one silent and violent? How, when one is in a rage, could this not be blindingly clear: when all of humanity is rushing toward slavery, there exists something that must not be enslaved, that cannot be enslaved?
NIETZSCHE'S DOCTRINE CANNOT BE ENSLAVED
It can only be followed. To place it behind or in the service of anything else is a betrayal deserving the kind of contempt that wolves have for dogs.
DOES NIETZSCHE'S LIFE MAKE IT SEEM LIKELY THAT HE CAN HAVE HIS "WINGS CLIPPED" BY ANYONE AT ALL?
Whether it be anti-Semitism, fascism-or socialism-there is only use. Nietzsche addressed free spirits, incapable of letting themselves be used.
The Nietzschean Left and Right
The very movement of Nietzsche's thought implies a destruction of the different possible foundations of current political positions. Groups of the right base their action on an emotional attachment to the past. Groups of the left on rational principles. Now attachment to the past and to rational principles (justice, social equality) are both rejected by Nietzsche. Thus it would have to be impossible to use his teachings in any given orientation.
But his teachings represent an incomparable seductive force, and consequently quite simple a "force," that politicians are tempted to enslave, or at the very least to agree with, in order to benefit their enterprises. The teachings of Nietzsche "mobilize" the will and the aggressive instincts; it was inevitable that existing activities would try to draw into their movement these now mobile and still unemployed wills and instincts.
The absence of all possible adaptation to one or the other of these political orientations has had, under these conditions, only one result. Since Nietzschean exaltation can be solicited only because of a misunderstanding of its nature, it has been solicited in both directions at once. To a certain extent, a Nietzschean left and right have appeared, just as, in the past, a Hegelian left and right appeared. But Hegel located himself in the political sphere, and his dialectical conceptions explain the formation of the two opposed tendencies of his doctrine that developed after his death. It is a question in one case of logical and well thought-out developments, in the other of irrationality, of frivolity, or of betrayal. On the whole, the demands put forward by Nietzsche, far from being understood, have been treated like everything else in a world in which a servile attitude and use value alone appear admissible. On a global scale, the transvaluation of values, even if it has been the object of real attempts at understanding, has remained so generally unintelligible that the treasonous and platitudinous interpretations of which it has been the object very nearly pass unnoticed.
"Remarks for Asses"
Nietzsche himself said that he felt only repugnance for the political parties of his day, but ambiguity remains on the subject of fascism, which only developed long after his death and which, in addition, is the only political movement that has consciously and systematically used Nietzschean criticism. According to the Hungarian Georg Lukacs (one of the few, it seems, among current Marxist theorists to have a profound awareness of the essence of Marxism-but ever since he has had to take refuge in Moscow he has been morally broken; he is now nothing more than a shadow of his former self)-according to Lukacs "the very clear difference between the ideological level of Nietzsche and that of his fascist successors cannot hide the fundamental historical fact that makes Nietzsche one of the principle ancestors of fascism" (Litterature lntemationale 9, 1935, p. 79). The analysis on which Lukacs bases this conclusion is sometimes perhaps refined and clever, but it is only an analysis that dispenses with a consideration of the whole, in other words, of what alone is "existence." Fascism and Nietzscheanism are mutually exclusive, and are even violently mutually exclusive, as soon as each of them is considered in its totality: on one side life is tied down and stabilized in an endless servitude, on the other there is not only a circulation of free air, but the wind of a tempest; on one side the charm of human culture is broken in order to make room for vulgar force, on the other force and violence are tragically dedicated to this charm. How can one not see the abyss that separates a Cesare Borgia, a Malatesta, from a Mussolini? The former were insolent scorners of tradition and of all morality, making use of bloody and complex events to benefit a greed for life that exceeded them; the latter has been slowly enslaved by everything he was able to set in motion only by paralyzing, little by little, his earliest impulses. Already, in Nietzsche's eyes, Napoleon appeared "corrupted by the means he had to employ"; Napoleon "lost noblesse of character." An infinitely more burdensome constraint no doubt weighs on modem dictators, reduced to finding their force by identifying themselves with all the impulses that Nietzsche scorned in the masses, in particular, "mendacious racial self-admiration and racial indecency." There is a corrosive derision in imagining a possible agreement between Nietzschean demands and a political organization which impoverishes existence at its summit, which imprisons, exiles, or kills everything that could constitute an aristocracy of "free spirits." As if it were not blindingly obvious that when Nietzsche demands a love corresponding to the sacrifice of life, it is for the "faith" that he communicates, for the values that his own existence makes real, and obviously not for a fatherland . . .
"Remarks for asses" wrote Nietzsche himself, already fearing a confusion of the same type, and one just as wretched.
The Nietzschean Mussolini
Insofar as fascism values a philosophical source, it is attached to Hegel and not to Nietzsche. One should read the article, in the Enciclopedia Italiana, that Mussolini himself devoted to the movement he created; the vocabulary, and even more than the vocabulary the spirit, are Hegelian and not Nietzschean. Mussolini twice is able to use the expression' 'will to power," but it is no coincidence that this will is only an attribute of the idea that unifies the crowd ...
The red agitator underwent the influence of Nietzsche; the unitarist dictator has remained aloof. The regime itself has spoken on the question. In an article in Fascismo, July 1933, Cimmino denies any ideological filiation linking Nietzsche and Mussolini. Only the will to power would connect their doctrines. But Mussolini's will to power "is not selfish"; it is preached to all Italians, whom Il Duce "wants to make supermen." For, affirms the author, "even if we were all supermen, we would still only be men.... There is nothing more natural than the fact that, in other respects, Nietzsche pleases Mussolini:
Nietzsche will always belong to all men of action and will ... The profound difference between Nietzsche and Mussolini lies in the fact that power, insofar as it is will, force, and action, is the product of instinct-I would say almost of physical nature. It can belong to the most incompatible people: one can use it for the most varied ends. On the other hand, ideology is a spiritual factor: It is ideology that really unites men. . . . " It is not useful to insist on the overt idealism of this text, which has the merit of being honest, if one compares it to the German writings. It is more remarkable to see Il Duce cleared of a possible accusation of Nietzschean selfishness. The ruling circles of Fascism seem to have stopped at the Stirnerian interpretation of Nietzsche, expressed around 1908 by Mussolini himself.
For Stirner, for Nietzsche [the revolutionary wrote at the time], and for all those whom Turk, in his Geniale Mensch, calls the antisophs of selfishness, the State is oppression organized to the detriment of the individual. But nevertheless, even for animals of prey there exists a principle of solidarity. . . . The instinct of according to Darwin, is inherent in man's very nature. It is impossible to imaginee a human being living outside the infinite chain of his men. . Nietzsche felt profoundly the "fatality" of this law of universal solidarity. The Nietzschean superman tries to escape the contradiction: he lets loose his will to power and directs it against the mob outside, and the tragic grandeur of his labours furnishes the poet-for yet a little while-with a subject worthy of being sung.
One can see, then, why Mussolini, stressing the non-Italian influences that helped form early Fascism, speaks of Sorel, Peggy, and Lagardelle, and not of Nietzsche. Official Fascism has been able to use invigorating Nietzschean maxims, displaying them on walls; its brutal simplifications must nevertheless be sheltered from the too free, too complex, and a too-rending Nietzschean world. This prudence seems to be based, it is true, on an outmoded interpretation of Nietzsche's attitude, but this interpretation has been carried out, and it has been because the movement of Nietzsche's thought constitutes, without any hope of appeal, a labyrinth, in other words, the very opposite of the directives that current political systems demand from their sources of inspiration.
Nevertheless, the Hitlerian affirmation is opposed to the prudence of Italian Fascism. It is true that Nietzsche, in the racist pantheon, does not occupy an official place. Chamberlain, Paul de Lagarde, or Wagner are more solidly satisfying to the profound "admiration of oneself' practised by the Germany of the Third Reich. But whatever the dangers of this operation, this new Germany had to recognise Nietzsche and use him. He represented too many mobile instincts, available for virtually any violent action and the falsification was still too easy. The first fully developed ideology of National Socialism, as it has sprung out of Alfred Rosenberg's brain, accommodates Nietzsche.
Before anything else, the German chauvinists had to get rid ofthe individualistic Stirnerian interpretation. Alfred Rosenberg, making short work of leftwing Nietzscheanism, seems, with rage, bent on tearing Nietzsche out of the clutches of the young Mussolini and his comrades:
Friedrich Nietzsche he says in his Myth of the Twentieth Century represents the desperate cry of millions of oppressed people, his savage prediction of the superman was a powerful amplification of individual life, subjugated and annihilated by the material pressure of the epoch.... But an epoch gagged for generations grasps, through its Impotence, only the subjective side of Nietzsche's great will and vital experience. Nietzsche demanded, with passion, a strong personality; his falsified demand becomes an appeal, a letting loose of all the instincts. Around his banner rally the red battalions and the nomadic prophets of Marxism, the sort of men whose senseless doctrine has never been more ironically denounced than by Nietzsche. In his name, the contamination of the race by blacks and Syrians progressed, whereas he himself strictly submitted to the characteristic discipline of our race. Nietzsche fell into the dreams of colored gigolos, which is worse than falling into the hands of a gang of thieves. From this point on the German people only heard talk of the suppression of constraints, of subjectivism, of "personality," but it was no longer a question of discipline and of inner construction. Nietzsche's most beautiful expression-"From the future come winds with the strange beating of wings, and the good news resounds in his ears"-was nothing more than a nostalgic intuition in the midst of an insane world in which he was, along with Lagarde and Wagner, almost the only seer.
"If you knew how I laughed last spring while reading the works of this vain and sentimental, pigheaded character named Paul de Lagarde"-that is what Nietzsche said about the famous Pan-Germanist. 17 Nietzsche's laugh could obviously be carried over from Lagarde to Rosenberg, the laughter of a man equally nauseated by the Social Democrats and by the racists. The attitude of a Rosenberg must not, moreover, be simply seen as a vulgar Nietzscheanism (as is sometimes supposed, for example, by Edmond Vermeil). The disciple is not only vulgar, but prudent: the very fact that a Rosenberg speaks of Nietzsche suffices to "clip his wings" but it seems to a man of this type that the wings are never clipped back far enough. According to Rosenberg, everything that is not Nordic must be rigorously pruned. But only the gods of the heavens are Nordic!
Whereas the Greek gods [he writes]were the heroes of light and of the heavens, the gods of non-Aryan Asia Minor assumed all the characteristics of the Earth. . . . Dionysos (at least his non-Aryan side) is the god of ecstasy, of luxury, of the unfettered bacchanal. . . . For two centuries, the interpretation of Greece has continued. From Winckelmann through the German classics to Voss, there was an insistence on light, the gaze turned to the world, the intelligible.... The other-romantic-current was fed by the secondary movements indicated at the end of the Iliad by the feast of the dead, or in Aeschylus by the actions of the Erinyes. It was fortified by the chthonian gods, established against the Olympian Zeus. Speaking of death and its enigmas, it venerated the mother-goddesses, and first among them Demeter, and it finally blossomed in the god of the dead-Dionysos. It is in this sense that Welcker, Rohde, and Nietzsche made the Earth-mother a creator of life who, herself unformed, perpetually returns through the death in her womb. High German romanticism shuddered with adoration and, as always darker veils were placed before the sky-god's radiant face, it plunged ever more deeply into the instinctive, the unformed, the demonical, the sexual, the ecstatic, the chthonian-into the cult of the Mother.
There is good reason to recall here, first of all, that Rosenberg is not the official philosopher of the Third Reich, and that his anti-Christian stance has not been ratified. But when he expresses repulsion for the gods of the Earth and for the romantic tendencies that do not have as their immediate goal a constitution of force, he expresses beyond the shadow of a doubt the repulsion of National Socialism itself.
National Socialism is less romantic and more Maurrassian than is sometimes imagined, and one must not forget that Rosenberg is its ideological expression closest to Nietzsche; the jurist Carl Schmidt, who incarnates it just as much as does Rosenberg, is very close to Charles Maurras and, with a Catholic background, has always been alien to the influence of Nietzsche.
A "Hygienic and Pedagogical Religion": German Neopaganism
It is German "neopaganism" that has introduced the legend of a poetic National Socialism. It is only insofar as racism leads to this eccentric religious form that it expresses a certain vitalist and anti-Christian current of German thought.
It is a fact that a somewhat chaotic but organized belief freely represents today in Germany the mystical current that first started during the period of high romanticism, and is expressed in writings such as those by Bachofen, Nietzsche, and more recently, Klages. 2o Such a current has never had the slightest unity, but it is characterized by the valuing of life over reason and by the opposition of primitive religious forms to Christianity. Within National Socialism, Rosenberg today represents its most moderate tendency. Much more adventurous theoreticians (Hauer, Bergmann), following Count Reventlow, have set themselves the task of establishing a cultural organization analogous to a Church. This endeavor is not new in Germany, where a "Community of the German Faith" existed in 1908, and where General Ludendorff himself wanted to become, after 1923, the head of a German Church. After Hitler took power the various existing organizations recognized, in a congress, the community of their goals, and were unified in order to form the "Movement of the German Faith."
But if it is true that the proselytes of the new religion do not confine romantic exaltation within Rosenberg's narrow and totally military limits, they are no less in agreement on the point that, once anti-Christianity is proclaimed and life is divinized, the only religion will be race, in other words, Germany. The former Protestant missionary Hauer screams: "There is only one virtue-to be German!" And the extravagant Bergmann, enamored of psychoanalysis and of the "hygienic religion," affirms that "if Jesus of Nazareth, doctor and benefactor of the people, came back today, he would come down from the cross on which a deceptive knowledge has kept him nailed; he would live again as the doctor of the people, as the authority on racial hygiene."
National Socialism only escapes traditional and pietistic narrowness in order better to assure its mental poverty! The fact that adepts of the new faith have ' ceremonies in the course of which passages from Zarathustra are read definitively situates this comedy far from Nietzschean rigor; indeed it is nothing more than the commonest phraseology of buffoons, who assert themselves everywhere amid general weariness.
It is finally necessary to add that the leaders of the Reich do not appear inclined-appear less and less inclined-to support this unusual movement; the account of the role played in Hitler's Germany by a free, anti-Christian enthusiasm, which gives itself a Nietzschean appearance, thus ends on a note of shame.
More Professorial ...
There remains-perhaps the most serious-the well-thought-out endeavor of Herr Alfred Baumler, who uses real knowledge and a certain theoretical rigor to construct a political Nietzscheanism. Baumler's little book, Nietzsche, the Philosopher and Politician,published by Reclam and widely disseminated, draws out of the labyrinth of Nietzschean contradictions the doctrine of a people united by a common will to power. Such a labor is in fact possible, and it was inevitable that someone would do it. It sets forth, on the whole, a precise, new, and remarkably artificial and logical figure. Imagine Nietzsche asking himself just once: "To what can my experiences and my perceptions be of use?"
That is in fact what Herr Baumler has not failed to ask in Nietzsche's place. And as it is impossible to be of use to that which does not exist, Herr Baumler necessarily invokes the existence that has thrust itself on him, that should have thrust itself on Nietzsche, that of the community to which both of them were destined by birth. Such considerations would be correct on the condition that the hypothesis formulated were capable of having a meaning in the spirit of Nietzsche. Another supposition remains possible: Nietzsche could not see his experiences and perceptions as useful; instead, he saw them as an end. Just as Hegel expected the Prussian state to realize Spirit, Nietzsche could have been able-after vituperating it-to wait obscurely for Germany to give a body and a real voice to Zarathustra . . . But it seems that the intellect of Herr Baumler, more exacting than that of a Bergmann or an Oehler, eliminates overly comical representations. He has thought it expedient to neglect those things that Nietzsche incontestably experienced as an end and not as a means, and he has neglected them overtly, through positive remarks.
Nietzsche, speaking of the death of God, used a disordered language that manifested the most excessive inner experience. Baumler writes:
To understand exactly Nietzsche's attitude in regard to Christianity, one must never forget that the decisive expression "God is dead" has the meaning of a historical fact.
Describing what he experienced the first time the vision of the eternal return came to him, Nietzsche wrote: "The intensity of my feelings makes me both tremble and laugh . . . these were not tears of tenderness, but tears of jubilation. . . . "
In reality [states Baumler], the idea of the eternal return is without importance from the point of view of Nietzsche's system. We must consider it the expression of a highly personal experience. It has no connection with the fundamental idea of the will to power and even, taken seriously, this idea would shatter the coherence of the will to power.
Of all the dramatic representations that have given Nietzsche's life the character of a laceration and of the breathless combat of human existence, the idea of the eternal return is certainly the most inaccessible. But to go from the inability to attain it to the resolution not to take it seriously is to follow the traitor's path. Mussolini recognized a long time ago that Nietzsche's doctrine could not be reduced to the idea of the will to power. In his way Herr Baumler, on the path of the traitor, recognizes this with an incomparable eclat-emasculating in broad daylight . . .
The "Land of My Children"
The pressing into service of Nietzsche requires, first of all, that all of his pathosladen experience be opposed by the system, and give way to the system. But its requirements go much further than this.
Baumler opposes the comprehension of Revolution with the comprehension of myth; the first, according to him, would be linked to the awareness of the future, the second to an intense feeling for the past. 22 It goes without saying that nationalism implies an enslavement to the past. In an article in Esprit (November 1, 1934, ppo 199-208), Emmanuel Levinas has provided, on this point, a philosophical exposition of racism in particular that is more profound than that of its partisans. If we cite the essential part of the article here, the profound difference between the teachings of Nietzsche and their bondage will perhaps appear, this time in a fairly brutal way:
The importance [writes Levinas] accorded to this feeling for the body, with which the Western spirit has never been content, is at the basis of a new biological conception of man. The biological, with all the fatality that it implies, becomes more than an object of spiritual life-it becomes its heart. The mysterious urgings of the blood, the call of heredity and of the past for which the body serves as an enigmatic vehicle, lose their status as problems submitted for solution to a Self that is free in a sovereign way. The Self brings to their resolution only the very unknowns of this problem. It is constituted by them. Man's essence is no longer in liberty, but in a kind of bondage. . . .
From that point on, any social structure that announces a liberation in regard to the body and that does not tie it down becomes suspect, as a denial or a betrayal. . . . An inbred society immediately follows from this solidification of the spirit. ..Any rational assimilation or mystical communion between minds that is not based on a blood community is suspect. Nevertheless, the new type of truth cannot be capable of renouncing the formal nature of truth and of ceasing to be universal. The truth can very well be my truth in the strangest sense of this possessive-it must still tend toward the creation of a new world. Zarathustra is not content with his own transfiguration; he comes down from his mountain and carries a gospel. How can universality be compatible with racism? There will be a fundamental modification of the very idea of universality, It must give way to the idea of expansion, for the expansion of a force presents a structure completely different from that of the propagation of an idea.... Nietzsche's will to power, which modern Germany has rediscovered and glorified, is not only a new ideal, it is an ideal that brings, at the same time, its own form of universalization: war and conquest.
Levinas, who introduces (without attempting to justify it) the identification of the Nietzschean attitude with the racist attitude, in fact, limits himself to providing(without having attempted it) a striking demonstration of their incompatibility and even of their nature as opposites.
The blood-community and the enslavement to the past are, in their connection, as distant as possible from the outlook of a man who demanded with great pride to be known as the "stateless one." And the understanding of Nietzsche must be seen as closed to those who do not completely take into account the profound paradox of another name that he claimed with no less pride, that of the CHILD OF THE FUTURE. The understanding of myth linked by Baumler to an intense feeling for the past is countered by the Nietzschean myth of the future. The future, the marvelous unknown of the future, is the only object of the Nietzschean celebration. "Humanity [in the thought of Nietzsche] still has much more time before it than behind it-how, in a general way, could the ideal be found in the past?"28 It is only the aggressive and gratuitous gift of oneself to the future-in opposition to reactionary avarice, bound to the past-that enables the figure of Zarathustra, who demanded to be disowned, to present such a strong image of Nietzsche. The "stateless ones," those who live today, those who have unchained themselves from the past, how can they relax and see chained to this patriotic misery the one who, among them, through his hatred of this misery, devoted himself to the LAND OF HIS CHILDREN? Zarathustra-when the gaze of others was fixed on the land of their fathers, on their fatherland-Zarathustra saw the LAND OF HIS CHILDREN. Against this world covered with the past, covered with fatherlands like a man is covered with wounds, there is no greater, more paradoxical, more passionate expression.
"We Who Are Homeless"
There is something tragic in the simple fact that Levinas's error is possible (for it is no doubt a question in this case of an error, not of a prejudice) 0 The contradictions that are killing men suddenly appear strangely insoluble. For if opposed parties, adopting opposed solutions, have in appearance resolved these contradictions, it is only through gross simplifications-and these apparent solutions only distance the possibility of escaping death. Those freed from the past are chained to reason; those who do not enslave reason are the slaves of the past. In order to constitute itself, the game of politics demands such false positions, and it seems impossible to change them. Transgressing with one's life the laws of reason, answering even against reason the demands of life, is in practice, in politics, to give oneself, bound hand and foot, to the past. Nevertheless, life demands to be freed no less from the past than from a system of rational and administrative measurements.
The passionate and tumultuous movement that forms life, that responds to its demand for the strange, the new, the lost, sometimes appears to be carried along by political action-but that is only a matter of a brief illusion. Life's movement can only be merged with the limited movements of political formations in clearly defined conditions; in other conditions, it goes far beyond them, precisely into the region to which Nietzsche's attention was drawn.
Far beyond, where the simplifications adopted for a little while and for a limited goal lose their meaning, existence and the universe that carries it again appear to be a labyrinth. Toward this labyrinth, which alone encompasses the numerous possibilities of life, and not toward immediate banalities, the contradictory thought of Nietzsche is headed, at the mercy of a skittish liberty. Alone, In the world as it now exists, it even seems to escape the pressing worries that make us refuse to open our eyes wide enough. Those who already see the void in the solutions proposed by parties, who even see nothing more in the hope aroused by these parties than an occasion for wars lacking any fragrance but that of death, seek a faith that corresponds to the convulsions they undergo: the possibility of man's finding not a flag and the senseless butchery before which this flag advances, but everything in the universe that can be an object of laughter, of ecstasy, or of sacrifice . . .
Our ancestors [wrote Nietzsche] were Christians who in their Christ were uncompromisingly upright: for their faith, they willingly sacrificed possessions and position, blood and fatherland. We do the same. For what? For our unbelief? For every kind of unbelief? No, you know better than that, friends! The hidden Yes in you is stronger all the Nos and Maybes that afflict you and your age like a disease; and when you have to embark on the sea, you emigrants, you too are compelled to this by a faith!
Nietzsche's teachings elaborate the faith of the sect or the "order" whose dominating will create a free human destiny, tearing it away from the rational enslavement of production, as well as from the irrational enslavement to the past. The revalued values must not be reduced to use value-this is a principle of such burning, vital importance that it rouses all that life provides of a stormy will to conquer. Outside of this well-defined resolution, these teachings only give rise to inconsequential things or to the betrayals of those who pretend to take them into account. Enslavement tends to spread throughout human existence, and it is the destiny of this free existence that is at stake.
Georges Bataille/ Visions of Excess/ Selected Writings (1927-1939)/Nietzsche and the Fascists/ University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis
Negativity, in other words, the integrity of determination. - Hegel
I. The Insufficiency of Beings
MEN ACT IN ORDER TO BE. This must not be understood in the negative sense of conservation (conserving in order not to be thrown out of existence by death), but in the positive sense of a tragic and incessant combat for a satisfaction that is almost beyond reach. From incoherent agitation to crushing sleep, from chatter to turning inward, from overwhelming love to hardening hate, existence sometimes weakens and sometimes accomplishes "being." And not only do states have a variable intensity, but different beings "are" unequally. A dog that runs and barks seems "to be" more than a mute and clinging sponge, the sponge more than the water in which it lives, an influential man more than a vacant passerby.
In the first movement, where the force that the master has at his disposal puts the slave at his mercy, the master deprives the slave of a part of his being. Much later, in return, the "existence" of the master is impoverished to the extent that it distances itself from the material elements of life. The slave enriches his being to the extent that he enslaves these elements by the work to which his impotence condemns him.
The contradictory movements of degradation and growth attain, in the diffuse development of human existence, a bewildering complexity. The fundamental separation of men into masters and slaves is only the crossed threshold, the entry into the world of specialized functions where personal "existence" empties itself of its contents; a man is no longer anything but a part of being, and his life, engaged in the game of creation and destruction that goes beyond it, appears as a degraded particle lacking reality. The very fact of assuming that knowledge is a function throws the philosopher back into the world of petty inconsistencies and dissections of lifeless organs. Isolated as much from action as from the dreams that turn action away and echo it in the strange depths of animated life, he led astray the very being that he chose as the object of his uneasy comprehension. "Being" increases in the tumultuous agitation of a life that knows no limits; it wastes away and disappears if he who is at the same time "being" and knowledge mutilates himself by reducing himself to knowledge.
This deficiency can grow even greater if the object of knowledge is no longer being in general but a narrow domain, such as an organ, a mathematical question, a juridical form. Action and dreams do not escape this poverty (each time they are confused with the totality of being), and, in the multicolored immensity of human lives, a limitless insufficiency is revealed; life, finding its endpoint in the happiness of a bugle blower or the snickering of a village chair-renter, is no longer the fulfillment of itself, but is its own ludicrous degradation-its fall is comparable to that of a king onto the floor.
At the basis of human life there exists a principle ofinsufficiency. In isolation, each man sees the majority of others as incapable or unworthy of "being." There is found, in all free and slanderous conversation, as an animating theme, the awareness of the vanity and the emptiness of our fellowmen; an apparently stagnant conversation betrays the blind and impotent flight of all life toward an indefinable summit.
The sufficiency of each being is endlessly contested by every other. Even the look that expresses love and admiration comes to me as a doubt concerning my reality. A burst of laughter or the expression of repugnance greets each gesture, each sentence or each oversight through which my profound insufficiency is betrayed-just as sobs would be the response to my sudden death, to a total and irremediable omission.
This uneasiness on the part of everyone grows and reverberates, since at each detour, with a kind of nausea, men discover their solitude in empty night. The universal night in which everything finds itself-and soon loses itself-would appear to be existence for nothing, without influence, equivalent to the absence of being, were it not for human nature that emerges within it to give a dramatic importance to being and life. But this absurd night manages to empty itself of "being" and meaning each time a man discovers within it human destiny, itself locked in turn in a comic impasse, like a hideous and discordant trumpet blast. That which, in me, demands that there be "being" in the world, "being" and not just the manifest insufficiency of human or nonhuman nature, necessarily projects (at one time or another and in reply to human chatter) divine sufficiency across space, like the reflection of an impotence, of a servilely accepted malady of being.
II. The Composite Character of Beings and the Impossibility of Fixing Existence in Any Given Ipse
Being in the world is so uncertain that I can project it where I want-outside of me. It is a clumsy man, still incapable of eluding the intrigues of nature, who locks being in the me. Being in fact is found NOWHERE and it was an easy game for a sickly malice to discover it to be divine, at the summit of a pyramid formed by the multitude of beings, which has at its base the immensity of the simplest matter.
Being could be confined to the electron if ipseity were precisely not lacking in this simple element. The atom itself has a complexity that is too elementary to be determined ipsely.' The number of particles that make up a being intervene in a sufficiently heavy and clear way in the constitution of its ipseity; if a knife has its handle and blade indefinitely replaced, it loses even the shadow of ipseity; it is not the same for a machine which, after five or six years, loses each of the numerous elements that constituted it when new. But the ipseity that is finally apprehended with difficulty in the machine is still only shadowlike.
Starting from an extreme complexity, being imposes on reflection more than the precariousness of a fugitive appearance, but this complexity-displaced little by little-becomes in turn the labyrinth where what had suddenly come forward strangely loses its way.
A sponge is reduced by pounding to a dust of cells; this living dust is formed by a multitude of isolated beings, and is lost in the new sponge that it reconstitutes. A siphonophore fragment is by itself an autonomous being, yet the whole siphonophore, to which this fragment belongs, is itself hardly different from a being possessing unity. Only with linear animals (worms, insects, fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals) do the living individual forms definitively lose the faculty of constituting aggregates bound together in a single body. But while societies of nonlinear animals do not exist, superior animals form aggregates without ever giving rise to corporeal links; men as well as beavers or ants form societies of individuals whose bodies are autonomous. But in regard to being, is this autonomy the final appearance, or is it simply error?
In men, all existence is tied in particular to language, whose terms determine its modes of appearance within each person. Each person can only represent his total existence, if only in his own eyes, through the medium of words. Words spring forth in his head, laden with a host of human or superhuman lives in relation to which he privately exists. Being depends on the mediation of words,which cannot merely present it arbitrarily as "autonomous being," but which must present it profoundly as "being in relation." One need only follow, for a short time, the traces of the repeated circuits of words to discover, in a disconcerting vision, the labyrinthine structure ofthe human being. What is commonly called knowing-when a man knows his neighbor-is never anything but existence composed for an instant (in the sense that all existence composes itselfthus the atom composes its unity from variable electrons), which once made of these two beings a whole every bit as real as its parts. A limited number of exchanged phrases, no matter how conventional, sufficed to create the banal interpenetration of two existing juxtaposed regions. The fact that after this short exchange the man is aware of knowing his neighbor is opposed to a meeting without recognition in the street, as well as to the ignorance of the multitude of beings that one never meets, in the same way that life is opposed to death. The knowledge of human beings thus appears as a mode of biological connection, unstable but just as real as the connections between cells in tissue. The exchange between two human particles in fact possesses the faculty of surviving momentary separation.
A man is only a particle inserted in unstable and entangled wholes. These wholes are composed in personal life in the form of multiple possibilities, starting with a knowledge that is crossed like a threshold-and the existence of the particle can in no way be isolated from this composition, which agitates it in the midst of a whirlwind of ephemerids. This extreme instability of connections alone permits one to introduce, as a puerile but convenient illusion, a representation of isolated existence turning in on itself.
In the most general way, every isolable element of the universe always appears as a particle that can enter into composition with a whole that transcends it. Being is only found as a whole composed ofparticles whose relative autonomy is maintained. These two principles dominate the uncertain presence of an ipse being across a distance that never ceases to put everything in question. Emerging in universal playas unforeseeable chance, with extreme dread imperatively becoming the demand for universality, carried away to vertigo by the movement that composes it, the ipse being that presents itself as a universal is only a challenge to the diffuse immensity that escapes its precarious violence, the tragic negation of all that is not its own bewildered phantom's chance. But, as a man, this being falls into the meanders of the knowledge of his fellowmen, which absorbs his substance in order to reduce it to a component of what goes beyond the virulent madness of his autonomy in the total night of the world.
Abdication and inevitable fatigue-due to the fact that "being" is, par excellence, that which, desired to the point of dread, cannot be endured-plunge human beings into a foggy labyrinth formed by the multitude of "acquaintances" with which signs of life and phrases can be exchanged. But when he escapes the dread of "being" through this tlight-a "being" that is autonomous and isolated in night-a man is thrown back into insufficiency, at least if he cannot find outside of himself the blinding flash that he had been unable to endure within himself, without whose intensity his life is but an impoverishment, of which he feels obscurely ashamed.
III. The Structure of the Labyrinth
Emerging out of an inconceivable void into the play of beings, as a lost satellite of two phantoms (one with a bristly beard, the other softer, her head decorated with a bun), it is in the father and mother who transcend him that the minuscule human being first encountered the illusion of sufficiency. In the complexity and entanglement of wholes, to which the human particle belongs, this satellite-like mode of existence never entirely disappears. A particular being not only acts as an element of a shapeless and structureless whole (a part of the world of unimportant "acquaintances" and chatter), but also as a peripheral element orbiting around a nucleus where being hardens. What the lost child had found in the selfassured existence of the all-powerful beings who took care of him is now sought by the abandoned man wherever knots and concentrations are formed throughout a vast incoherence. Each particular being delegates to the group of those situated at the center of the multitudes the task of realizing the inherent totality of "being." He is content to be a part of a total existence, which even in the simplest cases retains a diffuse character. Thus relatively stable wholes are produced, whose center is a city, in its early form a corolla that encloses a double pistil of sovereign and god. In the case where many cities abdicate their central function in favor of a single city, an empire forms around a capital where sovereignty and the gods are concentrated; the gravitation around a center then degrades the existence of peripheral cities, where the organs that constituted the totality of being wilt. By degrees, a more and more complex movement of group composition raises to the point of universality the human race, but it seems that universality, at the summit, causes all existence to explode and decomposes it with violence. The universal god destroys rather than supports the human aggregates that raise his ghost. He himself is only dead, whether a mythical delirium set him up to be adored as a cadaver covered with wounds, or whether through his very universality he becomes, more than any other, incapable of stopping the loss of being with the cracked partitions of ipseity.
IV. The Modalities of Composition and Decomposition of Being
The city that little by little empties itself of life, in favor of a more brilliant and attractive city, is the expressive image of the play of existence engaged in composition. Because of the composing attraction, composition empties elements of the greatest part of their being, and this benefits the center-in other words, it benefits composite being. There is the added fact that, in a given domain, ifthe attraction ofa certain center is stronger than that ofa neighboring center, the second center then goes into decline. The action of powerful poles of attraction across the human world thus reduces, depending on their force of resistance, a multitude of personal beings to the state of empty shadows, especially when the pole of attraction on which they depend itself declines, due to the action of another more powerful pole. Thus if one imagines the effects of an influential current of attraction on a more or less arbitrarily isolated form of activity, a style of clothing created in a certain city devalues the clothes worn up to that time and, consequently, it devalues those who wear them within the limits of the influence of this city. This devaluation is stronger if, in a neighboring country, the fashions of a more brilliant city have already outclassed those of the first city. The objective character of these relations is registered in reality when the contempt and laughter manifested in a given center are not compensated for by anything elsewhere, and when they exert an effective fascination. The effort made on the periphery to "keep up with fashion" demonstrates the inability of the peripheral particles to exist by themselves.
Laughter intervenes in these value determinations of being as the expression of the circuit of movements of attraction across a human field. It manifests itself each time a change in level suddenly occurs: it characterizes all vacant lives as ridiculous. A kind of incandescent joy-the explosive and sudden revelation of the presence of being-is liberated each time a striking appearance is contrasted with its absence, with the human void. Laughter casts a glance, charged with the mortal violence of being, into the void of life.
But laughter is not only the composition of those it assembles into a unique convulsion; it most often decomposes without consequence, and sometimes with a virulence that is so pernicious that it even puts in question composition itself, and the wholes across which it functions. Laughter attains not only the peripheral regions of existence, and its object is not only the existence of fools and children (of those who remain vacant); through a necessary reversal, it is sent back from the child to its father and from the periphery to the center, each time the father or the center in turn reveals an insufficiency comparable to that of the particles that orbit around it. Such a central insufficiency can be ritually revealed (in saturnalia or in a festival of the ass as well as in the puerile grimaces of the father amusing his child). It can be revealed by the very action of children or the "poor" each time exhaustion withers and weakens authority, allowing its precarious character to be seen. In both cases, a dominant necessity manifests itself, and the profound nature of being is disclosed. Being can complete itself and attain the menacing gradeur of imperative totality; this accomplishment only serves to project it with a greater violence into the vacant night. The relative insufficiency of peripheral existences is absolute insufficiency in total existence. Above knowable existences, laughter traverses the human pyramid like a network of endless waves that renew themselves in all directions. This reverberated convulsion chokes, from one end to the other, the innumerable being of manopened at the summit by the agony of God in a black night.
V. The Monster in the Night of the Labyrinth
Being attains the blinding flash in tragic annihilation. Laughter only assumes its fullest impact on being at the moment when, in the fall that it unleashes, a representation of death is cynically recognized. It is not only the composition of elements that constitutes the incandescence of being, but its decomposition in its mortal form. The difference in levels that provokes common laughter-which opposes the lack of an absurd life to the plenitude of successful being-can be replaced by that which opposes the summit of imperative elevation to the dark abyss that obliterates all existence. Laughter is thus assumed by the totality of being. Renouncing the avaricious malice of the scapegoat, being itself, to the extent that it is the sum of existences at the limits of the night, is spasmodically shaken by the idea ofthe ground giving way beneath its feet. It is in universality (where, due to solitude, the possibility of facing death through war disappears) that the necessity of engaging in a struggle, no longer with an equal group but with nothingness, becomes clear.
THE UNIVERSAL resembles a bull, sometimes absorbed in the nonchalance of animality and abandoned to the secret paleness of death, and sometimes hurled by the rage of ruin into the void ceaselessly opened before it by a skeletal torero. But the void it meets is also the nudity it espouses TO THE EXTENT THAT IT IS A MONSTER lightly assuming many crimes, and it is no longer, like the bull, the plaything of nothingness, because nothingness itself is its plaything; it only throws itself into nothingness in order to tear it apart and to illuminate the night for an instant, with an immense laugh-a laugh it never would have attained if this nothingness had not totally opened beneath its feet.
I. See Paul Langevin, La Notion de corpuscules et d'atomes (Paris: Hermann, 1934), p. 35.
Georges Bataille/ Visions of Excess/ Selected Writings (1927-1939)/The Labyrinth/ University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis
by Georges Bataille
Having affirmed that the infrastructure of a society ultimately determines or conditions the superstructure, Marxism did not undertake any general elucidation ofthe modalities peculiar to the formation of religious and political society. While Marxism did acknowledge possible responses by the superstructure, it has not gone from mere assertion to scientific analysis. This essay attempts a rigorous (if not comprehensive) representation of the social superstructure and its relations to the economic infrastructure in the light of fascism. The fact that this is but a fragment of a relatively substantial whole explains a great number of lacunae, notably the absence of any methodological considerations; I it was even necessary to forego justifying the novelty of my point of view and to limit myself to the presentation of my basic position. However, the simple presentation of the structure of fascism had to be preceded by a description of the social structure as a whole. It goes without saying that a study of the superstructure presupposes the development of a Marxist analysis of the infrastructure.
I. The Homogeneous Part of Society
A psychological description of society must begin with that segment which is most accessible to understanding-and apparently the most fundamental segment-whose significant trait is tendential homogeneity. Homogeneity signifies here the commensurability of elements and the awareness of this commensurability: human relations are sustained by a reduction to fixed rules based on the consciousness of the possible identity of delineable persons and situations; in principle, all violence is excluded from this course of existence.
Production is the basis of a social homogeneity. Homogeneous society is productive society, namely, useful society. Every useless element is excluded, not from all of society, but from its homogeneous part. In this part, each element must be useful to another without the homogeneous activity ever being able to attain the form of activity valid in itself. A useful activity has a common denominator with another useful activity, but not with activity for itself.
The common denominator, the foundation of social homogeneity and of the activity arising from it, is money, namely, the calculable equivalent of the different products of collective activity. Money serves to measure all work and makes man a function of measurable products. According to the judgment of homogeneous society, each man is worth what he produces; in other words, he stops being an existence for itself he is no more than a function, arranged within measurable limits, of collective production (which makes him an existence for something other than itself).
But the homogeneous individual is truly a function of his personal products only in artisan production, where the means of production are relatively inexpensive and can be owned by the artisan. In industrial civilization, the producer is distinguished from the owner of the means of production, and it is the latter who appropriates the products for himself: consequently, it is he who, in modern society, is the function of the products; it is he-and not the producer-who founds social homogeneity.
Thus in the present order of things, the homogeneous part of society is made up of those men who own the means of production or the money destined for their upkeep or purchase. It is exactly in the middle segment of the so-called capitalist or bourgeois class that the tendential reduction of human character takes place, making it an abstract and interchangeable entity: a reflection of the homogeneous things the individual owns.
This reduction is then extended as much as possible to the so-called middle classes that variously benefit from realized profit. But the industrial proletariat remains for the most part irreducible. It maintains a double relation to homogeneous activity: the latter excludes it-not from work but from profit. As agents of production, the workers fall within the framework of the social organization, but the homogeneous reduction as a rule only affects their wage-earning activity; they are integrated into the psychological homogeneity in terms of their behavior on the job, but not generally as men. Outside of the factory, and even beyond its technical operations, a laborer is, with regard to a homogeneous person (boss, bureaucrat, etc.), a stranger, a man of another nature, of a nonreduced, nonsubjugated nature.
II. The State
In the contemporary period, social homogeneity is linked to the bourgeois class by essential ties: thus the Marxist conception is justified whenever the State is shown to be at the service of a threatened homogeneity.
As a rule, social homogeneity is a precarious form, at the mercy of violence and even of internal dissent. It forms spontaneously in the play of productive organization, but must constantly be protected from the various unruly elements that do not benefit from production, or not enough to suit them, or simply, that can not tolerate the checks that homogeneity imposes on unrest. In such conditions, the protection of homogeneity lies in its recourse to imperative elements that are capable of obliterating the various unruly forces or bringing them under the control of order.
The State is not itself one of these imperative elements; it is distinct from kings, heads of the army, or of nations, but it is the result of the modifications undergone by a part of homogeneous society as it comes into contact with such elements. This part is an intermediary formation between the homogeneous classes and the sovereign agencies from which it must borrow its obligatory character, but whose exercise of sovereignty must rely upon it as an intermediary. It is only with reference to these sovereign agencies that it will be possible to envision the way in which this obligatory character is transferred to a formation that nevertheless does not constitute an existence valid in itself (heterogeneous), but simply an activity whose usefulness with regard to another part is manifest.
In practical terms, the function of the State consists of an interplay of authority and adaptation. The reduction of differences through compromise in parliamentary practice indicates all the possible complexity of the internal activity of adaptation required by homogeneity. But against forces that cannot be assimilated, the State cuts matters short with strict authority.
Depending on whether the State is democratic or despotic, the prevailing tendency will be either adaptation or authority. In a democracy, the State most of its strength from spontaneous homogeneity, which it fixes and constitutes as the rule. The principle of its sovereignty-the nation-providing both its end and its strength, is thus diminished by the fact that isolated individuals increasingly consider themselves as ends with regard to the State, which thus exist for them before existing for the nation. And, in this case, personal life distinguishes itself from homogeneous existence as a value that presents itself as incomparable.
III. Dissociations, Critiques of Social Homogeneity and the State
Even in difficult circumstances, the State is able to neutralize those heterogeneous forces that will yield only to its constraints. But it can succumb to the internal dissociation of that segment of society of which it is but the constrictive form.
Social homogeneity fundamentally depends upon the homogeneity (in the general sense of the word) of the productive system. Every contradiction arising from the development of economic life thus entails a tendential dissociation of homogeneous social existence. This tendency towards dissociation exerts itself in the most complex manner, on all levels and in every direction. But it only reaches acute and dangerous forms to the extent that an appreciable segment of the mass of homogeneous individuals ceases to have an interest in the conservation of the existing form of homogeneity (not because it is homogeneous, but on the contrary, because it is in the process of losing that character). This part of society then spontaneously affiliates itself with the previously constituted heterogeneous forces and becomes indistinguishable from them.
Thus, economic circumstances act directly upon homogeneous elements and promote their disintegration. But this disintegration only represents the negative form of social effervescence: the dissociated elements do not act before having undergone the complete alteration that characterizes the positive form of this effervescence. From the moment that they rejoin the heterogeneous formations that already exist in either a diffuse or an organized state, they acquire from the latter a new character: the general positive character of heterogeneity. Furthermore, social heterogeneity does not exist in a formless and disoriented state: on the contrary, it constantly tends to a split-off structure; and when social elements pass over to the heterogeneous side, their action still finds itself determined by the actual structure of that side.